It was earlier this fall that we brought you word of a new vest hitting Kickstarter, the Zero Down (which you can see here). Since then, the weather has turned colder, and we got a sample in to test out to see how it performs in the real world.
When I got the Zero Down vest in, the weather wasn’t really conducive to trying it out. But, when my trip over to the UK came up, I knew it was going to be going along. Aside from it provided another layer for warmth, what got it put into my bag was the fact that it was able to pack up so compactly. It folded up tight, and took up no room – and no weight, really – in my backpack. Once we were across the pond, and I needed that layer, it was time to puff up.
And that’s the great thing with the Zero Down vest – once it’s on, you can sort of fine tune the amount of insulation that you feel you need, simply by blowing into the push-button valve (or pressing the button to let some air out). During my trip there – and then back here in the colder Chicago weather – the vest has done what it was meant to do – it kept me warm in the lightest method I’ve ever experienced.
In terms of basic functionality, you do have two zippered pockets in the front to stash stuff away and keep it safe, as well as two pockets on the inside of the vest (at the bottom, not up at chest level) which worked quite nice to carrying papers. For sizing, the vest itself does tend to run on the smaller side. While I normally go with a Large in shirts and jackets, here (after talking with the brand) we requested an XL. And while it fits, it’s definitely a trimmer fit. So, something to keep in mind if you’re looking for one of these.
I also had a bit of a scare with the Zero Down vest. Ok, well, scare is over-selling it. One issue you might be wondering about with an air-filled vest is what will happen if it gets a leak. And I thought I had managed to get one, as I would blow it up at the start of the day, and then at the end of the work day see it had gone flat. Turns out, it was because the valve on the filler strap had gotten slightly unscrewed, and was letting air out. A simple fix, but something to watch, especially with the all-plastic construction in that part of vest.
One other note on the Zero Down vest in real-world usage: while the brand does trumpet the breathability of the vest, that’s going to depend on where you are wearing it. I did notice that, if I had it on under another jacket and was, say, on the train, by the end of the commute the back of my shirt would be damp. Now, if it were the only layer (or the top layer) then you’d probably be ok. Or in scenarios where my back wasn’t against anything, it was fine. Just something else to consider – it’s breathable, just not as breathable as, say, a wool vest.
At the end of the day, the Zero Down vest as an interesting alternative to winter vests, one that is easily packable and offers variable levels of insulation. The Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded, and should be in manufacturing now. As to how you’d get one now, I’m not entirely sure. I’ve reached out to the brand, and once I know where to point you, I’ll put updated information in this article.