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Sierra Designs Gnar Jacket : For Men and Women

The Sierra Designs Gnar is everything a minimalist down jacket should be: light, packable, and oh-so-warm.

This high performance jacket was a lifesaver for me on a recent climb. My wife and I attempted a late-season ascent of the Diamond face of Long's Peak, which, at more than 14,000 feet, is one of Colorado's highest summits. The Diamond is a technical climb stretching 1,000 feet up the mountain's dead vertical East Face, at extremely high altitude. Halfway up, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped considerably; if not for my Sierra Designs Gnar jacket, I would have gone severely hypothermic. Thankfully I pulled it out of my climbing pack and bundled up.

The Gnar jacket has super lightweight 800 fill down, which is of the highest quality available. 800+ down is extremely lofty for its weight, so a little bit is effective at achieving a particular warmth. The jacket has a lightweight ripstop nylon shell, which I noticed was very good at repelling wind. As an extra measure, there's a front storm flap to keep wind out. Nice.

I like that the Sierra Designs Gnar jacket has several big interior pockets and a nice cinch cord at the waist. I can keep maps at hand in the big interior stash pocket, and the cinch cord kept the wind from blowing up my jacket.

My jacket (men's size L) tips in on my home scale at just under 13 ounces, which is extraordinarily light for any jacket, much less one that provides so much warmth. The Sierra Designs Gnar jacket comes with a small stuff sack and compresses to a wad the size of a tiny water bottle, which means it takes up almost no space in my climbing pack. I've tested a lot of outdoor gear over the years, and the Gnar has earned a permanent place in my pack, along with an ultra light waterproof, breathable jacket I reviewed in 2009. Leaving it at home would be foolish.

There's a lot to like about the Sierra Designs Gnar jacket, but the first thing that struck me was its fit. A lot of outdoor apparel is cut big and wide, which means my body has to generate even more heat to fill the spaces. The Gnar has a trim, athletic fit. It works great as a super warm layer under a shell, or just on its own, and there's less material (so it weighs less and doesn't billow). I also the thumb loops - when I put a shell on over it, I hook my thumbs in before I pull on the outer layer's sleeves. The end result is I don't have to fight with the Gnar to get the sleeves down from above my elbows.

The Sierra Designs Gnar jacket comes in a regular ($199) and a hooded version ($209) and is available in men's sizes S-2X and women's sizes XS-XL. Sierra Designs has a rich color palatte for these jacks, including: Black, Charcoal, True Blue/Charcoal, Herb/Spinach, and Espresso/Syrah in mens sizes and Black, Blueberry, Chocolate, Charcoal, Fern, and Agate for women.

Bottom Line: The "ultra" down jacket: ultra light, ultra warm, ultra packable.--N.W. (Oct '10)

BUY ONLINE: $199-209, free shipping at Amazon. Shop at Altrec.

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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.