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Insulation has come a long way over the years, and you don't necessarily need to spend an arm and leg to get a quality, lightweight warm jacket. After scouring the web and talking to outdoor experts, we researched over 25 budget down jackets for our current review. We whittled that selection down to 9 of the top models on the market and purchased those to put through a series of side-by-side tests. We took them into the field to test their warmth, comfort, fit, compressibility, and durability. Our in-depth review is designed to help you decide which jacket is right for your needs and budget. We also have a Best Down Jacket Review of more high-end models as well as the top synthetic models in our Best Insulated Jacket Review.
While Amazon might not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think of quality outdoor equipment, our testers were delightfully surprised by the Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer. Equipped with many of the same features on premium models, it comes with soft elasticized wrist cuffs, a comfortable zipper guard for your chin, and a silken-feeling inner liner. Despite being made of 100% synthetic nylon fill, it was quite warm for its weight and had the added benefit of maintaining its insulating abilities when wet. The fit was also ideal for an outer insulating layer; it was large enough to layer a fleece under comfortably, but it didn't make you look or feel like a boxy marshmallow.
The compressibility was reasonably good for a synthetic jacket, but compared to some budget options, it didn't compress quite well. It was a bit of a struggle to get the jacket into the provided stuff sack, and when fully compressed, the package was smaller than a football but bigger than a large grapefruit. It's a lightweight, comfortable insulation layer that won't break the bank.
The Mountain Warehouse Seasons Winter Puffer is an adventure-ready option built with a durable outer shell that is less prone to snagging and tearing on branches. The jacket has a long torso that gives you good coverage and a roomy fit, which is perfect for layering underneath but isn't comically large. One of the few hooded jackets we tested, the hood was large enough to fit over a helmet but not so big it drooped down over your eyes.
Unfortunately, the inner lining is a little rough on the skin and uncomfortable to wear with a t-shirt underneath. The two outer pockets had no zippers and could not be closed. The biggest flaw we found was with the zipper. By the time we finished with testing, it was starting to run a little rough, leading to concerns about longevity. This durable jacket lacks some of the creature comforts of other options. However, for the price, it's an incredibly warm jacket best suited for outdoor work or play, where you might be worried about ruining a more expensive coat or just building up your savings account.
Whether you're packing your bag for your daily commute to work or a day out in the mountains, having an extremely small and light insulation layer is excellent insurance to deliver comfort in variable conditions. With insulation made from 100% 650 fill duck down, the Rokka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer has an incredible warmth-to-weight ratio. With a thin outer shell and a supple inner liner, the compressibility was the best of any of the jackets we tested. It easily fits into the provided stuff sack, potentially squeezing into smaller spaces.
Given the jacket's slim fit, wearing a substantial layer underneath would be difficult and uncomfortable. The Rokka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer is lightweight and packs down small, making it the perfect jacket to throw in your bag and forget about until the clouds roll in.
Fill Type: 80% Down and 20% Feather | Weight: 11 ounces
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Thin outer shell
The ZSHOW Packable Hooded Jacket has a great weight-to-warmth ratio and a fit that is ideal for a three-part layering system. It is roomy enough to fit a layer under but athletic enough to wear while on the go. This piece can accommodate a fleece underneath and a raincoat on top without making you feel like the tin man. The addition of a well-fitting hood makes this piece shine outdoors. Keeping your head covered up is an often-forgotten piece of the puzzle regarding staying warm. Your head is just as capable of losing precious body heat as the rest of your body is; when it truly gets cold out, being able to throw on a hood will keep you that much warmer.
This coat does run small, and it might be worth sizing up if you often find yourself between sizes. Lightweight, warm, and sporting an athletic fit, this jacket is ideal for those headed outside, whether for the afternoon or an overnight trip into the backcountry.
The Columbia Delta Ridge was the warmest coat in our lineup. It is made from 650 down fill and equipped with the patented "Omni-heat" inner liner; it provides great insulation. The inner liner is designed to work with the insulation and retain body heat. The Delta Ridge had no trouble keeping our testers warm while wandering around alpine environments above 11,000 feet with a slightly thicker polyester outer shell that offers a great deal of wind resistance with a slightly thicker polyester outer shell. The fit was slimmer, with a long torso extending past our waistline. The slim fit could only accommodate a thin fleece underneath, but it was more than adequate for most situations, given the warmth.
While not uncomfortable, the inner liner wasn't as soft on the skin as some of the other coats, and given the nature of the outer shell's material, it felt a little stiff. Despite being made from 100% down, the compressibility was somewhat poor compared to the other down options. Besides being harder to compress, the jacket doesn't come with a stuff sack, making it a little harder to manage while packing a full bag. The warmest of all the coats we tested, it's best suited for those looking for extra warmth and who don't mind carrying a little more weight to have it.
Why You Should Trust Us
Buck Yedor, our lead tester on this project, has been relying on the warmth of lightweight down jackets for both work and play for years. From climbing El Capitan to going on overnight rescues while working for Yosemite Search and Rescue, he knows that having a light and durable insulating layer can be lifesaving. Beyond his time in the outdoors, having spent many years as a Bay Area commuter, he knows the importance of having a warm packable layer you can throw in your bag when hopping on and off public transit.
Adding a high-quality insulating layer to your wardrobe is one of the easiest ways to keep warm all year. Highly versatile and offering incredible warmth for how little space they take up, a budget jacket is a crucial part of any layering system. That said, it's confusing to navigate, and knowing what you're looking for isn't always obvious. To help you search for warmth, we independently purchased nine different jackets to comprehensively compare in a series of side tests.
Analysis and Test Results
With the help of a team of highly qualified rock climbers and hikers, Buck and his team took all of the jackets on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Spending most of their days above 10,000 feet and encountering widely variable weather conditions, they experienced how well each jacket fared in harsh alpine conditions. They compared warmth, comfort, fit, compressibility, and durability.
This batch of jackets was picked with cost in mind; however, just because something is cheap doesn't make it a good value. We wanted to know which jackets offered the best performance to their cost. Our testers found the Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer to be one the best-valued jackets we tested. Lightweight, comfortable, and well-fitting, you get a lot of jacket for a low price. The Mountain Warehouse Seasons is another option with great value. It is plenty warm and durable at almost half the price of the rest of the tested jackets.
Warmth is a function of how well any given jacket can insulate and retain your natural body heat. The more insulation, the warmer you will stay. The ideal jacket, however, balances the level of insulation with weight and breathability. All the jackets we reviewed were either filled with down, synthetic down, or a combination of the two. Down fill ratings refer to the quality of the down used and how well it insulates. A higher number doesn't instantly equate to a warmer jacket but means that the higher quality down will be warmer, lighter, and more compressible than a comparable weight of lower quality down or synthetic fill.
Using 650 fill down, the Columbia Delta Ridge was one of the warmest jackets. The high-quality down, plus the patented "Omni-heat" shell, made for a highly effective and warm insulating layer. The Eddie Bauer CirrusLite also uses 650 fill down but is a lighter-weight jacket and is much less warm but weighs less and packs down smaller.
Down is naturally an excellent insulator and works wonderfully to trap warm air without adding much weight. However, its insulating ability is almost entirely diminished if it gets wet. While none of these jackets are intended to be raincoats, jackets filled with synthetic down will do a much better job keeping you warm, even if you find yourself caught in an unexpected rain shower. That ability comes at the price of being heavier and less compressible than comparable down-filled coats. We found the Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer was warm and light, particularly for a fully synthetic jacket. The Mountain Warehouse Seasons, another fully synthetic coat, was also one of the warmest we tested. With a heavy fill weight and a thick windproof shell, this jacket was incredibly warm (but also quite heavy).
The further you plan on going and the longer you plan on staying out, the more the weight of your equipment will matter. Down jackets can be quite warm while weighing very little — something that can not be said about all types of insulation. Additionally, the more features, such as a hood or extra pockets, a jacket has, the heavier it will be. The ideal coat strikes a balance between useful features and remaining lightweight. At times, durability may be sacrificed for weight, which may reduce versatility. If a jacket falls apart or is too lightweight, it won't keep you warm.
For this metric, we simply used our own scale and measured each budget down jacket. Weight accounts for 15% of each product's overall score. We've determined weight is a culmination of fill power, the type or weight of the material, and the sorts of features you'll find. A higher-quality down typically means the jacket will achieve the same loft but with less filling. Thus, the jackets with higher fill power often weigh in lighter. Some models may include fewer features to achieve lighter weight and may not have zippers, chest pockets, or drawcords. We reviewed the lightest jackets in the nine-ounce range and included the Eddie Bauer CirrusLite, 32 Degrees Ultra-Light Hoody, and Wantdo Down Hoody. Weighing a light 10 ounces, the Rokka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer is not too far behind. The other models in our fleet do not weigh much more, with the heaviest jacket, the Mountain Warehouse Seasons, coming in at 16 ounces.
Comfort and Fit
While many jackets offer similar levels of warmth, the small details separate the good from the great, especially if you plan on being active while wearing your jacket.
We looked at the comfort of the jacket liner on your skin, if the wrist cuffs are lined, if the zipper rubs on your chin when fully zipped, and other details that add to the overall level of comfort.
The Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer was one of the comfiest jackets we tried on. With a silky feeling nylon liner and soft elasticized wrist cuffs, it was easy to wear while on the move for extended periods. The Wantdo Down Hoody is another option that has all of the small creature comforts we like to see, such as a well-padded zip closure at the chin, comfortable wrist cuffs, and a soft liner. The Tommy Hilfiger Ultra Loft Puffer has a comfortable liner, but we found the seams in the armpits were pronounced and annoying while moving our arms overhead. The Eddie Bauer CirrusLite, while very light and equipped with a soft liner, did not offer any protection for your chin against the zipper. Both cold and scratchy, it was uncomfortable if you wanted to wear your jacket fully zipped.
Every jacket we tested was, in theory, the same size, but we found that the torso lengths, arm lengths, and overall fit widely varied. The ideal fit for each coat heavily depends on how you intend to use it. If you plan on layering another jacket underneath, you will want a bit more room in the torso and shoulders, while if you plan on using it as a standalone piece, you can opt for a slimmer fit.
The 32 Degrees Ultra-Light Hoody had the boxiest fit of all the pieces we tested. It's large enough to layer under and perhaps best suited for barrel-chested individuals. The Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer landed right in the middle of the spectrum. This jacket was roomy enough to layer under but not overly wide or long, this jacket felt true to size and versatile in application. The Rokka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer was the slimmest fitting choice; being a tailored piece, it makes for a great city jacket but would be hard to layer underneath. The Mountain Warehouse Seasons fits the most like a belay parka — a little long in the torso but not too wide. The hood was big enough to fit over a helmet but didn't droop down over our eyes.
One of the primary benefits of down or synthetic jackets is their ability to offer similar levels of warmth as big bulky coats — but at a fraction of the weight — and the ability to be compressed into small packages. This makes them ideal for travelers, commuters, and people spending time in the outdoors.
Similar to how the fill type affects warmth, a higher quality fill will be able to compress down smaller. One hundred percent down will typically compress the best, but the amount of fill and the material of the shell will ultimately determine how small each jacket will pack down. The Rockka&Rolla packed down the smallest and is about the size of a grapefruit.
Neither the Eddie Bauer CirrusLite, the Columbia Delta Ridge, nor the Mountain Warehouse Seasons came with stuff sacks, which aren't crucial but certainly convenient when trying to pack efficiently. The rest of the jackets all packed down to similar sizes; they were smaller than a football but a little larger than a grapefruit.
When it comes to choosing a budget down jacket, you seemingly can't have it all. The lightest and most compressible jackets can often be the least durable. The thin nylon outer shells are prone to tearing quite easily. If you're looking for a jacket that you can beat up either in the mountains or at work, you might want to opt for durability over compressibility and low weight.
If you want a jacket that takes up as little space as possible, the fragile nature of thin nylon shells can undoubtedly be worth it. We found the Mountain Warehouse Seasons to have the thickest, most durable outer shell, making it a good choice you can knock around in without worrying about tearing it on the first branch you brush by. The Columbia Delta Ridge is made from a thicker and more snag-resistant material as well.
The Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer, Rockka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer, and Eddie Bauer Cirruslite budget down jacket models beg for a little caution when wearing. Beyond tearing a hole, the zipper quality is another important aspect to consider when examining durability. Both the Wantdo Down Hoody and Mountain Warehouse Seasons Winter Puffer had noticeably rough running zippers, even after relatively minimal use. While they didn't fail us, it seemed like it wouldn't be long before they needed to be replaced.
Insulating layers are typically just that, insulating and not designed to be waterproof. All of the jackets we tested feature some amount of waterproofing in the form of a DWR (durable water repellent) coating. This chemical treatment of the fabric makes the outer nylon hydrophobic and capable of repelling small amounts of moisture and precipitation. The DWR coating only goes so far, and any kind of real precipitation will quickly soak through.
When wet, jackets filled with real down will lose almost all of their insulating abilities while synthetic fills will retain their insulating abilities. The Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer relies on synthetic fill does a reasonable job of keeping you warm, even when wet. The Mountain Warehouse Seasons had one of the thickest outer shells and was by far the most water-resistant. Though plenty warm in cold and dry conditions, the Rokka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer has a thin nylon shell that is quick to soak through, leaving the 650 fill down a soggy mess. The ZShow Hooded Jacket has similar issues. If there's even the slightest expectation of precipitation, we recommend bringing a waterproof shell to wear over this layer.
What often separates the flagship models of apparel from more affordable options are the features that the pieces come equipped with. Since we were focusing on affordable options, many of the pieces we reviewed are fairly basic in their offerings.
The Rokka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer, Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer, Eddie Bauer CirrusLite, and the ZShow Hooded Jacket all offer similar features. Zippered hand pockets, elastic wrist cuffs, and cinchable waist hems lines. Most of these jackets come equipped with separate stuff sacks for storage. The Mountain Warehouse Seasons is an incredibly pared-down option. It has two unzippered hand-warming pockets, a hood, and virtually nothing else to speak of.
After taking 9 of the best-selling and most affordable down jackets into the mountains, we determined the best and worst qualities in each and, ultimately, how they compared to one another. We tested each one's warmth, comfort, fit, compressibility, and durability. We hope our research and testing will take some of the confusion out of your next down or synthetic jacket purchase.
We put in the cold hours and the nitty-gritty research to...
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.