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Gear Guy

Are cheaper down jackets reliable?

As a thrifty person with only occasional needs for real cold weather gear, I'm tempted by the down jacket that Land's End sells for $70. Pretty simple design, 650 fill, seems like something that's pretty tough to screw up. Any experience with how this jacket stands up to some of the pricier down parkas from the more traditional gear makers? I'd be using it for an around the cp and belay over-jacket in the Sierras. Raymond Tarto Oakland, California

A: Here's what I think: I think you'd be perfectly fine with the Lands' End Reversible Down Jacket ($69), just as you'd be fine with a lot of products that use Gore-Tex or Polartec and that come from companies such as Lands' End, REI, and L.L. Bean that sell "house brand" products. No, it's not some super-technical alpine-style parka. It doesn't have a lot of cool pockets, or reinforcement patches, and I expect the nylon shell is a little on the cheap side. The down fill is on the lower end at 650. Still, so what? It's not going to fall apart —- and if it does, send it back for a replacement. I'm sure you'll find that as a light down sweater/jacket, it's perfectly adequate -— just the thing for cold morning belays, or evenings around camp when the temperature dips below freezing.

For that matter, you might also sniff around some of the Web-based clearance sites to see what you find. As a for instance, Sierra Trading Post was recently selling a cold weather down parka with a Gore Dryloft shell for $199—$130 less than retail. had a Moonstone down parka for $119 (alas, small only). Campmor had a decent-looking down sweater for a mere $49. And in a few places I'm seeing North Face Nuptse jackets, regularly $199, for as low as $150. So down needn't cost hundreds of dollars.

Here's to cheap warmth!

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