Review: Sierra Designs Gnar Lite Down Jacket

Photo: Kip Malone

Ask any duck and they will tell you, down is simply the warmest, lightest insulation out there. There’s good reason you don’t see many waterfowl rocking Thinsulate.

Ounce for ounce, you can’t beat natural down. It does however, have one ironic weakness; water. Get your down puffy drenched and you will look and feel like a wet cat rather than a beautiful fluffy swan. Down loses most of its insulating power when wet; its loft and fluffiness turning to feather mush. It also absorbs moisture produced during heavy exertion, which means bluebird days can be problematic too.

Enter DriDown. Introduced in 2012, it’s a traditional down treated with a magic formula that makes it hydrophobic. It repels water, sweat and moisture on a molecular level and claims to keep you warm and happy in the wet.

I have been wearing the Sierra Designs Gnar Lite jacket, a lighter puffy filled with 800 fill DriDown for almost a year. It weighs a feathery 12 ounces and works well on its own or under a shell.

Let’s get one thing straight. This is not a rain shell, and if you pretend it is, you will eventually end up wet and sad. That being said, the jacket sheds light rain remarkably well, and you needn’t go scurrying for shelter every time the sky opens up. Moderate showers were no problem for 20 or 30-minute stretches.

After several months of wear I was impressed, but I felt a cold rainy winter trip on a boat in Seattle should really put things to the test. During the trip, it kept me dry on its own in the light rain, and for heaver showers I slipped a shell on top. It rained every day of the trip, and the humidity was never lower than 90%. At night, the Knar Lite hung in a damp boat with all the other layers. After five days it was still warm and cozy, unbothered by all the wet.

I addition to being a stellar performer, it’s also nicely designed. There are thumb loops to keep the sleeves steady, a tapered athletic fit so it works well as a layer, and a hooded version is also available. It’s a great piece of gear that keeps its puffy moniker, even when the going gets wet.

Photo: Kip Malone