November Roundup – Best Top Down Jackets For Kids

Whether used as a layering piece on extremely cold ski days or worn solo, kids love down and down-alternative jackets. Down doesn’t weigh kids down as they run, ski, sled, and climb, but it keeps them warm enough to stay outdoors all morning or afternoon.

For travel days, down jackets win with parents too: they pack down small, don’t weigh much, and are easy to stash in a day pack.

We tested ten jackets during the course of seven months here in Oregon, with one willing eleven-year-old as our primary test subject. He wore down jackets on ski days, to school, on field trips (you know, the kind that are actually still in the field), to Europe in mid-winter with his parents, on a cruise in Alaska, on camping trips in the Sierra Nevada and on the chilly Oregon coast, and even under a Halloween costume.

We have a lot of laundry to do, but have finally gear tested these jackets enough to give our pics for best down jackets for kids.

Note: We only considered jackets designed specifically for youth (no women or men’s models) and made with trackable, sourceable down. If we couldn’t find out where the down came from, the jacket didn’t make our list. Extreme cold-weather down jackets, and jackets with a retail price of over $250, were also not considered for the purpose of this round-up.

Top Down Jacket Pick: Big Agnes Icehouse

Big Agnes Kid's Ice House Hoodie
  • Lightweight nylon rip-stop shell is wind and water resistant.
  • 700 fill power DownTekTM water repellent down insulation.
  • Insotect FlowTM vertical baffles contour to your body to provide a more comfortable fit and keep you warmer.
  • Flow GatesTM eliminate down shifting to keep uniform insulation coverage.
  • Adjustable drawcord hood closure keeps the weather out.

Why it’s great: From the makers of some of our favorite sleeping bags, the Icehouse packs 700 fill power into a jacket that felt lighter and more flexible to our tester than any other in the round up.

The outside is wind and water resistant ripstop nylon, and the down fill comes from DownTek, the down source I trust most. The vertical baffles contour to the body, which not only looks slimmer, but much more important in a youth jacket, it keeps you warmer. Pick up the Icehouse for just $65 while it’s on sale.

What we’d change: Nothing! It comes in two jewel-tone colors that will appeal to boys and girls, and the Icehouse is even on sale right now!

Runner up: Patagonia Down Sweater

Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket
  • The windproof shell is made of polyester mini-ripstop with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish.
  • Full zip-through stand-up collar; internal wind flap and zipper garage.
  • Quilt-through construction keeps down in place.
  • Two zippered handwarmer pockets with reflective webbing pulls.
  • Quilted pattern adds aesthetic appeal and feminine fit.

Why it’s great: The Patagonia down sweater sports a classic look, making it the pick if your kids want to have a jacket that looks just like mom and dad’s. The 600 fill is quilted in, which helps it keep its shape.

Kids get a stand-up collar, and we love the spandex cuff which keeps the cold out. Pick it up for $119 in several understated colors.

What we’d change: The lack of a hood can be a pro or a con, depending on use. When worn as a layering piece, we didn’t miss the hood, but when worn stand-alone during hikes and windy days, it was missed.

Budget pick: REI Co-op down

Why it’s great: The Co-Op is everything the Patagonia down sweater is, for about half the price. We loved the option of five bright colors, and the 650 fill power did the job.

The Co-Op also packed down smaller than any jacket tested, which makes it our number one choice during travel days. Pick it up for just $79.

What we’d change: It lacks a hood, so use it as a layering piece or your go-to hiking/backpacking jacket.

Best Down-Alternative Pick: White Sierra Zephyr

White Sierra Girls Zephyr Insulated Jacket
  • 100% Other Fibers.
  • Water repellent fabric.
  • 140 grams polyfill insulation.
  • Zip secure hand warmer pockets.
  • Lycra bounded hem and cuffs.

Why it’s great: We were already familiar with the Zyphyr, as my teens love the adult men’s version. The kids’ Zephyr is built with the same care to detail: a contrast zipper for a snazzy look, lycra at the hems and cuffs to keep out the cold, and 100% nylon microfiber throughout.

If you want to avoid down, this is the way to go. The Zephyr packs down incredibly small, making it a natural choice for backpacking and carry-on travel. Pick it up in several fun colors for boys and girls for about $50.

What we’d change: The Zephyr could be warmer…this is not your stand-alone jacket on extreme weather days!

Runner up: Columbia Kids Powder Lite

Columbia Boys' Powder Lite Puffer
517 Reviews
Columbia Boys' Powder Lite Puffer
  • 100% Polyester.
  • Machine Wash.
  • Water resistant fabric.
  • Faux down insulation.
  • Attached, adjustable storm hood.

The price is right for the Powder Lite (pick it up for under $35), but it simply didn’t pack down small enough for our taste.

Kids choice award: Stio Hometown

Why it’s great: The Hometown features 650-fill, HyperDry down, which is water-repellent. The hood is helmet-compatible. It can easily serve as a one-piece ski jacket in almost all weather. It’s $149, which is on the reasonable side.

As a parent, I’m not sure what magical ‘it’ factor the Hometown has sewn into it, but my son reaches for it every time. He likes the roomy fit, and ample hood, and the fun, bright colors.

What we’d change: I wish the Hometown packed down smaller. It’s bulkier than the Patagonia sweater and the REI Co-Op.

Additional jackets considered: Marmot Ajax, Hanna Andersson Superlight, Northface Andes, and REI Stratocloud.

Downy Wrinkle Releaser

From someone that prefers to travel with a carry-on bag on most trips, it is fair to say that my clothes do not always arrive in the best condition. With few domestic tendencies in my skill set, removing wrinkles typically comes in the form of hanging clothes in the bathroom while hot shower water fills the room with steam.

I have begun carrying stain removing wipes to help with any errant spills on clothes, which come in handy, but the new Downy Wrinkle Releaser spray bottle was a pleasant surprise. It comes in travel-sized bottles that pass through TSA without concern.

When you reach your destination and unpack your bags, you simply spray the wrinkle remover on your clothes where the folds or wrinkles appear. A few minutes later, you flatten your hand over the wrinkled area to smooth it out. The spray helps to relax the fabric and eliminate wrinkles. When I hang clothes on hangers that I bring with me, there can easily be marks where the edges of the hangers were pressed against the fabric (especially on thin sweaters and dress shirts). The spray was a big help. I didn’t notice the wrinkles disappear immediately, but over the course of an hour and with plenty of hand caressing fabrics smooth out.

An added bonus of the spray is that it acts as a deodorizer helping to remove odors and provide a fresh scent, which is especially helpful on long trips where my clothes endure a lot of wear and tear. Plus, when traveling with just a carry-on, dirty laundry is in the same bag as fresh clothes, and the Downy fresh scent kept things smelling pleasant.

The spray removes static cling, too, and the bottle is small enough to fit into a briefcase or jacket pocket, which makes it particularly helpful when heading for an important meeting. Another great use of the spray is to keep it in your gym bag to keep clothes looking and smelling decent.

The Downy Wrinkle Releaser makes a great stocking stuffer for frequent travelers and can be purchased for less than $5 at drugstores, grocery stores, or online at many retailers.

Lowa Palermo – Comfortable and Stylish Casual Sneaker

November 26, 2016

Lowa, a brand you normally think about as high end, technical hiking shoes, has started putting out some of the most innovativepalmero-ws casual shoes on the market.  I have nearly worn out the running shoes Lowa sent me a year ago and was hoping for another pair this year. This year Lowa sent me and my wife their new Palmero low-tops, mine in green and hers in brown.
The Palmero has quickly become my favorite casual shoe.  It’s a low top, casual sneaker that
goes great with jeans and khakis. palmero-ws palmero-wsThe green suede is eye catching and I got more compliments on them than a guy normally would get on his shoes.  The green suede has help up amazingly well and I think I can get at least a few seasons out of them.

Besides just looking good the shoe really is comfortable. The Palmero has split leather uppers and LOWA’s signature PU midsole with great shock absorption.  I lowa-sneakertook it as my main shoe to a conference in Las Vegas and after walking around all day my feet felt as good as they would have with running shoes.

My wife has been trying out the women’s Palmero in a brown and wears them a few times a week now.  She wears them to and from work and has become a huge Lowa fan in the process.   With a half hour commute each day, she tends to wear out shoes pretty quickly but the Palmero has held up great and looks brand new.

The bottom line is if you are looking to mix up your shoes this year, take a look at Lowa casual shoes.  You might just be surprised.

Comfortable and Lightweight Helinox Chair Zero

November 25, 2016

Sure, camp chairs make camp life nice and comfortable, but they’re not only for the campground. Festival goers tote them around, hikers sometimes bring them along even on a day hike, beach bonfires are better with them, and they’re even great in your own backyard.

But if you’re going to carry one around between all those places, you probably want an ultralight camp chair—unless your housemate or spouse is a chiropractor or massage therapist.

At 1.1 pounds, the Helinox Chair Zero is the lightest four-legged camp chair. It packs down to the size of a large water bottle, and is easy to stash in a pack or carry along in its stuff sack.

When assembled, the seat is 11 inches from the ground, and the chair measures 20.5 inches wide by 18.9 inches deep by 25.2 inches high. It’s also extremely comfortable for a camp chair, so you’re not trading comfort for packability and weight.

The DAC aluminum frame is all shock-corded together, which makes for an easy setup, and you won’t lose pole pieces. Once you have the frame together, insert the poles into the pole sleeves on the ripstop polyester seat. All done.

The Chair Zero has a 265-pound weight capacity, and it’s quite sturdy and durable. If you’re planning to tote it along to the beach, or are concerned about using it on the muddy ground, there’s an additional groundsheet from Helinox (purchased separately) that you can use to keep the legs from sinking.

I’ve used this chair while camping, hanging out on the beach, and also at local parades. The fact that it barely adds weight to my bag makes me pick it first every time.

The Helinox Chair Zero lists for $119 at REI, and will also be available on the Big Agnes site beginning January 2017.

Adidas Flyloft jacket

‘Tis the season for bundling up! I am a big fan of down and down alternative jackets for travel, since they can pack down small yet also pack a lot of warmth. I’ve reviewed several that I still wear all the time, but this year, the newcomer is the Adidas Flyloft. New from Adidas Outdoors, the Flyloft jacket comes in a men’s, women’s, and vest version, and is made with synthetic down insulation.

Weighing in at only nine ounces, the Flyloft is the lightest down alternative jacket I’ve tried. The weight, combined with the generous fit (it’s not boxy, but it’s roomy), makes it my go-to jacket when I think I may work up a sweat in the cold. There’s no hood, and the neckline is generous, so you can zip it up to your chin. It’s been along for the ride on late fall mountain bike rides, hikes, and travel days in Peru, when I was at almost 14,000 feet in elevation. Don’t let the thin construction fool you: the Flyloft keeps you warm, especially in chilly wind.

How does Adidas keep the Flyloft light as air? They use clusters of synthetic insulation that mimic down in warmth, weight and compressibility, and the squares are quite small, allowing for a better distribution (in my opinion) of the synthetic material. The outside is 100% nylon. Plus, because it’s not down, the jacket retains warmth when wet. I wouldn’t wear it in a full blown rain storm or anything, but in damp and drizzle, it retains its puffiness.

You get zip hand pockets on the outside, of course, and an internal security pocket to keep all belongings safe. Best of all from a travel standpoint, the Flyloft can pack down into its own pocket for easy storage. I’ve easily stowed my Flyloft in my day pack during trekking in South America and in my carry-on tote on air travel days. Most of the time, I don’t even bother to stuff it in the pocket; I just squish it right down into my pack.

Pick up the Flyloft in women’s sizing from small to extra-large. I’m a medium, and as I have muscular shoulders, some medium jackets are too snug for full arm movement. I found the Flyloft to be a perfect medium for me. Colors range from black, ink, and white to a really lovely mint/ice green. Pick one up for $150, or look for the vest version for about $109. As noted, there is a men’s version, which is currently on sale at Adidas.

Andiamo Elegante 28” Hard Side Spinner Luggage

Andiamo is known for its high-quality luggage, and it has a strong reputation among frequent travelers. I have become a huge fan of spinner luggage, which makes it easy to push luggage around thanks to four wheels that move in all directions. That’s why I was especially interested in this bag.

The Andiamo Elegante 28” Hard Side Spinner bag has a great hard shell exterior that stands out from the rest thanks to a wavy exterior that comes in a variety of colors. In fact, this bag comes in different shapes and sizes including the option for a carry-on bag and a larger checked bag. The attractive façade of the bag makes it easy to spot on the luggage carousel and also keeps others from mistaking it for their own bag.

The sturdy handle on the top and side of the bag help to make it easy to grab it from the trunk of a car or lift up to a luggage rack in your hotel room. The bag’s frame is crafted from an aluminum magnesium material that is especially sturdy without weighing too much. With that said, the bag does weigh nearly 13 pounds empty, which can steal some tonnage from those wanting to max out the weight limit of airlines when checking a bag.

Locks on the bag are TSA-compliant and keep sticky fingers from easily reaching into the bag. But, back to my favorite feature of the bag: its wheels. Eight wheels (two per corner) are heavy-duty allowing them to be rolled across rough surfaces that may have gravel or cobblestone or even in carpeted airport terminals where friction can be a traveler’s worst enemy.

Inside the bag, there are zippered compartments to keep small items safe and straps that can keep clothes, like a business suit, from wrinkling easily. The interior space is immense giving overpackers some leeway. I really like the way this bag glides easily from its extended handle, even when full, and the variety of colors and styles will appeal to a wide audience.

It retails for just under $300 on various websites including eBags.

Luxe Camping Comfort with Klymit Luxe Pillow

While waiting in line for a flight, I see people with not only their carry-on bags, but also their travel pillows—or even the pillow from their own bed. Comfort is important, and while I’ve never gone as far as to bring my bed pillow on an airplane, I do have a variety of travel and camping pillows that come along with me, depending on the circumstances.

When camping, often one of the most important elements is to travel light. That’s especially true if you’re through-hiking or backpacking, when every extra ounce counts. In such cases, you might think a pillow is frivolous, opting to just use a jacket to cradle your head at night. But if you’re not quite as strict, at 6.4 ounces, the Klymit Luxe Pillow is an ideal must-have on a camping trip.

The Luxe Pillow features a thoughtfully designed weld pattern to help lift and stabilize the head. The design helps keep the head securely on the pillow all night long. The pillow’s hybrid construction combines an exceptionally lightweight 75D polyester top and bottom for superior tear, puncture and abrasion resistance. The Luxe Pillow features an outer sleeve that’s made from a super-soft polyester blend with synthetic padding for extra comfort.

The Luxe Pillow packs down to 3 inches by 7 inches, and when fully inflated (it takes 3-5 breaths), can measure 22 inches by 12.5 inches—almost as large as your pillow at home. The pillow’s height and pressure can adjusted for customizable comfort.

The pillow carries the Klymit Lifetime Warranty. All Klymit products are guaranteed to be free from manufacturing and material defects. Items will be repaired or replaced at the discretion of Klymit. If a replacement product is unavailable or discontinued a comparable product will be substituted. This warranty does not include damages from normal use, wear and tear, unauthorized changes or modifications, or any abuse or neglect.

If you’re one of those travelers who brings their pillow from home along on your flight, perhaps consider this one instead?

The Klymit Luxe Pillow comes in one color (gray) and lists for $39.95 on the Klymit site. It’s also available at Amazon.

Xero shoes for men

My teenage son calls shoes ‘foot prisons’. If you are inclined to agree, you’ll want to check out Xero Shoes. This company has been making minimalistic sandals for several years now, and now has a new sandal and new closed-toed shoe that will appeal to travelers wanting lightweight shoes to pack, backpackers and hikers, and anyone else who likes a natural feel.

Xero Shoes Barefoot Sport Sandals - Men's Umara Z-Trail
  • Up to 76% lighter and thinner than other sport sandals.
  • Xero Shoes come with our 5,000 mile sole warranty..
  • Perfect if you hike, walk, run, jog, work out, even run ultra-marathons.
  • At only 10mm thick, it’s great for travel.
  • Durable enough for wherever the Z-Trail takes you.

We checked out the Umara Z-Trail and the Hana. The Z-Trail is available for both men and women, with a women’s counterpart to the Hana, the Lena, coming out in early 2017.


Xero-Z-TrailXero-Z-TrailXero-Z-TrailAs the name suggests, these shoes are designed for the trail, whether you like to ‘barefoot’ run or want lightweight camp shoes for trail hiking and backpacking.

My son took these out backpacking after searching for a sandal for camp that was lighter than his beloved Keens. The Z-Trail weigh practically nothing (around 5 ounces), easily strap to his back during his hike, and when slipped on at the end of the trail day, feel like the opposite of ‘foot prisons’.

The sole is very thin, so if you want a lot of padding, keep looking. But if you just want basic protection for the soles of your feet in a shoe that can be smashed down in a bag, roll up to save room, or be strapped easily to a backpack, the Z-Trail fits the bill.

While thin, the sole of the Z-Trail is pretty darn comfortable, with a heel cup to keep out debris and a zero drop. The shoe gets its name from the Z pattern the straps make across the top of your foot, which are easily adjusted.

We love that the Z-Trail has a 5000 mile sole warranty, Oh, and for those stream crossings…they float. Pick up a pair for $79.99 in three colors.



Xero’s first shoe in their new line of closed-toed shoes, the Hana is a shoe that feels almost like a cross between Toms and moccasins. Like all Xero shoes, the Hana is all about a natural feel.

The wide tow box gives your little piggies plenty of wiggle room, and the zero drop heel helps you walk and stand with good posture. Like the Z-Trail, the Hana is flexible enough to bend and roll, making them excellent travel shoes…they fit into any luggage configuration without issue.

The soles are thin, like other Xero shoes (in fact, it’s the same sole as with the Z-Trail), giving you that barefoot feeling when you walk. Again: if you need lots of cushioning or arch support, look elsewhere. These shoes are for people like my son who want as minimal of a shoe as possible.

We think they look great, and my son has worn them everywhere from air travel days to school to the hiking trails behind our house. Pick up the Hana for $79.99 in three colors: a dark chocolate brown, lighter brown, and sand.

For either shoe style, you’ll want to follow Xero’s instructions for sizing. We found them to run small, but it’s easy to get the right size if you measure your foot as they suggest.

Green Goo All Natural Skin Repair

With a name like Green Goo, it is something that certainly captures your attention. The balm is meant to replenish skin, and the product comes in a travel size. The product says that it replenishes and nourishes skin blemishes like sun burn or scars (similar to Neosporin), but this product uses all-natural ingredients.

The company uses natural remedies including herbs and plant-based oils that come from organic farmers. What really surprised me is that it also works well as a night cream to relieve puffy eyes (really important for frequent travelers that crisscross the globe), dark circles, and wrinkles.

I liked that it comes in small, TSA-friendly packaging and that the cream is very light when you apply it on your face. The herbal salve is a great moisturizer and contains aloe vera and Vitamin E as its active ingredients. There are no artificial components, and there is no strong aroma, which was one of my initial concerns. Since it is not a liquid, you don’t have to keep it in your TSA plastic bag, and the tin container makes it easy to use (unlike bottles that are tough when they get close to being empty).

When I used in my travels recently, I did notice that my skin looked better, which is often tough since I spend so much time in the air. It is an inexpensive product; the 2 ounce cans retail for around $13, which is quite a bargain for an all-natural skincare product. The company also makes other creams meant for pregnant women, pets, tattoos, and as an all-natural deodorant. They are available on the Green Goo website or on Amazon.


Winter Ski and Snowboard Native Eyewear Tank 7 Goggles

November 11, 2016

It’s November, and that means ski and snowboard season is just around the corner. Many ski resorts are scheduled to open Thanksgiving weekend, so it’s time to get your gear out of storage and make a proper assessment. What stays and what goes? Which new items do you need?

If you’re considering new goggles, I’m making an argument for the Native Eyewear Tank 7 Goggles.

The Tank 7 has a smaller face fit, but despite that, it offers a wide field of view with great color and contrast enhancement. Native Eyewear’s SnowTuned lens technology features color-enhancing filtration that helps the subtler colors and details of a snow-covered landscape stand out and appear livelier, while selective filters reduce eye fatigue from high energy visible (HEV) light. Combined with the multi-mirror, hydrophobic, and oleophobic coatings and the Tank 7 has a long-lasting quality that will repel oils and water in any snow condition.

Quick language lesson: Oleophobic refers to a type of material that lacks affinity to oils, which means the Tank 7 lenses won’t have an array of your fingerprints after wearing the goggles on the slopes all day.

The tapered nasal fit and hypoallergenic, fluted face foam of the Tank 7 enhance airflow through the goggles. The SnowTuned goggle lenses come standard with a high-efficiency anti-fog coating, providing 8 minutes of surface-based fog diffusion. The frames are made out of a biodegradable castor-based resin material that provides one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios in the market. So if you crash a few times while out hucking, you might be concerned about breaking bones, but the goggles are hardcore.

The Tank 7 model includes a reversible outrigger and a double-sided strap that articulates for use both ways depending on your needs. For optimum backcountry safety, reflective mirror tape is sewn into the strap and can be easily spotted in unfavorable light conditions, so your backcountry partners can spot you with their headlamp while skinning in the dark or in rescue situations.

The Native Eyewear Tank 7 Goggles come in a few choices: kickplate with silver mirror lens, aluminum with blue mirror lens, t-bird with rose react lens, striker with green mirror lens, and jackplate with silver mirror lens. All are $129 on the Native Eyewear site, except the t-bird with rose react lens, which is $179. They’re also available at Moosejaw and Zappos.

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