Itching for cold weather? Over the course of 10 years, we purchased and tested 51 of the best down jackets. For 2020, we bought 11 products to face our extensive testing process. Each model in our fleet was tested across a broad range of metrics, including warmth, weight, and water resistance. A down jacket can boast an endless supply of applications, ranging from ski-touring, to camping, to backpacking. No matter your budget or needs, we've identified various jackets for the weather conditions you'll encounter, with weather resistance, lightweight warmth, and around town use in mind.
The Best Down Jackets of 2020
Best Overall Model
The North Face Summit L3 Hoody
Our favorite down jacket is The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody, as it balances all the best things you'd expect to find in a down jacket. To start, it is gleefully light (11.9 ounces) and keeps your bum warm with its extra-long hem. The hoody is quite puffy, so you can burrow inside when the winds blow and temperatures drop. The shell is built with a 10-denier fabric that feels thin but is surprisingly durable when scraping against rough granite stones and tromping through brush infested woods. We also appreciate the DWR treated fabric that'll offer some water resistance in a light storm. If the sun comes out and you need to shed your jacket, simply stuff it into its own pocket, zip it up, and either store it in your pack, or clip it on for use later.
While we appreciate the 800-fill down power that is sourced responsibility, it's not as warm or cozy as jackets filled with 950+ or 850-down fill options. This caveat is a bit of a stretch as our tests unanimously agree that this is probably the best down option out there across all metrics.
Read review: The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody
Best on a Tight Budget
REI Co-op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0
If you're looking to pinch some pennies, consider the REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0. This quality jacket stands out for its cozy 650-down fill construction that is super lightweight. The shell 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 is mega warmth is your priority.
Read review: REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0
Best Bang for Your Buck
The North Face Sierra Peak Hoody
The North Face Sierra Peak Hoody is a great middle-ground option for those looking for a hooded down jacket that is warmer than "ultralight" style jackets but can't justify spending the big money; this hits the middle ground. The Sierra Peak has most of the features of a higher-end jacket and almost the same warmth, making it a great choice for those on a budget who still want to get a high quality, warm, down jacket with a hood.
However nice this jacket is, The Sierra Peak isn't quite the perfect down jacket. The North Face website mentions that this coat has a hem adjustment, but we were unable to locate it. When it was super windy or cold, it would have been nice to lock that cold air out better, without having to put on a wind shell that had a hem cinch. We also would have preferred if the hood had a slightly different design. While it cinched up well and sealed out the cold, the elastic cord wraps right over the ears, making it uncomfortable to wear cinched up for extended periods.
Read review: The North Face Sierra Peak Hoody
Best for Lightweight Warmth
Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody
The Arc'teryx Cerium SL is an ultra-light down jacket that has all the necessary features to make it a technically capable jacket; it doesn't include the erroneous bells and whistles that would add weight, bulk, and complexity. We loved its super light weight and compressibility; when it's clipped to the back of your harness or in your pack, you forget its there until the sun goes behind the wall. The classic Arc'teryx style and quality make this a stylish option for when you go out to have a meal with friends after a day in the mountains. The hood and hem both have adjustable drawcords to lock out the cold wind, which is more than we can say about some other, more heavily-featured options in our roundup.
While the Cerium SL is just about the perfect ultra-light down layer, there are a couple of things you should be aware of. The thin ripstop nylon shell is indeed tear-resistant, but that's a relative term, and when compared to the heavier-weight fabrics used in many of the other options, this just frankly 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 jacket itself.
Read review: Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody
Best for Weather Resistance
Rab Microlight Alpine
The Rab Microlight Alpine earns a Top Pick Award for being an amazing jacket for wet weather. Previously earning our Best Buy, this is more than just a good deal, and it might just be the perfect puffy for you, depending on where you like to adventure. We all know that wet weather is the Achilles heel of down insulation, but many companies have made a concerted push in the past few years to develop down with hydrophobic properties, thereby preventing it from losing its heat-trapping loft when wet. On top of hydrophobic down developed by Nikwax, the Rab Microlight Alpine down jacket also uses super tightly woven Pertex microlight nylon fabric that is naturally water-resistant. It also has a superior external DWR coating to keep water from soaking in from the outside, providing the best overall defense against water available in a down jacket today.
Rab used slightly less lofty 750-fill down in the Microlight, but it was still one of the warmer jackets in our test group because they added a few extra ounces of down to make up the difference in fill-power. That extra down does make it slightly heavier, and it won't pack down as small as it could have otherwise. The weather resistance is impressive, though, and the Rab Microlight Alpine can handle some rain without ending up soggy and useless. We don't suggest that you ditch your rain shell altogether, but if you're the type of person who often forgets a rain shell on day missions, this layer might save your hide once or twice. Don't miss out on this high performer that will keep you warm for a reasonable price.
Read review: Rab Microlight Alpine
Best for Town Use
Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
It's hard to pass by our award designations without giving a nod to the Patagonia Down Sweater. This classic model hasn't changed much over the years and is still the best looking option on the market. We didn't score for style, but after a day in the mountains in the more technical-looking options in this review, we always grabbed the Down Sweater when heading out on the town. We're sure some people buy this hoody and never head out of the confines of a city with it, but we can assure you that it still performs well in the mountains too. It has great wind resistance, helping us stay warmer on blustery days. We also liked the fit, which was roomy in the shoulders but trim down the sides.
The DWR coating keeps water out of the down for a time, but Patagonia does not treat the fill, so its wet weather performance is not fantastic overall. It's a little heavy for the warmth it provides, but we loved the features that it has, including an internal chest pocket and a stash pocket, and a high collar that comes up over your nose when fully zipped. Other options are lighter or less expensive, but if you're looking for something that is also "outdoor chic", 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 Adam Paashaus. 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. Later, Adam worked for a national outdoor school as their lead climbing instructor, where he found a passion for hands-on instruction. Now Adam travels full time in a retired converted school bus (skoolie) with his wife and two daughters (ages 6 and 9), and most recently finished a 5-week end-to-end thru-hike of the incredibly arduous Vermont Long Trail, and yes with the kids in-tow.
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 and performance of each one. Additionally, we performed objective testing, like wearing each model under a showerhead, and noting where the jacket may leak, or how long they take to dry.
Related: How We Tested Down Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
This review focuses on lightweight down jackets that can be worn on its own in the shoulder seasons, or as a mid-layer when it's really cold outside. We didn't look at any super heavy options built to keep you warm in the coldest places in the world. Our testers love a down jacket that is packable and affordable. During our testing, we look at six important metrics used to evaluate each coat. These include; Relative warmth, weight, water resistance, fit, compressibility, and features. Using these metrics, we evaluate each jacket comparatively. This article provides an overview of how each jacket performed during specific tests. Take a gander!
Related: Buying Advice for Down Jackets
Related: The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2020
We like to keep our wallets loaded too. That's why we think the value is a critical consideration. While the highest quality products typically are expensive, there are great down jackets with a lower cost that'll offer the same kind of performance - depending on your needs. Many of these lower-priced options are still warm, lightweight, and compressible, but use down that aren't responsibly sourced, or have the best comparable packability.
Our Best Buy winner is one that offers excellent quality for a good price. In this review, we feature two different options. The REI Co-op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0 is the best-priced option of them all. It scores at the bottom end of our selection simply because it's being compared to the best, and it's not the warmest option out there. The North Face Sierra Hoody offers better warmth and performance overall but is still quite a bit more expensive than the REI 650 Down Hoodie. Another well-priced product is the Rab Microlight. It offers superior weather protection (hence its Top Pick), with a higher score than The North Face Sierra Hoody, and a price that's comparable. While we don't score value, it's important to consider your wallet when making a big purchase, which is why we offer you these great options.
Warmth is the most important criteria when selecting a jacket, because, after all, if not for its warmth, why do we even need one? Since it's so important, we decided to weight each jacket's score for warmth as 30 percent of its total score.
Lightweight down jackets are typically made using sewn-through baffle construction that helps 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 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 makes them lighter, thinner, and less expensive.
On the downside, sewn-through baffles create thin places near the seams where there is no down, and trapped heat can escape. There are a few different alternative techniques for generating baffles besides the sewn-through method, but all of the jackets in this review are the sewn-through type.
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 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 synthetic insulated jackets.
Loft 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 picked up extra points in the warmth category. To test these jackets for warmth, we used them each countless times on adventures during the late fall and early winter: camping, hiking, climbing, and other exploring in the mountains, not to mention around town use. We even got to see their lower limits on some particularly cold ski touring days, when it would've been nice to have a parka on the summit.
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, 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 — it's our belief that it's important that down is harvested for use in your jacket in a way that does not unduly torture the animal. There's no getting around it; these birds are killed as food and for their feathers. Down from the eider duck can be harvested from their abandoned nests, but these feathers can't compete with the lofting powers of goose down.
In our testing, a few jackets stood out for their warmth. The Feathered Friends Eos is packed with 900+ fill-power down, giving it the best warmth to weight ratio of the bunch. 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. Likewise, the Rab Microlight Alpine provided top of the line warmth, in no small part, because it did an excellent job of sealing off all the openings to keep the heat in and the cold out. The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody provided the most coverage, causing it to feel equally as warm as some competitors with higher fill power down.
The higher, further, and steeper we take ourselves, the more important the weight of what we haul around becomes. The utility of an object comes in measuring how much use you get out of it for how much energy is expended carrying it. The warmth-to-weight ratio of a jacket is a key measure 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 ultra-light 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.
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 fill-power down means that you get the same loft with less filling, so higher fill-power jackets tend to be lighter, and there is a little trade-off here except for added expense. Similarly, using a thinner fabric can make a jacket lighter, with the compromise, in this case, being durability. Lastly, to save weight, some models have far 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 fine-tune the fit if a jacket eschews 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 the cold north wind.
The lightest jacket in this year's review was the Arc'teryx Cerium SL, which weighed a scant 8.4 ounces for a men's size large, over five ounces lighter than this year's Editors' Choice, TNF Summit L3. While most of the competition hovers around 13 ounces, the Cerium SL offers a significantly lighter alternative. Though featherweight, this jacket still manages to include key 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 11.9 ounces for a men's large but at the cost of warmth, as its 650 fill duck down insulation isn't as warm, and there isn't a whole lot of it in the jacket.
Down does not insulate when wet, and wearing a down jacket in a wet environment can be an uncomfortable or even dangerous mistake. Furthermore, if your jacket gets soaked, it will take a painfully long time to dry out and re-loft before it is useful 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 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.
Our Top Pick and first 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 wasn't wholly water proof, this is the down jacket we would want to take to wet climates, with the caveat that we would still do all we could to keep it as dry as possible. 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 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. 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 from your body and from cooking, 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 mid-layer or a terminal 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 lighter models, and we didn't review any full-on down parkas here.
For us, an ideally 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 try to avoid jackets that are overly baggy in the torso, as we find them to be annoying when we are wearing a pack or trying to look down at our feet when skiing, hiking, or climbing. There's also the fact that they have more dead space that needs to be warmed up using your body heat.
We're also very particular about the length of the sleeves, as well as the shape of the jacket through the shoulders and upper back and chest. Simply put, we want our jacket to be ready for any activity, and 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 areas that we paid attention to the fit were the collar, the hood, and the length of the hemline at our waist.
Our favorite down jacket, The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody, has the best fit. Long articulated sleeves with elastic cuffs ensured great coverage without restricting our range of motion. The hemline extends well below the waist, allowing it to fit well underneath a climbing harness or a backpack waist belt, while still allowing for access to the pockets. Keep in mind that you want to make sure any accompanying shell is long enough to cover this jacket. Finally, the hood is large enough to accommodate a helmet, and a cinch cord is included to keep the hood in place for noggins of all sizes.
Jackets with a baggie fit like the REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0 lost points because they were less efficient insulators. The Feathered Friends Eos and the Arc'teryx Cerium LT fit well on most of our testers, offering unrestricted movement. 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 means more space in your pack for toys and treats.
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 the highest scorer 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 clipped and taken anywhere. A handful of other jackets, including the REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0, also stuff down pretty small in their own pockets. Compressibility accounted for 10% of a product's final score.
All of the jackets in our review use high quality down that remains lofty (if taken care of) compression after compression. What sets them apart in the compressibility metric is how small and easily they pack away. Some models like The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody 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 down with 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 (such as The North Face Summit L3 Hoody) 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. We are also fond of the 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.
Elastic cuffs that are tight enough to keep out the drafts but stretchy so you can pull the sleeves up in a pinch are also a significant plus. 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 eschew drawstrings and superfluous pockets. Features accounted for 10% of a jacket's overall score.
We hope you have as much fun as we did with whatever model of down jacket you end up choosing. These jackets have a considerable "wow" factor, and we're consistently impressed with the design innovations that come with each new season. As down jackets keep getting lighter and warmer, we'll continue to stay on top of new developments and present our findings here.
— Adam Paashaus, Matt Bento, & Andy Wellman