Mountain Hardwear StretchDown DS – Stretchy Insulation Almost Dialed
Down jackets are pretty good at keeping you warm but have always suffered from three problems. They’re pretty useless when wet; down clusters shift and escape; and, they have to be sized large enough that you can move in them. The Mountain Hardwear StretchDown DS solves all three of those problems. But, it’s not perfect.
On our last episode, we took on Mountain Hardwear’s StretchDown RS. It used a stretchy fabric on the liner and a traditional face fabric, welded together to eliminate seams. It had water-resistant Q.Shield down. So, it no longer had to be oversized for movement and kept more of its insulating properties when things got damp. But, while the welded baffles eliminated most of the needle holes where down could escape, it still used a traditional baffle layout, meaning down could shift. This was especially a problem in the shoulder area, where diagonal baffles meant that down shifted away from the front of the shoulders and collected in the back. Does the StretchDown DS solve all those problems? Yes, but some new ones popped up.
StretchDown DS Features and Fit
Because of the traditional face fabric on the RS, it stretched and it moved a bit, but not with you. The StretchDown DS uses a dynamic stretch knit polyester on both the face and liner fabrics, which makes for huge freedom of movement. (MH used this same fabric on the inside of the RS and on both face and inner fabric of the vanilla StretchDown.) The DS also swaps in Nikwax 800-fill, RDS certified, fluorine-free down for the 750-fill, Q.Shield down that was in the RS.
The DS really sets itself apart in its baffle structure. Where the RS and original StretchDown jackets used traditional channel baffles, the StretchDown DS uses what I’d call an alternating offset channel baffle structure. Welds are short and offset, creating little pillows of down in an alternating pattern. Also, notice that the pillows change shape and size as you move down the torso. Smaller baffles mean less weight, but less warmth. Mountain Hardwear targets the down in the DS to your upper torso, where you’re less likely to have overlapping bottom layers to enhance insulation.
Better movement allows for a more technical fit, which means less air to heat. The StretchDown DS is a much more technical fit than the RS was. In the same size large, I’d guess you lose 1-2″ of circumference in the torso from the bottom hem all the way up to the chest. Shoulders are about the same width. Arms are slightly shorter, maybe 1″ tops.
Two handwarmer pockets and one Napoleon pocket adorn the outside. Inside, you’ll find a pair of really nice drop pockets. Using the Sean scale of drop pocket measurement, I’d say they’re 1.5-tallboy pockets.
So far, so good. I have to knock MH on the hood design, though. Both the RS and DS had scuba-style hoods that eschew drawcords for elastic around the face. The RS hood fits well and seal in warmth. The DS hood, on the other hand, is loose and sloppy. I don’t think Mountain Hardwear was trying to make a helmet-compatible hood; if they were, they failed. But while it’s not big enough for even an alpine helmet, it’s too loose for a bare head. The collar is also a problem, just coming up to the top of my neck without offering any facial coverage at all. So, a big miss above the shoulders for the StretchDown DS.
The weight of my large tester was 1 lb, 4.625oz (588g). MH lists the DS hoody at 1 lb, 3 oz (539g), but doesn’t tell us in what size.
How I tested the StretchDown DS
I wore the Mountain Hardwear StretchDown DS casually on days ranging from 40ºF down to 0ºF. I also wore it skiing in-bounds and packed it on backcountry missions. It saw sun, wind, and snow, and abrasion from pack straps and ski edges, over the course of two months.
Mountain Hardwear StretchDown DS Review
Other than the hood, the DS replaces the RS as my favorite down hoody. I always felt the RS was a bit loose in the torso; the DS fixes that – to the EXTREME (think Homer Simpson as Poochie). Any smaller and I would have to size up. If you plan on wearing it over anything other than a base and thin mid layer, consider sizing up yourself.
Despite its athletic fit, I never once felt restricted by the StretchDown DS. It moves, unrestricted, with its wearer no matter the activity. Arms up over your head, placing protection or swinging a tool or just loading skis on a rack, everything stays in place. Reaching for a pole plant is effortless. I basically forgot that I was wearing the jacket, except for one inbounds ski session in 35º, sunny weather when I overheated a little bit. I always like when I stop thinking about my gear.
The offset baffles appear to be interconnected, but I experienced no down shifting. Zippers slid smoothly on all three pockets, likewise with the main. The drawcord in the hem is easy to use and cord locks are hidden, but easy to use as well.
Mountain Hardwear recommends the StretchDown DS for alpine climbing and backpacking/hiking. I agree that it would be a nice piece for cold, alpine climbing, though it lacks a second zipper pull and needs to be sized up for belay duties. I might consider taking the DS along on a day hike to wear when stopped, but I wouldn’t consider it a good piece for aerobic activities. It would not be my choice for backpacking. I can recommend it for inbounds ski/snowboard days. I also felt comfortable with it taking up space in my pack on backcountry days – strip it on the way up and don it on the way back down or during breaks.
That darn hood! I really don’t use hoods on my down layers much. But, on those rare occasions, I want it to cinch down and keep warmth in around my head. The DS fails there. But it succeeds everywhere else. The fit is a big improvement over the RS, making the DS a true, technical layer. It moves!
Mountain Hardwear makes a DS jacket to compliment the hoody. I think it makes sense to save the $40 and skip the hood/frustration.
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