Sierra Designs BTU-Parka-Lead. Click to enlarge.

SD BTU Parka: Serious warmth for wicked cold!

By Rick Shandley

Sierra Designs cuts to the chase in severe weather with the BTU parka. That’s Brother Bernard, a Benedictine Monk wearing the Sierra  Designs BTU parka for the photos on a chilly day high up in the Gila National Forest. We had the BTU out in icy-cold weather on several trips requiring the outer layer of insulation to not only provide warmth, but a primary barrier to piercing wind-chill, driving snow, freezing rain, and designed for maximum mobility.

This SD BTU parka has been my primary cold weather down parka since for several years now and it has never let me down. Even today, as the snow is blowing in Silver City, New Mexico sitting in the Javalin Java coffee shop, I know that when I go outside, regardless of the wind-chill factor or icy conditions later in the day that this parka will keep me warm and shield my upper body from piercing winds and bone cracking cold when the sun goes down.

These aren’t easy characteristics to build into a mountaineering jacket, yet these qualities make the Sierra Designs BTU jacket their top level performance parka for several reasons we experienced that makes this parka one of our future go-to pieces of cold weather gear.

For starters, the Sierra Designs BTU parka is aesthetically pleasing and non-puffy. Oh, the puff factor is there, but it’s contained on the interior of the parka. It can be worn in the harshest ice-laden, wind-crazy conditions whether you are in the backcountry or a more civilized environment. The weatherproof outer fabric is not only tear resistant, but it has that aesthetic thing going for it; it looks good in our perspective.

Brother Bernard burrows into the SD BTU on a 20-degree day at 7,000 feet elevation.
Brother Bernard burrows into the SD BTU on a 20-degree day at 7,000 feet elevation.

Now, we wouldn’t give a second thought to wearing the BTU parka into the main lobby of The Peaks Resort in Telluride, Colorado during a blizzard or a crystal clear 0° day. You can wear it anywhere, on any freezing day, in any city, country, or winter playground around the world. And to think it was designed for extreme mountaineering work is just another feather in the cap. It’s a serious cold weather alpine jacket, but it is not limited to the place it is worn. That’s what is cool about this jacket.

And the BTU outer shell is completely waterproof and breathable because of the Tropozone technology used in the fabric.  Insulation next to the body is comprised of 800-fill goose down that generates warmth when you are not active, but with enough ventilation options built into the parka to manage the heat when burning calories during mountaineering, or any cold-weather activity. This is not a parka you can easily stuff into a stuff sack for backpacking; it’s a little more purposely built to be the primary insulation for a day of crampons and ice axin’. It’s a heat source, no doubt, and it may be too warm for some activities. But realize this: even when your core heats up to the point you’ll slip out of the BTU for a couple minutes or longer, you know it is “the” safety zone when your body chills down and becomes affected by the true low temperatures you are operating in. We didn’t see less than five degrees below zero, but this parka is certainly good for much colder temps than we experienced.

BTU is generously cut and designed to allow under-layering apparel to be worn with complete mobility of the arms and upper torso. A shorter-cut hem allows the mountaineer to wear climbing gear, pack, or harness without the jacket hanging up below the hip belt or web gear. Storm closures permit you to seal out snow or cold air intrusion from the parka’s hemline. These adjustments are also found at waist level.

BTU's down insulated hood is fully adjustable and roomy enough for wearing optional headgear.
BTU's down insulated hood is fully adjustable and roomy enough for wearing optional headgear.

Enough room is built into the insulated parka hood so you can wear a climbing helmet, or headgear used for a myriad of activities such as search and rescue, law enforcement, or highway maintenance. The down-insulated hood is totally adjustable from the top-rear of the hood and at each side of the face. Enough fabric is built in to the transition between your neck and your chin to snuggle into the warmth chamber without interfering with your forward vision.

We wish more upper arm, zippered pockets were designed into all cold weather jackets. The BTU features a good-sized, absolutely weatherproof,  pocket on the upper left arm of jacket, easily reachable with the right hand for stored items like yo’ money or compass.  It would be a nice touch to offer the BTU for us left-handed folks, but they are still a welcome feature nonetheless.

A larger zipped pocket on the upper left side chest area is handy for storing your gloves when working with bare hands. Two zippered, and flannel-lined, hand warmer pockets are large enough to accommodate your paws with or without gloves on. On the interior of the BTU parka, deep storage pockets facilitate larger items like water bottles or whiskey flasks kept close to body heat. An upper left interior pocket with zipper closure secures your valuables. The BTU parka’s primary torso zipper worked flawlessly, even in the dark. That is huge for us. Full length Velcro-secured closures provide storm-welt sealing over the primary torso zipper, and we couldn’t ask for more from a parka. Same goes for the Velcro closures on the wrist cuffs aided by elastic in the cuff ends. All the adjustable draw cords at the parka hem, waist, hood, and neck areas allowed us to tailor ventilation and fit. SD BTU Parka Mobility. Click to enlarge.

While the Sierra Designs BTU parka is available in Black, Brick/Granite as color options, ours is the Vine/Granite color scheme. We found the green and grey color to be very sociable when wearing the BTU for everyday winter warmth. Some cold-weather parkas are so bright and scream “look at me” or “find me quick,” that they are less appropriate for blowing into an office building during a snow storm in the course of a business day. For all the warmth and ruggedness the BTU parka delivers in a mountaineering environment, those same qualities play very well for wearing it to the office on any winter day. The warmth is guaranteed whilst the styling is practical and subtly always in style.

SD BTU with backpack for the night hike.
SD BTU with backpack for the night hike.

Overall, this SD BTU parka meets every feature/benefit the manufacturer claims with regard to performance and warmth. Yes, we can recommend the Sierra Design BTU Parka. How they kept the initial investment to less than a grand while insulating with 800-fill goose down, we may never know. Many strategic manufacturing and business decisions are limited to the trade off in quality components vs. cost to build at a reasonable expectation of return. All we can deduce is that Sierra Designs has achieved economy of scale and design in a parka that actually gives the wearer an expectation of safety and confidence in killer cold conditions.

Review and photography by Rick Shandley


Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL

MSRP: $299.00

Colors: Vine/Granite, Brick/Granite, Black

Gear Source List:

  • Sierra Designs BTU Jacket
  • Lowe-Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85 backpack
  • Kelty Foraker -15 Down Sleeping Bag
  • Merrell Outbound backpacking boots
  • Mt. Khakis Original Alpine pants
  • Timex WS4 Expedition Watch


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