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Reviews: Sierra Designs F17 Puffies || Well designed & priced, but heavy

Testing grounds for the new Sierra Designs insulated jackets: an elk hunt in November in the Colorado Rockies, at elevations of 8k-10k, temperatures in the 20’s and 30’s, and snowy and humid conditions.

On our recent elk hunt in the Colorado Rockies, Steve and I wore two new Fall 2017 puffies from Sierra Designs, the Tioga Hoodie and Sierra Jacket. These two pieces share nearly identical features with the Tuolumne Jacket and Whitney Hoodie, so I will dare to extrapolate our experiences and include them in this review as well.

The complete collection consists of four puffies: two with synthetic insulation (one hood-less, one hooded), and two with down insulation (again, one hood-less, one hooded). The men’s and women’s versions have different silhouettes and colors, but otherwise are the same; they are not unisex.

Review: Sierra Designs Tuolumne, Tioga, Sierra, and Whitney Jackets & Hoodies

Overall, these jackets are:

  • Excellently priced for the quality, starting at $100 and topping out at $170;
  • Thoughtfully designed, with convenient hand pockets, functional interior pockets, and draft-reducing double wrist collars; and,
  • Relatively heavy and bulky compared to simpler and higher-end insulated jackets.

The Tuolumne, Tioga, Sierra, and Whitney are suitable for general outdoor use, not gram-conscious backpackers. They occupy the space — in terms of both performance and price — between premium products like the Western Mountaineering Hooded Flash Jacket ($375, 10 oz) and Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody ($300, 9 oz), and what is available from Uniqlo or your local Costco.

Collection overview & product specs

A closer look at these four jackets:

Insulations

Jackets and hoodies insulated with high-loft synthetic and down insulation are designed to keep you warm when you’re stopped, like at a mid-day rest break, in camp, or at a high school football game on a brisk fall day. For maximum performance, take precautions to keep them dry.

Fireball

The less expensive Tuolumne and Tioga are insulated with Fireball, a proprietary synthetic insulation that mimics the structure of down: individual clusters of wispy fibers. It looks similar to Thermoball, a Primaloft insulation that is used exclusively by The North Face. Versus a jacket insulated with a traditional continuous filament or short-staple synthetic insulation like Primaloft Gold or Climashield Apex, the Fireball jackets seems more supple.

Like other brands with synthetic-insulated garments and sleeping bags, Sierra Designs overstates the performance of Fireball in wet conditions, claiming that it, “insulates even when wet.” This claim is slightly less inaccurate than the oft-used, “warm when wet,” but it’s still more optimistic-sounding than it should be.

Fireball may be warmer than down if it gets soaked (unlikely with proper layering) or if you’re in a damp environment (much more likely), but it does not offer peak warmth in either situation. I experienced this first-hand: after hiking in the clouds and through heavy snowfall on opening day morning, the Tioga was not as warm as it was when dry.

Fireball is new to Sierra Designs and I’m not intimately familiar with it. Given the price, I suspect it’s a run-of-the-mill insulation: its thermal efficiency is probably comparable to a mid-grade down (i.e. no better than 600-fill), and it will probably will not retain its insulating abilities as well as down — due to repeated compressions, Fireball will flatten out and lose some of its warmth.

Fireball is a synthetic insulation that mimics down: individual clusters of wispy fibers. A Fireball jacket must be baffled the same way as a down jacket.

In comparison, these baffles are filled with real down, 800-fill DriDown.

DriDown

The Sierra Jacket and Whitney Hoodie are insulated with 800-fill power DriDown, which is more thermally efficient and more compressible than Fireball. This water-resistant down is not warm when wet either, but it seems to dry more quickly and to hold up better in damp environments than untreated down. I saw this in action during our hunt: for extra warmth on this November trip, I brought along a beautiful PHD Yukon Down Pullover ($400, 12 oz, untreated 950-fill down), and its loft collapsed badly in the high humidity.

I own and have used extensively several jackets and sleeping bags insulated with DriDown, and am pleased with its long-term performance. If you can afford down and if you’re not going to be in extremely humid conditions, the DriDown jackets will have a longer lifespan for heavy users.

Warmth

Compared to his usual insulated jacket — the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer ($350, 8 oz), which has 79g of 800-fill water-resistant down — Steve felt that the Sierra Jacket was a notch warmer.

Compared to my usual insulated jacket — the Sierra Designs Elite DriDown Hoodie ($250, 12 oz), which has 100g of 800-fill DriDown — I thought the Tioga Jacket was subtly warmer.

In both cases, the boost in warmth is partially explained by the additional mass of these jackets (e.g. heavier 40d fabrics, overlapping pocket fabrics, and double wrist cuffs), not just an increase in the amount of insulation.


Specs and features

A quick and dirty recap of the smaller details:

Exterior pockets

The unlined hand pockets are convenient when standing around, but inaccessible while wearing a backpack. The Sierra and Whitney also have an exterior chest pocket that can accommodate a 6-inch smartphone or smaller items.

Interior pockets

In these generously sized drop pockets, I put things like my fuel canister (before meals to improve its pressure), glove liners (to keep them warm), and a 1L bottle of coffee (to keep me warm). The Fireball jackets have two interior pockets; the DriDown jackets have only the mesh pocket.

The interior pockets are useful for storing items that you want to keep warm (e.g. fuel canister, as in right pocket) or that you want to warm you (e.g. 1L hot drink bottle, as in left pocket).

Collar and hood

The neck and head are insulted comfortably, but not snugly, which results in some drafts. The hood cuff is elasticized, but otherwise has no adjustments.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to look unhappy, guess I’d rather be out running this morning than typing up this review. The collar and hood fit comfortably but not snugly. The hood cuff is elasticized but has no adjustments.

Shell fabrics

The 40d fabrics are softer (less crinkly) and perhaps more durable than thinner 10d and 20d versions. The breathability seemed good, but water-resistance to wet snow seemed lacking for a new jacket, although long-term that’s irrelevant — I don’t trust any “water-resistant” fabric to keep me dry.

Double wrist cuffs

As someone who struggles with thin extremities and cold hands, I may appreciate this feature more than most, as it helps to seal off drafts better than a conventional wrist cuff.

If you’re baffled by why the down jackets are heavier than the Fireball jackets, look no further than this feature — 3-inch elasticized cuffs are heavy.

The double wrist cuff helps to reduce drafts, keeping arms (and thus fingers) warmer.

Questions about any of these jackets? Please leave a comment.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

Also, I work with Sierra Designs as as product and marketing consultant, although I had no involvement in the design or marketing of these jackets. SD provided me with the jackets for review.

8 Responses to Reviews: Sierra Designs F17 Puffies || Well designed & priced, but heavy

  1. Kango November 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm #

    The wrist cuffs are a interesting feature. But they could probably had pared it down to one inch instead of three. I often have trouble with wrist cuffs not being tight enough to seal out the cold and to seal the warmth in.

    It does look like the collar needs a redesign with the hood. It looks too big and won’t keep the warm in. Either make the collar tighter against the neck or larger to keep against your chin.

    • Andrew Skurka November 13, 2017 at 4:47 pm #

      All good comments.

  2. PStuart November 14, 2017 at 6:28 am #

    Was excited when I got the email from Sierra Designs about these jackets until I got to the part about no hood adjustment. A definite deal breaker for me.

  3. Jive November 16, 2017 at 8:40 pm #

    Thanks for the review of the jackets. Love the fact that even though you work for Sierra Designs, you offer a no BS approach and tell it how it is. Your honesty is why I keep coming back to this page. Thanks again. –JY

  4. Gordon November 18, 2017 at 5:57 am #

    Had never seen the PHD Yukon before. Is it warmer, or just lighter, than my SD Elite Baffled Parka?

    • Andrew Skurka November 18, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

      Compared to the SD Elite Baffled Parka, the PHD Yukon is lighter (in net weight) and warmer per weight (thermal efficiency). However, it is not as warm. It sits between the Baffled Parka and SD’s DriDown Hoodie, if you’re familiar with that one. On a hunting trip in the Colorado Rockies in November, with a snowy forecast, the Baffled Parka would be sufficient, but otherwise you need two lighter puffies.

      • Gordon November 18, 2017 at 9:04 pm #

        Thanks, Andrew! I am familiar with both the SD Elite Hoodie and Parka, having gotten them based on your comments. The Yukon looks sweet, but I don’t think I have the niche for it. Not sure what you mean by your last sentence. In colder conditions, two lighter puffies together would be warmer than the Parka alone?

        • Andrew Skurka November 19, 2017 at 7:46 am #

          One light puffy would be inadequate for November in CO. So I had to take two, because I wanted to test these new SD jackets.

          Normally I just take one baffled parka.

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