The Best Down Jacket Review

What is the best down jacket? We've tested and reviewed over 15 of the top-rated down jackets in focused side-by-side comparisons. Our testing has taken us all over; the Cascades of Washington, the Sierras of California, and the ice climbs of Montana to name a few. We didn't necessarily look at the warmest jacket from each manufacturer. Instead, we tested a versatile set of jackets that weigh less than one pound. These are your go-to light to mid-weight down jackets - perfect for fall, spring, summer nights and sunny winter days.

If you want a very warm jacket for winter use see our Winter Jacket Review. And for cold, wet climates consider a jacket with synthetic insulation.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris Simrell ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab December 2, 2012

Top Ranked Down Jackets - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 17 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer
Read the Review
Video video review
MontBell Mirage Parka
MontBell Mirage Parka
Read the Review
Video video review
Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody
Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody
Read the Review
MontBell Frost Smoke Parka
MontBell Frost Smoke Parka
Read the Review
Video video review
Feathered Friends Hyperion
Feathered Friends Hyperion
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award   
Street Price Varies $224 - $340
Compare at 3 sellers
$309
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $280 - $350
Compare at 6 sellers
$189
Compare at 1 sellers
$270
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50% recommend it (3/6)
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Pros Incredibly light, compact, warm for its size and weight, packs into its own pocket.Fantastic warmth-to-weight ratio, box baffles for added warmth, very cozy.Great fit, great hood, unique down and synthetic insulation combo.Lightweight, durable, adjustable cuffs, good features, great overall value.Super warm for its light weight, internal chest pocket.
Cons No way to cinch the hood, some slightly heavier jackets are much warmer.Not as durable as similarly warm jackets.ExpensiveDoesn't stuff into own pocket.No hood.
Best Uses Backpacking, hiking, mountaineering, and around town.all around, backpacking, alpine climbing, belay jacket, winter campinghiking, backpacking, climbing, camping, around town, all around outdoor use.alpine climbing, skiing, backpacking, around townClimbing, skiing, backpacking, all-around
Date Reviewed Dec 04, 2012Dec 05, 2012Nov 18, 2013Nov 26, 2012Nov 26, 2012
Weighted Scores Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer MontBell Mirage Parka Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody MontBell Frost Smoke Parka Feathered Friends Hyperion
Warmth - 25%
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Style - 15%
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Water Resistance - 5%
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Features - 10%
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Durability - 20%
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Weight - 25%
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Product Specs Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer MontBell Mirage Parka Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody MontBell Frost Smoke Parka Feathered Friends Hyperion
Down Fill 850 900 850 800 850
Fill Weight 2.78oz/79g 5.3oz/150g Down - 3.4oz / 97g. 80g/m CoreLoft in cuffs and underarms, 100g/m CoreLoft on shoulders. 3.5oz/99g 5.2oz/147g
Total Weight 7.5oz/212g 12.8oz/363g 9.7oz / 275g 12.6oz/357g 9.4oz/266g
Main Fabric Whisperer 7D x 10D Ripstop 7D Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon Aireticaâ˘â100% nylon, 20 X 10 Denier, 34 g/m² 15d Ballistic Airlight nylon shell, 40D nylon taffeta for reinforcements. DWR (100 wash) Pertex Endurance LT
# of Pockets 2 Hand 2 Hand 2 Interior drop in 2 Hand 2 Hand 2 Hand 1 Interior stash
Hood Option? Yes Yes Yes Yes No

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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MontBell EX Light
$200
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Patagonia Down Sweater
$200
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Mountain Hardwear Nitrous Jacket
$220
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Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody
$350
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Western Mountaineering Flash XR
$315
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Feathered Friends Hyperion
$270
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MontBell Plasma 1000
$269
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North Face Nuptse Jacket
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Outdoor Research Transcendent Sweater
$185
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Sierra Designs DriDown GnarLite
$229
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Selecting the Right Product
A good down jacket is an amazing thing. Down is extremely packable, and incredibly warm for its weight. Because of the imperative of keeping warm in the outdoors, your down jacket will become somewhat of a centerpiece in your backcountry kit. Down is also supremely comfortable, much more so than synthetic insulation, and you may simply want to wear your down jacket all the time. Among the jackets we’ve tested in this review there are huge distinctions to be made and differences in intended application. Even if you’ve owned several down jackets in the past, we highly recommend taking the time to read our Down Jacket Buying Advice article to further inform yourself of the different features, materials, and constructions available.

Types of Down Jackets
All of the down jackets we tested weigh under a pound and as such have been reviewed separately from the heavier down parkas available, which can be seen in our Men's Down Parka Review. Even among these lighter weight down jackets there is incredible variety. Some like the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer, Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody, and the MontBell EX Light are designed for those looking to travel super-light. Others, like the MontBell Mirage and the Feathered Friends Hyperion aim to pack in as much warmth as possible while still remaining well under a pound. The jackets that fall in the middle of the weight spectrum like the First Ascent MicroTherm, the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka, and the Outdoor Research Transcendent, generally feature a balance of warmth and durability. We’ve tested these jackets in a variety of situations and compared specs to illuminate the distinctions between them and to inform you of what we find to be their best applications and relative value.

Criteria for Evaluation
Down Quality
The basics are this: Down jackets are always advertised as having a certain “fill.” This is generally a number like 650, 700, or 800. This number refers to the quality of the down used and is actually a measurement of volume – the number of cubic inches that one ounce of sampled down fills in a graduated cylinder when compressed by a standardized weight.

What does this mean to you as the consumer? Higher fill down is more quality because it is loftier. A fill of 850 down will be warmer for its weight than 650 fill down. If two jackets have the same amount of down, but one has a higher fill power, say 850 vs. 650, the jacket with 850 fill down will be loftier, and thus warmer. This is the reason that high-end light down jackets tend to have high 800+ fill down – it allows the manufacturer to keep the jacket warm while minimizing weight. Don’t, however, assume that a jacket with a high fill power number is therefore warmer than a jacket with a lower fill power – the actual physical amount of down is also critical. For this reason we have noted not simply the fill power for the jackets we reviewed but also their fill weights – how much down the jacket contains. High quality down is also more compressible, but is often more expensive. See our Down Jacket Buying Advice for a more in-depth discussion of down quality.

Compactness and Weight
By its nature down compresses very well and this is one of a down jacket's greatest attributes. The lightest jackets here compress down incredibly well and are well suited for people looking to travel light, and fill almost no room in your pack. A couple of the jackets, like the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer and the First Ascent MicroTherm, pack into their own pockets and clip to your climbing harness. Overall weight is a primary factor to many people and so we’ve prominently noted the weights of the jackets, but since staying warm is the reason you’re buying a down jacket, we’ve taken care to note the weights of these jackets relative to their warmth and visa versa. We make it clear when a particular jacket stands out in terms of warmth-to-weight ratio. The Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisper, for example, is amazingly warm for being 7.5 ounces, and the MontBell Mirage features 900 fill down, more than 5 ounces of fill, the added warmth of box baffle construction, and has the puffy look and cozy feel of a parka while weighing only 12.8 ounces.

The fabrics used on a jacket will also affect the overall weight and the compressibility, with lighter fabrics being more compressible. Of the thinner jackets tested we highly appreciated that ability to pack the jacket into its own pocket. You don’t have to keep track of the stuff sack, and you can easily pack your jacket and clip to your climbing harness if need be.

Warmth
There is a wide variance in the warmth of the jackets we tested, but this is sometimes due to differing intended applications. The MontBell Mirage was the warmest jacket we tested and the MontBell EX Light the least. Because the bulk of the jackets are similarly warm, we’ve made a point to make clear which jackets offer the most warmth relative to their total weight.

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Max Neale in the Monbell Mirage, the warmest jacket tested in this category, New Hampshire.
Credit: Eric Shaw
Durability
Your main durability concern with a down jacket is the shell fabric because the down itself is quite durable and will last a long time. A few of the lightest jackets consequently feature some of the lightest fabrics available and this entails an inherent loss in overall durability. We’re more and more impressed with these super-light fabrics and they’re exciting in terms of the warmth-to-weight ratios they allow these jackets to have. The benefits of the heavier fabrics however are increased durability for everyday wear and tear, and usually a more reasonable price. The MontBell Frost Smoke Parka was the only jacket to have two different shell fabrics. It has a light main fabric to keep weight down and heavy fabric reinforcements on the high wear areas to increase the durability of the jacket.

Style and Construction
All of the jackets in this review are “sewn-through” with the notable exception of the MontBell Mirage, which has a box baffle construction. Sewn-though construction is a simpler, cheaper, and often lighter than box baffles. Check out the Down Jacket Buying Advice for a complete overview of down jacket construction.

Comfort
All down jackets are cozy, but we evaluated the relative comfort of these jackets based on their warmth and the features they have that create a more comfortable wearing experience. One notable example is the Western Mountaineering Flash XR, which was the only down jacket to have down-filled pockets, something normally seen on heavier parkas.

Water Resistance
All of the jackets have some type of DWR (durable water repellent) coating. These all eventually wear off and won’t do you much good if you get caught in a rainstorm. If you live or play in an area where getting wet is a real concern, consider a synthetic insulated jacket. The jacket with the best water resistance was the Western Mountaineering Flash XR, which has a shell made from Proloft XR fabric that features a breathable membrane that is more water repellent while remaining quite light.

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Editors' Choice Award: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
Although the competition was close, we ultimately decided to give our Editors' Choice award to the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer. Simply put, the Ghost Whisperer was the most exciting jacket we tested. It has very high quality down, only the most necessary features, and an extremely light, and unique, shell fabric. The overall weight of the Ghost Whisperer is an extraordinary 7.5 ounces; making it the lightest featured down jacket we tested. The hood design might give it a goofy look for around town, and it’s lighter weight makes it less cozy overall compared to the bigger jackets we tested, but in terms of backcountry performance we think the Ghost Whisperer is very hard to beat. It is also one of only two jackets tested in this review to pack into its own zippered pocket – a small but coveted feature.

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Top Pick Award for Warmth-to-Weight: MontBell Mirage
The MontBell Mirage Parka was the warmest down jacket we tested. It features box baffle construction to maximize warmth and was the only non-sewn through jacket. Its relative warmth compared to the others is more pronounced when you consider the fact that its total weight of about 13 ounces places it squarely among all but the lightest jackets in the review. We feel that the superb warmth-to-weight ratio of the Mirage makes it deserving of our Top Pick award. We found it to be highly versatile since those looking for warmth will appreciate its generous fill and box baffles, and those looking to save ounces will be impressed with the weight saving shell fabric, and super-lofty 900 fill down. We also found the hood and waist adjustments to be very well thought out.

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Best Buy Award: MontBell Frost Smoke
Our Best Buy award goes to the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka because it incorporates high quality down and well thought out features into a unique shell construction that balances weight and durability – all for $200. Harder use is anticipated in the design of this jacket and we feel like no other jacket offers the balanced quality of the Frost Smoke at $200.

Chris Simrell
Buying Advice
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 How to Choose the Best Down Jacket

by Chris Simrell and McKenzie Long
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