The Sierra Designs DriDown Better Vest is a 7.3 ounce down vest (size men’s XL) that has short sleeves to eliminate the body heat that is bellowed out of vests with traditional arm holes. Insulated with 800 fill power DriDown, the Better Vest has stretch fabric panels running down its sides and under the arms so that it can be worn as an insulation layer for active cold weather pursuits or as a cozy sweater in your sleeping bag.
Cold Weather Layering
Picking a midlayer for winter and shoulder season hiking can be a tricky process because you want to choose a layer that will keep you warm, but not so warm that you sweat. Sweating is bad because wet fabrics, including fleece, will chill you when you stop moving and generating lots of body heat. When I hike in winter, I carefully match the midlayers I bring on a trip with the expected temperature and frequently take off layers or put them back on to prevent myself from sweating or getting cold.
While everyone is different, hikers and backpackers tend to run hot, even in cold weather, and it’s not unusual for me to strip down to my base layer when I’m hiking uphill. When it’s close to freezing, I usually wear a fleece pullover as a midlayer, and when it’s colder I’ll often layer on an additional insulated down or synthetic vest by itself, or under a hard shell jacket.
When testing the Sierra Designs DriDown Better Vest, one of my first questions was whether it could be used to replace my fleece pullover as a midlayer garment or if it was best used as a second insulation layer over a fleece sweater. I usually recommned that people wear a wicking layer like fleece above a base layer to move perspiration away from their skin where it can chill you.
I quickly determined that while the DriDown Better Vest could replace my fleece sweater as a second layer in drier, colder temperatures (at least below 20 degrees) it’s difficult to wear in warmer temperatures or if I’m very active because I start to sweat. While the side stretch panels do wick moisture and the waterproof down in the Better Vest is resistent to moisture, the vest is better used as insulation on top of a midlayer (like a fleece pullover) when you need more warmth in very cold weather. The vest also complements hard shells with pit zips or torso zips (like many of OR’s hard shells), because you can actively vent any moisture that’s collected under your arms and along your torso, something you can’t do with an insulated jacket.
I’ve also taken to wearing the DriDown Better Vest as a comfort layer over a base layer top in my sleeping bag, even though it’s somewhat redundant with my fleece pullover in that capacity. I justify it because it only weighs 7.4 ounces and compresses down to the size of an apple in my backpack.
The outer fabric on the DriDown Better Vest is a lightweight 10 denier nylon, so you need to be careful to keep it away from sharp objects like overhanging bushes and ice axe points when it’s worn as an external layer. But having fabric this lightweight on a down vest is less of a durability issue than it would be on a down jacket, where the highest wear points are always on the wrist cuffs.
If you wear the DriDown Better Vest directly on top of your baselayer, you’ll need to wash it more frequently because the stretch side panels really pick up stink. For that reason alone, I think the Better Vest is probably best used as a layer above a midlayer like a fleece, since it won’t get as smelly.
The issue with washing the DriDown Better Vest is that it is a down garment and much be washed with the same care you’d use to wash a down sleeping bag. That means using front loading washing machine without an agitator and a very gentle detergent like Woolite or Nikwax Downwash which won’t harm the insulation value of the down. After washing, you’ll want to tumble dry the vest on low heat by itself, and carefully pull apart the down every 15 minutes or so, so that it doesn’t clump together.
The Sierra Designs DriDown Better Vest is a lightweight and compressible insulation layer that is best used for active winter snowsports in very cold temperatures. Designed with short sleeves instead of chest-high arm holes, the Better Vest retains the body heat that is bellowed out of most down or synthetic insulated vests when you’re active outdoors. With stretch panels that run along the torso and under the upper arms, it is also capable of wicking moisture away from your base layer, enabling it to be used as a standalone midlayer or as an add-on insulation layer. Weighing just 7.3 ounces and compressable to the size of an apple, the DriDown Better Vest is easy to throw into your pack for all of your winter adventures, at home or in the mountains.
- 10 denier shell fabric
- Deep front zipper
- 50 grams, 800 fill power duck down
- Center back length: 30 inches
- Air Permeability: 1.5 CFM
- Water Entry Pressure: 675 mm
- MVTR:1,740g (JIS)
Disclosure: Sierra Designs provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a DriDown Better Vest for this review.
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