L.L. Bean’s Ultralight 850 Down Hooded Jacket ($219) is a very warm midweight hooded down jacket that strikes a good balance between a technical winter hiking jacket and one for street use. If you can only afford to buy one down jacket, I’d recommend giving it a good look. I’ve been wearing the Ultralight 850 for cold weather hiking and have found it to be a solid value in frigid New England weather.
Evaluating a Down Jacket
When evaluating down jackets for winter hiking use, there are a number of different things I look at:
- How warm is the jacket in terms of fill power, fit, and styling?
- Is the hood adjustable? How high is the face protection?
- How durable is the shell material?
- How is the down held in place (box baffles vs sewn-through construction)?
- How many pockets does it have?
- How much does the jacket weigh and how much down does it contain?
850 Fill Power Goose Down
The LL Bean Ultralight 850 Down Hooded Jacket is insulated with 850 fill power DownTek treated goose down. This is a very high-grade of down insulation and definitely on the high-end for more active, midweight down jackets. While the DownTek treatment helps reduce moisture absorption and accelerate drying, the 850 fill power of the insulation is what makes this a very warm coat.
The Ultralight 850 contains 3.76 ounces of 850 fill power goose down in a size medium jacket, which is a very respectable amount of down insulation in a more active garment like this. LL Bean wasn’t able to provide me specs for this jacket beyond a size medium men’s, but they said that they add proportionally more down to larger sized coats, like the size XL I tested, to maintain the same warmth level in different sizes.
Fit and Styling
The Ultralight 850 does a marvelous job of sealing in the warm air surrounding your torso, preventing cold air from blowing down the hood to your chest or under the hem and up the back of the jacket. The neck of the Ultralight 850 is comparatively snug, while adjustable cord locks on the hem make it possible to cinch the jack down around your hips to seal in heat. The rear tail of the jacket is also slightly dropped to prevent cold drafts from blowing up your back.
While there is elastic around the wrist cuffs, it is rather loose and less effective in retaining warmth. If you’re hiking in very cold weather, I’d recommend you wear gauntlet style gloves with this jacket to help seal in the heat and keep your wrists warm.
The Ultralight 850 does not have an adjustable hood, which is typical of many down jackets in its price range. There’s an elastic ring around the face but that’s it. There aren’t any cords to make the opening smaller, no brim, and no rear adjustment to shrink the hood volume if you have a small head. When fully zipped, the jacket will just cover your chin. While you can work around these issues by wearing a balaclava, a buff, or a scarf, the Ultralight 850 would be a much better jacket if it had a way to cinch down the size of the hood opening to provide better heat retention and wind protetion.
Pertex 20 Denier Shell
The Ultralight 850 has a 20 denier windproof Pertex shell coated with a DWR coating. This is thicker and heavier than more technical jackets that use a 7 or 10 denier fabric thickness, but it is much more durable and less prone to puncture by gear with sharp points. I’ve ripped up enough down coats on ice axes and crampons to know.
Sewn Through Construction
The goose down in the Ultralight 850 is held in place using a technique called sewn-through construction where the outer fabric is sewn to the inner one, creating a space in between the seams to hold the goose down in place. It’s a popular manufacturing process used in lighter weight jackets because it’s easy and less expensive than other techniques.
However, sewn-through construction can result in compression and loss of loft along the seams of a jacket where the down is pinched together. The alternative, called boxed baffling is warmer, more expensive, and used more frequently in heavier, parka-sized jackets.
The Ultralight 850 has two large zippered side pockets and a left zippered chest pocket with an ear bud port on the inside of the jacket. There’s a large mesh pocket above the hem on the right hand side of the jacket, good for stashing gloves or a face mask, and a zippered stash pocket on the left, with a built in stuff sack.
The stuff sack includes a gear loop which can be attached to a harness with a carbiner, a nice touch for climbers.
Jacket Weight and Down Fill
The LL Bean Ultralight 850 weighs 18.7 ounce s in a size men’s XL. A size men’s MEDIUM contains 3.76 ounces of 850 fill power goose down, with more proprtionately for larger sizes.
While it is hard to pin down exactly how heavy the Ultralight 850 is in comparison to other midweight down jackets or parkas because manufacturers don’t publish the weights of different sized jackets, the Ultralight 850 has more high quality down by weight (in a size medium) than many of the other hooded jackets in its price range.
The LL Bean Ultralight 850 Hooded Down Jacket strikes a good compromise between a very warm goose down jacket that can be used for winter hiking and recreation and a coat that you can wear around town, to school, or work. I like it because it’s a lot warmer than the other lightweight down and synthetic jackets I own, but I can still hike in it without sweating. While the hood is not as technical as other down jackets in its price range, the Ultralight 850 Hooded Down Jacket has quickly turned into my favorite outer layer for hiking in temperatures between 20 degrees and -10 below zero. I think this jacket is a great all around value and hope LL Bean builds on its success.
- Filled with 3.76 ounces (size men’s medium) of 850 fill power DownTek water resistant down
- Pertex 20 denier shell with water resistant DWR coating
- Climbing helmet compatible
- Media storage pocket with headphone port
- Zippered handwarmer pockets
- Drop tail and hem cord locks to prevent drafts up the back and seal in heat
- Elastic cuffs and hood
- Internal stowaway pocket doubles as stuff sack
- Weight 18.7 ounces in a Men’s XL
Disclosure: LL Bean provided Philip Werner with a sample Ultralight 850 Hooded Down Jacket for this review.