Note: For every jacket sold, Dark Peak donates another to the homeless
Dark Peak was kind enough to send me one of their NESSH Lightweight Down Jackets in return for some honest feedback.
Tip: Not sure which lightweight backpacking gear to buy? We’ve done the “heavy lifting” for you. See our top picks.
I’ve been loyal to my North Face ThermoBall for about 8 years now, and I’ve been hesitant to make the shift to real down despite its high warmth to weight ratio due to its vulnerability to moisture. Dark Peak promises to combat this with its water resistant DWR coating, so I figured I would give it a spin.
There were so many things I loved about this jacket right out of the gate – the fit, the vibrant color, the long, cozy wrist gaiters (come on, why don’t these come standard in every jacket?!) – and after several excursions in Southern Utah during a freak cold snap, I became more impressed by its merits.
I ordered the jacket in a Medium after reviewing their very thorough size chart. For reference, I am about 5’ 7” and 125 lbs, with a small bust and a long torso. The length was just right on me, falling at about the level of my pelvic crest. It felt nicely snug around the bust and midsection, with enough give that I could wear a few layers underneath.
Unlike other puffy down jackets, this actually has a slim fit that doesn’t just make you look like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story.
As I previously mentioned, I have stayed away from down in the past because its tendency to clump when wet hurts its warmth retention. I performed some rigorous field testing of the jacket’s moisture resistance by accidentally spilling tea all over it. To my delight, the tea rolled right off and didn’t even stain.
Under enough of a downpour, the material would probably become saturated, but its water resistance is enough to keep it dry in a light rain. I would pair it with a waterproof shell in a heavy storm, but this is something that I do with my down alternative jackets as well.
Something to note – many people believe the widely propagated myth that down is ruined once it becomes wet. Although wet down won’t keep you warm, it will go back to normal if cared for correctly.
Washing down properly every now and again can actually restore its loft. I recommend tossing it in the washer in a mesh laundry bag to prevent snags, using special down detergent such as Granger Down Wash, and running it on a delicate setting with an extra rinse. You can throw it in the dryer on low with a few tennis balls to break up down clumps.
I tested the NESSH in windy, sub freezing conditions during a freak cold snap in Southern Utah this October. I found that I was quite warm in conditions as low as 15° F without having to pair it with anything more than a flannel shirt.
In addition to being ridiculously toasty, this jacket has some clever features that really won me over. The waist has an adjustable interior elastic to keep it snug around your hips. There is no silly drawstring around the hood to get lost or fray; instead it comes equipped with 4 interior elastics that keep it tight around your head even in windy weather. In addition to two large exterior zipper pockets, there are two huge interior pockets at the sides and one zipper pocket at the chest.
It is lightweight, weighing only 11.3 oz, and stuffs into its own pocket, making it extremely packable.
One additional feature that I found very thoughtful: the interior fabric along the front of the neck is lined with a small fleece chin guard, so you have a soft area to tuck your face into in really cold weather.
This is a stellar jacket that I would buy a thousand times over again, but it has one hiccup: The zipper. Oh, how I loathed the zipper the for the first week of wear. I had to fight it every time I wanted to take it off. In technical terms, the insert pin of the two way YKK zipper would fail to disengage from the sliders at the bottom of the track. Basically, it was getting stuck when I tried to remove it.
Eventually, I realized that this is just part of getting used to a nice feature that the jacket is equipped with: a 2-way zipper. Although this gives you the ability to unzip it from the bottom up, it also means you have to align two sliders with a relatively long insert pin before removing it.
I deal with this by making sure both sliders are all the way at the bottom of the track and keeping my left index finger firmly at the base of the zipper when I zip or unzip it. It’s still a little sticky, but it’s manageable.
Congratulations, Dark Peak, you’ve done something I didn’t think was possible: you’ve made me like cold weather. When I wear this jacket, I feel like I’m actually wearing a hug from Santa Claus. Bring on the winter weather, baby.
More Jacket Reviews
Dark Peak NESSH Women’s Lightweight Down Jacket$229.00
- Equipped with 4 interior elastics that keep it tight around your head even in windy weather
- In addition to two large exterior zipper pockets, there are two huge interior pockets at the sides and one zipper pocket at the chest
- Weighs only 11.3 oz
- Stuffs into its own pocket
- Interior fabric along the front of the neck is lined with a small fleece chin guard
- The insert pin of the two way YKK zipper would fail to disengage from the sliders at the bottom of the track