I bought my first puffy jacket at a Salt Lake City thrift shop when I was 20-years-old. It sported tarnished buttons, stained, navy blue canvas-like material, and it didn’t have drawstrings to cinch the waist tight. Thin as it was, it still kept me warmer than any other jacket I had owned. When I buttoned up that last button around my neck I always felt the warmth lock in around me like a tight hug. I used it as a pillow when I slept under the stars at Camp IV, Yosemite National Park; and I brought it up my first November multi-pitch climbs, trying to stave off the creeping cold of winter and deep shadows that settled in the Valley late autumn. Months later I lost that jacket on my first endless road trip. Traveling from climbing area to climbing area, I left it in someone’s car with whom I was hitchhiking. I didn’t get another until I started working consistently again, sometime three years later when I moved to Estes Park, Colorado.
I followed a boyfriend I had met on the road to the Rocky Mountains. We worked at Notchtop Restaurant and Pub and climbed every day on the granite domes of Lumpty Ridge and eventually on the bigger alpine walls in “The Park” (i.e. Rocky Mountain National Park). We settled into a nice routine—working six months during the summer in Estes and climbing six months through the winter, everywhere. I bought my second puffy after a particularly busy summer of waiting tables, and it accompanied our every adventure. A step above my secondhand store purchase, it was dark pink with a zipper. It wouldn’t have withstood Everest temperatures, but I used it while taking breaks between bouldering in super-windy Hueco Tanks, Texas; and I used it at belays while climbing the steep, splitter sandstone cracks of Utah’s desert towers. I wouldn’t go climbing without it.
Eventually duct tape would no longer keep the feathers in the jacket, and I retired it. My next puffy jacket didn’t come along until my first major expedition in 2001. My partners Nan, Ceci, and I had won the American Alpine Club’s Helly Hansen Mountain Adventure Grant, which provided us with a plethora of oversized technical clothing (they didn’t have a women’s line at the time). I wore the jacket to within a few hundred feet of the summit of the hugest rock I will ever climb, 4,500-foot Shipton Spire (19,700 feet), on the Baltoro Glacier, Karakoram Range, Pakistan. We did the third ascent, missing the summit because of a combination of altitude sickness, impending terrible weather, and darkness. I took that jacket off only a few times, once notably on a 700- or 800-foot stretch of 5.9 splitter crack climbing, and then when we finally arrived to basecamp after six days of living on the wall.
Since then I’ve had various down vests, jackets, and parkas. Twenty-plus years of climbing and numerous expeditions later, I have settled into routine use. I tuck my vest under my seat throughout the year because even Colorado summers have cold nights. I have a super lightweight, waterproof puffy for fishing adventures, running on cold days, and any trips where the weather might be slightly inclement. I have a mid-weight puffy, which I often layer with my vest, that is stuffed in my pack for all fall through spring climbing or snowboarding adventures. And, finally, for those frigid days in the middle of winter, I have my giant, pillow-like parka puff (plus my feather-filled GORE-TEX© gloves and puffy booties). You can call me obsessed. Or call me spoiled. I may be the Imelda Marcus of puffy jackets. But you’ll never call me cold.