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The Best Down Jackets for Men of 2018

The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody was one of our favorite down jackets because it is comfortable and warm  and looks good too.
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Wednesday April 18, 2018
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If you're searching for a mid or lightweight down jacket, you've come to the right place! We looked at over 80 options before purchasing the top 10 for our side-by-side comparative testing process. We sent our team of expert testers out into the Colorado Rockies in all kinds of weather and conditions to test them and report back on their findings so that we can make some great recommendations for you, no matter your needs or budget. After camping, hiking, climbing, and skiing in these different jackets, we picked out key performance features, like which ones kept us the warmest and which could fend off a light rain without soaking through. We have suggestions for those looking for a great product that doesn't cost a fortune, and we highlight the best options for those looking for weight savings or weather protection. Keep reading below to see which down jackets took flight, and which should have stayed home.


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Updated April 2017
Getting ready for summer backpacking trips and need a warm layer for cold nights under the stars? We've revamped our review to bring you the top 10 jackets on the market today. We have a new Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody, which took over the top spot from the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer (which, don't get us wrong, we still loved). We also have two budget recommendations below, and a Top Pick for Wet Weather, because yes, you can wear some down jackets in a drizzle and still stay warm and dry.

Best Overall Model


Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody


Editors' Choice Award

$265.30
(30% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 11.8 ounces (size L) | Fill: 850-fill European white goose down, responsibly sourced, plus Coreloft synthetic
The warmest in our review
850 fill provides high loft with low weight
Spacious fit allows great freedom of movement
Expensive
Does not use hydrophobically treated down for better water resistance

Using the highest loft 850-fill goose down to ensure both optimal warmth and lighter weight, the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody was the highest scorer in our review. Warmth is the most important consideration when purchasing a down jacket, and the Cerium LT Hoody was the warmest that we tested. We were also happy to find that it was among the lightest in our review, a side-effect of the high quality, high-loft down used throughout. It was not only light and warm but was also far less constricting in the fit than many of the other jackets we tested, allowing complete range of movement, especially in the shoulders, while still hugging the body close enough that it didn't feel baggy or loose.

The main area that the Cerium didn't impress us in was its water resistance. The down isn't treated with any hydrophobic application, and the DWR coating on the shell quickly wore off in some places. While there are Coreloft Synthetic insulation patches on the shoulders, if you get stuck in a downpour in this model it's not going to work that well. Look to our Top Pick for Wet Weather below if you're looking for something to perform well in a rainy climate. The 850-fill down also comes with a hefty price tag, and this was the most expensive model that we tested ($380). But, if you are looking for the best combination of insulation, materials, and design for a lightweight down jacket, the Cerium is where it's at.

Read Review: Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody

Best Bang for the Buck


Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody


Best Buy Award

$224.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 16.7 ounces (size L) | Fill: 650-fill responsibly sourced goose down
Durable
Very compressible
Stylish, with an ideal set of features
Responsibly sourced down
Not super warm
Not terribly water resistant
Heavy considering how thin it is

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 Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody. 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

Best Down Jacket for Wet Climates


Rab Microlight Alpine


Top Pick Award

$205.99
(26% off)
at MooseJaw
See It

Weight: 15.1 ounces (size L) | Fill: 750-fill Nikwax hydrophobic goose down, certified responsibly sourced
Very warm
Combination of Pertex shell with DWR coating and Nikwax treated down leads to optimal water resistance
Deep, wire-brimmed hood keeps water and wind out of the face
Not the lightest

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


Top Pick Award

$244.73
(30% off)
at REI
See It

Weight: 7.7 ounces (size M) | Down Fill: Q.Shield 800-fill moisture-resistant down, certified to Responsible Down Standard
Lightest in review
Compact
Warm for its size and weight
Effective hydrophobic down
No cinch hood
Waist cinch leaves cord hanging below the waist

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

Best Value


REI Co-op Magma 850


Best Buy Award

$93.83
(50% off)
at REI
See It

Weight: 9.9 ounces (size S) | Fill: 850-fill goose down certified to Responsible Down Standard
Light
High-quality 850-fill down
Convenient pockets
Fit has a bulge in the belly
No hood available

The Magma 850 is another example of REI offering a good quality product at a reasonable price. It retails for $189 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.

It works so well in a layering system because there is no hood, but then, there is no hood. This limits the versatility of the Magma a bit. While it's one of the lightest options that we tested, part of that weight savings comes from the lack of a hood as well. 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


Weight: 14.6 ounces (size M) | Fill: 800-fill Advanced Global Traceable Down
Stylish
Traceable down
Simple and functional design
No hydrophobic treatment
Heavier
Not super compressible

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


We tested a narrow range of down jackets in this review. We focused on the light to mid-weight category and did not include super fat belay or expedition style parkas. These down jackets are lightweight, fairly compact, reasonably affordable, and offer stand-alone insulation down to around 32F, but can be used as part of a layering system to keep you warm in much colder temperatures. The list of potential uses for a highly versatile layer like these is nearly endless. They are perfect for wearing in the evenings around town or while camping during the shoulder seasons, as an everyday around-town jacket during the winter, or as a warm layer or overcoat for colder seasons in the mountains, regardless of activity.

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.

The Ghost Whisperer moves as you move and was an ideal choice for chilly evening hikes in the fall  as we took here with Chip the dog to the backside of Smith Rock State Park  OR.
The Ghost Whisperer moves as you move and was an ideal choice for chilly evening hikes in the fall, as we took here with Chip the dog to the backside of Smith Rock State Park, OR.

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. For users who have a particular purpose or use in mind, or who place greater importance on a specific metric, we recommend diving deep into the individual reviews, focusing on what is most important to you, rather than looking only at overall scores.

The North Face Morph Hoodie is a warm down jacket that scored roughly average in our comparative review. Here contemplating testing its water resistance in a cave behind the Cascade Falls.
The North Face Morph Hoodie is a warm down jacket that scored roughly average in our comparative review. Here contemplating testing its water resistance in a cave behind the Cascade Falls.

Value


One of the metrics that we don't score for but do consider in our reviews is the value of a product. While we are always trying to find the best products possible, sometimes those can be the most expensive too, which isn't always going to work for everyone. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody, uses top-quality down and materials to deliver an excellent product, but that comes with a bit of a shocking price tag ($380). If you need an option that will get the job done without setting you back a ton of money, take a look at our Price vs. Performance chart below. We've graphed each model's score (X-axis) according to its price (Y-axis). Those that lie on the bottom of the graph but towards the right have excellent value. In this case that includes both of our Best Buy options, the Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody ($225) and the REI Magma 850 ($190), along with the Marmot Talus ($200).


Warmth


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.


The primary measurement of warmth in a down jacket is down-fill power. Fill power numbers for the jackets we tested range from 600 (lowest quality) up to 850 (highest quality). The fill power represents the ability of the down to loft up and create insulating dead space. Since trapped air within a jacket's baffles is what insulates you from the cold outside, the more loft a jacket has, the warmer it will be. However, fill power does not translate directly to warmth.

To fill a particular space, one company could use a little bit of very high fill down to accomplish the same thing as another company that uses a lot of lower fill power down. Since most of the jackets in this review have a similar ideal temperature range, using higher fill-power down tends to mean that the jacket will be lighter and also more expensive. Conversely, jackets that use low fill power down will usually be heavier and less costly to provide the same heat-trapping loft.

With its very high quality 850-fill power down  the Cerium LT Hoody had unrivaled amounts of loft and was also the warmest jacket in this review. It uses sewn-through baffles to keep the jacket light.
With its very high quality 850-fill power down, the Cerium LT Hoody had unrivaled amounts of loft and was also the warmest jacket in this review. It uses sewn-through baffles to keep the jacket light.

Responsibly Sourced Down
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. 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.

While it wasn't one of the warmest jackets we tested  for how insanely thin and light it is  the Ghost Whisperer is surprisingly warm! We loved it as an active under layer or as a stand alone when it wasn't too cold out.
While it wasn't one of the warmest jackets we tested, for how insanely thin and light it is, the Ghost Whisperer is surprisingly warm! We loved it as an active under layer or as a stand alone when it wasn't too cold out.

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, which in general offers better water and wind resistance, 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.

Though thickness, loft, and method of construction have a lot to do with warmth, it's not only about fill quality and amounts. The design and features of a jacket, such as a hood and drawcords, 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 you keep the cold out is as important as how well you keep the heat inside.

We didn't find the Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded jacket to be one of the very warmest in our side-by-side testing. However  when using it as a stand alone warmth layer on this fall hike in the alpine  it was plenty warm enough to keep us comfortable.
We didn't find the Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded jacket to be one of the very warmest in our side-by-side testing. However, when using it as a stand alone warmth layer on this fall hike in the alpine, it was plenty warm enough to keep us comfortable.

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 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 Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody uses super high 850-fill down to create a thick, cozy, and very lightweight jacket that was warmer than all the others. 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. Although not as good as those two jackets, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody was also among the most comfortably warm jackets in this review.

Weight


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 ultra-light 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 were size Large, while others were size Medium. Despite their differences in stated size, they all fit our head tester pretty much ideally, so we compared weights straight across the board, regardless of jacket size.

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. Despite its low weight this jacket had a hood, zippered pockets, and a hem drawcord, and was surprisingly warm given how light it was. While the REI Co-op Magma 850 was second lightest at a mere 9.9 oz., this was for a size small and didn't have an included hood, so we couldn't rate it as high for weight. At only 11.8 oz. for a size large, and boasting the warmest fit of any jacket we tested, the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody provided perhaps the best warmth-to-weight ratio. As a relatively important metric for the performance of a lightweight down jacket, weight accounted for 20% of a product's final score.

Water Resistance


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 an excellent idea for a rainy 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 on the inside from sweating. The only downside to DWR coatings is that they vary widely in quality and durability. Once a DWR coating has worn off, you must reapply. Unfortunately, this can happen in as little as a few uses.

A sudden rainstorm during an October climbing trip to Smith Rock proved to be a great chance to test the Down Sweater Hoody against the elements. The down stayed dry and we stayed plenty warm while waiting out the rain.
A sudden rainstorm during an October climbing trip to Smith Rock proved to be a great chance to test the Down Sweater Hoody against the elements. The down stayed dry and we stayed plenty warm while waiting out the rain.

Water resistance can also come by using treated down that has a DWR coating. Because we do not have access to the down inside a jacket, we found it difficult to test how useful these DWR applications are at creating hydrophobic down. In years past we only reviewed a couple down jackets with hydrophobic down used inside, while this year there were four that made our selection of the ten best, suggesting that this is a technology that companies think improve the performance of down that comes in contact with water. Never-the-less, despite soaking these jackets in the shower, we found it difficult to accurately compare the performance of the treated down versus regular down. 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.

Testing the water proofness of the Columbia Outdry Ex Gold in a very wet early season snow storm. It certainly keeps the water out and the down inside dry  as claimed.
Testing the water proofness of the Columbia Outdry Ex Gold in a very wet early season snow storm. It certainly keeps the water out and the down inside dry, as claimed.

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. While we can think of a few improvements we would make, we think this jacket is an intriguing start to the niche of waterproof down jackets. 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.

The Rab Microlight Alpine was our Top Pick for Wet Weather because it had a number of features designed to keep your down dry. Here you can see the combination of the Pertex Quantum Microlight fabric and the DWR coating working to prevent water from absorbing into the fabric and the down underneath.
The Rab Microlight Alpine was our Top Pick for Wet Weather because it had a number of features designed to keep your down dry. Here you can see the combination of the Pertex Quantum Microlight fabric and the DWR coating working to prevent water from absorbing into the fabric and the down underneath.

Fit


Unlike heavy overcoat-style down parkas, these mid- and lightweight down jackets are designed to be worn while you recreate. Whether you wear them over the top of your other clothes, or as a warmth layer underneath a shell jacket, the fit needs to be conducive to movement. For this reason, we prefer jackets that are sleeker fitting and not excessively baggy, although your specific body type will dictate what constitutes a good fit.


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 or trying to look down at our feet when 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, 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.

A comparison look at the fit and styles of eight of the lightweight down jackets of 2017 (the other two were tested at a different time and place). From L to R: Marmot Tullus Hoody  The North Face Morph Hoodie  Columbia Outdry Ex Gold  Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded  Rab Microlight Alpine (green)  Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded  Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody  Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody.
A comparison look at the fit and styles of eight of the lightweight down jackets of 2017 (the other two were tested at a different time and place). From L to R: Marmot Tullus Hoody, The North Face Morph Hoodie, Columbia Outdry Ex Gold, Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded, Rab Microlight Alpine (green), Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded, Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody.

Once again, our Best Overall Down Jacket, the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody, had one of the best fits. In particular, we loved how the sleeves were plenty long and the cut of the shoulders spacious enough for us to perform any conceivable movement without impingement. While it was big enough to layer beneath, the cut was also sleek enough not to impede our motion. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded also endeared itself to us based on its fit.

For us, it fits very close to the body with virtually no dead space. We felt this fit perfectly complemented its lightweight design, as we most often wore it as a stand-alone jacket in cool weather, or as a close to the body warmth layer in frigid weather. The Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody was among a small handful of other jackets that also fit nicely, offering versatility and a wide range of movement. Fit accounted for 15% of a product's final score.

The Down Sweater Hoody fits nearly perfectly. It is not too baggy  but also has enough room underneath to layer if need be. You can see how high the collar comes up to cover half the face  and also how the sleeves are perhaps just an inch or so short.
The Down Sweater Hoody fits nearly perfectly. It is not too baggy, but also has enough room underneath to layer if need be. You can see how high the collar comes up to cover half the face, and also how the sleeves are perhaps just an inch or so short.

Compressibility


Regardless of whether you are hiking, alpine climbing, or skiing, when you are working hard you will likely get too hot to wear a down jacket. Except when the weather is frigid, or we are doing a lot of hanging out, we typically only wear our down jacket during breaks in the activity, and then take it off and stuff it in the top of the pack again before we get moving. Since a down jacket typically spends so much time in the pack, it is important to consider how easy it is to compress and how small it is once fully packed up.


It is worth noting that down is superior to synthetic insulation when considering compressibility. Every time you stuff a synthetic jacket away, the insulation breaks down and loses its heat retention capacity. Down can handle many more compressions and expansions than synthetic insulation, and is also smaller when compressed and is lighter weight than synthetic materials.

Eight of the ten jackets in this year's review  compressed as small as possible for comparison (the other two were tested at a different location and time). Most compressible on the right  least on the left. L to R (top): Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded  Marmot Tullus Hoody  The North Face Morph Hoodie  Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody  Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded (Black)  Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody. On the bottom: Columbia Outdry Ex Gold (grey)  Rab Microlight Alpine.
Eight of the ten jackets in this year's review, compressed as small as possible for comparison (the other two were tested at a different location and time). Most compressible on the right, least on the left. L to R (top): Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded, Marmot Tullus Hoody, The North Face Morph Hoodie, Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded (Black), Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody. On the bottom: Columbia Outdry Ex Gold (grey), Rab Microlight Alpine.

The down used in the construction of the jackets reviewed is high quality and resisted degradation throughout testing. Consequently, the stratifying characteristic for this metric tended to be how small they were when compressed. The jackets with few features, lightweight fabric, and high fill-power down compressed the most, while the jackets with heavy and bulky face fabrics or low fill-power down tended to compress the least. Some jackets easily fit into one of their own pockets and could be zipped up with an attached clip-in loop. Others included a dedicated lightweight stuff sack that lives in the breast pocket. Unfortunately, some of the jackets in this review did not have a specialized method of compression, and so to get them as small as possible, we rolled them up inside their hood.

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is a super light down jacket that is great for pleasant days like this one below the Three Sisters volcanoes in Oregon  or as a base warmth layer on much colder days.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is a super light down jacket that is great for pleasant days like this one below the Three Sisters volcanoes in Oregon, or as a base warmth layer on much colder days.

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. Despite offering the most warmth of any jacket we tested, the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody also stuffs down extremely small, a testament to the 850 fill-power down used inside. The only downside was that it uses a dedicated stuff sack rather than stuffing into its pocket, which adds a tiny bit of weight and bulk, not to mention the possibility of losing the stuff sack. 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


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 one attempted to do away with the drawcord at the waist, and we did not like this design. There are a few things that you can do without, but some features are essential.


When testing for features, we first set out to identify each of the features present on a jacket, and then tested them intensively while wearing the jacket out in the field. The most important thing to consider was whether the features present worked well.

Shown here on the Morph Hoodie is the hem pull cord that lives inside the front handwarmer pockets  and has a recessed release buckle that lives inside the fabric  and releases by being pinched  as our other hand is doing. This was the single most optimal combination of hem draw cord location and buckles on a jacket that we tested.
Shown here on the Morph Hoodie is the hem pull cord that lives inside the front handwarmer pockets, and has a recessed release buckle that lives inside the fabric, and releases by being pinched, as our other hand is doing. This was the single most optimal combination of hem draw cord location and buckles on a jacket that we tested.

We would way rather have a simple model with bomber performance, than a jacket full of bells and whistles that don't work. If a jacket's particular features are of interest to you, be sure to read the individual reviews where we give a full breakdown of what features each jacket has, and how well they worked.

These dual draw cords inside the collar of the Rab Microlight Alpine offer fine tuning ability for the fit of the hood  and also do a great job of sealing off the face enclosure if it is really cold. They are relatively easy to use with one hand. You can also see the wire-brim of the hood.
These dual draw cords inside the collar of the Rab Microlight Alpine offer fine tuning ability for the fit of the hood, and also do a great job of sealing off the face enclosure if it is really cold. They are relatively easy to use with one hand. You can also see the wire-brim of the hood.

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.

As a highly technical layer that features only the very highest quality materials to make it as light as possible  the Ghost Whisperer does not come cheap. Sometimes quality is worth its price  however  and this is certainly one of those times.
As a highly technical layer that features only the very highest quality materials to make it as light as possible, the Ghost Whisperer does not come cheap. Sometimes quality is worth its price, however, and this is certainly one of those times.

Conclusion


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. Next, determine what 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!


Andy Wellman