The GearJunkie: Mountain Hardwear StretchDown DS Hooded | AspenTimes.com

The GearJunkie: Mountain Hardwear StretchDown DS Hooded

by Stephen Regenold

The color scheme on my Mountain Hardwear puffy turned heads. Its pod-pattern construction brought questions from people used to more of a "Michelin man" look in the category of uber-insulated winter coats.

New this winter, the StretchDown DS Hooded Jacket is something different. Its knit polyester body is stuffed with 800-fill down, though not in a traditional baffled design.

Mountain Hardwear has an entire line of outerwear with stretch-based down construction. This jacket actually uses the technique for warmth and (as a bonus) it adds an aesthetic flare; the DS Hooded Jacket ($340) looks like nothing I have seen before.

Beyond looks, it is warm and fits well. The hood hugs tight, and it turns with the head despite no adjustments.

I've been living in this jacket all month. The insulation can provide warmth to 15 degrees Fahrenheit if you're standing around. And you can push that temp much lower if you're on the move with just a single layer or two underneath.

It's highly water-resistant with a DWR treatment, and wind bounces off the face. That said, there are no closures at the wrist cuffs; no collar adjustment; and, as noted, the hood frames the face but does not cinch tight, letting some air inside if you're not wearing a hat and a neck gaiter underneath.

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The company touts the stretch-welded channel construction traps more warmth than standard stitching. I would agree, depending on the definition of standard. There are certainly down jackets as warm as the DS Hooded, though the welded design does prove efficient for climbing and all-around winter use.

It's an original construction, with pods of down patterned in a strange geometry. Stitch-less, flat-fabric welds dice it up, giving definition and symmetry, and also holding the goose feathers in place.

There are fewer stitches throughout the jacket than most anything comparable. This gives a clean look and also, I assume, an efficiency in manufacturing missing from a traditional sewn-baffled design.

Its namesake stretch is noticeable, though not a primary reason to buy. Because there is so little stitching, the outer fabric stretches as you move; pull it taut and you feel the give. In action, the dynamic nature is present, though it's only a small upgrade from normal, "non-stretchy" coats.

Features overall are few on this Mountain Hardwear model. No pit zips are included, but there's a bungee at the hem to cinch the jacket on your waist. Pockets come generously, including three zipped and two big, open internal stow pouches where I toss gloves and a hat when I heat up.

A note on fit: Sizing runs perhaps a bit off on this jacket; I am 6-foot-1 (185 pounds) and found the size medium to be almost a perfect fit. Its wrist cuffs were positioned correctly, and the hem sat right at my waist.

I would not want this jacket any larger. I recommend buying down jackets that hug close to the body. Dead space inside gives more air to heat, and the jacket is less effective.

The medium DS Hooded fit me just right in this area, mapping close to my torso without feeling tight.

Overall, I recommend this jacket to anyone looking for a do-all insulated puffy. It will serve a climber or a skier, though the design lacks technical facets for either of those sports. Instead, look to the DS Hooded to keep you warm this winter across activities, and to look good along the way.

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at http://www.gearjunkie.com.