Men's Down Sweater
Men's Down Sweater

What’s the ideal, warm, winter mid-layer?

I searching for a light, packable garment to be layered under a shell when I take a break from high-output winter sport like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. I planning a hut-to-hut ski in Quebec’s Gaspesie and would like to have some "warmth insurance" in case it's necessary (e.g. accident, lunch break, etc.). I considering a light-weight down or synthetic jacket instead of more fleece. David Wesmount, Quebec

Men's Down Sweater

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Some questions are hard, David. Some questions are awkward. Some are simply unanswerable.

Men's Down Sweater Men’s Down Sweater

Yours, on the other hand, is easy. What you need, and all you need, is a down sweater. NOTHING has more value in terms of warmth for weight, comfort, and utility than a down sweater. Compresses to near pocket-size, and good for light recreation into the teens.

The odd thing is that not too many companies make this most useful of all garments. I can cite two, although I might be missing some outliers. The gold standard of down sweaters, in my view, is the Patagonia Men’s Down Sweater ($200). Just a beautiful piece of gear—super-light (12 ounces), remarkably warm, and compresses to the size of a baseball.

Even ligher, MontBell’s Ex Light Down Jacket ($160), which weighs in under six ounces—that’s about the weight of a heavy pair of socks. And very close to the Patagonia’s in fill volume, so very close in warmth. Fantastic deal.

Synthetic…well, it has its advantages—mainly warmer when soaking wet. But if it is cold, it’s typically not that wet, yes? That said, there are some nice pieces out there. Integral Designs makes an excellent light sweater with Primaloft insulation for $160 called called the PLQ Jacket. It only weighs 12 ounces in size medium, which is very respectable.

So there you go. Case closed.

Want to see more mid-layer options—along with other winter gear? Check out our annual Winter Buyer Guide.

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