I’m highlighting this medium-light down jacket both because it provides a great example of how to do such a thing well, and because persistent shoppers can still find it well under 200 dollars in certain sizes and colors, which is a bargain.
Black Diamond declines to specific the amount of fill in the Hot Forge hoody, which is a shame. Fill weight is not a definitive statement of comparative warmth, and chasing ones tail over subtle variation in clo is a poor use of energy, but more information is usually better and almost anything to help dispel the voodoo behind “how warm is my jacket” is welcome. The Hot Forge is a pound in men’s medium, which puts it on the very upper edge of lightweight. Thankfully it is quite warm, warm enough to easily distinguish it from the many 10-12 ouncers. As will be discussed the Hot Forge spends weight well on features, but that is only justifiable because the warmth/weight is very good.
The Hot Forge also distinguishes itself by having a full compliment of alpine-style features, many of which are usually only found on much warmer coats. I own and have owned such coats, and don’t find myself using them often. For one, it just doesn’t get that cold very often. For another, I’ve found that two insulating layers provides more versatility and therefore functional warmth than one really big jacket. That said, a big hood which cinches down well over many layers (up to and including a helmet) is nice when the storm is in full effect, which can happen in mid-summer during a windy evening. As pictured above, the Hot Forge has a hood which is plenty big, and cinches thoroughly via two side cords, and one back of the hood cord. It is not perfectly done; the placement of the cords create an odd runnel which in a rain coat would be unacceptable, and I still an baffled by cinch cords whose ends terminate inside the hood. It has always seemed to me that the cinching tight of a hood is most desired precisely when unzipping to find the damn cord ends is least convenient. Anyone with an answer to this, do let me know.
The other uncommon feature of the Hot Forge is a pair of internal drop pockets, for the storage of damp gloves and other oddments. The drying function and general convenience these provide I’ve always found invaluable, especially while skiing, and it’s especially welcome to find them on a lighter jacket. BD did these particularly well, by integrating the sleeve of the hand pocket into the back (user side) of the drop pockets. Minimal extra fabric, and maximal exposure to body heat for the pocket contents.
Other niceties include a smooth #5 main zipper, chest pocket insulated on both sides, exceptionally long arms and torso, and slick stretch fabric cuffs, which are both secure and low-fuss. Overall, the detailing and finish is what one would expect from a piece which retails for 350 dollars. BD hasn’t been in the clothing game long, and they still struggle with inconsistent sizing and are hit or miss on certain details (e.g. hoods), but the quality of their materials and build is as good or better than any outdoor clothing you can buy, anywhere.
Lastly, the Hot Forge is insulated with Primaloft Gold, a down/synthetic blend. I was cynical about this technology when it first appeared, assuming it was largely a way to use less down and thus save money while keeping prices static as the cost of down climbed. Initial use of the Hot Forge suggests the blend is not just hype. My issue with down has always been the extent to which it struggles with internal moisture. Put a down coat on over a few sweaty layers, and watch it wilt. My limited experience with DWR down has been that the treatment delays this saturation, but does not prevent it, nor does much to accelerate dry time. The Primaloft Gold seems to resist saturation to a noticeably greater extent than straight treated down, and if it continues to perform like this I will be very, very pleased.
Historically my backcountry trips don’t involve much stationary time outside my sleeping bag, which has made in-camp insulation a low priority. With the kid, this is going to change significantly, which along with the desire for a warmer and still light layer for glassing (while hunting) drove the purchase of the Hot Forge. Thus far, it does exactly what I want it to do.