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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.