The Best Down Jacket for Men Review

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What is the best mid-to-lightweight down jacket available on the market today? We evaluated nine jackets in side-by-side tests over the course of two years, testing in the damp mid-altitudes of Washington state and New Zealand, to the extreme cold of Antarctica, to the dry, high altitude regions of the Colorado Rockies. Testing each jacket to its limit, we ranked each one based upon 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 jackets 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


Review by:

Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Sunday
November 20, 2016

Best Overall Down Jacket


Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer


Editors' Choice Award

Price:   Varies from $224 - $350 online
Compare at 7 sellers


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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.

Best Bang for the Buck


Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody


Best Buy Award

Price:   Varies from $169 - $225 online
Compare at 6 sellers


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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.

Top Pick for Style


Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody


Top Pick Award

Price:   Varies from $209 - $279 online
Compare at 5 sellers


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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.

Top Pick Award for Use as a Mid-Layer


Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody


Top Pick Award

Price:   Varies from $305 - $575 online
Compare at 4 sellers


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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 Canda Goose Hybridge Lite Jacket if you're looking to cut down on bulk.

Top Pick for Warmth


Marmot Guides Down Hoody


Top Pick Award

Price:   Varies from $160 - $212 online
Compare at 4 sellers


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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 doubt the winner when it comes to the most important reason to buy a down jacket: warmth.



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Analysis and Test Results


The farther you get from home, the more important the things you carry with you become. How much those things weigh also becomes increasingly important. Having the right gear in the mountains is imperative to having a good time, and a lightweight but high quality insulation layer can be the difference between the summit and surrender. Enter the down jacket.

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An evening descent in October off of McMillan Peak in the San Juan Mountains. Despite the lack of snow the wind was whipping and a down jacket was needed to stay warm.

What Is Down?


Down is the natural insulating layer found on geese and ducks that keeps their bodies warm even while swimming around in nearly freezing water. The down layer lies in between their skin and their oily layer of hollow outer feathers, which give them the ability to float and provide a waterproof membrane that protects the down. Down is typically white or grey, and an individual piece of down looks like a blob of tiny little fibers all somehow joined in the middle and radiating outward. Not only is that what they look like, but that is pretty much exactly what they are. Lots of these little blobs all clustered together form millions of tiny air pockets, providing "loft," which serves as an incredible insulator. The more inert air that can be trapped in between you and the cold outside air, the better you will be insulated from its chilling effects. Down is the best insulator on the planet in terms of warmth-to-weight ratio. It is also very resistant to the damage caused in compression, meaning you can stuff it in your pack time and again without compromising its ability to keep you warm.

Why Buy a Down Jacket?


If you are looking for a lightweight, compressible insulating layer for cold temperatures, then you have two choices available today: down or synthetic insulation. Both of these types of jackets are made of nylon or other synthetic materials, with insulation stuffed inside them to provide loft and warmth. For truly cold environments such as high altitude climbing, winter climbing, glacier travel, polar exploration, storm skiing, or any prolonged exposure to cold, a down or synthetic insulated jacket is a must. Lighter weight layers such as fleece will only serve you down to a certain temperature or amount of time spent outdoors; beyond that you will want real insulation.

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Tying in and staying warm in the East Fork of Hyalite Canyon while racking up.

Down is a great choice because, like we mentioned above, it literally has the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any insulation in the world. It is also extremely compressible, shrinking down to a tiny fraction of its original size when compressed, and is resilient, meaning you can compress it over and over again without damaging or breaking the fibers that it relies on to provide insulation and therefore warmth. In contrast, manufacturers have yet to produce a synthetic insulation that is completely immune to compression. Every time you stuff synthetic insulation into a small space you are damaging its fibers, decreasing its warmth retention capacity. Synthetic insulation also tends to be heavier.

Noting these factors, the choice to go with down for a technical insulating layer seems like a no brainer. Until you consider that down's Achilles Heel, its Kryptonite, is literally the most pervasive substance on the surface of the earth, and is known to frequently fall out of the sky water. When down becomes wet, it almost completely loses its capacity to retain heat. Down found on a duck or goose never gets wet because it is protected by their oily feathers, but this is not the case for down found in a jacket. New hydrophobic down (down coated with water resistant chemicals) has significantly improved down fill's resistance to water. However, this technology is in its nascent stages and has yet to equal the heat retention metrics of synthetic insulation when wet. Additionally, when you tear the outer fabric of a synthetically insulated jacket, the inner insulating material typically doesn't come out of the jacket, as the fibers inside are all bound together. The opposite is true with these contenders, where tears can be critical issues in need of immediate repair.

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Taking in the views on a hike near the top of Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains. On this windy day the Guide's Down Hoody kept us plenty warm, by a long ways.

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Not satisfied with simply letting the Ghost Whisperer get wet outside in the rain, we insisted on also soaking it in the shower in an effort to determine the success of the hydrophobic down inside. After soaking directly for many minutes, we couldn't see any loss of loft in the down, despite the fact that water had without doubt penetrated the shell.

Criteria for Evaluation


This review compares mid-weight and lightweight down contenders designed for technical applications where the wearer will be moving and working up body heat for at least part of the day. Expedition weight down parkas have been intentionally excluded from this review because of their limited use: they are designed for standing around in the cold or sometimes moving while in extreme cold.

In order to decide what were the best on the market today, we tested and rated each on a scale from 1 to 10 for six different metrics: warmth, weight, water resistance, compressibility, style, and features. Each metric was weighted based on their relative importance to the function of the jacket to come up with a product's final score. 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


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.

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The quilted pattern on the Flash XR meant that the down has little ability to move about in its baffles, and does a good job of preventing cold spots. This was one warm jacket, and also one of the best in terms of water resistance.

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 are 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.

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Five of the down jackets in this year's review shown with their hoods on. From left to right: Marmot Guides Down Hoody, The North Face Trevail Hoody, REI Co-op Down jacket, Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody, Arc'teryx Thorium SV.

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Down Jackets shown while wearing the hoods, from left to right: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, Western Mountaineering Flash XR, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded, Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody.

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 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.

Weight


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.

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Thrown on over our wind breaker for the chilly start to the morning long ride, this super lightweight jacket was very quickly shed as the trail started to climb, but easily fit into the small riding pack. This is in the La Sal Mountains of Utah, at the very beginning of the Whole Enchilada bike route.

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.

Water Resistance


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.

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Water beading up on the surface of the Down Sweater Hoody due to the DWR coating applied to the face fabric. This is after a light rain, and unfortunately we found that for most jackets in the test, water was still absorbed into the nylon face fabrics.

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.

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A closeup of the way that a DWR coating works on the outside of a shell to cause water to bead up so that it can be easily shed without soaking into the outer material.

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.

Compressibility


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.

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The 10 jackets in this year's review stuffed into their own stuff sacks or pockets, with a nalgene bottle for comparison. Left, bottom to top, smallest to largest: Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, REI Co-op Down Hoody, Outdoor Research Transcendent Jacket. Right, bottom to top: The North Face Trevail Hoodie, some blue jacket we cut from the review (stuff sack), Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, Marmot Guides Down Jacket, Arc'teryx Thorium SV (stuff sack), Western Mountaineering Flash XR (no sack, stuffed into its own hood).

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 Hoody close behind. Compressibility accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score.

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In our opinion the Down Sweater Hoody was the most fashionable jacket in this test, with a retro vibe common to many of Patagonia's recent clothing items. Here wearing it out on a chilly evening on the way to the brewery in Ouray, Colorado.

Style


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.

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Five of the down jackets in this year's review shown without hoods. From left to right: Marmot Guides Down Hoody, The North Face Trevail Hoody, REI Co-op Down jacket, Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody, Arc'teryx Thorium SV.

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Comparing the look of the jackets without hoods deployed, from left to right: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, Western Mountaineering Flash XR, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded, Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody.

Features


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.

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Two stash pockets that are huge! We can't say enough how awesome these pockets are. We especially love them for putting out rock climbing shoes in when belaying in during chilly fall and spring, or even winter weather, keeping them nice and toasty warm for our turn at the sending temps.

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 draw cords 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.

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Shown in this photo is the awesome fleece lined pockets that really make one's hands feel snuggly warm, as well as the waist pull cord that lives inside the pocket, ensuring that no ends of cords are left hanging.

Key Accessories


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.

Conclusion


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.

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Here we test technical down jackets in the cold, dry environment of Antarctica.
Andy Wellman
Helpful Buying Tips
Unbiased.