I was out in the Painted Desert today, north of Flagstaff. Temps were mighty cold as we had a winter storm roll in (yes it snows in Arizona!) and were hovering around 40 degrees with a 20 mph wind. Snow was on the way later in the day.
In addition to wearing 4 upper-body layers and a Carhart coat, I always pack along a down jacket, which I wore underneath the Carhart today. A down jacket is an indispensable piece of gear. My down jacket is something that is kept tucked behind the backseat of my truck for most of the summer and I have another one that I carry with me in my daypack throughout much of the year, even in summer.
A good down jacket can be had for $80 on up. I usually look for ones on clearance in the spring or through Sierra Trading Post. Mine packs down to grapefruit-size. For longer dayhikes in the mountains, I will actually pack along a tiny, sleeping bag like those made by Mountain Hardwear. Such bags have come a long way from those clunky, polyester bags I had as a scout. Mine packs down to the size of a loaf of bread.
How much space are we talking about in the pack in exchange for what a down jacket can provide if stranded in the wilds for a night?
Down has its drawbacks- loses loft when wet or when used in damp weather for extended periods. Not a good choice for primary insulation in a place like the Pacific Northwest or the Tropics. Here in the desert or as a supplement to a vehicle survival kit, it is excellent.
So, keep an eye out for an extra one next Spring when they”re all going to be on sale. I highly recommend getting one for the daypack or vehicle as emergency gear for when the chips are down and the cold night is upon you.
Enjoy the Wilds!