Start with the finest down (850-plus) and a wispy 20-denier ripstop nylon shell fabric, strip all but the most essential details, and you have the Hooded Flash. There are no drawcords, pocket zippers, or Velcro tabs–just a head-hugging hood, elastic piping to seal the wrists and hem, and a tall neck that snugs up to the chin. Result: a puffy layer that's so light it feels more like a warm cloud than a jacket. Quilted, sewn-through construction with few stitchlines saves weight without excess cold spots. Pros: Pure thermal efficiency–hold the fluff. Cons: The shallow slash pockets don't seal. westernmountaineering.com
Three-season insulation for ounce-conscious hikers; cold-weather athletes who want a puffy jacket that's more function than fashion
Duration: Sept. to Feb.
Conditions/locales: 40° to 7°F; CO, VT, NH, MA
"Ultralight down jackets have replaced fleece in my pack. They're warmer for the weight and compress to half the volume."