TBT Gear: The beater down jacket

Throwback Thursday..gear style!  A look at the unsung hero of the gear collection: the beater down jacket.



EMS Glacier down. Stolen from Trail Space. My model is a bit more beat up.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s or so, down coats with big baffles were all the rage. A thick nylon shell, large puffy sleeves and a thick neck.  Wearing one made you look a bit like the Michelin Tire Man.


from Michelin tires

They were warm, they were bulky and a bit heavy compared to today’s down coats that fill a similar niche.

Curiously, they somehow became urban fashion items. Decent quality down coats,  or even synthetics, of the Michelin Tire Man variety could be bought fairly inexpensively.

Then Patagonia came out with a “down sweater”. Not as warm, but not as bulky and heavy. The cut of the garment had a trimmer profile. And somehow these down sweaters became a fashion item.  Even Wally World sells these items now.

Be it taking a break on a mountain pass or grabbing a latte, the down sweaters have become ubiquitous. In Boulder, CO you can’t buy your free-range fair trade organic gluten-free food at Trader Cottage Foods in the winter without seeing dozens of the down sweaters in a few minutes span.

Eventually, warmer versions of the sleek “down sweater” variety were made into down coats and parkas.

Many people, myself included, bought a really light and a less bulky version of the parka for winter backpacking or even three season jaunts. The lighter models  replace the Michelin Tire Man versions.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Skurka.

The Michelin Tire Man down coats have been regulated to people who want a vintage look, dirt baggers with older gear and people who need a beater down coat (The last two may be one and the same! 🙂 ) And, being serious, these older models are usually warmer if with the weight/bulk penalty.

Why a beater down coat? Because the newer, lighter and more fashionable coats, quite simply, are too fragile.  Sitting near a campfire, grabbing wood, making camp in the cold and very sandy Utah night?  The newer and shiny clothing will be wrecked.

With the old Michelin Man style down coats? The burlier zippers will handle the sand that gets everywhere. The thicker nylon will be OK with a little bit of firewood handling. And you don’t have to be quite as careful when sitting around a campfire. And, again, the construction style means it is warmer, too.


Photo courtesy of Hovenweep Facebook page. Only a lo-res photo avail.

And any rip, tear or burn mark that happens? A little repair tape will do ya.

photo 2

Why I still use this gear:   Any type of camping in areas where gear is going to get shredded, but where it is still cold, I will use this type of puffy. The desert southwest comes immediately to mind: Climbing, canyoneering or hiking trips with base car camping abound in the deep shoulder seasons and even winter for many of my friends, and the trips my someone and I take. I may pack the lighter jacket for the day.  But will use the old coat for back in camp. Since it gets dark early, I tend to hang in camp more.

The coat can be stuffed, battered, worn and take whatever the desert throws at it. My shiny, Boulder hipster approved, GoLite Bitterroot would quickly become a destroyed collection of feathers and shredded nylon.

Would I recommend buying it?:   Keep the old down coat you have..or if you are new to the outdoors and or need something like it, hit E-Bay or the thrift store!  No reason to buy new beater clothing.  Note that a  beater synthetic puffy will do just fine, too.


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9 years ago

I question whether the new style down sweater with the micro-sized
baffles will be be warm enough. I mean the convention wisdom in a down sleeping bag is that every sewn-thru seam is a “cold spot” right ?
The new garments have at least 3-4 times as many sew thrus as an older
Puffy. AND the sections are a lot thinner, because of the restraints of the small baffles, than an old school sweater. Guess I’ll stick with my older Montbell with the big baffles. My original Down Sweater was a MYG kit from Frostline in the early 70’s.

9 years ago

I’ve had people joke around about my old marmot beater because it’s so puffy. after I tricked them into trying it on, they didn’t want to take it off. the older thicker ones are a GREAT for reallllly cold days without having to layer up. It’s like a wind jacket, down sweater, lite jacket and a parka all wrapped up in one with just one zipper. Thank you mags for giving a new lease to life on these older style jackets that for some. will never go out of style. Now I need to go bring in some firewood.