Lovingly named the Ultralight 850 Down Big Baffle Hooded Puffer Jacket, this winter garment from L.L.Bean incorporates high quality down, recycled materials and one of the highest warmth/weight ratios I’ve ever tested. This is my review:
The Big Baffle as I’ll be calling it for the rest of this review is built entirely from lightweight and weather resistant recycled nylon with a DWR finish. The jacket has a large, adjustable insulated hood, two hand pockets, one external chest pocket and two large internal pockets along with an internal chest pocket. The cuffs and chin are both lined with soft fleece draft collars, while the hip section is elongated for additional coverage. It also has an adjustable hem to help block snow from getting inside while reducing heat loss. The jacket is filled with 850 DownTek water repellent down, includes a cozy stuff sack and retails for $299.
What I liked
My primary concern with any dedicated Winter jacket is always thermal performance. If it cannot hold up to blistery, snowy conditions, it’s not even going to make it to the reviewing stage of this site. Luckily for the Big Baffle, this jacket has impressed me from the beginning. The now classic big baffle design allows for large plumes of warm, fluffy down fill to be stored directly against the body, creating toasty plates of winter armor. These baffles proved to handle the distribution of down fill exceptionally well despite their size, which helps to prevent the occurrence of hot or cold spots that can form when the down clumps up together. The baffles are sewn close enough together that no air is able to seep out between seams, while still providing some thermal regulation. These down filled channels are also deep and thick enough that when paired with the tightly wound nylon fabric, they make due as an excellent wind block layer, without becoming suffocating or overly hot. I was especially happy with the thick, luscious baffles that fall around the wrists as they seal up against my skin nicely and helped keep my hands stay noticeably warmer just by being in close proximity. I’ve so far used this jacket into the 20’s with only a synthetic short sleeve shirt on underneath and haven’t felt so much as a chill seeping through, keeping me exceptionally warm even in howling wind and snow. It is an impressively warm jacket.
The Big Baffle is also extremely comfortable. The material cut is mostly relaxed in shape and leaves little bit of space underneath, allowing for a fleece and lightweight base layer to be worn underneath without becoming snug. It does tuck in a little around the waist to help block out drafts and provide a slightly more flattering look. The shoulders have enough extra room to allow for a full range of motion, and the materials are exceptionally smooth and soft against the skin, making it feel relatively friction free. Even the hood feels great as it is lined with a soft micro fleece lining around the face and neck. It fits a little loose, but as a result never feels trapping or restrictive, and can easily accommodate a thick beanie or other headgear.
Build quality is very good. It is constructed from very lightweight nylon material, so I recommend keeping it away from sharp objects and briers, but the actual construction is top notch. The nylon is extremely consistent with Pertex yarn for added tear strength, and all of the stitching is consistent with me only finding a couple stray threads, but not a single sloppy seam. The fabric does a good job of shedding light rain and splashes, and it cleans up rather easily once it does get dirty. So far, I’ve been rather happy with the durability as it has held up to being packed down many, many times, being stuffed in with other equipment, and has been used both on and off the trail with great success.
I really found myself appreciating the smaller features of the jacket like the soft fleece inner cuffs, the elongated length in the rear which blocks out breezes when crouching or bending over, and the thick baffles over the hand pockets that help prevent cold hands when hiking in windy weather. The inner chest pocket is great for storing phones and cameras too, which can help keep the batteries warm and functioning in the cold.
Aside from a single hang up with the main chest zipper as it ate a stray string leftover from manufacturing, I’m yet to have and real binds or hangs from the zippers. The main zipper in particular is reinforced with a stiff nylon backing that not only holds the zipper on track but also prevents the soft lining material from getting caught up on it. It’s a small detail but really makes a difference when working with cold hands and trying to vent while hiking.
It packs down rather easily into the included stuff sack and fits handily into even smaller backpacks, making it a great option for hiking, backpacking, and for working or just exploring around town.
What I didn’t like
While the fleece cuffs feel amazing against the skin and easily accommodate my rather thick wool gloves, they do get a little less than comfortable when paired with a smart watch. They tend to bunch up on the elbow side of the wrist, or just compress the watch band into the skin underneath, which isn’t very comfortable. It is a little worse when combing the sleeves, gloves and a watch as there is really no way to accommodate all three. It is a minor issue and I have mostly gotten used to it, but it’s worth mentioning with smart watches becoming more and more common on the trail.
Limited venting options means hiking in this jacket can get hot real quick. Luckily it manages moisture pretty well and dries up quickly.
In my testing, the Big Baffle has held up extremely well to a wide range of challenges. Sloppy city sleet, frigid mountain snow, and even drizzle on milder days. It provides exceptional warmth in even extremely cold,windy conditions, without ever feeling like it is struggling to insulate. I really appreciated the relaxed fit, elongated design, and the generously filled baffles around the hands, while the construction quality and design as a whole really round out the jacket into a cohesive, high performance package. The fabrics feel great against the skin and it has one of the most comfortable hoods I’ve ever tested, often convincing me to leave my dedicated beanie at home which of course saves me some weight. It also packs down small, is light enough for serious winter backpacking, and it makes a great “just in case” layer for those who always like to plan for the worst. Basically, the Big Baffle, despite the long and uninspired name, comes out as anything but. It is to the point, performs exceptionally well, and stands out as an excellent ultra-light yet high performance jacket.
The Highest of Recommendations
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