Black Diamond Vision Down Parka
$450, 1 lb. 4.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-XL
On a morning in the first week of March, with the temperature a blood-thickening 17° F at a campsite on the edge of The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park, this fat down parka felt like my best friend. That followed a night in the teens spent inside a sleeping bag not rated for temps that low, when I spread the parka over my torso and hips inside my bag and felt an immediate infusion of warmth that enabled me to enjoy a comfortable night of sleep.
I also pulled on this parka on a windy summit during a break on a late-winter hike in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, when it instantly warmed me up after the ambient temp and wind had caused me to cool down quickly. Those experiences made me a fan of Black Diamond’s warmest insulated jacket, but there’s a back story that explains its superior performance.
Stuffed with 800-fill power, RDS-certified, Allied HyperDRY-treated goose down insulation, the Vision Down Parka resists moisture buildup, has a warmth-to-weight ratio that ranks among the best down jackets, and offers a level of warmth that seriously compares with the upper half of many three-season sleeping bags (the parka obviously only insulates your torso). Its water-resistant down carries added importance in sub-freezing temps—the very temps for which this jacket is designed—because moisture released in sweat and when you exhale can accumulate in insulation and compromise the warmth of standard down, which loses loft and its insulating ability the wetter it gets.
The sewn-through construction, which stitches the outer, shell fabric to the inner, liner fabric—common in insulated jackets as a means of reducing weight—creates separate pockets of down that prevent feathers from migrating but also creates the potential for cold spots at seams between them. But I found the Vision Parka seriously warm even on very cold mornings in camp.
The fit accommodates a couple of base layers and a lighter insulation piece underneath without feeling overly bulky. The length extends below the waist, boosting its warmth. Underarm gussets make it easy to reach overhead and have a natural range of motion while wearing this poofy puffy.
Three zippered, oversized hand and chest pockets and two internal drop pockets easily accommodate extra gloves, water bottles, and other items you want to keep within reach. The jacket stuffs into an inside pocket, packing down to the size of a football.
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Features on the Vision Parka clearly have climbers in mind. The unusually well-insulated hood adjusts with a single-pull cord in back that can be manipulated while wearing a winter glove, expanding enough to fit over a climbing or skiing helmet and sealing closely around your face even sans helmet. Stretch cuffs fit over light gloves or under heavier gloves with an extended gauntlet and are elasticized within the sleeve, to prevent moisture wicking to the inside.
The two-way, water-resistant front zipper zips up well above your chin and opens from the top or bottom, the latter letting you access a belay device on a climbing harness; I found the zip on my jacket was a bit sticky opening from the bottom, but it does work.
The ultralight Vision LCP shell fabric is made with the same highly tear-resistant, liquid-crystal polymer ripstop used in Black Diamond’s Vision Harness—an obvious asset for abusive activities like ice climbing and alpinism.
At a handful of feathers over 20 ounces, the Vision Parka is made strictly for extreme conditions and, admittedly, it’s overkill for most three-season backpackers. Think winter camping, ice climbing, working outside in deep cold, or extra-warm insulation for someone who gets cold easily camping in temps around or below freezing.
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With a rare degree of warmth and features designed for extreme conditions, the Black Diamond Vision Down Parka has few competitors among the warmest down jackets for winter climbing, backpacking and camping in temperatures well below freezing.
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See “The 10 Best Down Jackets,” “How You Can Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is,” “The Best Gloves for Winter,” “The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry,” “How to Dress in Layers for Winter in the Backcountry,” and all of my reviews of insulated jackets and outdoor apparel that I like at The Big Outside.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of gear reviews and expert buying tips.