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Q:

How does Lands' End apparel compare when it comes to backpacking?

Can you comment on Lands' End as a source of backpacking outerwear? For exple, they sell the 700 SnowPack Down Jacket, which is similar to down sweaters by Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear—save that Lands End’s version weigh 14 oz for men's medium, which is heavier than the higher-end brands. They also market the Marinac Jacket, which is Polartec fleece with Windcheck barrier. Have you used any of these or other Lands' End gear? David Columbia, MO

The SnowPack 700 Down Jacket     Photo: courtesy, Lands' End

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The SnowPack 700 Down Jacket

A:Interesting question. I buy a lot of stuff from Lands' End and their rough counterpart (L.L. Bean). One argument that representatives from those companies have made to me is that, because they have no middle man, then can spec construction from Asian plants at a higher level than name-brand makers.

And certainly, five years ago, I would have said: If I had to pack for a trip to Denali and use mostly Bean gear, I’d be okay. Lands’ End is, well, mostly lifestyle-oriented. Still, they have okay stuff. The Marinac ($90)? Well, sure. You get good-quality Polartec in a well-made jacket, as good as anyone else’s. Snowpack Down Jacket ($100)? Great specs—700-fill down, nylon shell with water-resistant treatment? Yeah, fine. A tad more in weight than a Patagonia, but a much better buy.

Still, the Bean folks are just a bit closer to the outdoors. Bean’s Ultralight 850 Down Jacket ($150) absolutely matches any maker, with top-end 850-fill down and a light nylon shell. And the Bean Sweater Fleece Jacket ($100), made from Polartec, has dual-layer construction for a bit better feel and more warmth. Very nice.

I did say "five years ago" regarding Bean, because generally they seem to have sort of abandoned being real competitive in the hard-core outdoor market. Their lineup has not changed that much in several years. So then there is REI, a very, very competitive alternative. REI Emmons Fleece Jacket ($129)? Fantastic. REI Kulshan rain jacket made from eVent ($299)? Sublime. REI does not make a decent down sweater, so buy the Beanie version. You’ll be fine—and frugal.

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