A three-season puffy is the equivalent of a wool sweater or a 200 weight fleece from years past in the backpacking world; meaning, the go-to garment for warmth when on breaks or in camp but not when moving.
Unlike my old fleece, the modern puffies are lighter, warmer for the weight, and compact better in a pack. If these modern puffies are not as durable, quick drying, or breathable as my old fleece, they are a trade-off that makes sense when using a puffy for stationary activities while backpacking.
My three-season down puffy of choice? The Montbell Superior Down.
I have a long history of using Montbell products. A history going back to my 2006 CDT hike and purchasing a Thermawrap when I went into Boulder in that September.
I always appreciated the simple and functional designs, light weight, and well-made craftsmanship. The clothing is not inexpensive, but they are high-quality items not as expensive as items from Patagonia, Mountain Hardware, or similar.
Ever since I had received a Montbell Superior Down for volunteer work back in 2014, I’ve been using this jacket for three-season use.
I’ve always used a hooded version as it works as an adjunct to my quilt use for backpacking. After my Great Divide Trail hike in 2018, Montbell sent me a new version the replace my worn, but a still serviceable, jacket.
And why do I keep on using this puffy as my jacket of choice for three-season conditions in the high mountains or the desert? Because it works – The main criteria for all my gear regardless of a budget item, high end, or in between. Suprinsgly warm for just under 3 oz of down fill, the baffle design (though sewn-through stitching) appears to retain heat better than the 1 oz lighter, but $150 more expensive, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. I’ll take a one-ounce penalty for something that works well rather than something that juices the stats for my online pack weight list. 😉
As with all Montbell clothing, the Superior Down has enough functionality to be of use (inner pockets, adjustable hood) but not too many “doo-dads” such as a cell-phone pocket that is more for lifestyle wear and not of real use in a backcountry setting. The fit is generous enough to layer with a 100 wt fleece, but not so generous a fit as to give a baggy and inefficient shape for keeping a backpacker warm. Add in the 800 fill power down and the craftsmanship put into making this garment, and I have a workhorse puffy for my backpacking use in late spring through the fall. The material is thin as with most modern puffies so some I advise some TLC unlike my beater puffy I use for a different role when car camping.
I’d use a synthetic jacket if back in my native New England, but for my use on the Colorado Plateau or the Rockies over the years, the Superior Down continues to be my jacket of choice. And I’m sure it will continue to serve me well in the months, and years, ahead.
Overall view: The Superior Down continues the long tradition Montbell has for well-made clothing that lasts and works well. At under 9 oz with a hood, the weight compares favorably with other jackets from the competition but with an arguably better and more efficient design in my opinion. At $209, the Superior Down is not inexpensive, but $150 less (or more) than jackets of similar quality from competitors.
On a budget? I realize not every person has $200+ to spend on a puffy. If you need something for the occasional backpacking trip or low on cash, there are some alternatives. For ~$15, the M65 liner jacket is a dirt bagger favorite that works well enough esp if worn with a rain jacket. If you want something more town worthy, Uniqlo and similar fast-fashion houses carry light puffies that aren’t as well made or as long lasting but are under $100. The trade-off for these budget options is aesthetics, weight, durability, quality, or function depending.
Disclosure: Montbell provided the first Superior Down for volunteer work I did at the time, the replacement supplied at no cost to me.