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Virtuoso Down Jacket

 Photo: The Beatles were wrong, in cold weather, happiness is a warm ... coat.

Warmth is a beautiful thing. Which is why, when winter temperatures work to transform you into an ice cube, a good down coat (especially a plump one) is an object of great beauty. There are many good down coats on the market, but for our local mountains where we have many days in the teens but not much ludicrously cold Arctic refrigeration, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better all-around down jacket for the money than the Virtusoso from Outdoor Research.

First, some miscellaneous, and unrelated, details about the Virtuoso. Insulation is 650-fill down. The inner and outer shells are made from a combination of 20 denier ripstop polyester and 30 denier Pertex. A two-way front zipper provides many ventilation configurations. The down hood is permanently attached, adjusts to helmets (even ski helmets) and has snugging adjustments at the side and back. Two outer zippered pockets and two inner stow pockets give myriad storage options. Draw cords at the hip snug or relax the coat’s waist. Articulate elbows reduce rubbing and pulling as arms move. Velcro and elastic adjustments at the cuffs accommodate skinny wrist or fat gloves. Sizing is slightly generous, allowing the coat to fluff out like a bird if the under garments are thin, or to fit comfortably over thicker layers.

Put this together and you’re left with a puffy package that sloughs steam when you want to ventilate, yet effectively imprisons your body’s heat when you want to preserve every possible BTU. For the cost ($225) it outperform most coats in the same weight range (22 ounces, men’s large), making it the kind of bang for the buck we like to report about. This is an excellent coat for skiing Mission Ridge when it’s 10 degrees up top, belaying while ice climbing out in the Columbia Basin, lunching while ski touring up Cashmere Peak, winter camping in the Stuart Range, or bivouacking if botched navigation has you spending an unexpected night outdoors. It’s also a soft comforter to drape over your torso when you get home from an active outing and need a nap on the couch.

We’ve tested both the men and women’s Virtuoso. Both versions performed well. The women’s models are mainly differentiated by a more feminine color palette and a bit more styling in the waist to look, you know, a little sexier when you’re puffy. The clincher about what testers thought about these coats: Once they started using them, they wanted to keep using them.

Two small observations about the Virtuoso. First, the front zipper performs differently than most expect. It feels a bit catchy or sticky, when first zipping it up or in the final inch of unzipping it. We’ve noticed the same with other Outdoor Research coats – you need to thread these YKK zippers deeper than you think. They’re not defective and you get used to them, but they perform a bit differently.

Photo: If you're buying a down coat for warmth, get one with a hood. This coat is fine for 3-season and city use, but the absence of a hood is a big deal when it comes to wintertime happiness in the wilds.

Second, the hood of this coat is permanently attached and, if you’re buying a coat for warmth, it’s crazy not to get a hood because they adds a huge amount of warmth for relatively little weight. The downside is that hood looks goofy knocking around town. It would take so little effort for Outdoor Research to add two small strips of Velcro to the bottom of the hood and along the collar so the hood would roll into a tube collar that would look more refined around town yet deploy instantly with a jerk of the hand.

Finally a generic comment: Down is significantly warmer than synthetic insulation for the weight and bulk. Some experts tout the advantages of synthetics in ranges like the Cascades where Chinooks can create wet, winter weather. However, if you’re careful about how you pack a down coat (keep it in a waterproof stuff sack), layer it under a really good storm shell when swampy snows are falling, and/or save it for tent use when winter camping, it isn’t hard to keep down from wetting out. If dry, you’ll be happy you have down along because, like we said earlier, warmth is a beautiful thing.

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