Urban Wear Fit For The Wilds? UNIQLO Ultra Light Down Gilet

by Paul Kirtley

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Paul Kirtley wearing UNIQLO Ultra Light Down gilet

Taking UNIQLO Ultra Light Down garments from the streets to the woods. How will they fare?… Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Sometimes life produces interesting coincidences.

Last month I was travelling on the London Underground – something I do only infrequently.

I noticed a poster advert for UNIQLO Ultra Light Down Jackets.

Not only did the words ultra, light and down catch my eye, but so did the price.

£59.90

The outdoor clothing industry has always placed a premium on down clothing.

The best is excellent, however, providing superb warmth-to-weight ratios.

But it’s also the case that some products are packaged and marketed at higher prices in one market niche than others, particularly where the perceived value is higher.

This type of segmentation goes on all the time.

For example, I’ve seen fire-lighters packaged nicely and marketed in outdoor shops at ten times the price you can buy the same substance sold elsewhere for lighting BBQs.

Potential Value

For the canny consumer, these product arbitrages exist all over the place. You just need to go looking.

So, I wondered if down clothing, sold by a casual clothing company, would be any good for terrain more wild than the local high street.

I’m always looking for good value clothing and equipment recommendations and here was some potential value.

Coincidence

The coincidence came out of the blue a couple of weeks later, in the form of an email from UNIQLO asking if I’d like to try one of their Ultra Light Down (ULD) Jackets.

Had they been reading my mind?

Was I actually living inside the Matrix?

Putting these existential questions aside, I said yes.

Looking at UNIQLO’s ULD range, I saw that they also produce an ULD gilet as well as ULD jackets. Moreover, the gilet is available in olive green, which fits in with the subdued natural colours I like to wear while outdoors.

You see so much more wildlife that way…

UNIQLO were happy to send me one of these to try. The gilets retail for £39.90 (or EUR49.90), which again seems like decent value on the face of it.

Regular readers will know my attitude towards the myriad so-called reviews and un-boxings that exist all over the internet.

So, by my definition, this blog isn’t a review as such. I’ve had the gilet only two days.

Rather, it is a note of my first impressions and intentions for further testing of this ULD garment.

ULD Gilet – First Impressions

Brand new ULD gilet from UNIQLO

ULD gilet straight out the packet. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The very first thing you notice when you pick up the garment is that it’s light. Very light.

I opted for XL sizing – which, as it turns out, is a bit big for me – but it’s the largest this garment gets and it weighs only 175g including its neat stuff sack.

When you wear it, you actually hardly notice it except for the warmth. It’s light and comfortable but it does feel noticeably warmer.

I haven’t had the opportunity to wear the ULD gilet in cold conditions yet though. I’m sure with winter approaching and the prospect of some chilly evenings and frosty mornings not too far into the future, I’ll be able to better assess the gilet’s effectiveness as a thermal layer.

The garment fill is 90% down and 10% feathers. The shell is a lightweight nylon polyamide material. This combination allows for the gilet’s light weight. The fill power is claimed as “640 or higher”.

If you want to understand more about down vs feather and fill powers, have a look at this.

Also, this Ultra Light Down garment is not complicated. There are very few extras, which helps keep the weight down.

ULD Gilet – Detail

There’s a simple hanging loop and the logo is printed rather than, say, embroidered which I’m guessing saves a few grams as well as reducing cost.

UNIQLO gilet hanger detail

Simple features. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The zip is lightweight but should be decent quality as it’s YKK. There is also a tape zip-pull which is a nice touch and good for days when you have cold fingers or are wearing gloves.

YKK zip detail on UNIQLO Ultra Light Down gilet

A nice touch: YKK zip with tape-pull. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

On the subject of cold fingers, there are two hand-warmer pockets. These are not zipped but the edges are finished with tape, making them pretty neat. The way the pocket lining material is stitched into the gilet effectively creates two internal pockets too.

Ultra Light Down gilet internal and external pocket space

Inside and outside: Handwarmer pockets and useful internal storage space. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The collar is a reasonable height and covers a decent amount of the carotid area of the neck, from where you can lose a lot of heat.

Each ULD garment comes with a stuff-sack made of the same polyamide as the garment shell. This has a draw-cord closure with a decent little spring-loaded cord-lock.

UNIQLO ULD down gilet Stuff sack cord-lock detail.

Stuff sack cord-lock detail. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The gilet is very easy to stuff into its sack. Once in the stuff sack it is not much bigger than a 1-litre water bottle and it is by no means fully compressed when stored this way. The stuff sack will nicely conform to other more solid objects you pack it amongst. This will make it easy to pop into a day sack or other travel luggage and still find room for it. Given the light weight of the ULD gilet, you’ll hardly know it’s there.

Stuffed UNIQLO Ultra Light Down gilet and waterbottle for size comparison.

The ULD gilet easily fits into its stuff sack and still has room to be compressed further. Photo: Paul Kirtley

For a weight comparison too, at 205g the (empty) water bottle shown next to the stuffed gilet weights more than the garment.

ULD Gilet – The Plan

This is the plan for my gilet, then – as well as trying it out as an everyday garment, I’ll throw it into my day-sack or backpack whenever I’m heading out this autumn/winter and see how useful and effective it is when I need a warmer layer.

I’ll also be keen to assess the durability of this garment, particularly while in the woods. The outer shell seems quite delicate. But polyamides are often tougher than they look, so time will tell.

Amongst the swing tags which come attached to the gilet is one which states “Durable water-repellent finish delivers repellency against water, including light rain.”

I have no doubt British weather will give me the opportunity to test the water-repellency!

Provided the Ultra Light Down gilet proves to be warm enough, I think this garment has real potential to be one of those garments that you pretty much always have in your bag, just in case it’s colder than expected.

This is something I’ll be aiming to ascertain over the coming months…

Have you tried any of the UNIQLO ULtra Light Down jackets or gilets? Let us know in the comments below…

Disclaimer: The Ultra Light Down gilet was provided at no cost by UNIQLO for me to review. I have received no payment or reimbursement to write this blog and I am under no obligation to say anything other than what I honestly think about the product.

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

James Harris

I’ve not come across this make before but at that price I think I may have to give them a try. I’ve kept a down gilet in my bag when out in the woods for years now and they are a really welcome extra layer, however I’ve found it to be noisy as hell when walking through the woods but it’s nice to have when you stop and set up camp for the night. The one I have was 3 times that price and claimed to be waterproof but it only took one decent downpour for the water to soak straight through, also I wouldn’t get to close to the fire in it as it doesn’t take much to melt a hole through the shell. Good little write up Paul.

James

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi James,

Thanks for your comment – interesting to read.

I also doubt the thin nylon outer material on this gilet will do very well near to sparks. But that’s a hazard for any synthetic material….

Cheers,

Paul

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Paul Anderson

Really like the look of this Paul, like the price even more compared to many other down gilet offerings out there. Been toying with the idea of a gilet as a warm layer option for a while but always looked at fleece until I saw this review, glad I held out as this one has to be a real contender! Cheers and all the best!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Paul,

Yes, it will be interesting to see how this garment performs over the winter but so far, I’m really liking it.

Let me know how you get on with it if you decide to purchase one.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Jeff

Hi – I have one of their UL Down Jackets, had it over a year – I love it.

It’s no less delicate than any Pertex jecket that I own, and as it’s light and packs small, it’s always in my pack from Oct-April as an additional layer when I’m hammocking or bivvying in the woods.

If you’re an ultralighter, this is familiar territory. If you’re a bushcrafter, it’s probably not sturdy enough unless you wear it under your Ventile smock…

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Jeff,

Nice to hear from you. Thanks for your comment – there’s some useful additional info/opinion there.

Much appreciated.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Shiver

I’m thinking of buying one of these, but I’m curious to know what the filling is like, I bought a down jacket cheaply before and although it was very warm, the stalks on the feathers used to fill the jacket were a little more coarse than stated as ‘Down’ and continually poked through the fabric of the jacket. I know down will tend to do this for a while and then settle down, but I remember that it was a problem continuously, and a little embarrassing, but from what I can see, I think I’ll give the gullet a go and for the price … It’s great value. I’ll give it a good test drive and let you know.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Cyril,

It’s good to hear from you.

So far, I’ve had no problem with quills coming through or any loss of filling.

All the best,

Paul

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Ben

Hi Paul,

Bought one of these after reading your blog. It is amazingly light! I have worn it under a coat a few times now and the down does a great job. I wouldn’t trust it as my top layer but because it is so light and comfortable it is a wonderful middle layer. Like you I will see how performs over time but for this money so far very satisfied. Just for info, having read Shivers comments, it does say on all the bumf you get with it that it is 10% feather. It also says some of these may poke through but just to push them back in don’t pull them out. Anyway thanks for all your wonderful info Paul this is such a great site.

Cheers
B

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Ben,

Thanks for letting me and other readers know you’ve taken the plunge and got yourself one of these. Your first impressions sound similar to mine. I have to say that I’m waiting for the weather to get colder – it’s been pretty warm for the time of year up til now – to fully assess this garments warmth. Even though it is lovely and comfy to wear, each time I’ve worn it so far, I haven’t really needed it. But for the weight (to reiterate what I wrote in the article, this garment is lighter than an empty water bottle), I’m happy to carry it around in a daypack until I need it. It’s been nice to pop on for lunch stops and the like. You do feel the benefit straight away.

I look forward to comparing notes going forward.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Shiver

Hi B, I think I’m sold on getting one … And, good to hear it performs well. I need something warm that packs small as a mid layer and I think Paul has found a great article for the money!
I think the gillet will suit me best as there are no sleeves and I tend to get a few sparks around this area, when out.
Thanks for sharing.
Shiver

Reply

Ben

Hi Shiver,

No worries mate, I hope it suits your needs. Still no feathers out of mine… ;o)

Cheers

B

Reply

Paul Kirtley

OK Cyril, let us know if you get one.

Best,

Paul

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Shiver

It’s in the post 😉

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Great! 🙂

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Shiver

Hi Paul, ordered one online direct from supplier and it arrived at my house in 3 days, so great postal service, I must admit the weight is very light and as you said, you immediatly feel the benefit straight away, and the fill is a fine down fill, and no poke through at all from feathers, like you said, which in my book is a good sign. It came with a stuff sack, my previous jackets have a reversible stuff sack pocket, but that’s no problem as far as the actual jacket is concerned. All in all I’m very pleased with it. I’m away this evening for an overnight in the woods, so I’ll be packing it for sure. I expect it will work really well under a sound windproof smock. I think someone commented on that before. For me it’s a great buy and I really like it! My girlfriend tried it on and I very nearly lost it, so looks like I’ll be getting another one size small. Thanks again for sharing Paul.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

You’re very welcome Cyril. I’m glad your first impression is a good one, as well as understanding about nearly losing it! 🙂 I look forward to hearing how you get on with yours over time. Cheers, Paul.

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Ben

Hi Cyril, Paul,

Great you liked it mate. As Paul says I’m looking forward to trying it in slightly colder weather. So far still can’t fault it…
B

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Good stuff Ben. Getting a bit chillier now too… 🙂

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Shiver

Gillet performing well, very compact, no loss of down what so ever. Taken on a long weekend and was used constantly under my waterproof shell. Temperature dropping at night so will see how it performs when cooler … So far I’m pleased! Preformed well so far.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Cyril,

Thanks for your quick update. Glad to hear it’s proving itself so far.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

John

Thanks for the heads up in these. I have been wearing a RAB down gilet for a couple of yours now and love them to bits. Keeps the core warm but still allows plenty of freedom in the arms without over heating. I Like the look of the UNIQLO for its pack size(would double as a nice pillow) for day trips as well as the colder months.

How does the material feel? Most give the impression that they could tear easily or be snagged on thorns.

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Paul Kirtley

My pleasure John. I think Cyril (Shiver) has answered pretty well below and I’ve added some comments below his.

Overall the outer material is a very soft and comfortable with a density of weave approaching a silk tie.

All the best,

Paul

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Shiver

I find my UNIQLO is great for warmth,when worn under another windproof layer, the fabric is very thin and silky, the one thing I have noticed over other down jackets, and this may be why its light and warm, is the fact that the actual fabric seems to be almost air tight, once it is is fully lofted with air by the down, it seems to trap the air really well, as for snagging, I would say it could snag easy enough, but then again i have snagged my north face Nuptse loads, I usually wear mine under my ‘bomb proof ‘ waterproof jacket to trap more air for warmth, which can also take a few snags. Maybe not the warmest jacket on its own, but its perfect for layering, and very effective.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Cyril,

That’s a good observation regarding the properties of the shell layer. It’s almost like a very fine silk. This type of polyamide nylon tends to be tougher than a lot of people think but, as you say, it’s not the end of the world if you do snag things.

I’d agree a protective, wind-proof outer layer makes sense – both in terms of longevity of the garment as well as maximising thermal efficiency.

I’d also agree on the absolute warmth – not the warmest ever but great for layering. In my eyes, this is an advantage as two medium-weight garments that provide a flexible outfit are better than being overly warm in one heavy layer. I still maintain that for the weight – less than an empty waterbottle – it’s hard to beat as an extra layer in your day pack.

Let’s keep on comparing notes over the winter… 😉

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Martin

Well at that price I had to. Sadly the green no longer seems to be an option so went with black as it will happily do the same job. Just a heads up too. There is free postage currently for orders over £40 so throw a pair of socks in the order to tip it over £40 to effectively get a free pair of socks 🙂

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Martin,

It’s good to hear from you. Glad that you were able to get hold of one of the ULD vests but shame there were no green ones left. Perhaps the readers of this blog have caused a run on them? 😉 But you are right, whatever the colour, they are great value.

Thanks also for the heads up on the free shipping over £40. A free pair of socks should never be sniffed at…

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Milkman

I combine a down gilet with a Paramo windproof smock and a fleece plus a merino base layer. I find this set up so flexible and involves very little bulk or weight. Primaloft is a very good alternative to down as it is amazingly good even when it’s soaking wet so I tend to take the primaloft gilet when the weather is more inclined towards rain.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Milkman,

Agreed, Primaloft is superb stuff. I own a Mountain Equipment Primaloft jacket and it’s one of the best garments I own. I combine it with my Norrona ‘Recon” jacket to create a bombproof combination for cold-damp conditions such as we encountered in Sweden in September. I also own some Hestra Primaloft mitten inners which are stunningly warm, both in absolute terms and for their weight.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Jon P

I’ve only worn mine six or seven times, usually around the house, and it is already leaking feathers. It’s useful as a light additional layer but it won’t last long and would, I think, get shredded very quickly if it was worn through woods, etc.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Jon,

That’s disappointing to hear. Mine has proved more durable. At least it has retained its down.

Like my Woolpower Ulfrotte warm layers, I recognise this gilet may not be the most durable garment ever made. It can easily be protected by a shell layer though.

I really appreciated this garment when on a hike across Scotland this summer. Lightweight, low in bulk but warm enough on chilly evenings. I still need to write up that trip…

Maybe you should look to get a replacement from UNIQLO if it’s losing all its filling?

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Theo

Hi Paul,
Looks like a great piece of gear. I have got a similar model from Mountain Equipment (Arete Vest) for 5 years now and it is my go-to piece of clothing when going out in the woods, mountains or just for a hike when it can get a little chilly. I really like that it is being lightweight, packs really small and my vest is even windproof. I think you will really enjoy it.

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Sonil

Paul, I’m planning to hike Kilimanjaro and to save money have been looking at this ULD as a cheaper option to other down jackets (i.e. Rab), in addition to my base layers, fleeces and a solid waterproof (probably Gore-tex/PertexShield+/eVent) how would you say this would perform? temperatures would probably dip below zero at times, but I’m trying to be canny and find a balance between cost and performance. Thanks

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Sonil,

I think the Uniqlo gilet would be a good budget alternative to other lightweight gilets of similar warmth from mountain clothing manufacturers. It won’t be as effective as larger mountain down jackets.

You should also note that some of RAB’s down is treated to be hydrophobic and some down jackets have outer materials such as Pertex Endurance, which makes them more water resistant.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Cyril Flannigan

Hi there, I bought one of these gilets a while back, infact just after Paul put together the original article, I must admit I still have it and continue to use it on outdoor treks and wilderness trips. I wear it under a shell normally to protect the fabric which would be vunerable to snags and tears, just like any other down jacket, and also to avoid spark damage around a fire, as a warm layer it performs very well if allowed to ‘loft’ underneath your outer layer. I.e. your outer is not a heavy weight jacket such as a wax Barbour style which would compress the jacket cells making it less efficient.
It packs down incredibly small which is a huge bonus for me, as I can stuff it in my pocket or side pocket of a rucksack, without taking up much room, yet it’s at hand when it gets cold or I need it quickly, when I start to cool down after a long hike. Being a gilet, it allows freedom of movement around the arm area, I use a lot canoeing when it’s cold, yet it allows ventilation under and around my arm area, reducing sweat when paddling. Personally as a small lightweight warm jacket, which compacts down to a very small size I love it, it does need looking after, I put a small spark hole in my shoulder, but it was easily repaired.
The fabric it’s made of looks very thin, but it’s pretty tough and helps keep in trapped air, making it very good at insulating.
I would suggest you use this jacket alongside your regular clothing when out doors before replacing any kit to see how you go with it. Keep it dry and you won’t have any problems.
Great piece of kit
Cyril

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Sonil

Cyril,
Thanks for your comments!
I think for the price, it should do me quite nicely. I’ve not bought my waterproof shell yet, but it will be a fairly lightweight Goretex/PertexShield+ style piece. I’ve seen some decent ones from Mountain Equipment, so that shouldn’t weight down the the gilet.
I just want to ask about the waterproof qualities? Is it to any extent already waterproof? Or would you say it’ll need treating with something like Nikwax Down Proof?
Thanks
Sonil

Reply

Cyril

I wouldn’t try to proof it … I reckon it will need to breathe, so proofing it will stop it breathing properly, You can use lofting washes when it’s a little older to help rejuvenate the down, and it will throw off a light shower … But just keep it stored dry or wear under a proper gortex jacket or similar.
Check that you don’t get too neat a size on you, better to have it slightly loose than tight fitting.
Great little gilet
Cyril

Reply

Sonil

Cyril,
For Kilimanjaro, would you say its best to get a Uniqlo Down Gilet, Uniqlo Down Jacket, or the Uniqlo Down Hooded Jacket?
Thanks
S

Reply

Cyril Flannigan

I would go with a hooded version for Kilimanjaro, but you might want to take a heavier down jacket depending on when your going, I’m no expert on Killimanjaro, but Paul might have done this trip before, Make sure you read up on layering in Pauls articles,I would definitely invest in a Nuptse jacket from Northface for killi for extreme conditions but I would also take a uniqlo as its so small and will suit the milder climates. You don’t want to be sweating too much in cold climates.
Killi is very varied in temperature from tropical to freezing at the top.
That’s the best advice I can give unfortunately, except to make sure you have a good gortex outer shell, and proper base layers, everything else will fall in place. regarding hats, fleeces gloves etc

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Jim

Thanks for this heads up Paul. For anyone reading, these are still available 2 years later. I just purchased jacket and gilet on the strength of your review.
I ordered ‘olive’ and it’s worth noting it’s a dark ‘foliage green’ unlike the one Paul shows in the photos. First impressions are great! It was 35 deg c on my weather station in the UK Peak District today so the worst time of year to comment on insulation, but fit is good (true to the online size chart), very lightweight fill, and I’m not sure if this was mentioned but both garments have internal ‘poachers pockets’ in the front.
Generally I’ve always been a huge Rab fan when it comes to down, (disclosure I know Rab personally) and always supported local business in Sheffield where the entire job was done. Since the Equipe buyout I still rate their gear but have fewer qualms about going elsewhere. I have no idea of the Uniqlo company structure or ethic, and generally try to purchase responsibly, Patagonia being the go to company for both ethics and bombproof quality, but sometimes the bottom line has to win, particularly on garments that are so easily trashed. That’s me justifying an impulse purchase if I’m honest, the bottom line is these Uniqlo items are just the job and I’m sure will see me through a good few winters if I take care.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Jim,

Thanks for your comments on the current offering from UniQlo. Mine is still going OK although has lost a little loft now. I still stuff it in a day pack when I want an option of extra insulation but no discernible extra weight.

Given your experience with other brands, it’ll be interesting to read your thoughts over time.

Let us know how you get on with it.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Russell Joyce

Hi Paul, just came across this on the blog – 2013 post ULD Uniqlo Gilet – what was the verdict in the end? Russ

Reply

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