Some of you may know this and some of you may not but here’s a (very) quick primer on the theory behind insulation. When you’re wearing something like a down-filled jacket, it isn’t the feathers that keep you warm – it’s actually the space in between, the space filled with air that generates the warmth. How does this work? Well, your body can heat up air to a certain degree but the larger the space, the more difficult it is to heat it up so what down and other insulating materials seek to do is create tiny spaces – the space within the 3D down clusters – and that is what your body heats up.
With that out of the way, today we’re taking a look at a new way of thinking with regard to insulation and that is the technology behind NuDown – which, in fact, doesn’t use down at all. The piece we’ll be using that includes NuDown is their Mount Whitney vest, so let’s get to it!
Before getting more into the NuDown tech (NuTech) and all that any more, let’s take a look at the Mount Whitney vest simply as a garment. The shell of the vest is made from a 50 denier, 4-way stretch polyester fabric that lets it move with the body and account for the air that will eventually fill it without sacrificing durability. directly below each armpit is a v-shaped section of Polartec Windpro for freedom of movement. The interior of the vest is lined with sustainable bamboo and charcoal mesh which is both antimicrobial and moisture wicking. The high collar is lined with Primaloft Gold since the NuTech doesn’t extend to that area and also found at the back of the collar is a RECCO reflector.
The NuDown Mount Whitney vest has three exterior pockets – two hand pockets and a left-side breast pocket – all with water-resistant zippers. The two hand pockets are lined with the same material as the interior of the vest and the left pocket houses the pump mechanism (that’s right, there’s a pump!) in a secondary, zippered pocket. The breast pocket includes an internal media port for headphone cords and the like.
I have to say right off that the durability of this piece has impressed me. While I’m sure I’m probably well on my way to voiding some sort of warranty I had this as my outer layer over just a base layer on a particularly warm day recently. I found myself skiing deep into sound rather ugly glades where the lower branches of trees seemed to reach out to grab at me. On several occasions I caught these branches in the chest as I skied through them and the vest held up perfectly with nary a mark that couldn’t be wiped away. The pockets are certainly handy though the zippers could be a bit longer. Putting my bare hand in a pocket was tight but fine though trying to get a gloved hand in there at all would be difficult at best. One noticeable thing that caught my attention is that the NuDown vest is a bit heavier that you’re going to see from a down vest. For example a comparable, men’s large down vest (with waterproof down from DownTek/Sustainable Down Source) comes in at 7.4 ounces where the Mount Whitney vest comes in at 23.4 ounces. It didn’t bother me very much at all but it is noticeable if you’re used to a light down piece.
The Mount Whitney vest from NuDown seems to run a bit large but there is a caveat to that; this vest needs room to be inflated (more on this in the performance section below) so while deflated it’s large through the torso, that works itself out once filled with air. The one place where it remains a bit on the large side, even when inflated, is in the shoulders so if you’re broad shouldered, you should be fine, but otherwise you may notice a bit of extra material. There is also an elastic drawcord around the hem of the vest which NuDown (and I) recommend tightening which will allow the insulating properties of the piece to work that much better by sealing out the base.
Under a shell the Mount Whitney vest is comfortable although it will make you appear a bit bigger through the torso – which is an added bonus should you encounter a mountain lion or a drunk meathead and need to appear larger than you actually are. Regardless of appearance, I found the vest to be very comfortable and it didn’t get in my way at all.
Now let’s get into the meat of how the NuDown vest works. As you can see in the images the vest is lined with segmented chambers. These chambers are meant to be filled with air from the pump in the lefthand pocket – which looks not unlike the ball pump on a sphygmomanometer (that’s the technical word for a blood pressure taking thingy). The basic premise of NuDown is to increase the amount of air in the chambers as temperatures become colder and to decrease it as temperatures become warmer. So when you begin a climb/ski touring day at a lower elevation where it’s warmer the Mount Whitney vest could be completely deflated and thus providing the least amount of additional insulation. As you go higher, and hence colder, you can pump up the chambers which increases the amount of insulation. According to NuDown:
5 pumps give you an initial blast of insulation that will suffice for normal activity on slightly chilly days.
10 pumps will get you started in harsher conditions.
15-20+ pumps will protect you in the cruelest of colds, like when you’re on the lift waiting to take that extra end-of-the-day run.
Now, I really don’t think it matters so much how many pumps it takes (and the above numbers are based on approximations using a medium-sized garment) but my men’s large took about 55 pumps to get to what I’d consider right for the warmest of settings.
But how warm is it? Very. On that particularly warm day in the glades I mentioned above, the reason that I was wearing just a baselayer and the NuDown vest was because the combination of the shell I was initially wearing on top of the vest was too much – and that was with it completely deflated. On a different day skiing – when it actually felt like January – I had the Mount Whitney vest out in temperatures of about 5°f with just a shell on top of it. Starting off at the beginning of the day I was comfortable with the vest inflated fully and as the day wore on and temps got to a balmy 20°f I deflated along the way and remained comfortable.
As I mentioned above there is a bit of additional weight to the Mount Whitney vest from NuDown but for the amount of customization that you can achieve with it, I think it’s a price worth paying.
Before I go into price and such, I should mention that there are other pieces available from NuDown including a full on coat insulated with NuTech. On top of that, I mentioned to the folks at NuDown at this year’s SIA Snow Show that with the feeling of a gentle hug that NuTech gives you, I can imaging that this would be a big asset for those who have a bit of anxiety going on.
At full price the Mount Whitney vest from NuDown comes in at a not-so-subtle $450. However, as this technology matures and potentially gets licensed out the price should begin to come down. In fact, at the Amazon link below we’ve found it for as low at $260 (depending on size and color) so if a huge amount of customizability in a variety of temperatures is something you’re looking for, this vest with NuTech can do the job of several other pieces.
Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).