Best Down Jackets for Men of 2021
|Price||$324.95 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$350 List||Check Price at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|$399 List||$339.00 at Feathered Friends|
|Pros||Incredibly light, compact, warm for its size and weight, effective hydrophobic down||Warm, hydrophobic down, comfortable, large pockets accommodate use while wearing a harness||Lightweight, stylish, high warmth to weight ratio||Warm, feature laden, compressible||900+ fill down, warm, lightweight, incredibly compressible, competitively priced|
|Cons||No hood cinch, no chest pocket||Expensive, non-adjustable waist hem, poor compressibility||Expensive, not super durable||Heavy, bulky fit||Hood a little tight to fit over a helmet, no hood adjustment|
|Bottom Line||Offers high versatility, comfort, accommodation of movement, and light weight||This is a high-end coat ready for the mountains||If you are looking for a warm, light layer for a trip where ounces count, this jacket is a great selection||This belay parka will keep you warm on the coldest days||This no-nonsense performance model has everything you need in a lightweight package|
|Rating Categories||Ghost Whisperer/2||The North Face Summit Down||Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody||Patagonia Fitz Roy Hooded||Feathered Friends Eos|
|Water Resistance (15%)|
|Specs||Ghost Whisperer/2||The North Face...||Arc'teryx Cerium...||Patagonia Fitz Roy...||Feathered Friends...|
|Down Fill||800 fill RDS certified, down insulation||800 fill goose down||850 fill goose down||800 fill goose down||900+ goose down|
|Total Weight||8.5 oz||14.43 oz||7.6 oz||22.3 oz||13 oz|
|Baffle Construction||Sewn-through baffles||Sewn-through baffles||Sewn-through||Sewn-through baffles||Sewn-through baffles|
|Main Fabric||Recycled polyester ripstop, DWR finish||Nylon pertex||Arato 7 nylon||Recycled nylon ripstop, Pertex Quantum with a DWR||Pertex Quantum|
|Compression Method||Zips into pocket||Stuffs into pocket||Included stuff sack||Stuffs into pocket||Stuff sack|
|Pockets||2 zippered hand||2 hand, 2 internal, 1 chest||2 zippered hand||2 hand, 2 internal, 1 chest||2 zippered hand|
Best Overall Down Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is our favorite down jacket. Its popularity in the field was based largely on how versatile it is, coming in at 8.5 ounces, it offers an incredible amount of warmth, which means there is no reason not to throw this into your pack. The fit is spot-on; its athletic fit accommodates wide sets of shoulders and makes overhead movement a non-issue. It's tailored enough to not feel bulky during activity but wide enough to easily layer a fleece underneath. Our testers found that the stretchiness, fit, and low weight made it an ideal piece for climbing or other highly mobile activities. We used this as both a standalone piece and as part of a layering system. As a standalone jacket, our testers were comfortable in temps down into the low forties and upper thirties. When temperatures started to drop below freezing, the addition of a lightweight fleece was all our testers needed to stay warm and cozy.
The most glaring deficiency was the lack of a zippered phone pocket. While the lack of pockets contributes to its low weight, our testers would have preferred at least one internal or external chest pocket. This jacket is comfortable, looks good, and, most importantly, performs incredibly well in a wide range of conditions.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2
Best Bang for Your Buck
MontBell Superior Down
The Montbell Superior Hooded Parka is a newer addition to our testing line up and over the last couple of seasons, our testers have been continuously blown away by how many excellent features this coat offers, especially given the low price. With a size medium weighing in at only 8.7 ounces, this jacket has an incredible weight to warmth ratio. Complete with both a cinchable hood and waist hem, the Superior makes it easy to keep your precious body heat from escaping. Stuffed with 800 fill down, there is no question that this coat offers high-quality componentry at a great value.
While this jacket is a high performer, it's not entirely perfect. The fit is a little boxy, and the overall construction doesn't feel as polished as some of the more premium options. The hood has a two-part adjustment system, which does a fine job of sealing out the cold but feels a little clunky, especially compared to other modern adjustment systems. That said, we are really reaching to find a downside to this jacket and can't reiterate enough about how much we love its feature-rich, lightweight, and highly packable design, all sold at a remarkably low price.
Read review: MontBell Superior Down
Basic Performance at an Affordable Price
REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.0
If you're looking to pinch some pennies, consider the REI Co-Op 650 2.0. This quality jacket stands out for its cozy 650-down fill construction that is super lightweight. The shell also has a DWR treatment that'll ward off water for a few minutes while you seek shelter. If a greatly valued product is your priority, this is our top recommendation.
While it does sport a fantastic price, we have a few caveats. This jacket is on the thin side and not the warmest option of the fleet; we prefer to use it as part of a layering system on cold days. This limits its versatility, depending on your adventure. If you are looking for a reasonably priced warmth layer but don't need the most technically advanced model for a climb up the Matterhorn in winter, this is a good option. Wear it around town or as a layer for light and fast adventures, but look elsewhere if mega warmth is your priority.
Read review: REI Co-Op 650 2.0
Best for Lightweight Warmth
Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody
The Arc'teryx Cerium SL is our favorite ultralight down jacket built for packing light and going fast. It has all the necessary features that make it a technically capable jacket while omitting extra bells and whistles that would add weight, bulk, and complexity. The incredible compressibility and lightweight nature really made it stand out from the others in our review. It's the ideal jacket to clip to your harness and forget about until the temps start dropping. For the same reasons, this is an excellent jacket for commuters who want a warm jacket they can easily stuff into a small pack while getting on and off public transit. It has a classic Arc'teryx fit that not only makes it appropriate for the mountains but also looks good while out on the town. The hood and hem both have adjustable drawcords to lock out the cold, which is unique for such a lightweight jacket.
While the Cerium SL is just about the perfect ultralight down layer, there are a couple of things you should be aware of. The thin ripstop nylon shell is tear-resistant, but that's a relative term, and when compared to the heavier-weight fabrics used in many of the other options, this fabric just won't hold up as well. We also know from experience that even with careful use, the thin zipper used on this jacket can wear out before the rest of the jacket will. All in all, this jacket is ideal for those looking for a high-quality option that prioritizes weight and compressibility.
Read review: Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody
Best Midweight Option
The North Face Summit Down
The North Face Summit Down straddles the line between midweight down and parka. With a size medium weighing in at 14.4 ounces and constructed from 800 fill hydrophobic down, it offers an incredible weight to warmth ratio. The North Face nailed the finishing details on this piece. From the stretchy and comfortable wrist cuffs to the oversized hand pockets that remain accessible while wearing a harness, this is a refined piece of outerwear. The athletic fit accommodates wide-set shoulders and those with longer arms. There is also plenty of room to layer underneath, but stuffing this under a rain layer can feel a bit clunky.
One of the few things this jacket lacked was an adjustable waist hem. While the tapered fit does a pretty good job of trapping warm air, being able to cinch the waist down to ensure a good seal would have been nice. While this jacket has somewhat poor compressibility, and we wouldn't want to climb with it clipped to our harness, it is considerably warmer than most other options and fits in a day pack just fine. This is a mountain-ready jacket that will keep you warm in all but the absolute coldest winter conditions.
Read review: The North Face Summit Down
A Tried and True Classic
Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody hasn't changed much over the years but still remains one of our favorite down jackets. While style is subjective and not one of our official testing metrics, there is no question that this piece offers a more refined look than some of the other more techy-looking pieces in the review. This became our go-to option for day missions where conditions were uncertain or expected to be quite variable. It has great wind resistance, which significantly helps keep you warmer on bitterly cold days. We also like the athletic fit, which was roomy in the shoulders but trim down the sides. The adjustable waist hem helps trap warm air, and the fleece chin guard keeps the zipper from rubbing when you need to be fully zipped up.
The DWR coating keeps water from soaking into the down for a time, but overall its wet weather performance is not fantastic. It's a little heavy for the warmth it provides, but we loved the features, including an internal chest pocket, stash pocket, and a high collar that comes up over your nose when fully zipped. Many other contenders are lighter or less expensive, but if you're looking for something that can do it all, the Patagonia Down Sweater is hard to beat.
Read review: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
Why You Should Trust Us
Our panel of expert gear testers is headed up by Buck Yedor and Adam Paashaus. Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, Buck's appreciation for quality insulation started young. After graduating from college, he took a job working for Yosemite Search and Rescue, where he saw first hand that having the right outerwear can be the difference between a pleasant day out in the mountains or needing a rescue. In his free time, you can find him bundled up underneath freezing boulders or hanging off the side of a big wall. Adam has been an active member of the outdoor community for years. His passion for helping others find the right gear for their adventures started back in 2001 when he started working in the retail side of the industry.
The bulk of our testing takes place in the High Sierra of California, the Rockies of Colorado, with some adventures in the Pacific Northwest and the Green Mountains of Vermont thrown in for good measure. After many hours of research, we selected the top models available and took them into the field, where we climbed, hiked, skied, camped, and even slept in the jackets, all the while paying special attention to the fit, performance, and versatility of each one.
Related: How We Tested Down Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
This review focuses on light and midweight down jackets that can be worn on their own in the shoulder seasons or as a midlayer when it's really cold outside. Our testers love a down jacket that is packable and affordable. During our testing, we looked at six essential metrics used to evaluate each jacket; these include warmth, weight, water resistance, fit, compressibility, and features. Using these metrics, we compare each one. This article provides an overview of how each jacket performed during specific tests.
Related: Buying Advice for Down Jackets
We understand; most of us can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars every few seasons to keep up with the latest innovations or simply to replace well-used and worn-out gear. As a group who spends a considerable amount of time in the mountains and have been known to put serious wear on our personal outerwear, we really appreciate jackets that offer a great value. While the highest quality products typically are expensive, there are outstanding down jackets with a lower cost that offer relatively similar performance. Many of these lower-priced options are still warm, lightweight, and compressible but may use lower quality down, have fewer features, or simply just don't have the same brand recognition.
Our best value winner is one that offers quality construction for a good price. In this review, we feature two different award winners for their low prices. The REI Co-op 650 Down 2.0 is the best-priced option of them all. While it scores on the low end of our performance metrics, it's essential to realize that it's being compared to the best of the best. The Montbell Superior Hoody offers better warmth and performance but costs a bit more. However, for the extra cost, the Superior has a full feature set and is ultralight. Another well-priced product is the Rab Microlight. It offers incredible weather resistance at a good competitive price. As much as we hate to admit it, even expensive insulation layers are fairly fragile. While we don't score value, it's important to consider your wallet when making a purchase like this.
Warmth is the most important criteria when selecting a jacket, because, after all, if not for its warmth, why do we even need a down jacket? Since it's so important, we decided to weigh each jacket's score for warmth as 30 percent of its total score.
Lightweight down jackets are typically made using sewn-through baffle construction, which helps when you are trying to produce a lighter weight and less expensive product. The baffles are the individual compartments that hold down and are needed so that it doesn't all sink to the bottom. Sewn-through baffle construction means that the fabric on the outside of the jacket is sewn to the material on the inside, creating a baffle, which is typically oriented horizontally, although some are square-shaped. This design allows them to be lighter, thinner, and less expensive.
The biggest drawback to sewn-through baffles is that they create thin spots at the seams where there is no down and warm air can escape. There are a few different alternative techniques for generating baffles besides the sewn-through method but it remains the most commonly seen.
Warmth is most affected by the fill power and fill weight. Fill power relates to the down's ability to puff up and insulate a space. High fill power down (800 and up) needs less weight in down to insulate the same amount of space as down with a lower fill power, so the top-performing and often most expensive jackets use higher fill down for warmer and lighter results. Less expensive jackets using a lower fill power sacrifice weight and compressibility but can still provide a warmth-to-weight ratio that outperforms most synthetically insulated jackets, even the high-end type.
The loft of a jacket isn't everything, and fit and design have loads to do with how well a jacket stacks up in the warmth metric. Jackets with a slim, thermally efficient fit and a longer hemline also score extra points in the warmth category. To test these jackets for warmth, we used them countless times on adventures during the late fall and early winter: camping, hiking, climbing, and skiing, not to mention around town use.
We also tested them side-by-side on frigid, windy mornings in the mountains to best tell how they compare against each other. Although they do not come with temperature ratings like sleeping bags, we feel these jackets offer good-to-adequate stand-alone warmth down to freezing temperatures and can help you stay warm in much lower temperatures when used as part of a layering system.
In the past few years, most companies have begun using responsibly sourced down. Since down is an animal product — duck and goose feathers --, we believe that it's important that down is harvested for use in your jacket in a way that does not torture the animal. There's no getting around it; these birds are killed as food and for their feathers.
In our testing, a few jackets stood out for their warmth. The Patagonia Fitz Roy was, by and large, the warmest down we tested but on the flip side of the coin also the heaviest. The Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody employs 850-fill down, minimal features, and lightweight shell fabric to create a toasty jacket that packs away super-small and can disappear into your pack. Likewise, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 offered an incredible weight to warmth ratio.
The higher, further, and steeper we venture, the more important the weight of what we carry becomes. The utility of an object in the backcountry is based on how much use you get out of it for how much energy is expended to carry it. The warmth-to-weight ratio of a jacket is a key measurement of value, and a down jacket has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any technical insulated jacket. Additional ounces are added or subtracted to a jacket's weight by the fabric and design features. Frequently, durability and other critical features such as a hood are sacrificed on the altar of ultralight design, to the detriment of the final product. An ultralight jacket that doesn't keep you warm or that falls apart after limited use doesn't have a lot of value.
Weight accounts for 20% of an item's total score. From our testing, we noticed that weight seems to be a product of three important factors: down fill-power, type or weight of the fabric, and amount and type of features. Using a higher quality down means that you get the same loft with less filling, so higher fill-power jackets tend to be lighter, and there is little trade-off here except for added expense. Similarly, using a thinner fabric can make a jacket lighter, with a compromise in durability. Lastly, to save weight, some models include fewer features, such as chest pockets, zippers, or drawcords, while others use much lighter and smaller zippers to shave half an ounce here and there.
The trade-off for using less or lighter features can again be durability in the case of super small gauge zippers or the lack of ability to cinch up important drafty areas if a jacket goes without the use of drawcords. We found the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 and even the incredible Feathered Friends jackets to be missing a hood adjustment; while this surely saves some weight, you lose the ability to block out cold drafts.
The lightest jacket in this year's review was the Arc'teryx Cerium SL, which weighed a scant 7.6 ounces. While most of the competition hovers around 13 ounces, the Cerium SL offers a significantly lighter alternative. Though featherweight, this jacket still includes critical features like zippered handwarmer pockets and hem and hood cinches. The REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0 is another exceptionally light jacket at 10.4 ounces, but at the cost of warmth, as its 650 fill duck down insulation isn't as warm, there isn't a whole lot of it in the jacket, and it lacks crucial cold blocking features like hood and waist cinches.
Down does not insulate when wet, and wearing a down jacket in a soggy environment can be an uncomfortable or even dangerous mistake. Furthermore, if your jacket gets saturated, it will take a painfully long time to dry out and re-loft before it is remotely usable again. You really need to get it into a low heat dryer asap. Fortunately, designers have several strategies for negating this vulnerability.
A few companies have down that has been directly treated with a DWR chemical. With names like Drydown and Downtec, companies claim that special "hydrophobic" down has better water resistance and faster drying times. We had trouble evaluating these statements since we don't have access to the inside of these jackets, and even after soaking them in the shower, we found it difficult to isolate this variable for testing from other factors that add to each jacket's water resistance. So far, we don't think that hydrophobic down is anything miraculous, so hold onto your hardshells. Our scores mainly reflect the DWR treatment of the face fabric, but we added a point to jackets with hydrophobic down.
A great choice for wet weather, the Rab Microlight Alpine combines a water-resistant Pertex microlight shell fabric with an impressive DWR coating, Nikwax treated down, and a hood that keeps the rain out of your face. While it's not water proof, this is the down jacket we would want for wet climates. A close second was the Outdoor Research Helium Down. Its outer shell is composed of two types of fabric with the one used on the hood and shoulder panels being fully waterproof. This keeps water beading off of you while the rest of the jacket remains breathable. The North Face Summit Down also features treated hydrophobic down, in theory offering more protection from water than its DWR coating. This metric accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score; keep in mind that most folks aren't looking at down products for their water resistance properties (and this is not their intended purpose), and we stress warmth as a top priority when selecting a puffy.
A durable water repellent (DWR) treatment is a chemical coating that causes water to bead up and roll off the face of the treated material. Think Teflon pan. Out of the box, DWR-treated models are very effective at keeping the down dry and lofty even in light rain. Unfortunately, these chemicals lose their effectiveness as the jacket becomes dirty. Everyday use exposes the shell fabric to dirt and oils, causing spots on the jacket to "wet out", especially on the back of the neck and shoulders. Regular cleaning can help prolong the DWR treatment. Take care of your jacket, and it will take care of you!
For this category, we selected jackets that can function as a standalone piece, midlayer, or outer layer. They need to be roomy enough to accommodate a fleece layer underneath and form-fitting enough to fit underneath a waterproof shell layer. That limited our selection to light and midweight models.
For us, an ideal fitting jacket is one that mimics the shape of the body, so that it moves as we do, but is also large enough to wear a layer or two beneath. We're also particular about the length of the sleeves, as well as the shape of the jacket through the shoulders, upper back, and chest. Simply put, we want our jacket to be ready for any activity, no matter what we are doing — ice climbing, backpacking, hiking, skiing, scrambling — we are likely to be moving our arms about and sometimes swinging them over our head.
Some jackets have sleeves that are too short, causing them to ride up above our wrists when our arms are outstretched. Likewise, some of the jackets have a constrictive fit around the shoulders, upper back, and chest that impede our freedom of movement, and affect the overall fit. Other aspects of fit that we paid close attention to were the collars, hoods, and the length of the hemline at our waist.
Jackets with a baggie fit like the REI Co-Op 650 Down 2.0 lost points because they were less efficient insulators. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 was the highest-scoring puffy in this metric. It had enough room to comfortably layer under; it was unrestrictive to movement but was in no way baggy. The Arc'teryx Cerium LT was another coat with a great fit that offers unrestricted movement. The North Face Summit Down has the most athletic fit of any of the heavier midweight downs we tested. For this metric, fit accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Except in extremely cold conditions, strenuous activity will cause you to overheat in your down jacket. The jacket will likely spend a lot of time in your pack when you're climbing, mountaineering, ski touring, or hiking, and come out during belays, ski transitions, or breaks. A compressible jacket may allow you to use a smaller pack.
Down jackets are significantly more compressible than their synthetic counterparts, and packability is one of their main selling points. More importantly, down is much more resilient than synthetic insulation, which degrades and loses its re-lofting ability over time.
Not surprisingly, the Arc'teryx Cerium SL was one of the highest scorers when considering compressibility. It is the thinnest and lightest weight of the jackets we tested, and its high fill-power down means that it easily stuffs into its stuff sack, making a tiny little package that can be stuffed small and taken anywhere. A handful of other jackets, including the REI Co-Op 650 Down 2.0, also stuff down pretty small in their own pockets. Compressibility accounted for 10% of a product's final score.
Most of the jackets in our review use high-quality down (800+ fill-power) that remains lofty compression after compression. What sets them apart in the compressibility metric is how small and easily they pack away. Some models stuffed down into an internal pocket, while others like the Arc'teryx Cerium SL included a small stuff sack. The stowaway pocket has its advantages — there's no sack to lose, and it cuts down on extra weight and material. Jackets with a stuff sack are generally easier to pack away than those with smaller stash pockets. The Arc'teryx Cerium LT and the Feathered Friends Eos are both very compressible thanks to their high fill power down, with the Cerium SL packing down smaller than most.
Features are our favorite place to nit-pick. Which pockets have the best placements? How many pockets do we even need? Which hood fits the best? Which jacket has our favorite zipper? We generally prefer a jacket with fewer features that work well than something loaded with extraneous bells and whistles that contribute to weight and not much else.
As down jackets get lighter and lighter, we see thinner fabrics come into play. While most employ a ripstop pattern to prevent holes and tears from spreading, a jacket made from 10D fabric isn't going to withstand abrasion from bushes and sharp rocks very well. We recommend carrying a roll of nylon repair tape with you on extended trips. This way, you'll be able to stop your jacket from leaking precious feathers from a tear or a burn as soon as it happens.
The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody had features that we enjoyed. Our favorites were the hem drawcords that lived inside the hand pockets so they wouldn't dangle below our waist, a soft fleece-lined chin guard on the inside of the collar, and a perfectly fitting hood that can be tightened with a single drawcord (yet is still large enough to fit over a climbing helmet). The elastic cuffs are snug enough to keep drafts at bay, but stretchy so you can pull the sleeves up in a pinch. Keep in mind that too many features can weigh you down; our favorite lightweight models, like the Feathered Friends Eos and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, skip hood adjustments and superfluous pockets. Features accounted for 10% of a jacket's overall score.
Having a warm insulating layer is an essential part of any layering system. How warm, how light, and what features your insulating layer needs to have will largely come down to preference and individual needs. We hope our in-depth breakdown of these down jackets will help you decide which one will work best for you. As down jackets keep getting lighter and warmer, we'll continue to stay on top of new developments and present our findings here.
— Buck Yedor & Adam Paashaus