Within the last year we’ve covered the whole gamut of Sierra Designs’ new product line. Their Summer ’14 kit was absolutely game-changing and I was impressed by how much value their people placed on design as the foundation of a garment. Their new philosophy is all well and good for summer gear, but what does it look like in a piece like the Baffled Parka which might possibly save your life or limbs? A cold, blustery fall climbing season in the PNW has helped me find answers.
Sierra Design Baffled Parka Features:
- Baffles eliminate “leak paths” for heat
- Light PU coating for extra water protection
- Ultralight 10D ripstop fabric
- Insulated storm flap with anti-snag construction
- Longer length adds warmth and protection
- Relaxed cut fits over heavy layering
- Jacket reverses into large interior pocket to become a camp pillow
- Hood folds in to a high protective collar
- Stuffed with 200g of 800-fill DriDown
- MSRP: $299
A jacket made for miserable conditions
Since it’s still early in the season, I’ve been seeking cold temperatures to test the Baffled Parka in and that’s led me up and up in elevation. My most recent test with this puffy came on Mt. Baker’s Coleman glacier, where I faced some truly howling winds in the Parka. I’ll tell you a little bit about the trip once I lay out the fundamentals of this jacket.
The Baffled Parka is, unlike most puffies, a true ‘baffled’ jacket; most down garments on the market use stitch-through construction which is cheaper, lighter and easier to manufacture. In contrast, the baffled parka features true baffles which incorporate extra fabric to create what is essentially a box of down. This gives the face of the jacket a much flatter feel and, crucially, it eliminates the thin spots that would let heat leak out on a generic stitch-through baffle design. This translates into a simple practical reality: the Baffled Parka is very warm and it’s intended for use in cold, miserable environments.
Misery loves company, it is said, and it’s often not quite enough for it to be freezing cold; it would like to be sopping wet if it could at all manage. We’re all quite well-acquainted with DriDown’s stellar performance in cold and wet conditions. It maintains its loft much better when damp and it tends to dry off more quickly as you wear the piece, too. However, guarding the down is a layer of 10D ultralight nylon which is treated with polyurethane to make it tougher for moisture to even touch the feathers. It’s a good combination, but Sierra Designs took an extra step and doubled up the 10D PU-treated fabric on the sleeves and butt of the jacket for additional moisture protection in this key areas which often contact snow.
The jacket itself is cut generously to accommodate all sorts of layering options and the elasticized waist lies very low on the butt to add protection. Sierra Designs included an insulated draft tube along the main zip which is slightly beefed up to keep the zipper from snagging on it too easily. Overall, the jacket is stuffed with 200g from 800-fill DriDown which places it on the decidedly warm end of the spectrum; the box baffle design is an integral component in the Baffled Parka’s excellent heat retention. For a finishing touch, the jacket can stuff into its fleece-lined pockets to make a nice warm camp pillow that’s soft against your skin.
Anyway, that’s the background on the jacket – now for a little TR from Mt. Baker, where the Baffled Parka actually became quite a star in my mind. It was a cold, rainy weekend and the trudge up Heliotrope Ridge was greeted with a chorus of protest from my desk-flabby legs; I had neglected to bring a pack cover and I spent the afternoon thinking fatalistically of how the rain would affect the various items in my pack. The Baffled Parka was right near the top and I knew it would be getting damper and damper as the day wore on. Fortunately, noon brought a break in the constant rain and, besides, I’ve used DriDown enough to be comfortable with its limits.
We reached Gargoyle Rocks camp above the Coleman Headwall around three in the afternoon; at this point, a cold wind was scudding low clouds across the glacier and I was shivering from the chill of the sweat that I had generated during the climb up to high camp. I quickly pulled out the Baffled Parka and threw it on – it was indeed slightly damp, but the protection from the wind was invaluable. We set up camp (including the SD Convert 3, which we’ll cover soon) and then I took one of my teammates, a new climber, through snow school on a field near camp. The runout was poor but the Coleman-Deming was so heavily crevassed at this point that I really needed him to be in top form with his arrests, so I plodded up the field and began rigging a J-line to protect him as he practiced. As I worked, the wind continued and I felt the Baffled Parka begin to dry out. We started practicing self arrests and I demonstrated the ending position for him, all while wearing my Baffled Parka. Here the extra protection at the butt and sleeves was invaluable as I flaunted the jacket’s water-repellant capabilities in the snow. I even took a few short slides in it and I was very pleased that the 10D fabric was more than up to the challenges of ice and adze.
The next morning we got a good alpine start and headed on up. Once we reached Pumice Ridge the wind was truly howling and I was glad to have the Baffled Parka as our progress was slowed by increasingly tenuous routefinding as the crevasses thickened into a maze. The Parka’s hood was especially comfortable – just like their Mobile Mummy, the hood is designed to fit nicely and snug up once the zipper is pulled up, eliminating the need for shock cord and extraneous pulls. They did an excellent job – it accommodated my bulky helmet and didn’t encumber my ability to look around. I love the fact that Sierra Designs went with large, plain webbing zipper pulls which are a breeze to use with mitts. The jacket amazed me with its warmth – at 9,000 feet on a windy Fall day, I was wearing only the Parka and a light baselayer and I felt completely comfortable, even when we rested enough that I was no longer generating heat. It is truly a fantastically warm jacket.
Good Baffled Parka:
- Excellent warmth/weight ration thanks to 800-fill power and box baffle design
- The hood is perfectly designed; extra toggles are simply unneeded
- Fleece-lined pockets, stuff pocket and chin guard are a welcome touch
- Large zipper pulls coupled with big, toothy zips allow for easy pulling
- Long design and elasticized waist are a simple and practical solution
- PU coating and additional protection in key areas help the Baffled Parka excel in moist environments
Bad Baffled Parka:
- Perhaps the hem is a little too tight – the Medium I tested a squeeze for a 32 inch waist wearing pants and hardshell bibs
The Bottom Line: Sierra Designs Baffled Parka
Sierra Designs has long been renowned for their excellence in down products. Their sleeping bags have long been my go-to choices for summer and winter expeditions and their down garments have been similarly impressive. The Baffled Parka is a winner on so many counts – it’s relatively affordable, it’s remarkably warm and windproof and it’s designed uncommonly well. This is the sort of product that I have no qualms recommending, but do keep in mind that it’s insanely warm. This is a true winter jacket, not a style piece for shoulder season shenanigans.
Buy now: Available from Backcountry.com