On the search for a new down jacket to keep you warm during life's adventures? We researched over 70 models before purchasing the best 13 contenders of 2019. We put each one through a series of exhaustive side-by-side tests, hand-selecting some of the industry's leading models to test in real-world settings. Models in our fleet range from ultralight specialists for fast-and-light climbing missions to durable models for use in more severe conditions, to stylish, utilitarian models for everyday, casual use. We packed these jackets in our backpacks, duffels, messenger bags, and rolling suitcases, testing them everywhere from Antarctica to Russia to Alaska and many locales in between.
The Best Women's Down Jackets of 2019
Editors' Choice Award for Best Lightweight Model
Feathered Friends Eos - Women's
The Feathered Friends Eos, named for the goddess of the dawn, is our favorite lightweight down jacket for its extraordinary warmth; every time we donned this jacket, it was as if the sun's rays came out to beam warmth to our core. But with these short days, sometimes we find we have to bring our own sunshine. With remarkably high quality 900+ fill down, the Eos was up to the task. And if we wanted to carry it with us on a backpacking, hiking, skiing, or climbing trip, this high-quality down also made this an exceedingly light and compressible jacket for the warmth. Feathered Friends also used Pertex Quantum fabric, which is specially designed to keep the wind out and still air inside the baffles, increasing the warmth of the jacket even more.
To be so light and nimble, Feathered Friends streamlined the features, so this is a relatively simple but adequately featured down jacket for most mountain adventures. It's a little puffier, so it's not as easy to layer under a hardshell jacket, but since it's warmer, that also means that if it's precipitating when you're wearing it, it's probably snow, which is easier to brush off the fabric. It also definitely looks like an outdoorsy model, which is certainly in vogue in a city like Seattle, but it may not be the right look for many urban adventures. Overall, the Eos is impressively versatile and a total joy to wear.
Read review: Feathered Friends Eos - Women's
Top Pick for Ultralight Adventures
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded - Women's
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer has been a Top Pick and an Editors' Choice winner in this review for many years running. It is relatively warm for its extreme light weight, and compressibility and the high quality 800 fill down, and lightweight 7 and 10 denier ripstop nylon make this jacket one of the best for weight and compressibility. We loved this jacket for long desert rock climbs and hikes in the fall when temperatures weren't too cold, but we wanted some insulation when the sun dipped below the horizon. The fit is athletic, so you can move comfortably in it and layer it easily under a shell jacket. It is also breathable enough that if you do start to sweat a little, it will wick moisture away, but you'll still want to stop and adjust your layers soon.
The Ghost Whisperer is not a thick insulating jacket, so while it is warm for the weight, it is not that warm. And it is not the most weather-resistant, so you'll likely want to wear it under a shell. But since it wicks relatively well and has an athletic fit, this all matches the design very well. The Ghost is also not a fully-featured jacket, further confirming itself as a midlayer insulating jacket for extreme cold or a mild weather standalone jacket. The Ghost is also very pricey, but for the high quality, we think it is worth it.
Best Bang for the Buck
Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket - Women's
The Rab Microlight Alpine has long held a special place on the coat rack of our reviewers. It is durable, super comfortable, and highly versatile. The cut is athletic, allowing excellent range of motion in a wide variety of activities. The fabric has a soft but slightly stiffer feel, making it very pleasant to wear but also helping it to resist snagging. This is a high-performance technical down jacket with thoughtful features for all-mountain use, and it still earns compliments when we wear it around town. The durability also ensures that it looks good for a long time.
The Microlight is not as warm for the weight, but it is warmer than you might think from looking at it and knowing it is insulated with 750 fill down (which is on the lower end of high quality down in the modern market). This is due to the use of Pertex Quantum fabric, which is specifically designed to trap still air and improve the insulating properties of the down loft inside. And it works. The result is a svelte, more slim-fitting model that is much warmer than you might assume from looking at it.
Read review: Rab Microlight Alpine - Women's
Best on a Tight Budget
REI Co-op 650 Down - Women's
The REI Co-op 650 is an outrageously affordable down jacket. It's a great choice for those just stepping out into outdoor activities, and sticking to milder summertime temperatures in the mountains, or spring and fall in the desert. This jacket is very lightweight and compressible, so it's easy to take with you on your new adventures.
The REI Co-op 650 is made of 650 fill power down, which is lower quality than most jackets in this review. This means the down is less compressible and a bit heavier for the warmth it provides. It also will likely be less durable as the bigger down feathers struggle to re-loft every time you pack and unpack it. But if you're not sure you can justify spending a lot of money on a fancy new down jacket, you're not convinced you're going to enjoy backpacking—or if you're buying it for someone who is likely to out-grow it—then this might be the perfect gateway down jacket!
Read review: REI Co-op 650 Down - Women's
Top Pick for Lightweight Weather Resistant Down Insulation
Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody is the lightweight cousin to another excellent jacket and past Top Pick winner in this review, the very warm Cerium SV designed for "severe" weather. This version, the LT, is in the "lightweight" category from Arc'teryx. With this jacket, Arc'teryx nailed its niche category. It is warm for the weight with 850 fill down, and highly compressible with the supple and light 10 denier Arato nylon. We appreciate the Coreloft synthetic insulation in the cuffs and shoulders and armpits, areas particularly prone to moisture, even if you're wearing it under a hardshell. This jacket has a svelte, athletic cut which slides easily under a hardshell, and the materials breathe as well as can be expected from a high quality down layer. This makes the jacket an excellent midlayer insulating option, which is also very useful as a standalone jacket in milder temperatures—and does better in a variety of weather than the closest competitor, the Ghost Whisperer.
The main drawback of this jacket, as with any Arc'teryx product, is the cost. It's spendy. But as is also always the case with Arc'teryx products, you get what you pay for; it is very well designed and extensively field-tested before it ever hit the store racks. The features are simpler, but also match the character of the jacket well. We like the separate stuff sack, which is girth hitched inside the chest pocket, making it easy to stuff and clip to the back of your harness on a long climb. Since it is a separate material (instead of stuffing into its own pocket), this sack is a good shape that makes it easy to stuff and un-stuff quickly, and it also ensures that you don't scrape a hole in the pocket of the jacket as you scuff up a scrappy rock climb. Overall, it's an excellent option from Arc'teryx, once again.
Read review: Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody
Top 13 Products
Analysis and Test Results
Down jackets are finding their way into the mainstream with fashion-forward designs and functionality that is well suited to the adventures of travel and your daily commute. A down jacket is a high-performance garment, critical for any outdoor enthusiast. Increasingly, they are also becoming stylish jackets that people appreciate for urban use, baffled aesthetic, appreciating the lightweight compressibility for everything from ultralight backpacking to your daily commute. No matter your use, it sure is nice to keep weight and bulk to a minimum in the kit you're carrying with you.
This review covers a wide range of lightweight down jackets that might suit your needs. Some are well suited as midlayer insulation and are easy to layer under a shell jacket. Others are extra tough for use in severe weather, and some are ultralight specialists for ounce-counting climbers and backpackers. Still, others are most well suited to travel and casual use but appreciated for the weight and bulk savings in your luggage. Read through the metrics below to establish which ones you prioritize when selecting the best jacket for you.
Down products are best considered an investment. Learn to care for them, and they can last a long time. In this review, we put each model through rigorous testing to ensure they're made well and will hold up over time. That said, they still need to be well cared for. We checked out some more affordable models, a good choice if you're unsure how often you'll use the jacket. But if you're an avid outdoors person, we encourage you to invest in a high quality down jacket and plan to take good care of it. To decipher whether or not a jacket will be a good value for you, we can compare the score from our rigorous field testing to the retail price. If the jacket scores well and is lower in price, that's the mark of a great value. The Feathered Friends Eos, for example, scores well and is moderately priced. That's one reason it got our Editors; Choice award.
Types of Insulated Jackets
The down versus synthetic question will probably never be an easy one to answer. Even the best synthetic fibers are no match for the warmth-to-weight ratio of natural down feathers. But when down gets wet, it might as well be a pasta meal when you've run out of white gas--it's pretty much useless. If you're interested in hydrophobic down models, check out the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded and Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket.
After years and months of using these jackets and wearing them across continents and for many different activities, we have come up with an evaluation of which jackets are best at what, and we have awarded some for outstanding performance.
The warmth of down comes from the air space held by the lofted down feathers. The higher the loft, the warmer the jacket is for its weight. This loft is measured in "fill power" with a very high quality down jacket being 800 fill power or higher. An 800 fill power down, for example, fills 800 cubic inches for every ounce of down.
This also means that a 550 fill jacket, like The North Face Aconcagua can be just as warm as an 850 fill jacket like the REI Magma-- it'll just be bulkier. But the most common misconception is that a higher number means warmer when in reality a 550 fill jacket can be warmer than a super thin 850 fill ultralight jacket.
The Feathered Friends Eos earned our Editors' Choice award because it has high loft and high quality down, and thus provides very high warmth for the weight. But the slimmer Summit L3.
Most of the jackets in this review are designed to be lightweight, technical insulating layers. Most of them have down in the 750-850 fill power range and provide excellent warmth and loft for the weight. These jackets are optimized for the mountains and related activities, which is a challenging balancing act of lightweight, durability, and warmth.
Depending on your top priority, you will likely find a good match among our award winners. We have included some models which are more fashion-forward. You may not find these as useful for outdoor activities like hiking, but their best attributes are still very well suited to casual, urban use, and for travel. Similar to backpacking, where you want to minimize the weight on your back, it is really nice to minimize bulk and weight of the items you tote with you on your daily commute. You may not be counting ounces quite as carefully, but taking a nice looking down jacket instead of a thick, heavy wool jacket, for example, will reduce strain on a strenuous and busy urban commute.
No synthetic fiber has matched down to its incredible warmth-to-weight ratio.
You will probably always remember your first down sleeping bag; did it revolutionize the way you felt about carrying gear on your back? For many, the investment in lightweight down products correlates to increased happiness in the backcountry.
If you are looking to shave ounces, the featherweight Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded - Women's is the obvious choice. Weighing only 6.5 ounces, it's the lightest in our fleet.
The Arc'teryx Cerium SV is even more impressive for its warmth to weight ratio. It weighs 13 ounces and is the warmest in the bunch. If you're looking for a good around-town down jacket, the weight may not be a critical factor in your decision. However, since down is one of the best materials for lightweight, warm jackets (and sleeping bags, quilts, booties, etc.), we think this is an important metric for judging the quality of a down jacket. The best jackets were those with the highest quality fill power down (800 and above), which also overlaps with our next rating metric.
One of the main reasons to buy a down jacket, other than the stellar warmth to weight ratio, is the compressibility. For many outdoor activities, space is a huge commodity (along with weight). This may be because you're carrying all your gear on your back, cramming it into a small bike commute bag, or stuffing it into dry bags. Whatever the adventure, it's pretty nice to have everything you need in a compact and lightweight kit.
The first aspect we look for when searching for a highly compressible down jacket is the down fill power. A higher number means more loft, and that means more warmth to weight, and a higher level of compressibility; this is the best stuff. Generally, anything above 750 fill down is considered high quality, but we rarely consider anything below 800 fill anymore.
Next, the rest of the jacket's materials will factor into the compressibility of the jacket. A sturdier fabric will be bulkier, as will a jacket with other materials, like fleece or soft shell, integrated into it. We also considered the size of the stuff sack or stowable pocket that the jacket stuffs into. This is not a direct reflection of how compressible the jacket actually is, but since it does affect how big the jacket is when stuffed, we thought this was worth at least some consideration. Excessively large stuff sacks or oblong, large pockets made for annoying carrying when stuffed, while too-small stuff sacks or pockets could be challenging and slow to stuff. More trade-offs.
The Arc'teryx Cerium SV, as well as the Cerium LT, were some of the most compressible jackets in this review. The two end up very different sizes when stuffed, however, because the SV is designed for colder temperatures and therefore has bigger baffles and more down. The LT is designed for more mild temperatures and is, therefore, lighter weight with less down insulation overall.
The Feathered Friends was the most compressible with 900+ fill down, followed closely by our Top Pick winner, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. But the Eos and Ghost differ in purpose: the Eos has much more loft and is warmer, whereas the Ghost is thin and light, like the Cerium LT. It is the high quality down, which allows these jackets to get so small. A small compressed size is ideal for climbing, backpacking, or even bike commuting where pack space is a commodity. If compressibility is not as relevant to you as some of the other metrics in our test, we'd suggest taking a look at the Outdoor Research Illuminate.
This category is a catch-all for the little things we liked or didn't like about the jackets, from pockets and hoods to drawcords and well-placed soft fleece patches. In general, we like models with durable plastic zippers that don't bend or kink over time (counter-intuitive, but plastic zippers are much more durable than metal ones). Hem drawcord cinches are key to keeping cold drafts out. A little fleece or creative baffling in the right place goes a long way in promoting freedom of movement.
But a jacket didn't have to have a lot of features to score highly in this category. The Ghost Whisperer has very few features, but Mountain Hardwear kept the ones that count for a high functioning climbing layer. It got high marks for careful selection of key features. In general, we love hoods because they add warmth. We also appreciate chest pockets for ease of access while climbing—and because it helps keep essential items, like snacks or electronics, warm and accessible. The streamlined design also makes the jacket look sleek, easily sliding with you into Happy Hour or your favorite Apres Ski venue.
Arc'teryx stole the show again in this category with details such as a separate stuff sack girth hitched into the chest pocket. This feature meant we could cram it into our luggage or carry it on the back of our harness without fear of snagging the jacket's material while chimneying up a long rock route. And when wearing the jacket, if we unzipped that chest pocket to retrieve our phone or snacks, the stuff sack wouldn't fall out. The Cerium SV was the highest scorer in the bunch with the Rab Microlight placing second.
Aesthetic features are increasingly becoming a thing as down jackets gain traction as a stylish and functional garment for more broad use. The Lululemon Pack It Down features a stitching pattern in the front baffling design that draws the arc of the company's logo. Very clever and very classy.
The durability of a jacket's material is important when spending over two hundred dollars. Fabrics are, in general, very durable these days, but there are a few things to pay attention to. Lower denier ratings typically translate to lower weight but less durability, but the fabric is not the only durability concern.
In our tests, the lightest fabrics ended up being the most fragile. If it is important you have a lightweight jacket, it might be worth sacrificing a little durability. The North Face Aconcagua topped our charts and provided an incredibly durable fabric made of 30D nylon; the Aconcagua is tough.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is an impressively durable jacket for the weight; the fabric resisted snagging and abrasion while climbing. Alternatively, the Editors' Choice Feathered Friends Eos and the Rab Microlight Alpine performed very well for durability and reliability in combination with weather resistance. The most durable jackets in this review were not always the overall top scoring jackets; this is largely because extremely durable fabrics tend to be heavier. If weight and compressibility are less an issue for you, however, and you want a great around-town jacket that will stand up to years of use, check out the super durable The North Face Aconcagua
Down is one of the best insulators on the planet. No man-made fiber has managed to replace it for its impressive warmth to weight ratio. However, down has one critical Achilles heel—it cannot get wet. When it does, the feathers get matted together, and the jacket, sleeping bag, vest, or whatever the item is, loses its warmth. This is because down traps heat in the air pockets between the down feathers. Most outdoor enthusiasts accept this risk and choose to take good care to keep their down items dry on their adventures, but if you spend a lot of time out in wet climates, you might consider synthetic insulation, at least for some of your insulation pieces—the synthetic fibers have more structure and retain warmth even when wet. Another way to manage the risk of down getting wet is to encase it in waterproof fabric, or at least materials coated with a durable water repellent finish (DWR).
Arc'teryx uses a clever Down Composite Mapping technology where they integrate Coreloft synthetic insulation in high-risk areas such as cuffs, shoulders, armpits, and hoods. In previous reviews, these jackets stayed wetter longer because the synthetic insulation would absorb water, which would then leak into the down and the shell fabric. In this round of testing, however, even dripping ice climbs couldn't manage to get the Cerium's cuffs wet (which is one of the areas most prone to moisture).
Most of the jackets in this review are treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the exterior fabric to prevent water from soaking through the material and dampening the down. It is important to note, however, that these jackets are not designed to be remotely waterproof, so if you are out in the rain, be sure you can fit your rain or hardshell jacket over your down jacket to ensure those feathers stay dry and lofted. The North Face Aconcagua was a top performer when it came to water resistance.
We appreciated this when we got caught in storms, and the chill started to creep in. The Arc'teryx Cerium SV and LT both earned the same score when it came to water resistance, and did a spectacular job of protecting us from the elements. These were our favorite models to wear on winter vacations to our favorite snowy wonderlands, especially great for those traveling from warmer climates and who therefore are not as acclimated to the cold. We particularly liked the Cerium SV for ice climbing, winter backpacking, and long backcountry ski tours. The stylish Lululemon Pack It Down impressed us as well with the water repellent Glyde fabric—it reliably shed a steady stream of water in our faucet test.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this review was the continued opportunity to test out some jackets with treated hydrophobic down: in a practical sense, we still cannot say we notice a big difference in the field. Water repellent fabrics still seem to make the most difference in a down jacket's water resistance. We took all of these jackets ice climbing and ski touring to test the water resistance. Dripping ice climbs offered an excellent real-world opportunity to observe the jackets' water-repelling abilities. In the end, most jackets performed to our expectations.
A good down jacket can be an excellent investment. When well made and well cared for, these jackets will last for years. Down is a tried-and-true performer, providing reliable warmth for minimal weight and bulk. We hope this review has helped steer you to a high-quality jacket that suits your needs. Once you find the best one for you, be sure you take good care of it. Over time, the down will become covered in dirt and oils, causing it to lose its loft and therefore lose its warmth. To clean your jacket, we recommend using a specialized cleaner such as ReviveX Down Cleaner or a similar product from Nikwax to safely clean the down and restore its loft.
— Lyra Pierotti