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Our cold weather apparel experts have tested over 55 of the best down jackets in the last decade. After researching the latest and greatest jackets offered available today, we independently purchased 13 of the most promising. Using a systemized testing process, we subjected each one to real-world conditions to find out how they stacked up against one another. From freezing nights in the high desert to snowy days in the alpine, we pushed each model to its respective limits. Whether you're looking for a jacket to keep you warm while adventuring in the mountains or on your morning commute to work, our in-depth analysis can help you make the right choice based on your unique needs and budget.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on September 15, 2022, to include new models, such as the Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded and Fjallraven Expedition Pack Hood. We also purchased and retested each one you see in our fleet, putting every down jacket through our rigorous side-by-side testing process.
The versatile Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 reigns supreme as our favorite down jacket. Despite weighing a scant 8.5 ounces, this jacket manages to offer an incredible amount of warmth. At this weight and packability, there is no reason not to throw this into your pack as a just-in-case layer. The athletic fit is spot-on, and it accommodates broader shoulders so that overhead movement isn't impeded. We had no problem layering a fleece underneath, yet it's tailored enough that it doesn't feel bulky during activity. Its stretchiness, fit, and low weight made it an ideal jacket for climbing and other highly mobile activities, and we used it as both a standalone piece and as part of a layering system. As a standalone jacket, we were comfortable in temps down into the low forties and upper thirties. When temperatures started to drop below freezing, adding a lightweight fleece was all our testers needed to stay warm and cozy.
Though the jacket has two zippered hand pockets, there are no internal stash pockets. Cutting down on pockets helps shave weight, but we'd love an additional internal or external chest pocket. Overall, this jacket is comfortable, good-looking, and, most importantly, performs incredibly well in a wide range of conditions.
Weight: 8.7 ounces | Fill: 800-fill responsibly sourced down
REASONS TO BUY
Less expensive than similar models
REASONS TO AVOID
Poor hood adjustment
Our testers are blown away by the MontBell Superior Down's multitude of excellent features, especially given the low price. A size medium weighs only 8.7 ounces, and this jacket has an incredible weight-to-warmth ratio. Complete with 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 somewhat 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 reaching to find a downside to this jacket and can't reiterate enough how much we love its feature-rich, lightweight, and highly packable design, all sold at a remarkably low price.
We understand that not everyone has a pile of money to drop on a down jacket. Enter the Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer. Though technically not a down jacket, this affordable puffy features synthetic stuffing and is plenty warm for mild winter days and those cool shoulder season nights. The benefit of a synthetic fill is that it still retains its insulating properties if it gets wet. This model features elastic wrist cuffs, zippered hand pockets, and a couple small perks like a silky inner liner and a zipper guard for protecting your chin. The fit allows for easy layering underneath and unlike some budget puffy jackets, we found this one to have a decent cut that was actually flattering.
Though not overly bulky, this synthetic option is certainly not as compressible as some of the premium down models we tested. However, if you plan on using the included stuff sack, note that it’s somewhat of a task getting the jacket stuffed into it. And we will reiterate again that this is not a down jacket; its insulation is completely synthetic. But, we recognize that not everyone needs a top-of-the-line, premium down layer, and we think this is a great inexpensive option for anyone who just needs a low-profile and lightweight puffy-style jacket for walking the dog in milder winter temps.
Weight: 7.6 ounces | Fill: 850-fill goose down certified to responsible down standard
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio
REASONS TO AVOID
Shell fabric is somewhat fragile
The Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody 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 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 makes it appropriate for the mountains and looks good while out on the town. The hood and hem have adjustable drawcords to lock out the cold, which is unique for such a lightweight jacket.
While the Cerium SL is a nearly perfect ultralight down layer, you should be aware of a couple of things. First, 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. This jacket is ideal for those looking for a high-quality option that prioritizes weight and compressibility.
The Rab Electron Pro is designed to keep you warm in all but the absolute coldest environments. At home on backcountry ski trips, shady belays, or for layering up during any stop-and-go winter activity, this jacket brings along some serious warmth. Stuffed with 800 fill treated hydrophobic down, this is no light duty puff. While it won't replace a rain layer, it's about as waterproof as a weight-conscious down is going to get. With a great fit and plenty of valuable features, it's a highly functional cold-weather workhorse. It features elastic wrist cuffs, an adjustable and pinchable waist hem, and a brimmed and helmet-compatible hood. One of our favorite features is the harness-friendly hand pockets. They sit high enough above your harness to still be accessible without having to loosen your waist belt.
It's a bit on the heavy side when it comes to weight, and when compared to lighter weight options, it has poor compressibility. It's missing a few features, like internal drop pockets for gloves or skins, but overall has all the necessities you'll need. This warm and water-resistant puffy will keep you warm and dry from the ice crags to ski slopes and is ideal for anyone looking for extra warmth without adding too much weight.
Weight: 14.9 ounces | Fill: 800-fill advanced global traceable down
REASONS TO BUY
Responsibly sourced, traceable down
REASONS TO AVOID
Not very compressible
Not very lightweight compared to other models
The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody hasn't changed much over the years but 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 helps keep you warmer on bitterly cold days. We also like the athletic fit, which is 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 while, 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.
Our panel of expert gear testers is headed up by James Lucas, Buck Yedor, and Adam Paashaus. Growing up in New England, James's appreciation for quality insulation started young. After graduating from high school, he moved to Yosemite Valley, where he quickly realized that having the right outerwear can be the difference between a pleasant day out in the mountains or needing a rescue. Over the years, James has tested gear in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, in the boulders of Rocky Mountain National Park, and in his home in Boulder, Colorado. Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, Buck's appreciation for quality insulation started young. After graduating from college, he worked for Yosemite Search and Rescue, where he saw firsthand 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 in 2001 when he started working in the retail side of the industry.
Down jackets were assessed using six performance metrics:
Warmth tests (30% of total weighted score)
Weight tests (20% of score)
Water resistance tests (15% of score)
Comfort tests (15% of score)
Compressibility tests (10% of score)
Features tests (10% of score)
In the last decade, we've tested over 50 down jackets. The bulk of our testing takes place in the Sierra and the Rockies of Colorado, with some adventures in the Pacific Northwest, the Big Horn Mountains, 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. During testing, warmth accounted for 30% of each jacket's score. We tested each jacket in temps in the low 30s with a 0-degree windchill, wearing only a t-shirt underneath, which helped us to identify drafts and cold spots. Weight accounted for another 20% of the score. Instead of blindly trusting manufacturer specs, we weighed each jacket on our own scales.
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 mid-layer when it's frigid 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: warmth, weight, water resistance, fit, compressibility, and features. Using these metrics, we compare each one to help determine which model is right for you. This article provides an overview of how each jacket performed during specific tests.
Note that in our ratings, we are comparing the products to each other and not the entire outdoor apparel market as a whole. So, for example, when we say an option is highly water-resistant, that is compared to other down jackets, and not to a rain jacket.
Most of us simply can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars every few seasons to keep up with the latest innovations or replace well-used and worn-out gear. We spend a considerable amount of time in the mountains and have been known to put serious wear on our outerwear, so we appreciate jackets that offer a great value. While the highest quality products typically are expensive, there are great 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 lack brand recognition.
Our best value winner is one that offers quality construction for a reasonable price. This review features 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 Alpine. It offers incredible weather resistance at a good competitive price. As much as we hate to admit it, even expensive insulation layers are fragile. While we don't factor value into our scoring, it's important to consider your budget when making a purchase like this.
Warmth is the most important criterion 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, keeping it all from sinking to the bottom of the jacket. 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.
However, a big drawback to sewn-through baffles is that they create thin spots at the seams where there is no down and where 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 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 — fit and design also play heavily into 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 standalone warmth down to freezing temperatures and can help you stay warm in much lower temperatures when used as part of a layering system.
Responsibly Sourced Down
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 Rab Electron is the warmest down we tested but 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. Often warmth came down to the quality of the down used as well as the fit.
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 its usefulness in relation to the energy expended carrying 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. The fabric and design features add or subtract additional ounces to a jacket's weight. Frequently, durability and other critical elements 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 falls apart after limited use doesn't have much 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 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, a thinner fabric can make a jacket lighter, compromising 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.
There can be trade-offs for using fewer or lighter-weight features. For example, warmth is sometimes sacrificed when a jacket lacks drawcords to cinch up drafty areas. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 lacks a hood adjustment; while this surely saves some weight, you lose the ability to block out cold drafts. Durability may be sacrificed when super small gauge zippers are utilized.
The lightest jacket in this year's review is the Arc'teryx Cerium SL, which weighs 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.
The Rab Electron is one of the heaviest downs we tested but offers an incredible amount of warmth. Gear made for winter, and cold weather activities always will be heavier than options more appropriate for spring and summer. When considering that, we'd still go ahead and call the Electron a lightweight option.
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 becomes remotely usable. You need to get it into a low-heat dryer asap. Fortunately, designers have several strategies for negating this vulnerability.
Some companies treat their down 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. 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 hardshell. 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. The Rab Electron is a warmer and heavier duty option that sports the same waterproofing technology.
The Outdoor Research Helium Down Hoodie is a close third. 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. 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.
Durable Water Repellent Treatments
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 effectively keep 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, the fit of the jacket worked closely alongside the jacket's perceived level of comfort. We selected jackets that can function as a standalone piece, mid-layer, 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 mimics the body's shape so that it moves as we do but is also large enough to wear a layer or two beneath. This is what makes the jacket comfortable to wear. We're also particular about sleeve length and the shape 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 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 that felt off in this regard were deemed less comfortable.
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 is the highest-scoring puffy in this metric. It had enough room to comfortably layer under; it is unrestrictive to movement but is in no way baggy. The Arc'teryx Cerium SL is another coat with a great fit that offers a high level of comfort. The North Face Summit Down has the most athletic fit of the heavier midweight downs we tested and an exceptional level of comfort. The Patagonia Down Sweater is a classic that is an excellent all-rounder, particularly when it comes to comfort. 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 is one of the highest scorers in this metric. 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 down 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 Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is very compressible thanks to its high fill down power.
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.
Durability and Down Jackets
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 has all the features we look for in fully tricked-out jackets. The hem drawcords live inside the hand pockets, so they don't dangle below your waist. There is also a soft fleece-lined chin guard on the inside of the collar, and it sports 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 still stretch enough that you can pull the sleeves up in a pinch. Remember that too many features can weigh you down; our favorite lightweight models, like 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.
Our testing takes place in the backcountry, by a team of...
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