The overhead monitor reported that we were at 39,000ft with an outside temperature of 74 degrees Fahrenheit and headwinds of 56 mph as we flew home from Europe last winter. It reminded me of the conditions we experience when climbing mountains during backcountry skiing trips. After a long climb, you can see the view from a pilot’s perspective of the world. Then, you bask in the winds that blow through the blue.

I used to stay high enough to enjoy the 360-degree view, then retreat to the lower shelves to find shelter. I used to complain about the cold a lot. Modern gear has made it possible to live comfortably in the cold. I have been trying out a variety of Mountain Equipment torso layers for state-of-the-art clothing.

Mountain Equipment sent four jackets for us to evaluate: Xero, a hooded down jacket (432 grams).

Trojan, softshell jacket with hood, 464g

Bastion, hooded Primaloft jacket in Primaloft, 432g

Hispar, fuzzy fleece jacket, 316 grams

My favorite two games were Xero & Trojan.

Me, Mountain Equipment Xero down jacket, skiing Europe.

The Xero down jacket was my choice over the Bastion hooded Primaloft for our hut trip in Austria’s Otztal Alps. The jackets are similar in weight, but the Xero has 750+ more insulation.

It is always difficult to decide whether to pack down insulation or synthetic insulation. If you don’t wear it often, down is lightweight and easily compressible. Synthetic is warm even when wet and can be worn without a waterproof shell. When temperatures drop, I love to keep a jacket in my bag. It’s not easy to change the weather in the mountains. When it gets cold, it’s a luxury to have a warm jacket. Because a ski tour increases my body temperature, I only need a warm layer for breaks and bivies. So I chose the small stuff sack that contained the Xero.

The Xero features a tapered, long-waisted bodice and vertical pockets zip in contrasting colors. This gives it a slimmer appearance. The jacket was well-cut and didn’t make me look like a dome. It’s more expensive than lower fill powers, but it’s a great jacket that is compressible. Although it might seem obvious, fill power refers to the amount of down. Fill power of 750+ is loftier and provides better insulation than fill weights of 550. It is also more compressible.

The Xero poofed like popcorn on a hot stove as soon as it was taken out of its tiny bag. I was lying in bed with a bowl of double butter Jiffy Pop and a movie.

The lightweight fabric is often used to protect the down in down jackets. This improves compressibility. Durability is the downside. Helium 30 is the perfect medium for the Xero. The fabric is lightweight and doesn’t snag pine twiggies. It also has DWR (durable waterproof resistance), allowing light snow to fall without soaking.

I also like

Hood large enough to fit a helmet

The zippered hood is almost as tall as the neck, making it a balaclava.

A Hood bungee pull is placed at the front to prevent the end from whipping the face.

Construction with stitch-through ensures that down doesn’t shift

To increase hand warmth, full down padding is placed in the front pockets

Inner zip chest pocket

Simple elastic cuffs

I didn’t know about Large inside mesh pockets.

Hispar fleece was another jacket that I brought on our hut trip. I used it mainly for lounging in the hut. Hispar fleece is lightweight and keeps you warm without getting too hot. It was comfortable enough to wear as a sleeping bag but also doubled up as an insulation layer for colder days. The sleeves were long enough to cover my long arms.

Lisa stayed warm while skiing Independence Pass in Colorado with the Bastion hooded Primaloft Jacket.

The Bastion jacket is a lightweight Primaloft layer I use for hiking and touring on cool days. Although it isn’t waterproof, it is water repellent enough to withstand drizzle. It is highly breathable, thanks to the strategically placed soft shell underneath the sleeves. The hood is large enough to fit a helmet and warmer than a softshell. The bungee pulls in the jacket is a great feature, as well as the outside hang loop at the back.

I’m missing a feature: Two large mesh pockets in the jacket would be great.

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