The Best Down Jackets of 2020
Best Overall Model
The North Face Summit L3 Hoody
If we had to choose one jacket to wear, The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody is our favorite - hands-down. It performs the best across all metrics, from its gleefully light (13.8 ounces, size large) construction to its cozy and warm construction. Its extra-long hem protects more of the body while the hood is puffy for excellent burrowing action in terrible weather. The shell uses a 10-denier fabric with a thin feel but is surprisingly durable. It can hold up to tunneling through rough granite stones and tromping through brush infested woods, though we don't recommend it! We also love the DWR treated fabric that'll keep water beading and wicking in a light rain or snowstorm. If the sun comes out, simply stuff it into its pocket and stash it away in your pack. Or clip it to a backpack or harness.
While we appreciate the 800-fill down power that is sourced responsibility, it weighs about the same as other jackets with a 950+ or 850-down fill. This caveat is a bit of a stretch as our testers unanimously agree that this is probably the best down option out there across all metrics, despite the extra ounces.
Read review: The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody
Best Bang for Your Buck
MontBell Superior Down
The Montbell Superior Hooded Parka is a newcomer to our testing and we are blown away by how many boxes this thing checks. Lightweight? Extremely! It only weights 9.3 oz for a large! But does it have a cinch-able hood and hem to lock in warmth? Yep! Quality down fill? Sure thing, 800 fill may not be the highest power out there but its the standard for any high quality down jacket. Montbell has "lofty" standards for where how the down is sourced…and it's super affordable. We're not entirely sure how they pulled it off, but are stoked to make this a best buy award winner with editor's choice winner features.
While it has a lot of great performance perks, its not perfect. In comparison to other jackets, the construction and architecture fall a little on the cheaper side. The hood has a two-part adjustment which does a fine job of sealing off the cold, but the method for brim has a perimeter shock cord and velcro adjustment which seems a little dated. There are better ways to seal a hood that isn't as cumbersome. That said, we are really reaching to find a downside to this jacket and can't boast enough about how much we love its feature rich and lightweight, packable design at a remarkably low price.
Read review: MontBell Superior Down
Best for Lightweight Warmth
Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody
The Arc'teryx Cerium SL is our favorite ultralight down jacket built for packing light and going fast. It has all the necessary features to make it very technically capable jacket while omitting extra bells and whistles that would add weight, bulk, and complexity. We loved how super-lightweight and compressible this jacket is. When it's clipped to the back of your harness or in your pack, you forget its there until the sun goes behind the wall. The classic Arc'teryx style and quality make this a stylish option for when you go out to have a meal with friends after a day in the mountains. The hood and hem both have adjustable drawcords to lock out the cold, which is more than we can say for some other ultralight options in our review.
While the Cerium SL is just about the perfect ultra-light down layer, there are a couple of things you should be aware of. The thin ripstop nylon shell is indeed tear-resistant, but that's a relative term, and when compared to the heavier-weight fabrics used in many of the other options, this just frankly won't hold up as well. We also know from experience that even with careful use, the thin zipper used on this jacket can wear out before the jacket itself.
Read review: Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody
Best for Weather Resistance
Rab Microlight Alpine
The Rab Microlight Alpine earns a Top Pick Award for being an amazing jacket for wet conditions. Previously earning our Best Buy, this is more than just a good deal, and it might just be the perfect puffy for you, depending on where you like to adventure. We all know that wet weather is the Achilles heel of down insulation, but many companies have made a concerted effort in the past few years to develop down with hydrophobic properties, thereby preventing it from losing its heat-trapping loft when wet. On top of hydrophobic down developed by Nikwax, the Rab Microlight Alpine down jacket also uses super tightly woven Pertex microlight nylon fabric that is naturally water-resistant and a superior external DWR coating keeps water from soaking in from the outside, providing the best overall defense against water available in a down jacket today.
Rab used slightly less lofty 750-fill down in the Microlight, but it was still one of the warmer jackets in our test group because they added a few extra ounces of down to make up the difference in fill-power. That extra down does make it slightly heavier, and it won't pack down as small as it could have otherwise. The weather resistance is impressive, though, and the Rab Microlight Alpine can handle some rain without ending up soggy and useless. We don't suggest that you ditch your rain shell altogether, but if you're the type of person who often forgets a rain shell on day missions, this layer might save your hide once or twice. Don't miss out on this high performer that will keep you warm in unfavorable conditions for a reasonable price.
Read review: Rab Microlight Alpine
Best for Town Use
Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
It's hard to pass by our award designations without giving a nod to the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody. This classic model hasn't changed much over the years and is still the best looking option on the market. We didn't rate jackets on a style metric, but after a day in the mountains in the more technical-looking options in this review, we always grabbed the Down Sweater when heading out on the town. We're sure some people buy this hoody and never head out of the confines of a city with it, but we can assure you that it still performs well in the mountains too. It has great wind resistance, helping us stay warmer on bitter cold days. We also liked the fit, which was roomy in the shoulders but trim down the sides.
The DWR coating keeps water out of the down for a time, but Patagonia does not treat the fill, so its wet weather performance is not fantastic overall. It's a little heavy for the warmth it provides, but we loved the features, including an internal chest pocket and a stash pocket, and a high collar that comes up over your nose when fully zipped. Many other contenders are lighter or less expensive, but if you're looking for something that is also "outdoor chic", the Patagonia Down Sweater is hard to beat.
Read review: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
Why You Should Trust Us
Our panel of expert gear testers is headed up by Adam Paashaus. Adam has been an active member of the outdoor community for years. His passion for helping others find the right gear for their adventures started back in 2001 when he started working in the retail side of the industry. Later, Adam worked for a national outdoor school as their lead climbing instructor, where he found a passion for hands-on instruction. Now Adam travels full time in a retired converted school bus (skoolie) with his wife and two daughters (ages 6 and 9), and most recently finished a 5-week end-to-end thru-hike of the incredibly arduous Vermont Long Trail, and yes with the kids in-tow.
The bulk of our testing takes place in the High Sierra of California, the Rockies of Colorado, with some adventures in the Pacific Northwest and the Green Mountains of Vermont thrown in for good measure. After many hours of research, we selected the top models available and took them into the field, where we climbed, hiked, skied, camped, and even slept in the jackets, all the while paying special attention to the fit, performance, and versatility of each one.
Related: How We Tested Down Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
This review focuses on light and mid-weight down jackets that can be worn on its own in the shoulder seasons, or as a mid-layer when it's really cold outside. We didn't test at any heavy options that are designed to keep you warm in the coldest places in the world. Our testers love a down jacket that is packable and affordable. During our testing, we look at six important metrics, used to evaluate each jacket. These include; warmth, weight, water resistance, fit, compressibility, and features. Using these metrics, we compare each jacket. This article provides an overview of how each jacket performed during specific tests. Take a gander!
Related: Buying Advice for Down Jackets
Related: The Best Insulated Jackets of 2020
We understand, most of us have to keep to some sort of budget, and a jacket that holds a higher value is always appreciated. While the highest quality products typically are expensive, there are great down jackets with a lower cost that offer fairly similar performance. Many of these lower-priced options are still warm, lightweight, and compressible, but may use lower quality down, or have fewer features.
Our best buy winner is one that offers quality construction for a good price. In this review, we feature two different award winners for their low price. The REI Co-op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0 is the best-priced option of them all. While it scores on the low end of our performance metrics, it's important to realize that it's being compared to the best of the best. The Montbell Superior Hoody offers better warmth and performance but costs a bit more. However, for the extra cost, the Superior has a full feature set and is ultralight. Another well-priced product is the Rab Microlight. It offers unmatched weather resistance (hence it being named a Top Pick) at a good competitive price. While we don't score value, it's important to consider your wallet when making a purchase like this.
Warmth is the most important criteria when selecting a jacket, because, after all, if not for its warmth, why do we even need one? Since it's so important, we decided to weight each jacket's score for warmth as 30 percent of its total score.
Lightweight down jackets are typically made using sewn-through baffle construction which helps when you are trying to produce a lighter weight and less expensive product. The baffles are the individual compartments that hold down and are needed so that it doesn't all sink to the bottom. Sewn-through baffle construction means that the fabric on the outside of the jacket is sewn to the material on the inside, creating a baffle, which is typically oriented horizontally, although some are square-shaped. This design allows them to be lighter, thinner, and less expensive.
On the downside, sewn-through baffles create thin spots at the seams where there is no down, and trapped heat can escape more easily. There are a few different alternative techniques for generating baffles besides the sewn-through method, but all of the jackets in this review are this type.
Warmth is most affected by the fill power and fill weight. Fill power relates to the down's ability to puff up and insulate a space. High fill power down (800 and up) needs less weight in down to insulate the same amount of space as down with a lower fill power, so the top-performing and often most expensive jackets use higher fill down for warmer and lighter results. Less expensive jackets using a lower fill power sacrifice weight and compressibility, but can still provide a warmth-to-weight ratio that outperforms most synthetically insulated jackets, even the high-end type.
The loft of a jacket isn't everything, and fit and design have loads to do with how well a jacket stacks up in the warmth metric. Jackets with a slim, thermally efficient fit and a longer hemline also score extra points in the warmth category. To test these jackets for warmth, we used them each countless times on adventures during the late fall and early winter: camping, hiking, climbing, and other exploring in the mountains, not to mention around town use. We even got to push their lower limits on some cold ski touring days, when we would've been happy to have a parka on the summit.
We also tested them side-by-side on frigid, windy mornings in the mountains to best tell how they compare against each other. Although they do not come with temperature ratings like sleeping bags, we feel these jackets offer good-to-adequate stand-alone warmth down to freezing temperatures and can help you stay warm in much lower temperatures when used as part of a layering system.
In the past few years, most companies have begun using responsibly sourced down. Since down is an animal product — duck and goose feathers — it's our belief that it's important that down is harvested for use in your jacket in a way that does not torture the animal. There's no getting around it; these birds are killed as food and for their feathers.
In our testing, a few jackets stood out for their warmth. The Feathered Friends Eos is packed with 900+ fill-power down, giving it the best warmth to weight ratio of the bunch. The Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody employs 850-fill down, minimal features, and lightweight shell fabric to create a toasty jacket that packs away super-small and can disappear into your pack. Likewise, the Rab Microlight Alpine provided top of the line warmth, in no small part, because it did an excellent job of sealing off all the openings to keep the heat in and the cold out. The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody provided the most coverage, causing it to feel equally as warm as some competitors with higher fill power down.
The higher, further, and steeper we venture, the more important the weight of what we carry becomes. The utility of an object in the backcountry is based on how much use you get out of it for how much energy is expended to carry it. The warmth-to-weight ratio of a jacket is a key measurement of value, and a down jacket has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any 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 ultralight jacket that doesn't keep you warm or that falls apart after limited use doesn't have a lot of value.
Weight accounts for 20% of an item's total score. From our testing, we noticed that weight seems to be a product of three important factors: down fill-power, type or weight of the fabric, and amount and type of features. Using a higher quality down means that you get the same loft with less filling, so higher fill-power jackets tend to be lighter, and there is little trade-off here except for added expense. Similarly, using a thinner fabric can make a jacket lighter, with the compromise in durability. Lastly, to save weight, some models include fewer features, such as chest pockets, zippers, or drawcords, while others use much lighter and smaller zippers to shave half an ounce here and there. The trade-off for using less or lighter features can again be durability in the case of super small gauge zippers or the lack of ability to cinch up important drafty areas if a jacket goes without the use of drawcords. We found the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 and even the incredible Feathered Friends jackets to be missing a hood adjustment; while this surely saves some weight, you lose the ability to block out cold drafts.
The lightest jacket in this year's review was the Arc'teryx Cerium SL, which weighed a scant 8.4 ounces for a men's size large, over five ounces lighter than this year's Editors' Choice, TNF Summit L3. While most of the competition hovers around 13 ounces, the Cerium SL offers a significantly lighter alternative. Though featherweight, this jacket still manages to include key features like zippered handwarmer pockets and hem and hood cinches. The REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0 is another exceptionally light jacket at 11.9 ounces for a men's large but at the cost of warmth, as its 650 fill duck down insulation isn't as warm, there isn't a whole lot of it in the jacket, and it lacks crucial cold blocking features like hood and waist cinches.
Down does not insulate when wet, and wearing a down jacket in a soggy environment can be an uncomfortable or even dangerous mistake. Furthermore, if your jacket gets saturated, it will take a painfully long time to dry out and re-loft before it is remotely useable again. You really need to get it into a low heat dryer asap. Fortunately, designers have several strategies for negating this vulnerability.
A few companies have down that has been directly treated with a DWR chemical. With names like Drydown and Downtec, companies claim that that special "hydrophobic" down has better water resistance and faster drying times. We had trouble evaluating these statements since we don't have access to the inside of these jackets, and even after soaking them in the shower, we found it difficult to isolate this variable for testing from other factors that add to each jacket's water resistance. So far, we don't think that hydrophobic down is anything miraculous, so hold onto your hardshells. Our scores mainly reflect the DWR treatment of the face fabric, but we added a point to jackets with hydrophobic down.
Our Top Pick and first choice for wet weather, the Rab Microlight Alpine, combines a water-resistant Pertex microlight shell fabric with an impressive DWR coating, Nikwax treated down, and a hood that keeps the rain out of your face. While it's not water proof, this is the down jacket we would want for wet climates. This metric accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score; keep in mind that most folks aren't looking at down products for their water resistance properties, and we stress warmth as a top priority when selecting a puffy.
A durable water repellent (DWR) treatment is a chemical coating that causes water to bead up and roll off the face of the treated material. Think Teflon pan. Out of the box, DWR treated models are very effective at keeping the down dry and lofty even in light rain. Unfortunately, these chemicals lose their effectiveness as the jacket becomes dirty. Everyday use exposes the shell fabric to dirt and oils, causing spots on the jacket to "wet out", especially on the back of the neck and shoulders. Regular cleaning can help prolong the DWR treatment. Take care of your jacket, and it will take care of you!
For this category, we selected jackets that can function as a mid-layer or a terminal layer. They need to be roomy enough to accommodate a fleece layer underneath and form-fitting enough to fit underneath a waterproof shell layer. That limited our selection to lighter models, and we didn't review any full-on down parkas here.
For us, an ideally fitting jacket is one that mimics the shape of the body, so that it moves as we do, but is also large enough to wear a layer or two beneath.
We're also particular about the length of the sleeves, as well as the shape of the jacket through the shoulders and upper back and chest. Simply put, we want our jacket to be ready for any activity, no matter what we are doing — ice climbing, backpacking, hiking, skiing, scrambling — we are likely to be moving our arms about and sometimes swinging them over our head. Some jackets have sleeves that are too short, causing them to ride up above our wrists when our arms are outstretched. Likewise, some of the jackets have a constrictive fit around the shoulders, upper back, and chest that impede our freedom of movement, and affect the overall fit. Other aspects of fit that we paid close attention to were the collars, hoods, and the length of the hemline at our waist.
The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody has our favorite overall fit. Long articulated sleeves with elastic cuffs ensured great coverage without restricting our range of motion. The hemline extends below the waist, allowing it to fit well underneath a climbing harness or a backpack waist belt, while still allowing for access to the pockets. Keep in mind that you want to make sure any accompanying shell is long enough to cover this jacket. Finally, the hood is large enough to accommodate a helmet, and a cinch cord is included to keep the hood in place for noggins of all sizes.
Jackets with a baggie fit like the REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0 lost points because they were less efficient insulators. The Feathered Friends Eos and the Arc'teryx Cerium LT fit well on most of our testers, offering unrestricted movement. Fit accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Except in extremely cold conditions, strenuous activity will cause you to overheat in your down jacket. The jacket will likely spend a lot of time in your pack when you're climbing, mountaineering, ski touring or hiking, and come out during belays, ski transitions, or breaks. A compressible jacket may allow you to use a smaller pack.
Down jackets are significantly more compressible than their synthetic counterparts, and packability is one of their main selling points. More importantly, down is much more resilient than synthetic insulation, which degrades and loses its re-lofting ability over time.
Not surprisingly, the Arc'teryx Cerium SL was the highest scorer when considering compressibility. It is the thinnest and lightest weight of the jackets we tested, and its high fill-power down means that it easily stuffs into its stuff sack, making a tiny little package that can be stuffed small and taken anywhere. A handful of other jackets, including the REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0, also stuff down pretty small in their own pockets. Compressibility accounted for 10% of a product's final score.
Most of the jackets in our review use high quality down (800+ fill-power) that remains lofty compression after compression. What sets them apart in the compressibility metric is how small and easily they pack away. Some models like The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody stuffed down into an internal pocket, while others Like the Arc'teryx Cerium SL included a small stuff sack. The stowaway pocket has its advantages - there's no sack to lose, and it cuts down on extra weight and material. Jackets with a stuff sack are generally easier to pack away than those with smaller stash pockets. The Arc'teryx Cerium LT and the Feathered Friends Eos are both very compressible thanks to their high fill power down, with the Cerium SL packing down smaller than most.
Features are our favorite place to nit-pick. Which pockets have the best placements? How many pockets do we even need? Which hood fits the best? Which jacket has our favorite zipper? We generally prefer a jacket with fewer features that work well than something loaded with extraneous bells and whistles that contribute to weight and not much else.
As down jackets get lighter and lighter, we see thinner fabrics come into play. While most employ a ripstop pattern to prevent holes and tears from spreading, a jacket made from 10D fabric (such as The North Face Summit L3 Hoody) isn't going to withstand abrasion from bushes and sharp rocks very well. We recommend carrying a roll of nylon repair tape with you on extended trips. This way, you'll be able to stop your jacket from leaking precious feathers from a tear or a burn as soon as it happens.
The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody had features that we enjoyed. Our favorites were the hem drawcords that lived inside the hand pockets so they wouldn't dangle below our waist, a soft fleece-lined chin guard on the inside of the collar, and a perfectly fitting hood that can be tightened with a single drawcord, yet is still large enough to fit over a climbing helmet. The elastic cuffs are snug enough to keep drafts at bay, but stretchy so you can pull the sleeves up in a pinch. Keep in mind that too many features can weigh you down; our favorite lightweight models like the Feathered Friends Eos and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer skip hood adjustments and superfluous pockets. Features accounted for 10% of a jacket's overall score.
We hope you have as much fun as we did with whatever model of down jacket you end up choosing. These jackets have a considerable "wow" factor, and we're consistently impressed with the design innovations that come with each new season. As down jackets keep getting lighter and warmer, we'll continue to stay on top of new developments and present our findings here.
— Adam Paashaus, Matt Bento, & Andy Wellman