My travels take me to places with unpredictable weather, alpine regions where the temperature drops 20 degrees when a cloud crosses the sun, or coastal zones where the wind comes of the water and it’s not as warm as I’d like it to be. I’m big on the standard platitude of dressing in layers for travel — but I’ve become increasingly exacting over what, exactly, those layers are.
Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Shirt is an almost perfect middle layer if you’re going to be someplace where the temps can drop or change. For starters, it’s super lightweight and packs down — in its own stuff bag — to about the size of a coffee cup. Or a grapefruit, a big one. You can find room for this in your bag. The shirt is warm, windproof, and water repellent — you will need a hard shell in heavy rain, but a little drizzle or heavy fog won’t soak you. It’s cute, with waffle-y stitching and detailing at the cuffs, collar, and waist. And it comes in good colors — fog (gray), cerise (a pink/red), black, and prickly pear (a springy green). Patagonia makes a down shirt for guys, too — they get a dark blue instead of the cherry pink, and the stitching is in a checkerboard pattern rather than the zigzag pattern on the women’s model.
It wears like a sweatshirt — it’s got a half zip so you pull it on over your head. The fit is good, the sizing seems fairly accurate (a big problem with a lot of outdoor wear, I’ve found). With a good base layer (I like merino wool) and a rain shell, you’re set for a very broad range of conditions, and you’re still packing very light.The only flaw worth mentioning is the lack of pockets. I’d have liked a kangaroo pocket in front or slash pockets in the side or… something, anything, a place to stash a few dollars, the car keys, or to tuck my hands when they’re a little cold. A pocket could do double duty as the stuff sack, as well.
This is an expensive piece of clothing — 250 USD — so it’s not for those prone to sticker shock. I have Downlight Sweater with a full zip down and pockets from First Ascent that retails for almost 100 USD less than Patagonia’s down shirt. It doesn’t have the style that the Patagonia piece has, but for space, the difference is negotiable. Given a choice between the two, I’d go with the full zip with pockets. If Patagonia’s version had pockets, it would be a much tougher call.
Regardless of what style you decide to go with, some kind of lightweight down layer is a useful addition to your travel wardrobe. Get one that works best for you.