Best Down Jackets for Men of 2020
|Price||$324.95 at Backcountry|
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|$399.00 at Backcountry||$339.00 at Feathered Friends||$209.96 at Backcountry|
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|$286.73 at REI|
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|Pros||Incredibly light, compact, warm for its size and weight, effective hydrophobic down||Warm, feature laden, compressible||900+ fill down, warm, lightweight, incredibly compressible, competitively priced||Water resistant hydrophobic down, great DWR coating, well thought-out features||Lightweight, stylish, high warmth to weight ratio|
|Cons||No hood cinch, no chest pocket||Heavy, bulky fit||Hood a little tight to fit over a helmet, no hood adjustment||750 fill-power down is good but not as light or lofty as others||Expensive, not super durable|
|Bottom Line||Offers high versatility, comfort, accommodation of movement, and light weight||This belay parka will keep you warm on the coldest days||This no-nonsense performance model has everything you need in a lightweight package||Pertex Microlight face fabric, Nikwax treated down, and a quality DWR coating make this one water resistant hoody||If you are looking for a warm, light layer for a trip where ounces count, this jacket is a great selection|
|Rating Categories||Ghost Whisperer/2||Patagonia Fitz Roy Hooded||Feathered Friends Eos||Rab Microlight Alpine||Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody|
|Water Resistance (15%)|
|Specs||Ghost Whisperer/2||Patagonia Fitz Roy...||Feathered Friends...||Rab Microlight...||Arc'teryx Cerium...|
|Down Fill||800-fill RDS certified, down insulation||800-fill goose down||900+ goose down||700 fill recylced hydrophobic down||850-fill goose down|
|Total Weight||8.5 oz||22.3 oz||13 oz||16.4 oz||8.4 oz|
|Baffle Construction||Sewn-through baffles||Sewn-through baffles||Sewn-through baffles||Sewn-through baffles||Sewn-through|
|Main Fabric||Recycled polyester ripstop, DWR finish||Recycled nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum with a DWR||Pertex Quantum||Pertex Quantum||Arato 7 nylon|
|Compression Method||Zips into pocket||Stuffs into pocket||Stuff sack||Stuff sack||Included stuff sack|
|Pockets||2 zippered hand||2 hand, 2 internal, 1 chest||2 zippered hand||2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest||2 zippered hand|
Best Overall Down Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is our favorite down jacket. Its popularity in the field was based largely on how versatile it is. Weighing in at only 8.8 ounces and still offering an incredible amount of warmth, there is no reason not to throw this into your pack. The fit is spot-on; its athletic fit is accommodating to wide sets of shoulders and makes overhead movement a non-issue. It's tailored enough to not feel bulky during activity but wide enough to easily layer a fleece underneath. Our testers found that the stretchiness, fit, and low weight made it an ideal piece for climbing or other highly mobile activities. We used this as both a stand-alone piece and as part of a layering system. As a stand-alone jacket, our testers were quite comfortable in temps down into the low forties and upper thirties. When temperatures started to drop below freezing, the addition of a lightweight fleece was all our testers needed to stay warm and cozy.
The most glaring deficiency was the lack of a zippered phone pocket. While the lack of pockets contributes to its low weight, our testers would have preferred at least one internal or external chest pocket. This jacket is comfortable, looks good, and, most importantly, performs incredibly well in a wide range of conditions.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Hooded
Best Bang for Your Buck
MontBell Superior Down
The Montbell Superior Hooded Parka is a newcomer to our testing line up, and we were blown away by how many boxes this coat checks, especially considering the price point. Weighing in at only 9.3 ounces for a size large, this down is lightweight. It offers a cinchable hood and hem designed to hold in your body heat. It's filled with 800 fill down, which may not be the highest rated out there, but it is the industry standard for any high quality down jacket. Remarkably, Montbell is using ethically-sourced down and still able to produce a jacket at a great value.
While it has a lot of great performance perks, it's not perfect. The hood has a two-part adjustment, which does a fine job of sealing off the cold, but the method for the 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, 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 a 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 it's 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 is a fantastic jacket for wet conditions. Previously earning an outstanding value award, 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 additional 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 Around 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 one of the best looking options 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 excellent wind resistance, helping us stay warmer on bitterly 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 and Buck Yedor. 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.
Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, Buck's appreciation for quality insulation started young. After graduating from college, he took a job working for Yosemite Search and Rescue, where he saw first that having the right outerwear can be the difference between a pleasant day out in the mountains or needing a rescue. In his free time, you can find him bundled up underneath freezing boulders or hanging off the side of a big wall.
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. Our testers love a down jacket that is packable and affordable. During our testing, we look at six essential metrics used to evaluate each contender; 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
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 outstading down jackets with a lower cost that offer relatively 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 value 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 essential 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 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 a down jacket? 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 easily escape. 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 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 pushed 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 --, we believe 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 Patagonia Fitz Roy was, by and large, the warmest down we tested but on the flip side of the coin also the heaviest. 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 Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer 2 offered an incredible weight to warmth ratio.
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 a 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. While most of the competition hovers around 13 ounces, the Cerium SL offers a significantly lighter alternative. Though featherweight, this jacket still includes critical 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 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 choice and first pick 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. A close second was the Outdoor Research Helium Down. Its outer shell is composed of two types of fabric with the one used on the hood and shoulder panels being fully waterproof. This keeps water beading off of you while the rest of the jacket remains breathable, 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.
Jackets with a baggie fit like the REI Co-Op 650 Down Hoodie 2.0 lost points because they were less efficient insulators. The Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer 2 was the highest-scoring puffy in this metric. It had enough room to comfortably layer under, was unrestrictive to movement but was in no way baggy. The Arc'teryx Cerium LT was another coat with a great fit that offers 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 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 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 researching and choosing the next down jacket you end up purchasing. 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.
— Buck Yedor & Adam Paashaus