Eddie Bauer is doing some work to make its original mountain explorer image part of its company vibe again. At the heart of the effort is its First Ascent brand.
You won't find First Ascent casual wear of any sort. It's meant to be technical wear, and you will see it on some of the world's highest peaks. First Ascent designed the line with input from experienced mountaineers like Ed Visteurs and Melissa Arnott. And these experts are outfitted with First Ascent gear as they span the world climbing all sorts of crazy stuff.
Obviously, First Ascent wants this stuff to hold up against some stern tests. That's good news for everyday people like me, who are more likely to just go skiing, snowshoeing or even just sledding in the cold weather.
I recently tested the First Ascent Downlight sweater and Serrano jacket, and came away with some impressions. This should help you figure out which is better for you.
Up with Downlight
The first to endure my abuse was the Downlight sweater ($169-$189). I grabbed a blue XL from my local Eddie Bauer store. Its first assignment was keeping me warm at the Kona 24 Hours of Old Pueblo â€“ mostly at night when I wasn't on my bike. Temperatures got into the low 30s F. Mission accomplished! Next up was four days in Breckenridge, Colo., with temperatures from 12 to 22 degrees. Even in windy conditions on the slopes, the Downlight kept me warm. I teamed it with an UnderArmour Heatgear shirt, a long-sleeved cycling jersey and a light fleece Alpine Designs sweater. At night, every part covered by the Downlight was warm, even though I had one less layer.
There's just one problem with the Downlight â€“ the down feathers don't seem to stay put. My fleece was always covered in white feathers. I described the problem via e-mail to Eddie Bauer customer service; the representative said it was likely defective, and gave me some instructions for returning it. I took it back to my local store, and I learned that a few other Downlight sweaters had also been returned. With that in mind, I decided to go with ...
The Serrano Jacket
Rather than down, the Serrano ($169) is made from PrimaLoft. Both products look similar, though I missed the awesome electric blue of the DownLight â€“ black is cool and all, but the blue just rocked. And unlike the Downlight, the Serrano doesn't have the very cool ability to fold into its own zippered pocket for travel â€“ it does come with a carrying bag, though.
Here's something that I loved about the Serrano, though â€“ it has these cool wrist gaiters that keep snow and wind at bay. I was able to use my old pair of short-cuff Hotfinger gloves rather than the rather ragged and ineffective long-cuff gloves I used in Breckenridge. Through two days in Flagstaff, Ariz., and temperatures in the high 20s, my hands stayed really warm thanks to the gaiters.
The Polartec Power Stretch side panels, though, exposed a weakness in the Serrano. When the winds picked up, the cold air knifed straight through and gave me a nasty chill. I'd axe these side panels in a second. Considering the gaiters, which seem to scream "use me in cold weather," the side panels seem to muddle the Serrano's mission.
So Which is Better?
I love the solid, non-feather-losing construction of the Serrano â€“ and it's super-fly wrist gaiters. It also has more pockets than the Downlight. But I think it's awesome that the Downlight folds in on itself and better protects from the wind. And have I mentioned that sweet blue color?
First Ascent can perfect both of these by offering wrist gaiters in both, fixing the feather problems with the Downlight and ditching the side panels on the Serrano.
I really like both products, despite some quibbles. Both are very compact and do their jobs well. They're a decent value compared to competitor's products, and the Eddie Bauer customer service and store staff members were first-rate.
You can also see my more in-depth review of the Downlight Sweater on AssociatedContent.com.
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