Want to stay warm and travel light this winter? We sorted through over 80 models, purchasing the top 12 light to mid-weight down puffys to put to the test while rambling and scrambling in the High Sierra. Here we'll detail their findings, identifying those most suited to the weather conditions you'll be facing, be it spindrift in the alpine, cold drizzle on the trail, or a white-out storm days at your local ski resort. For those on a budget, we've highlighted which models are the best combos of performance and value, and our metrics are weighted to reflect what we feel are the most important features in a puffy. Our down jacket review is here to steer you towards your next favorite piece of gear; read on to become an expert shopper and stay warm out there!
The Best Down Jackets for Men of 2018
Ready for winter? Now you will be with our up-to-date review of the latest and the greatest of lightweight down jackets. The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody takes our Editors' Choice Award from the Arc'teryx Cerium. While the Cerium still rocks, the Summit L3 provides more warmth and coverage while only weighing marginally more than the Cerium. For those on the hunt for the best warmth-to-weight ratio, take a look at the 950+ fill (!) Feathered Friends Eos, an awesome jacket with the quality we've come to expect from one of the top sleeping bag manufacturers.
Best Overall Model
The North Face Summit L3 Hoody
The North Face hits one out of the park with the Summit L3 Down Hoody, taking home our Editors' Choice Award. This jacket weighs a delightfully light 11.9 oz while providing a long hem (keeping our butts warm) and a generously puffy hood. The 10 denier shell fabric feels incredibly thin, but it holds up surprisingly well against rough granite and brush, and it's coated with a DWR treatment to buy you some time to find shelter if it starts raining. If you find yourself getting too hot, the Summit L3 stuffs into one of its pockets, complete with a clip in loop.
This jacket is stuffed full of 800 fill power responsibly sourced down. Good stuff, but not as nice as the 950+ fill down in the Feathered Friends Eos or the 850 fill in the Arc'teryx Cerium, but in our real world testing, our testers agree on the Summit L3 as their favorite balance of fit, warmth, and packability.
Read review: The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
With substantial 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 in this review. Even better, it only costs $225, far less than our Editors' Choice award winner, The North Face L3. It was one of the most compressible options that we tested, packing down to the size of a Nalgene in its own pocket.
It wasn't the warmest hoody in this review, and the 650-fill down means it's heavier than most without being warmer. While we'd love to see 800-fill in the Transcendent, that would probably up the price beyond our Best Buy category, so it does hit the sweet spot of performance vs. price. If you want 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. Want to save another $25 and don't need the hood? Check out the Transcendent Sweater.
Read review: Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
Top Pick Best Down Jacket for Wet Climates
Rab Microlight Alpine
We all know that wet weather is the Achilles heel of down insulation, but many companies have made a concerted push in the past few years to develop down with hydrophobic properties, thereby preventing it from losing its heat-trapping loft when wet. The Rab Microlight Alpine down jacket combines super tightly woven Pertex microlight fabric that is naturally water resistant with a superior external DWR coating to keep water from soaking in from the outside. It also uses 750-fill Nikwax hydrophobic down to prevent loss of loft due to water that has already managed to seep inside this jacket, providing the best overall defense against water available in a down jacket today. As much as we love the added versatility that comes with such attention placed on water resistance, we also appreciate the fact that this jacket is incredibly warm, which is the primary reason to shop for down in the first place.
Rab used slightly less lofty 750-fill down in the Microlight, but it was still one of the warmest ones in our test group because they added 3 ounces more down compared to the Arc'teryx Cerium. That extra down does make it slightly heavier than the Cerium though. It also doesn't pack down as small as the Cerium or OR Transcendent Hoody. 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, then this layer might save your hide once or twice.
Read review: Rab Microlight Alpine
Top Pick for Lightweight Warmth
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded
We've tested a lot of down jackets over the years, and none is more distinctive than the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded. Simply put, it offers the warmth and comfort of a thick puffy jacket in a sleek, lightweight package reminiscent of an under-layer. If wearing the other down jackets in this review are akin to driving a beat-up pickup truck, then wearing the Ghost Whisperer makes one feel like they are taking the inside line in a sports car. It was for this reason that we chose to recognize the Ghost Whisperer as our Top Pick for Lightweight Warmth. Our size medium weighed in at a measly 7.7 ounces, an incredible statistic considering we found it to be as warm as some jackets more than double its weight. We enjoyed wearing it pretty much all the time, using it as an outer-layer for cool fall evenings while camping, and also as a mid-layer while backcountry skiing.
To save on weight, the Ghost Whisperer skimps on features a little. There are no internal stash pockets, and the main zipper is small and prone to catching on the fabric. And while it is warm for the weight, it's not the warmest puffy in our test group. Think of it more as a layering option for days when an R1 type layer is not enough, but you'll be moving around and don't want something too warm either. We also appreciated the excellent DWR coating and the fact that Mountain Hardwear hasn't messed with the design of this hoody much in the last couple of years, 'cause if it ain't broke…! There's also a hoodless Ghost Whisperer Jacket to consider should you be in the market for a strickly layering piece.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded
REI Co-op Magma 850
The Magma 850 is another example of REI offering a good quality product at a reasonable price. It retails for $219 but seems to be on sale quite a bit. Despite its low cost, it's one of only two jackets in our test group to use high-quality 850-fill down. That gave it a lot of warmth for the weight, but it was on the thin site overall and not the warmest option. We preferred instead to use it as part of a layering system on cold days. We're delighted to see the addition of a hood and the hoodless version is still available for folks who don't like laying hoods on top of hoods.
The fit is a little weird and on the boxy side. It's cut large overall (we had to size down in this one), and the belly bulges out a bit. Because not all of us have the same body type, and not all bodies fit into the slim, form-fitting models, some might appreciate the relaxed fit of the Magma. If you are looking for a reasonably priced warmth layer, but don't need the most technically advanced model for a climb up the Matterhorn in winter, we think this is a good option to check out.
Read review: REI Co-op Magma 850
Best for Around Town
Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
It's hard to pass by our award designations without giving a nod to the Patagonia Down Sweater. This classic model hasn't changed much over the years and is still the best looking option on the market. We didn't score for style, 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 blustery 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 that it has, including an internal chest pocket and a stash pocket, and a high collar that comes up over your nose when fully zipped. As you've read above, other options 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
Analysis and Test Results
In this review, we tested a specific range of Down jackets- lightweight models that can be used as a midlayer. No super heavy down parkas for high peaks or expeditions in the Arctic circle here. These jackets tend to be extremely lightweight, packable, affordable, and geared towards fair weather backcountry adventurers. The list of applications for these puffies is endless. They're great for backpacking, camping, ski-touring, and staying warm around town when the forecast calls for dry cold air or snow.
All of these models feature down insulation, long known to provide the best warmth-to-weight ratio, with the caveat that they lose their warmth-trapping loft when they get wet. While most of these jackets now use some form of hydrophobically treated down coupled with external DWR applications to add water resistance, people who are concerned about their jacket getting wet should also check out our Best Men's Synthetic Insulated Jackets Review. When they were available, we chose to test the hooded versions of all these jackets, because a hood adds both warmth and versatility. Not everyone likes a hood though, or if you are specifically looking for something to layer with, too many hoods in your layering system can get in the way, so we also point out which jackets also come in hoodless versions.
To be able to give you the best possible advice on buying a down jacket, we chose to rate each contender on a scale of 1-10 for six different metrics: warmth, weight, water resistance, fit, compressibility, and features. We weighted each of these six parameters based upon how important we felt it was to the overall performance of a down jacket, i.e., warmth accounts for 30% of a product's final score. Adding together the scores for each metric gave us a final, overall rating, which you can peruse in the table above. Note that in our ratings we were comparing the products to each other, and not the entire outdoor apparel market as a whole. So when we say an option is highly water resistant, that is compared to other down jackets, and not to a rain jacket.
Most of our testing and scoring took place on adventures in the field, but in some cases, we also devised specialized tests to help us better understand how each jacket scored for a given metric. Below, we break down the ins and outs of each of the six scoring metrics, including the crucial factors, how we tested for it, what percentage it counts in the final score, and what were the best jackets for that particular metric. In all cases, ratings were given compared to the competition. For that reason, just because a product scored poorly does not mean it is not worth owning or using, as all of these jackets are among the best available on the market today. We've highlight jackets that perform exceptionally well in particular metric to help you find the model that bests suits your needs and concerns, so you'll if you're a lightweight fastpacker in the Pacific Northwest or a fair weather alpinist in California, you'll be able to select the ideal down for you.
While not reflected in our overall scoring, value is still an important consideration for our testers. High quality often requires a high price tag. Our Editors' Choice Award winner (The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody) costs a whopping $350, with other top models like the Feathered Friends Eos and the Arc'teryx Cerium squeezing over $300 from your bank account. Granted, these jackets use the best down, often responsibly sourced, and are comprised of the lightest materials available. They're also backed by some of the best warranties in the industry. However, we all love a bargain, and we take care to point out which models are a steal, despite their flaws, so you'll know what to grab if you see it on sale.
Warmth is the most important criteria when selecting a jacket, because, after all, if not for its warmth, why do we need one? Since it's so important, we decided to weight each model's score for warmth as 30 percent of its total score.
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) need less 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 warmth with a warmth-to-weight ratio better than most synthetically insulated jackets.
In the past few years, most companies have begun using responsibly sourced down. Since down is an animal product — duck and goose feathers — it is important that it is harvested for use in your jacket in a way that does not unduly torture the animal. There's no getting around it; these birds are a killed as food and for their feathers. Down from the eider duck can be harvested from their abandoned nests, but these feathers can't compete with the lofting powers of goose down. Responsibly sourced down (described using different terms by different companies) means that the down comes as a by-product of the food industry and that the animals were not live-plucked or force-fed, two cruel and unnecessary forms of animal torture. We have described in each review, as well as in the specs table, whether a jacket contains responsibly sourced down, and most do. While we did not specifically grade or punish for this attribute, we encourage you to hold companies that you buy your outdoor equipment from accountable and consider this aspect of jacket construction before making a purchase.
Lightweight down jackets are typically made using sewn-through baffle construction that helps produce a lighter weight and less expensive contender. 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 sewn to the material on the inside, creating a baffle, which is typically oriented horizontally, although some are square shaped. This design makes them lighter, thinner, and less expensive.
On the downside, sewn-through baffles create thin places near the seams where there is no down, and trapped heat can escape. There are a few different alternative techniques for generating baffles besides the sewn-through method, but the only other one used by jackets in our review is the welded or bonded baffle construction. These two names describe a similar technique where the outer and inner fabrics of a model are "bonded" together using chemicals or glue free from any stitching. The Columbia Outdry Ex Gold and the Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded are the two jackets that use this method, offer better water and wind resistance in general, as no holes or threads are compromising the outer layer of the jacket. However, we also noticed that this style has more massive gaps between baffles where there is no insulation, and so doesn't automatically lead to a warmer design.
Loft isn't everything, and fit and design have loads to do with how well a jacket stacks up in the warmth metric. Models with a slim, thermally efficient fit and a longer hemline also picked up 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 exploring in the mountains, not to mention around town use. We also tested them side-by-side on a frigid, windy morning 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 and can help you stay warm in much lower temperatures used as part of a layering system.
However, in our testing, a few jackets stood out for their warmth. The Feathered Friends Eos is packed full of 900+ fill down, giving it the best warmth to weight ratio of the bunch. The Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody employs 850-fill down and lightweight shell fabric to create a toasty jacket that packs away small. 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 high fill power down.
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 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.
To test weight, we weighed jackets on our scale as soon as they arrived. In the cases where a contender 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. To find the best fit for our head tester, some of the jackets we ordered wear size large, while others are size small or medium, which are reflective in the weights in the CSV.
From our testing, we noticed that weight seems to be a product of three factors: down fill-power, type of fabric, and amount and type of features. Using a higher fill-power down means that you get the same loft with less filling, so higher fill jackets tend to be lighter, and there is a little trade-off here except for added expense. Similarly, using a thinner fabric can make a jacket lighter, with the compromise, in this case, being durability. Lastly, to save weight, some models have far fewer features, such as pockets, zippers, or draw cords, 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 fine-tune the fit if a jacket eschews the use of drawcords.
The lightest jacket in this year's review was once again the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded, which came in at 7.7 ounces for a men's size medium, about four ounces lighter than its closest competition. While most of the competition hovers around 11 or 12 ounces, the Ghost Whisperer offers a significantly lighter alternative. Though featherweight, this jacket still manages to include key features, including zippered handwarmer pockets and a hem cinch.
Down does not insulate when wet and wearing a down jacket in a wet environment can be an uncomfortable or even dangerous mistake. Furthermore, if your jacket gets soaked, it will take a long time to dry and re-loft before it is useful again. Fortunately, designers have several strategies for negating this vulnerability.
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. 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 oils from your body and from cooking, 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!
A few companies are 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 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 jackets water resistance. Our scores mainly reflect the DWR treatment of the face fabric, but we added a point to jackets with hydrophobic down.
The most water resistant down jacket was, without doubt, the Columbia Outdry Ex Gold, specifically designed to be waterproof on the outside. This model was like combining down insulation on the inside with a rain slicker on the outside, and while it came with a few drawbacks, water resistance certainly was not one of them. Keep in mind that you can achieve a similar effect by wear a lightweight rain jacket or hardshell over your down puffy. Our Top Pick for Wet Weather is the Rab Microlight Alpine, which combines 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 wasn't wholly water proof, this is the down jacket we would want to take to wet climates, with the caveat that we would still do all we could to keep it as dry as possible. And with its combination of Q.Shield water resistant down and a durable and high-quality outer DWR coating, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded also received high scores for water resistance. This metric accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score.
For this category, we selected jackets that can function as midlayer 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.
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 try to avoid jackets that are overly baggy in the torso, as we find them to be annoying when we are wearing a pack, walking, skiing, or climbing. There's also the fact that they have more dead space that needs to be warmed up using your body heat.
We are also very 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, and no matter what we are doing — ice climbing, skiing, hiking, walking around town, 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, we found some the jackets to have constrictive fits around the shoulders, upper back, and chest that impede our freedom of movement, and affect the overall fit. Other areas that we paid attention to the fit were the collar, the hood, and the length of the hemline at our waist.
Our favorite down jacket, The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody has the best fit. Long articulated sleeves with elastic cuffs ensured great coverage without restricting our range of motion. The hemline extends well below the waist, allowing it to fit well underneath a climbing harness or a backpack waist belt. Finally, the hood is large enough to accommodate a helmet, and a cinch cord is included to keep the hood in place on noggins of all sizes.
Jackets with a baggy fit like the REI Co-op Magma 850 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 frigid 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, ski touring or hiking, and come out during belays, ski transitions or breaks. A compressible jacket means more space in your pack for toys and treats.
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.
All of the jackets in our review use high quality down that remains lofty (if taken care of) compression after compression. What sets them apart in the compressibility metric is how small and easily the pack away. Some models like The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody stuffed down into an internal pocket, while others 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 packing down smaller than most.
Not surprisingly, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded 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 pocket in a tiny little package that can be clipped and taken anywhere. A handful of other jackets, including the REI Co-op Magma 850, also stuff down pretty small in their own pockets. Compressibility accounted for 10% of a product's final score.
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 down with bells and whistles. We tested jackets that sealed in the warmth with an elastic waistband just as well as models with a hem cinch.
The top scorers were two jackets whose features worked exceptionally well. The Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody has dual internal stash pockets, three drawcords for adjusting the hood precisely, and fleece-lined hand pockets, all of which endeared it to our hearts. The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, on the other hand, had fewer features that worked just as well. 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. Although it was a low overall scorer, we thought the dual interior stash pockets and the hem drawcord buckles recessed into the fabric were a nice touch for the Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded jacket. Features accounted for 10% of a jacket's overall score.
There are so many insulated jackets available on the market today that choosing the right one can be quite a challenge. The first step is being sure that you would prefer down instead of synthetic insulation. If you prefer synthetic insulation, we'd recommend popping on over to our insulated jacket review. Next, determine which characteristics matter the most to you, and then use this review to help narrow down your search. Our expert reviewers have spent countless days in the mountains wearing and testing these jackets so that they can give you the very best advice. We hope that you find it helpful, and no matter where you live or what you do, you find a jacket to keep you warm this winter!
— Matt Bento & Andy Wellman