A brief history of every hiker’s most indispensable garment: the puffer jacket

Eddie Bauer's Skyliner Jacket.
Eddie Bauer’s Skyliner Jacket.
(Eddie Bauer)

This story is part of our ultimate guide to hiking in L.A. You can buy a print copy at the L.A. Times store.

Love your puffy? You can thank Eddie Bauer, who created a down jacket in 1936 after the cold almost killed him. Bauer got caught in a storm as he hiked out from a fishing trip in his home state of Washington. “Eddie was in charge of carrying the 100 pounds of fish,” according to a history from the company that bears his name. “By the time he reached the top of the canyon wall, Eddie was hypothermic, his wool shirt a sheet of ice.” He managed to fire off a few shots in the air to signal distress and was rescued by a hiking companion.

That experience inspired Bauer to design a jacket light enough to be worn on the trail and warm enough to save lives. He called a prototype the Blizzard Proof. In 1940, he received the first U.S. patent for a down parka that featured diamond-shaped quilting filled with goose down. It’s called the Skyliner, and 80 years later, the company still sells a version of Bauer’s classic model.


Patent drawing for Eddie Bauer's original 1940 Skyliner Jacket.
Patent drawing for Eddie Bauer’s original 1940 Skyliner Jacket. The jacket is still made today, decades later.
(Eddie Bauer)

Bauer gets credit for popularizing the puffer but its roots go further back. Inuit tribes in Alaska and Canada were known to wear clothes made from skins, furs and feathers, the latter used to insulate themselves from harsh Arctic temperatures. In 1922, Australian mountain climber George Finch ordered a bright green, custom-made puffer-esque “eiderdown jacket” for an expedition to Mt. Everest.

Regardless of the origins, puffymania reigns, from the top of Mt. Everest to the fashion runways of Paris. Vice President Kamala Harris wore one on the campaign trail; Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wore a long black one to Joe Biden’s inauguration in January (where Bernie Sanders’ mittens stole the show); and even Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, has been known to rock a fitted red version.

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May 7, 2021

The puffy also became part of expedition chic that had been on fashion’s radar for years, culminating in Balenciaga’s 2016 puffer with an elegant slide-off-the-shoulder look and Aritzia’s cartoonishly overly puffy take in 2019 called the Mega Puff.

If you want to see Bauer’s original light brown jacket made in the first year of production, visit the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle (when it reopens after the pandemic). Until then, stay warm.