The Best Down Jacket for Women Review

Click to enlarge
Post-climb lazy fall morning in Zion National park, perfect for the Arc'teryx Cerium SL.
Credit: Bernd Zeugswetter
Down jacket technology has changed relatively little over a very long period of time. We have made advances in the fabrics encasing the down feathers, but until recently nothing has been able to improve upon the natural insulating properties of down feathers. Now, new technologies are exploring the possibility of improving the water resistance of the down feathers themselves. After years of struggling to manufacture a synthetic fiber to rival natural down, materials scientists are now looking at ways to improve upon down itself.

This season, we took a selection of some of the top lightweight models to review, some of which contain these new hydrophobic down treatments. We ran them through various tests, ultimately evaluating each jacket on warmth, weight, water resistance, compressibility, style and fit, durability, and features. The results were, at times, surprising. Read on to see how our latest technologies withstand the forces of Mother Nature.

See also The Best Winter Jacket For Women review to see our favorite long, casual parkas and thick , technical parkas.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Down Jackets - Women's Displaying 1 - 5 of 11 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #5 #9 #6 #7
Product Name
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Cerium SL - Women's
Arc'teryx Cerium SL - Women's
Read the Review
Outdoor Research Aria Jacket - Women's
Outdoor Research Aria Jacket - Women's
Read the Review
Valandre Split S - Women's
Valandre Split S - Women's
Read the Review
Patagonia Down Sweater - Women's
Patagonia Down Sweater - Women's
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award         
Street Price Varies $238 - $350
Compare at 6 sellers
$319
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $137 - $199
Compare at 4 sellers
$470
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $153 - $229
Compare at 8 sellers
Overall Score
100
0
82
100
0
73
100
0
64
100
0
71
100
0
71
Editors' Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
1 rating
Be the first to rate it
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
50% recommend it (1/2)
Pros Incredibly light, compact, warm for its size and weight, packs into its own pocketExtremely lightweight, good fit, looks sleek, layers underneath wellVery soft face-guard, large interior drop-in pockets, protective ribbon on the inside of the hand pocket to prevent zipper snags, longer cut in backBox-baffle construction, articulated arms, comfortable insulated collar, very high quality dowStuffs into pocket, light and warm, now made with traceable and ethically harvested down
Cons No way to cinch the hood, colors that you either love or hateExpensive, slow to dry, fabric not very breathableStrange looks, somewhat heavy for a hoodless jacket, lower quality downSleeves are too short, wish a jacket this warm had a hood, no pull-cord in hem, shoulders look too broadFabric is not very durable
Best Uses Backpacking, hiking, mountaineering, and around townCamping, worn as a midlayer, around town, pack as emergency warm layerAs an insulating mid-layer or outer layer, camping, hiking, skiingVery warm jacket for alpine climbing and mountaineering, expeditions, a thick winter jacketAlpine climbing, camping, backpacking, around town
Date Reviewed Nov 08, 2014Nov 14, 2014Nov 12, 2014Nov 13, 2014Nov 12, 2014
Weighted Scores Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's Arc'teryx Cerium SL - Women's Outdoor Research Aria Jacket - Women's Valandre Split S - Women's Patagonia Down Sweater - Women's
Warmth - 25%
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
7
Weight - 20%  
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
Water Resistance - 15%
10
0
7
10
0
4
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
5
Compressibility - 15%
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
9
Style - 10%
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
8
Durability - 10%
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
5
Features - 5%
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
5
10
0
7
Product Specs Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's Arc'teryx Cerium SL - Women's Outdoor Research Aria Jacket - Women's Valandre Split S - Women's Patagonia Down Sweater - Women's
Down Fill Q.Shield 850er Daune 850 fill European grey goose down 650 fill down 850 fill goose down Traceable Down (third-party-verified, non-live-plucked, non-force-fed) 800-fill-power goose down
Main Fabric Whisperer 7D x 10D Ripstop Thisela 100% nylon / 1.9 oz/yd², 20g/m², lightweight 7D ripstop taffeta 100% polyester 20D ripstop shell and lining 95% polyamide, 5% polyester 1.4-oz 20x30-denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR finish. Lining: 1.5-oz 22-denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR finish.
Weight 7.2 oz 5.8 oz 12.1 oz 12.53 oz 12.2 oz
Pockets 2 (hands) 2 3 (2 hands, 1 internal chest) 3 (2 hand 1 interior) 3 (2 hands, 1 internal chest)
Hood Option yes yes yes no yes
Stowing option hand pocket (with carabiner clip loop) separate stuff sack (included) separate stuff sack (included) None interior chest pocket
Colors Available 4 3 4 2 7
Unique Features Down Composite Mapping Box baffle construction, Articulated arms for added elbow warmth

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Down jackets range broadly from lightweight and packable to heavy duty expedition parkas. In this review, we focus on the technical lightweight category. This review aims to help you find the right jacket for your uses, but also to equip you with the knowledge to evaluate jackets for yourself the next time you're browsing at an outdoor store.

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.

Synthetic
Click to enlarge
This is a jacket insulated with man-made fibers. It is heaver for its weight than down and doesn't compress as well. However, unlike down, it retains its loft when wet. Synthetic jackets are more durable in the short-term because if you tear a hole in the outer material, the insulation doesn't leak out. But down is more durable over the long-term, and can handle more compressions and expansions.These jackets are usually less expensive.

Down
Click to enlarge
Down is the ultimate in insulation: it has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio and can compress super small. And it can continue to do so for years and years. However, the jackets tend to be fragile and you need to be careful not to rip them or the feathers can leak out and leave you with no insulation. Typically down does not handle getting wet well at all. When it collects moisture, the feathers clump together and lose all their loft, and therefore their insulating properties. These jackets tend to be expensive, and get more so as the quality of the down improves.

Hydrophobic Down
Several companies have started to address the wet-down problem from the inside-out by coating down feathers in a durable water repellent compound (think of the water repellent treatment on the exterior of your rain jacket). Patagonia has come up with a characteristically more environmentally friendly way to do so, which they also say increases the loft of their down. The technology is fascinating, and in our tests we are inclined to believe in its usefulness, at least in the short term. Critics wonder how durable the treatment will be over time.

To check out our thoughts on waterproof down, read our Buying Advice article and check out our Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's and Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket - Women's reviews.

Click to enlarge
We extracted a small sample of DownTek treated hydrophobic down from on of our test jackets. We evaluated the look and feel of the treated down and sprayed it with water to see what happened. This is before.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
Click to enlarge
A sample of DownTek treated hydrophobic down after being sprayed with water. Notice how the water is beading up on the down rather than soaking into the fibers.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Aspects of Down

Fill Power
Down is measured by the amount of space taken up by an ounce of down feathers. Because down insulates by trapping air and holding it in place for your body heat to warm up, the more loft you can get, the better. This means a higher numbered fill power is of higher quality. For example, 850 fill power down fills 850 cubic inches for every ounce of down.

Samples of the same weight show that increasing down fill power displa...
Samples of the same weight show that increasing down fill power displaces more volume, resulting in a lighter and more compressible product. 900-fill power is the best available.

The higher fill number usually also means a higher price tag. High fill power means high warmth-to-weight ratio, high compressibility, and high price.

This also means that a 550 fill jacket can be just as warm as a 800 fill jacket--it'll just be bulkier. But the most common misconception is that a higher number means warmer. A 550 fill jacket can very well be warmer than a super thin 850 fill ultralight down jacket.

The Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer ran away with our Editors' Choice award because it had the best loft, among other impressive qualities.

Construction
All except one of the jackets in this review the use sewn-through baffle construction. This design is less expensive to produce, lighter, and makes for better ease of movement.

The one jacket in this review that uses baffle box construction is also the thickest jacket we evaluated: the Valandre Split S - Women's is bulky but warm.

Fabrics are all very good these days, but there are a few things to pay attention to. The lower denier ratings typically roughly translate to lighter weight but less durability. But not all deniers are created equal. The Ghost Whisperer, for example, proved much more weatherproof, breathable, and durable than the Cerium SL, both made of 7D fabrics. Mountain Hardwear says that is because their fabric is the only true 7D by 10D fabric, woven by only one mill in the world, which uses single yarns rather than pairs of strands. But if you seek durability, the 40D Arc'teryx Thorium AR Hoody - Women's or Rab's 30D Microlight Alpine jacket will fit the bill.

Criteria for Evaluation

Warmth
All of the light 800 fill jackets we reviewed, like the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka - Women's, are roughly the same warmth (excepting the Valandre Split S). They are thinner jackets meant to be lightweight technical insulating layers. The 800 fill mark is roughly where our reviewers tend to draw the line between higher quality and lower quality down products, but there are exceptions. High quality down provides excellent warmth and loft for the weight. The Valandre Split S - Women's is the warmest jacket we evaluated by virtue of being the thickest and loftiest. It is constructed with box-baffles instead of sewn-through quilting and uses 850 fill down.

Weight
No synthetic fiber has matched down for 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 Ghost Whisperer is the obvious choice. The Arc'teryx Cerium SL - Women's is even lighter, but it is lacking in some features and applications.

Water Resistance
In a jacket or sleeping bag, is not the down itself that actually does the insulating, it is the tiny air pockets trapped by the down fibers. Unfortunately, once down gets wet all the fibers stick together, so it loses its loft and thus loses its warmth. If you plan on being in extremely wet conditions, synthetic insulation is preferable because it does not have this same issue and retains some insulating properties when wet. However, if you do have a down jacket, or value the weight savings of down over synthetic, you want it to have some sort of water resistance so that in the event you do get a little damp, you don't freeze.

Arc'teryx has introduced their Down Composite Mapping, a technology where they integrate Coreloft synthetic insulation in high risk areas such as cuffs, shoulders, and hoods. Our testing, however, revealed that these jackets stayed wetter longer because the synthetic insulation would absorb water and leak into the down and the shell fabric. This is okay for a fully synthetic jacket which insulates somewhat whether it is wet or dry, but not okay for the down.

All the jackets in this review are treated with some type of DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the exterior fabric to prevent water from soaking through the material and dampening the down, but these types of coatings do not last very long and do not withstand a heavy dousing.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this review was the opportunity to test out some jackets with treated hydrophobic down: The Ghost Whisperer and the Rab Microlight Alpine jacket.

We tested all of our jackets for water resistance by wetting them in the shower, and letting them soak for a while. It proved difficult to gauge how much water resistance was due to the DWR coating on the exterior fabric and how much we could attribute to the hydrophobic down itself. Overall, we found the hydrophobic down jackets to resist water better and dry out faster, but those jackets, the Ghost Whisperer and the Rab jacket, were just generally more well designed. Time will tell as more hydrophobic down products become available and we start to see how the it performs as it ages.

Compressibility
The quality of the down factors largely into the compressibility of a jacket. Again, the higher the number of the down fill, the more compressible it will be. The Arc'teryx Cerium SL - Women's was the most compressible with its 850 fill down, followed by the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's. Both of these jackets are thin and light to begin with, and the quality down allows them to get super small. A small compressed size is ideal for climbing, backpacking, or even bike commuting where pack space is a huge commodity.

Click to enlarge
Our lineup of women's jackets compressed into stuff sacks and pockets for compressibility comparison. (L to R: Montbell Frost Smoke, Montbell Alpine Light, Arc'teryx Thorium, Arc'teryx Cerium, Ghost Whisperer, Rab Microlight.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Style
Overall we felt that the fit and the design of the sewn baffles are the primary component of style. No matter what, puffy down jackets make a woman look, well… puffy. But some look better than others. We did not like the look of the curving quilted baffles on the Outdoor Research Aria - Women's (though one tester disagreed and enjoyed the look) and we did like the more traditional quilted baffles of the Ghost Whisperer, the Patagonia Down Sweater - Women's, and the Rab Microlight. The angled baffles on MontBell's Alpine Light Parka also looked cool, but bunched up in awkward ways when worn. And the Arc'teryx Cerium SL had a flattering cut.

Click to enlarge
Post-climb lazy fall morning in Zion National park, perfect for the Arc'teryx Cerium SL.
Credit: Bernd Zeugswetter

Durability
The durability of a jacket's material is important when spending $200-300. In our tests, the lightest fabrics ended up being the most fragile. The Down Sweater snagged and easily ripped a hole. Heavier jackets such as The North Face Aconcagua Jacket - Women's seemed be very durable and last through rough wear. The North Face Nuptse 2 Jacket - Women's has reinforced patches in high use areas, which adds to the durability. If it is important to you to have a lightweight jacket, it might be worth sacrificing a little durability. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is an impressively durable down jacket for the weight--the fabric resisted snagging and abrasion, but some of the stitching snagged. Alternatively, the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket performed very well and earned our Top Pick award for its durability and reliability in combination with weather resistance.

Click to enlarge
This jacket invites you to climb in it--it is super light and boasts excellent range of movement. However, the stitching on the arms snagged easily on rock when taking some warmup laps in chilly climbing temps.
Credit: Bernd Zeugswetter

Features
This category is a catch-all for the little things we liked or didn't like about the jackets, from zippers to draw cords to well-placed soft fleece patches. In general, we like jackets 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; and a little fleece in the right place goes a long way, like in Rab's Microlight Alpine jacket.

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 ones that really count. It got high marks for careful selection of key features.

Key Accessories
Properly caring for down jackets if very important. Over time the down will get covered in dirt and oils causing it to lose its loft and therefore losing its warmth. To clean your jacket we recommend using an specialized down wash to safely clean the down and restore its loft.

Editors' Choice Award: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer

Click to enlarge
The Ghost Whisperer is a well-fitting and comfortable jacket.
Credit: Hjordis Rickert and Bernd Zeugswetter

The Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's is a stunningly light alpine jacket with high quality 850 fill hydrophobic down that only weighs 7.2 ounces. It is light and compressible enough to take on climbing and backpacking trips, and stylish enough to be worn around town or car camping. It is exceedingly comfortable, disproportionately warm, stuffs into a hand pocket, and is very lightweight, making it our Editor's Choice award winner.

Top Pick Award for Durability and Weather Resistance: Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket

Click to enlarge
Belaying in the Rab Microlight in northern Arizona.
Credit: Bernd Zeugswetter

The Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket - Women's is one of the most durable jackets we reviewed, and there is something nice about a down jacket that isn't extremely fragile. It is on the heavier side, but it seals out weather so well we think it was well worth the three or so extra ounces. It is versatile, dependable, and an excellent go-to piece for any adventure. Filled with 750 fill power hydrophobic down, and with a Pertex exterior, it withstands moisture longer than most of the other jackets in this review. As a reliable all-around performer, the Rab jacket earns our Top Pick for weather resistance and durability. This jacket will withstand a lot of use and abuse.

Best Buy Award: MontBell Frost Smoke Parka

Click to enlarge
The Montbell Frost Smoke hood fits easily over a helmet but was also easy to adjust when not wearing a helmet. And this roomier hood came at little cost to weight. Note the unique square baffles.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

The MontBell Frost Smoke Down Parka - Women's rivals the quality and versatility of the Arc'teryx Thorium AR hoody, but for quite a bit less cash. This jacket is a great deal at $199. More affordable jackets exist, but this one gives high performance, nice style, and a lot of comfort for the least amount of money, which wins it our Best Buy award. We particularly love the square shaped baffles (not to be confused with box baffles) that seem to trap a lot of warm air while still allowing for mobility.

Lyra Pierotti
Buying Advice
How we Test
Helpful Buying Tips
Get More OutdoorGearLab
Follow us on Twitter, be a fan on Facebook!
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Recent Editor's Award Winners