The Best Down Jacket for Men Review
What is the best down jacket on the market? Over the course of two years, we purchased nine mid- to lightweight down jackets and evaluated them via a barrage of side-by-side tests and backcountry expeditions. Our assessments took place in environments such as the damp mid-altitudes of Washington state and New Zealand, the extreme cold of Antarctica, and the dry, high-altitude regions of the Colorado Rockies. Testing each jacket to its limit, we ranked each one based on its performance for warmth, weight, water resistance, compressibility, style, and features. Keep reading for the complete review; you'll find out which contender is the best overall, which ones we recommend for specific purposes, and how we evaluated for each metric.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
In spite of some tough competition, the Editors' Choice Award goes to the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded for the second year in a row. Not only was it our top scorer in head-to-head testing, but the Ghost Whisperer is the most innovative jacket we tested. With Q.Shield hydrophobic 800 fill-power down and Mountain Hardwear's proprietorial 7D Whisperer shell fabric, the Ghost Whisperer is in a class of its own in terms of ingenuity. At a mere 8.4 ounces for a size large, the Ghost Whisperer manages to be a complete mountain-ready jacket that won't weigh you down. We wore it on rainy belay ledges and in freezing Antarctic sunshine, and it performed admirably in both situations. The Ghost Whisperer is only what you need and nothing more. If you want to save a little money and weight and don't need a hood, check out the Ghost Whisperer Jacket.
Warm for its size and weight
Effective hydrophodic down
No cinch hood
Some slightly heavier jackets are much warmer
Waist cinch leaves cord hanging below the waist
With its huge dual internal stash pockets, three adjustment point hood, and super comfortable fleece-lined pockets, the Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody has the best selection of features a person could want in a down jacket. Better yet, it only costs $225 retail, hundreds of dollars less than some of the other jackets tested for this review. For this reason we are happy to award it our Best Bang for the Buck Award. If you want a jacket that is designed with attention to every detail and will keep you warm on chilly belay ledges, while backcountry skiing, or around camp in the evenings, this down hoody is an optimal choice. If you want this great level of performance without emptying your wallet, then look no further than the Transcendent Hoody. Want to save another $25 and don't need the hood? Check out the Transcendent Sweater.
Stylish, with an ideal set of features
Responsibly sourced down
Not super warm
Not terribly water resistant
Could be lighter for how thin it is
We all want to figure out how to spend the majority of our days climbing the peaks of our dreams, but for most of us a good down hoody is simply the essential layer that we need to survive the brutality of winter at home. As much as we don't like to admit it, nobody wants a jacket that makes them look like a bag of potatoes when they put it on. Warmth is important, sure, but equally as important is simply looking good while all bundled up. If this describes you, then we encourage you to investigate the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, winner of our Top Pick for Style. Its two-color design evokes a clean, retro look that is as natural on the streets of New York or Chicago as it is lying in the dirt in Yosemite. Its 800 fill-power down means lots of warmth without a lot of filling, ensuring you don't look like the Michelin Man. And if you do steal away for a week or two of winter climbing or skiing, this jacket performs as well as the best of them.
High fill power means light and compressible
Feature set is a bit simplistic
Sizing difficult to hit right for some
We couldn't help but award a Top Pick to the Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody for its phenomenal craftsmanship and performance as a mid-layer. Most lightweight down layers suffer from an ambiguity of function: they tend to be too light to keep you truly warm and too warm to keep you from sweating while working hard. The incredible breathability and warmth of the Hybridge Lite Hoody stems from a well thought out design and superb choice in materials. With its ultra high quality down, super light and mega strong 10D shell material, and breathable Tensile-Tech panels on the arms and torso, this jacket is designed to perfection. At a mere 12.9 ounces, it is also one of the lightest in the review. The only thing that kept the Hybridge Lite Hoody from competing for the Editors' Choice Award was a staggering price tag. But after the sticker shock has worn off, we bet you'll be pretty happy with this fantastic jacket. We also have you covered if you want to ditch the hood. Check out the Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Jacket if you're looking to cut down on bulk.
Stylish and innovative design
Responsibly sourced down
Lacking hood or hem adjustments
Very large hood
Let's face it, you want a down jacket because you want to be warm. There's really no other starting point for considering a purchase like this one. It only makes sense, then, that we give out a Top Pick Award for Warmth. In this review, there is really no competition, that award goes to the Marmot Guide Down Hoody. Puffed full of high quality 700 fill-power down treated with Down Defender, a hydrophobic coating, we assure you that you can't put this jacket on and not be warm. In fact, we couldn't recall a single time we put this jacket on and weren't on the verge of sweating in minutes. While it weighed in as the heaviest jacket in the review, and sure isn't likely to fit underneath any of your outer shells, it is, without a doubt, the winner when it comes to the most important reason to buy a down jacket: warmth.
Uses hydrophobic down
Heavy and bulky
Use only as an outer layer
DWR coating not so great
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Analysis and Test Results
Over a combined total of two years, we relentlessly tested these jackets on our torsos across a wide range of cold to frigid environments. We intentionally selected and bought mid-weight and lightweight models designed for technical applications in which the wearer will be moving and working up body heat for at least part of the day. When using these products in the backcountry and backyards, we took plenty of notes on their performance. On top of our experiences with these products in the outdoors, we also designed specific tests in order to distinguish the unique capabilities and limits of each jacket from the other contenders. We tested and rated all models on a scale from 1 to 10 in six different metrics: warmth, weight, water resistance, compressibility, style, and features. Each metric was weighted based on its relative importance to the function of this type of jacket to come up with a product's overall performance score, which you can see compiled in the chart below.
Each product's score in every metric is based on its relative performance to the other products in this review. Read on below for a description of the characteristics of each grading metric, how we tested for them, how they were weighted into a product's final score, and to find out what were the best and worst performers for any given category.
Warmth is the most important criteria when judging or selecting a jacket, because, after all, if not for its warmth, why do we even need a jacket? As such we decided to weight each jacket's score for warmth as 30 percent of its total score.
Lightweight down jackets are typically designed with a sewn-through baffle construction that helps produce a lighter weight and less expensive jacket. The baffles are the individual compartments that hold the down, and are needed so that it doesn't all just sink to the bottom and you end up wearing a pillow with sleeves. Sewn-through construction means that the fabric on the outside of the jacket is literally sewn to the fabric on the inside to create the baffle, which is typically horizontally oriented, although some are quilted square shaped. This design makes jackets lighter, thinner, and generally less expensive.
On the downside, it does create thin places near the seams where there is no down and trapped heat has a chance to escape. The alternative to sewn-through construction is box baffles, which are shaped like a three-dimensional box, and do a better job of evenly distributing the down. The box baffle style, although warmer, is much bulkier, less easy to move in, and often makes a jacket more expensive. The only jacket in this review that features this design is the Arc'teryx Thorium SV.
Though thickness and loft has a lot to do with warmth, the warmth of a jacket can't be assessed merely by reading the tag to find out how much down was used to fill it. The design of a jacket and what features it has, such as a hood, the thickness and quality of the outer material, how well the jacket fits, etc. all significantly contribute to how warm a jacket will keep you. How well a jacket holds the cold out is just as important as how well it keeps heat in.
Although it features only 700 fill-power down, compared to many in the review that used 800, the Marmot Guide Down Hoody was without doubt the warmest jacket that we tested. It was also the heaviest, and one of the puffiest. Despite their very thin construction, both the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Jacket and the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody surprised us with their warmth due to the high quality 800 fill-power down stuffed into their thin baffles, although overall they were about average. On the other end of the spectrum was the REI Co-op Hoodie that used very thin baffles filled with only 650 fill-power down, and more importantly, didn't do an effective job at sealing out the elements.
The higher, further, and steeper we take ourselves, the more important the weight of what we take with us becomes. The true utility of an object comes in measuring how much use you get out of it for how much energy is expended by carrying it. The warmth-to-weight ratio of a jacket is a key measure of value, and a down specific jacket in general has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio available in a technical insulated jacket. Additional ounces are added or subtracted to a jacket's weight by the choice of fabric and design features. Frequently, durability and other critical features such as a hood are sacrificed on the altar of ultra-light design, to the detriment of the final product. An ultra-light jacket that doesn't keep you warm or that falls apart after limited use doesn't really have a lot of value.
The fabrics used by most major manufacturers are typically very high quality. The primary difference in fabrics are their weight and thickness. The heavier the material, the stronger and more durable it will be, with lightweight materials being correspondingly less robust. The denier of fabric is a description of its thread count, which in practical terms means weight, with a higher number being heavier and therefore typically stronger. So, a 7 denier fabric is much finer and lighter than 30 denier fabric, but also less durable.
To test weight, we simply weighed them on our scale as soon as they arrived. In the cases where a jacket came with an included stuff sack for compressing and carrying it, we chose to include that in the item's overall weight, since weight tends to matter more when its being carried than when its being worn. All of the jackets that we tested were men's size large, except for the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, which we had in size medium.
The lightest jacket in this year's review was far and away the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded, which came in at 8.4 ounces, about four ounces lighter than its closest competition. Many jackets fell in the range of around 12 ounces, which is still incredibly light for how much warmth is afforded by such a piece of clothing. The two heaviest – Marmot's Guide Down Hoody and Arc'teryx Thorium SV – were also the two warmest, so there was clearly a tradeoff when considering absolute warmth versus weight. For this type of jacket, weight is a pretty important factor, so we chose to make it worth 20 percent of a product's final score.
The insulating capacity of untreated down is almost completely negated by water, so consequently jackets insulated with down have historically had a bad reputation in wet environments. So while a down jacket is never a very good idea for a rainy or wet day, having some level of water resistance is important simply to protect the down. All of the jackets in this review accomplish this to some degree by applying a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating to the outside of the jacket.
DWR coatings are chemical applications designed to repel and shed water before it has a chance to be absorbed by the face fabric and subsequently the down inside. By helping to keep the face fabric dry, DWR coatings also allow a jacket to breathe better should moisture accumulate from sweating on the inside. The only downside to DWR coatings is that they vary greatly in quality and durability. Once a DWR coating has worn off, it must be reapplied, and unfortunately this can sometimes happen in as little as a few uses.
Water resistance can also be gained by using treated down, that is, down which has had a DWR coating applied directly to it. Because we do not have access to the down that is inside of a jacket, we found it difficult to directly test how effective these DWR applications are at creating hydrophobic down. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and the Marmot Guide Down Hoody are the two jackets in this review that have hydrophobically treated down, and each of these applications are a proprietary secret. Another tactic is employed in the Arc'teryx Thorium SV, which blends down insulation around the torso with Coreloft synthetic insulation in parts of the body most likely to get wet, namely the hood, shoulders, and sleeves.
In our tests, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody and the Western Mountaineering Flash XR both had similar abilities to force water to bead up and shed off without allowing absorption into the face fabrics or down beneath, a testament to their superior DWR applications and high quality materials. On the other end of the spectrum was the Marmot's Guide Down Hoody, whose DWR coating seemed rather ineffective, showing lots of evidence of water absorption after a very mild drizzle.
That said, we also put these jackets fully to the test in the shower, soaking them as much as we could, and the two hydrophobically treated jackets, despite absorbing water through their face fabric, neither allowed water to fully soak through to the inside of the jacket, nor lost any visible loft from the soaking. In general, our scores in this metric were a reflection of the performance of the DWR coating and the face fabric, although we chose to award bonus points to the jackets that used hydrophobic down. Water resistance accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score.
More than just how small a jacket can get when stuffed away, compressibility is a measure of how well a material resists damage and recovers from being compressed. Down is still superior to synthetic insulation in this regard. Every time you stuff a synthetic jacket away the insulation is literally breaking and its heat retention capacity is diminished. Down can handle many more compressions and expansions than synthetic insulation. Down is also smaller when compressed and is significantly lighter weight than synthetic materials.
The down used in the construction of the jackets we reviewed is very high quality and resisted degradation throughout the course of our testing. Consequently, the stratifying characteristic of these jackets tended to be how small they were when compressed. The jackets with few features, lightweight fabric, and high fill-power down typically compressed down the smallest. The majority of these jackets were designed to be stuffed into one of their own pockets to serve as a stuff sack, a convenient feature.
The Arc'teryx Thorium SV came with its own separate stuff sack, which we appreciated, but is just one more thing to carry around and not lose. Only one jacket, the Western Mountaineering Flash XR, had no stuff sack or designed pocket stuffing method, and understandably received the lowest score. The Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody packed down into the smallest compressed size of any jacket, with the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and REI Co-op Down Hoodie close behind. Compressibility accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score.
Even if the existence of Facebook is not your sole motivation for getting outdoors, looking good is never a bad thing. Once the least sexy item of clothing in your pack, the oft maligned puffy jacket used to be the great equalizer, turning all who wore it into the same androgynous blob. With the introduction of lighter materials, the fearless use of some flashy colors, and a lemming-like focus on fashion, the outdoor clothing industry has made some impressive forward bounds.
Most of the jackets in this review feature athletic or trim cuts and narrow baffles that keep the "puff" in the puffy jacket to a minimum. That said, we still think the jackets in this review are predominantly designed with function in mind before form, although a few blur the lines.
According to our crack panel of fashion experts, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody had the most town-worthy look, and we recognized it as such with our Top Pick for Style. On the other end of the spectrum, the Western Mountaineering Flash XR, with its short, baggy cut that left a lot of waist line exposed to anyone who dared look, exuded more "outgrown hand-me-down" than it did outdoorsy chic. Style accounted for 10 percent of a product's final score.
With so many companies producing high-quality clothing, it often comes down to the little things that make all the difference when deciding on a jacket. This means a zipper that out-performs another, pockets a few inches higher up, or a hem a few inches lower down might make or break your choice. We've tested plenty of jackets that got away with elastic instead of a drawcord in the hood (with varying results). However, only a few even attempted to do away with the drawcord at the waist, and usually we did not like this design choice (to be fair it worked for the Canada Goose Hybridge Down Hoody). There are a few things that you can do without, but some features are absolutely essential.
The top scorers in terms of features were two jackets that had a ton of them that all worked really well. The Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody has gigantic dual internal stash pockets, three drawcords for adjusting the hood perfectly, and fleece lined hand pockets, all things we loved. The Marmot Guide Down Hoody also has nice fleecy pockets, but also has a two-way front zipper, hem pull cords inside the hand pockets, and Velcro wrist enclosures. Both of these jacket's features make them ideal choices for technical endeavors.
While the Ghost Whisperer Hooded was light on features in a conscious, well thought out way, two other jackets – the REI Co-op Down Hoody and the Western Mountaineering Flash XR – were noticeably devoid of features that are simply necessary for top performance in cold temperatures, like a waist draw cord for keeping the cold air out. These two jackets understandably received the lowest scores in the review. Features accounted for 10 percent of a product's final score.
Properly caring for your investment is very important. Over time the down will get covered in dirt and oils, causing it to lose its loft and therefore lose its warmth. To clean your jacket we recommend ReviveX Down Cleaner to safely clean the down and restore its loft.
An inexpensive jacket in this category is pretty much an oxymoron. Down jackets are an investment that shouldn't be taken lightly, especially when considering how important it is to stay warm in cold, harsh environments. We hope that a careful consideration of your winter climate, in addition to the analyses of top-shelf and popular models in this in-depth review, will be all you need to narrow down your choices. Our Buying Advice article is definitely worth a look too, as it provides further info on how to select the right product for your individual needs.
— Andy Wellman
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