We gave a previous version of this jacket an Editors’ Choice award last year for its impressive stretch and durability, rare qualities in puffies. The new iteration offers even more mobility, plus the welcome addition of a hood. To achieve the former, Mountain Hardwear ditched horizontal baffles in favor of a grid pattern; fewer fixed seam points meant even better freedom for our backs and arms. “It never limited my pole plants on steep slopes, and thankfully never rode up; exposing my lower back to the bitter cold would not have been fun,” says a tester who used the StretchDown as nightfall neared on a ski tour near Crested Butte, Colorado.
Welded seams seal in heat better than stitched ones, which we appreciated while waiting a half hour for the rest of our group to catch up on a frigid ski tour outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The hood fits over a climbing helmet, while remaining snug enough to zip under a shell hood. The offset baffle grid prevents the 800-fill goose down from bunching up, which helps eliminate cold spots. And although the jacket isn’t waterproof (it does have DWR), the hydrophobic down never clumped up when faced with wet snow and moderate rain. The StretchDown compresses to cantaloupe size, adding to its take-it-anywhere appeal.
“On a spring hiking trip in New Zealand, it suddenly started to snow heavily and the temp dropped into the 20s,” one tester says. “I threw a lightweight shell over this jacket, and even though I was working hard moving uphill, the knit fabric breathed well enough that I stayed in that sweet spot—not too cold, not too hot.” mountainhardwear.com