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Patagonia Ultralight Down Shirt : A Featherweight Furnace

Patagonia's Ultralight Down Shirt is a six-ounce wonder jacket, and one of my all-time favorite outdoor garments. On a scale of one to ten, I give it a 20 for performance and fit.

This minimalist alpine top is made out of high-quality down sandwiched between ultralight nylon. It has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of anything I've ever worn. It's also the smallest down jacket I've ever tested. It actually weights just under six ounces, which is less than two nutrition bars. Of course, it packs down to nothing, so I take it with me on every outdoor adventure.

Being warm and dry in the mountains can literally mean the difference between life and death. Initially, I wasn't sure such a thin top could be as warm as the Ultralight Down Shirt is, but the 800-power down and the baffled construction, which forms air pockets beneath each quilted section of the jacket, are incredibly effective. I get the warmth I need without the bulk of a puffier down jacket. I really like the slim, athletic fit. I'm tall and thin so having a good fit means less space for cold air to enter when I'm in the mountains.

Yeah, I love this jacket... I take it everywhere, and when the temperatures drop, I just unpack it and put it on. I wore it backcountry skiing in Norway in the early summer and decided it was as essential as my avalanche beacon. I’d hike in wearing a mid-weight thermal, don my Ultralight Down Shirt, and snowboard back down the mountain. My friends were jealous. I outsmarted the snow-- it couldn’t penetrate the jacket’s DWR water-repellent coating--and the wind--which couldn't break through the materials tight weave to sting me.

This summer in Colorado, I’ve brought the Ultralight Down Shirt on every alpine endeavor so far. It lives in my pack, and I pull it out at high altitude when we venture into the snow or when we come home late and have to hike home from 13,000-feet at twilight. The packed size is miniscule, which means my pack is never overstuffed and always perfectly balanced. As a matter of fact, the Down Shirt even comes with its own apple-sized stuff sack.

I love how simple the Ultralight Down Shirt is. Its sole purpose is to keep me warm and stay out of my way, and it does both things perfectly. The jacket has a ¼-zip on the front, and there are no tabs or other zips on the jacket to get caught on anything or to add weight. It’s elasticized cuffs and hem are simple, light, and bomber! Since the jacket isn't mean to fully break the wind, I often pair it with my favorite wind jacket for perfect comfort and weather defense.

Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Shirt is available for men (blue, orange and grey/black, XS to XXL) and women (blue, pink/purple, grey/black, XS to XL).

Bottom Line: A necessity in the backpack and an absolute must-buy piece of outdoor gear for serious mountain outings. --N.W. (June 11).

BUY ONLINE: $250 (on sale now for less). Click for sale on men's jacket. Click for women's jacket.

Manufacturer's Site: www.patagonia.com

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When hiking or camping, always carry the "10 Essentials":

Extra clothing, extra food and water, lighter or water-proof matches and fire starter, map in waterproof envelope, compass, pocket knife, sunscreen and sunglasses, flashlight or headlamp, first aid kit, emergency shelter.

Source: Seattle Mountain Rescue and Seattle Mountaineers.