You Are my Pouffie and I Love You

renee's picture
Submitted by renee on

There's a little song I like to sing when we're backpacking. Or rather I like to sing it when we stop for breaks and especially when we get to camp. The lyrics are the title of this post. The tune is harder to explain and I'll leave that to your imagination.

But I will happily explain what I mean by a pouffie and why I love mine.

Renee black pouffie

Three and a half years ago I went backpacking for the first time. I had never been backpacking before that. Damien had done some backpacking as a young man but never in our married life. However, he had set his sights on our family enjoying this activity together and to that end he has been researching and scheming for years how to do this. Somewhere along the line he discovered lightweight backpacking and realized this was the ticket to making this dream possible for a family of five.

That's my preamble to explain why we use the techniques and strategies we do when backpacking. We are continually tweaking our gear to save weight.

A huge part of lightweight backpacking is comfortable and safe clothing. What do I mean by comfortable and safe?

  • Comfortable - means just that. You're warm (though not always dry, except at night - which is a must) and have ease of movement in what you're wearing.
  • Safe - Your clothes need to provide protection from the elements so that basically you don't freeze to death or get frostbite. On the other end of the spectrum, but less of a concern during this season, your clothes must protect you from sun exposure.
Men's blue rab jacket

There's more to it than this of course but I'm not a technical gear writer - I leave that to the folks at Backpacking Light (of which Damien is a regular contributor). If you like reading technical, outdoorsy articles you can score a Backpacking Light discount code here. For my part, I leave that research to Damien.

(An editorial aside: Damien disagrees with my spelling of pouffie. He says puffy and he criticized my use of this incorrect word. However, like I said, I am not a technical writer. I actually say pouffie as in poof e, but poofie looks even worse in print than pouffie. Pouffie or puffy. Take your pick. I'm sticking with pouffie. And I'm still singing my song.)

Here's what I do know - Damien and I have been tweaking strategies for a couple years now to keep me warm in the outdoors. Because being warm is really important to me. Not only is this a safety issue, it's a comfort issue. I know that you can be (relatively) safe and still feel chilly. Some people (I haven't met them but I know they must exist) are fine being a little cold while in the outdoors. They figure it's just part of the getting back to nature experience. Not me.

I want to feel comfortable in the outdoors, especially since we like to spend a lot of time there (i.e.: I'm not just going on a flash-in-the-pan weekend trip with my hubby, we're doing this often and for longer stretches of time). I want to feel happy and secure in our clothing and gear. All while carrying a lighter load. This is a tall order. (Of course one way to carry a lighter load is to have Damien carry mine for me!)

Black mont bell pants on trail

This is why I love my pouffie - so much so that I sing it songs of affection and gratitude. My pouffie is light weight, my pouffie is warm. My pouffie makes me happy.

My pouffie is actually two pouffies. A pair of synthetic insulated overpants and a synthetic insulated jacket. These are key clothing pieces to keeping me happy in the outdoors.

How do they work?

When we are hiking (either day hiking or backpacking) we wear only the clothing needed to keep us comfortable at a walking pace.

  1. A quick-dry base layer that wicks moisture away from our bodies.
  2. A minimal amount of insulation (lightweight fleece, only if necessary).
  3. A light weight wind barrier. If it's raining we use rain jackets instead.

The rest of our clothes we carry in our packs. What we want to avoid is dressing too warmly and sweating profusely which makes your clothes more damp than necessary (this excess sweat trapped in your clothing can lead to unwanted chill). We've found that each of us needs a different amount of insulation while hiking. Generally, Celine and I need more, Damien and the younger two kids need less.

Patagonia children's jacket

With this system, as soon as we stop for a break on the trail or stop to make camp for the night, the layers we're wearing don't keep us warm enough because we're not generating the same body heat we were while hiking. This is when we put on the pouffies.

During the fall when we're just stopping for a break on the trail we don't necessarily add a pouffie layer. Unless we really need to. Most often, a vest or even rain jacket (not as breathable as the wind breakers we usually wear) will do the trick for a fifteen minute stop. In winter however, we always add extra layers during any stops. And then take them off when we start moving again.

Although it's not always necessary during hiking stops, the first thing we tell the kids when we stop to camp is, "get on your pouffies". You don't have to tell me twice. This might be my favorite part of the whole day. That, and crawling into my extra pouffie sleeping bag at night.

girl reading Kindle in tent

Adding this layer of insulation, with windstopper fabric (vs. fleece which is all insulation but no wind stopper) is key for keeping us warm and traveling light.

Pouffies go right over your other clothes, except your rain gear. We buy them big for this purpose - these are not styling, tight fitting down jackets. These are warm workhorses. However, as we slowly upgrade our gear Damien tries to find pieces that are both fashionable and functional. He's done good with the jackets, I love my blue Rab jacket - which is an upgrade from the black pouffie you see in the first photos. Especially wonderful, and much needed, is the hood.

My black pouffie pants leave a little to be desired in the fashion department. That's ok, we're not out there to make a fashion statement. A wonderful feature of my Mont Bell pants is the zippers down the outside of each leg so I can easily put them on while still wearing shoes. How clever.

As Celine grows into adult sizes she's upgrading to similar gear. Our younger two use fleece pants as extra insulation for their legs. They wear these under, not over, their windstopper hiking pants. This isn't quite as good as a synthetic down outer layer pouffie - in part because they have to take off a layer, losing heat while doing so, to put on the fleece. Outdoor companies don't make high tech gear for kids (usually) but luckily our youngest two have warmer internal thermostats and don't need as much insulation. Or maybe they're just more active around camp and generating more heat. It's probably a bit of both.

boy lighting fire

I'm not a gear head and gear reviews aren't my thing. But writing about my pouffie is like writing about a good friend. A friend who keeps me warm in the wilderness.

Damien has really dialed it in for year-round clothing lists for family hiking and lightweight backpacking. He is in the process of writing an e-book on this very subject. We hope to publish that next spring.

Women's Rab Photon in camp

In the meantime, do you have any questions about pouffies? I love to talk about mine.



I first backpacked at 17

I first backpacked at 17 (21years ago!) and only in the last few years have started getting appropriate clothing. This summer Dear Hubby found me the Patagonia down sweater half off on ebay, and I was so disappointed it didn't come in the mail in time for our trip to Lassen National Park. But, this past weekend I got to use it, for all 3 days, on our fall hiking trip to Mono Pass (Yosemite). I, too, was singing songs of praise about the "puffy". My kids were teasing me about that, but I was so happy to be in it. And good thing I borrowed a rain jacket from a friend, because it rained the first day and a half.

I had to laugh reading your post because I, too, can't wait for the moment that the kids are tucked in and I can snuggle into MY puffy down sleeping bag! And then in the morning straight into the puffy! LOL!

I hear you! I've been

I hear you! I've been wanting a puffy jacket and pants so I could do more shoulder season activities. I went out with a friend two weeks ago for an overnighter (no kids!) and we froze! (It got down to 14 degrees at night!) After that gal I know gave me her older down puffy so I won't have to freeze ever again. It's hard to explain to non-hikers how happy this made me! My wool and fleece layers were so heavy and bulky and still didn't keep me warm enough. I'm really looking forward to trying out my "new" puffy.

Renee, I'm so glad you wrote

Renee, I'm so glad you wrote about this. I need to buy a pouffie and I've been trying to decide what to buy. At first I thought I'd get one of the really light-weight ones like the Eddie Bauer down shirt or hoodie or the one by GoLite. That would be great for insulation while trail running or hiking/backpacking in the winter. But then I realized I might need something heavier for winter at camp. Not sure what to buy. I will take a look at the Rab. Maybe it will be my Christmas present! Thanks!

As someone who gets cold

As someone who gets cold easily, I too love my pouffie/puffy jacket. I have a MontBell and I will often carry it instead of a fleece on lightly cold nights during a hike. The reason being is it balls up and takes up less space than the fleece. But, don't get me wrong, I've worn them all, including the puffy while hiking.

My only problem with the MontBell jacket I have is that it tends to have escaping feathers on occasion. I wonder how other brands fare in that sense?

So much great info in here!

So much great info in here! Thanks a lot. What do you use for your kids? Do they always carry a fleece and a puffy? Do they also own a soft shell? This is where we are at with our girls. We found them a good rainjacket at the Patagonia outlet, but you also mention a windbreaker. Do they always bring both with them? It is hard to make the right decision on what to buy first... (fleece or puffy)? Can't wait for your book to be out! We are enjoying ourselves in Zion NP these days!

Hi Renee, I hear you

Hi Renee, I hear you completely. I've got two wonderful MontBell sleeping bags, both summer and winter, and I'm seldom cold at night. Like you, I love getting into my bag at night and zipping up all nice and cozy with that soft fluffy down floofing down around me. But I don't yet have a pouffie!

I am really feeling the lack of having such lightweight packable insulation. Fleece just isn't cutting it. But I'm plus sized (you'd think all the hiking would help...sadly, no) and therefore have to settle for men's gear which just doesn't fit well enough. (Why does women's performance gear stop at a 14? Large women DO get out there and we need gear!) Maybe I'll look into MYOG someday.

On being warm and comfy, I've found it incredibly important to have insulated things to sit on. Women run colder than men in the first place because we have less muscle mass. But many of us also carry a fair amount of "excess cargo" on our bottoms and thighs, and once that tissue gets cold it's really hard to get warmed back up again. I find that even a few minutes of sitting on a cold rock will make my backside the same temperature. And then, even with sufficient insulation it's like having that cold rock with me in the sleeping bag! So now I always make sure my bottom is insulated and never sit anywhere but on my mattress. Luckily my husband understands how important staying warm is and I've got both a great pad and a chair to go with it. Next I want a sit-pad for day hikes (hint, hint, husband, *christmas*).

I'm probably what most would

I'm probably what most would consider 'hard core' ultralight, and I do accept being cold now and then as a fair price to pay for extremely light loads. However, more and more, I do like to sneak in my Montbell Exlight down jacket. It doesn't weigh much, but it sure is a nice luxury. As long as I can keep my base weight under 5 lbs, I sure like to include it. And I more often am sneaking in my 'heavy' down bag also, at 22 oz. I accept shivering once or twice during the night if necessary, but it's sure a luxury to have an extra ounce or two of down around me.