The Quest for the Best Men's Down Jackets of 2017
To find the right down jacket for your cold weather adventures, we researched 70 top models and subjected the 9 best to side-by-side tests and backcountry expeditions for three months. We wore these products from the damp mid-altitudes of New Zealand, the extreme cold of Antarctica, to the dry, high-altitude regions of the Colorado Rockies, and more. Our expert testers took these jackets ice climbing, cycling across town, and hiking arctic tundras, but also designed specific tests to reveal which products are the most packable, keep you warmest, and have the most useful features. Resulting from our comprehensive assessment is a complete review and guide to help you find the perfect jacket for your needs.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2017
After testing throughout the winter, this review features a full analysis of the top down jackets available on the market today. We added three new award winners for various applications, differentiating between which one will keep you warmest in the mountains or look most stylish around town. Several models are also available in hoodless versions, which we highlight below and in the individual reviews. Charts and tables are included in the performance metrics to show how each product stacked up.
Best Overall Down Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer
Competition is tight in 2017, but the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded won our Editors' Choice for the second year running. This model dominated the scores overall, partly due to Mountain Hardwear's innovative approach to the design. With Q.Shield hydrophobic 800 fill-power down and a proprietary 7D Whisperer shell fabric, the Ghost Whisperer brought the most ingenuity of any model. Registering 8.4 ounces (size large) on our scale, the Ghost Whisperer excels as a complete mountain-ready jacket without weighing you down. From rainy belay ledges to freezing Antarctic sunshine, we were stoked to wear this product. Put simply, the Ghost Whisperer is what you need and nothing more. To save some cash and weight, check out the hoodless Ghost Whisperer Jacket.
Warm for its size and weight
Effective hydrophobic down
No cinch hood
Some slightly heavier jackets are much warmer
Waist cinch leaves cord hanging below the waist
Read full review: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
The Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody earns our Best Buy Award this year. With huge dual internal stash pockets, a three-adjustment-point hood, and comfortable fleece-lined pockets, the Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody has the best selection of features. Even better, it costs $225, hundreds of dollars less than several other jackets tested. If you want a jacket designed with attention to detail and warmth on chilly belay ledges, while backcountry skiing, or around camp in the evenings, this down hoody is an optimal choice. For a great level of performance without emptying your wallet, 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
Read full review: Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
Top Pick for Style
Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
We all want to spend the majority of our days climbing the peaks of our dreams, but for most of us, a down hoody is simply the layer we need to survive 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. Warmth is important, sure, but equally as important is looking good while bundled up. If this describes you, then investigate the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, winner of our Top Pick for Style. Its two-color design evokes a retro look that is as natural on the streets of New York as it is lying in the Yosemite dirt. 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 will perform.
High fill power means light and compressible
Feature set is a bit simplistic
Sizing difficult to hit right for some
Read full review: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
Top Pick Award for Use as a Mid-Layer
Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody
Featuring phenomenal craftsmanship and supreme performance as a mid-layer, the Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody is deserving of a Top Pick Award. Most lightweight down layers suffer from an ambiguity of function: they tend to be too light to keep you warm and too warm to keep you from sweating while working hard. The breathability and warmth of the Hybridge Lite Hoody stem from its design and materials. With its high quality down, light and 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 reviewed. The only thing that kept the Hybridge Lite Hoody from competing for the Editors' Choice Award was its price tag. After the sticker shock has worn off, we bet you'll be pretty happy with this jacket. Check out the Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Jacket if you're looking to cut down on bulk and don't need a hood.
Stylish and innovative design
Responsibly sourced down
Lacking hood or hem adjustments
Very large hood
Read full review: Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody
Top Pick for Warmth
Marmot Guides Down Hoody
Let's be real, 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 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 700 fill-power down treated with Down Defender, a hydrophobic coating, 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 was the heaviest jacket reviewed and isn't likely to fit underneath 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
Read full review: Marmot Guide Down Hoody
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Analysis and Test Results
We tested these jackets across a wide range of environments. We intentionally selected and bought midweight and lightweight models designed for technical applications in which the wearer will be moving, working up body heat for at least part of the day. When using these products in the backcountry and backyards, we took notes on performance. On top of our experiences with these products in the outdoors, we also designed tests in order to distinguish the capabilities and limitations of each jacket. 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 importance to the function of this type of jacket, resulting in a product's overall performance score, which you can see in the table below.
Each product's score in every metric is based on its performance relative to the other products reviewed. Read on for a description of the characteristics of each grading metric, how we tested for them, how they weighed into a product's final score, and to find out what were the best and worst performers for any category.
Warmth is the most important criteria when selecting a jacket, because, after all, if not for its warmth, why do we need a jacket? 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 down and are needed so that it doesn't all sink to the bottom. Sewn-through construction means that the fabric on the outside of the jacket is literally sewn to the fabric on the inside, creating a baffle, which is typically oriented horizontally, although some are 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 can escape. The alternative to sewn-through construction is box baffles, which are shaped like a three-dimensional box and do a better job of distributing the down. The box baffle style, although warmer, is bulkier, less easy to move in, and often makes a jacket more expensive. The only jacket reviewed that features this design is the Arc'teryx Thorium SV.
Though thickness and loft have a lot to do with warmth, the warmth of a jacket can't be assessed merely by reading the tag to find its fill. The design of a jacket and its features, 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 be. 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 that used 800, the Marmot Guide Down Hoody was the warmest jacket tested. It was also the heaviest, and one of the puffiest. Despite their thin construction, both the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Jacket and the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody surprised us with their warmth due to the 800 fill-power down, although overall they were average. On the other end of the spectrum was the REI Co-op Hoodie that used very thin baffles 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 becomes. The utility of an object comes in measuring how much use you get out of it for how much energy is expended carrying it. The warmth-to-weight ratio of a jacket is a key measure of value, and a down jacket has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio in a technical insulated jacket. Additional ounces are added or subtracted to a jacket's weight by the 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 have a lot of value.
The fabrics used by most major manufacturers are typically high quality. The primary difference in fabrics is their weight and thickness. The heavier the material, the stronger and more durable it is, with lightweight materials being 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 weighed jackets on our scale as soon as they arrived. In the cases where a jacket came with an included stuff sack for compression, we included that in the item's overall weight, since weight tends to matter more when it's being carried than when it's being worn. All of the jackets that we tested were men's size large, except for the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, which was a medium.
The lightest jacket in this year's review was 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 12-ounce range, which is still light for how much warmth is afforded by them. The two heaviest — Marmot's Guide Down Hoody and Arc'teryx Thorium SV — were also the two warmest, so there was a tradeoff when considering warmth versus weight. For this type of jacket, weight is an important factor, so we made it worth 20 percent of a product's final score.
The insulating capacity of untreated down is almost completely negated by water, so jackets insulated with down have historically had a bad reputation in wet environments. 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 reviewed accomplish this to some degree by applying a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating to the jacket.
DWR coatings are chemical applications designed to repel 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 allow a jacket to breathe better should moisture accumulate from sweating. 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 that has had a DWR coating applied to it. Because we do not have access to the down inside a jacket, we found it difficult to 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 reviewed that have hydrophobically treated down, and each of these applications is proprietary. 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 DWR applications and high-quality materials. On the other end of the spectrum was the Marmot's Guide Down Hoody, whose DWR coating seemed ineffective, showing lots of evidence of water absorption after a mild drizzle.
We also put these jackets 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 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 jackets that used hydrophobic down. Water resistance accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score.
More than just how small a jacket gets when packed, compressibility is a measure of how well a material resists damage and recovers from being compressed. Down is superior to synthetic insulation in this regard. Every time you stuff a synthetic jacket away, the insulation is breaking and its heat retention capacity is diminished. Down can handle more compressions and expansions than synthetic insulation. Down is also smaller when compressed and is lighter weight than synthetic materials.
The down used in the construction of the jackets reviewed is high quality and resisted degradation throughout the course of 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 compressed down the smallest. The majority of these jackets were designed to be stuffed into one of their own pockets, 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. Only one jacket, the Western Mountaineering Flash XR, had no stuff sack or pocket-stuffing method and 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 Instagram 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, t flashy colors, and a lemming-like focus on fashion, the outdoor industry has made impressive forward bounds.
Most of the jackets reviewed 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 reviewed are predominantly designed with function in mind before form, although a few blur the lines.
According to our panel of fashion experts, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody had the most town-worthy look, and it won 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 waistline exposed 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, or a hem a few inches lower 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 attempted to do away with the drawcord at the waist, and usually, we did not like this design (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 essential.
The top scorers in terms of features were two jackets that had a ton of them that all worked well. The Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody has dual internal stash pockets, three drawcords for adjusting the hood perfectly, and fleece-lined hand pockets. The Marmot Guide Down Hoody also has 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 way, two other jackets — the REI Co-op Down Hoody and the Western Mountaineering Flash XR — were noticeably devoid of features that are necessary for top performance in cold temperatures, like a waist drawcord for keeping cold air out. These two jackets received the lowest scores in the review. Features accounted for 10 percent of a product's final score.
Properly caring for your investment is important. Over time the down will get covered in dirt and oils, causing it to lose its loft and therefore 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 environments. We hope that 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 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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