Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Down Jackets

Wednesday November 9, 2022
down jacket - when the sun gets low, the cold comes out in southern utah in early...
When the sun gets low, the cold comes out in southern Utah in early spring. Pictured here is the Cerium SL.
Credit: Elizabeth Paashaus

Our process begins by field testing the jackets, having the same adventures that you will, whether that be cragging, skiing, backpacking, or going to an outdoor winter festival with the family, all while evaluating each model, and noticing what works and what fails. We often wear two jackets on the same adventure to compare them side by side, and we love to lend out our test products for further input. Our friends' feedback helps confirm ours. In all cases, we strive to produce a comparison review.

The comparison reviews mean that instead of having a standard, the jackets themselves are the standard. All scores and opinions discovered through our testing are expressed to you in comparison to the other competing products in the review. However, to make the best comparisons that we can, we often expand upon our field testing to conduct side-by-side controlled tests, which are described below.

Warmth


We conducted most of this metric's testing in the field by wearing the jackets side-by-side in temperatures down into the low 30s with windchills of near zero. We used them as terminal layers with just a t-shirt underneath to feel drafts that got through. We then gauged our warmth scores by hiking, running, scrambling, and climbing in a variety. From the sandstone of the Flatirons to the granite of Boulder Canyon, the down jackets were tested to see how they faired during early morning walks to the First Flatiron, afternoons heading to the gym, late evenings hikes out from the River Wall in Lyons, and cool belays in Rocky Mountain National Park. We systematically examined how each jacket performed in action and while stationary. While these tests weren't performed in a lab, they were taken seriously.

down jacket - the rab electron pro offers a solid amount of warmth in a well...
The Rab Electron Pro offers a solid amount of warmth in a well designed jacket.
Credit: James Lucas

Weight


To accurately compare weight, we measured each jacket on our independent scale immediately upon taking it out of the package. In instances where stuff sacks were included in the purchase, we included them in the overall weight of a jacket. We also included our testers' perceived weight of the jacket.

down jacket - on a frigid fall day, hiking out to the upper gorge area to do some...
On a frigid fall day, hiking out to the upper gorge area to do some climbs in the sun and out of the wind. The Ghost Whisperer was the perfect active layer for this long hike.

Water Resistance


Down jackets tend to hold moisture and provide far less warmth when wet. Fighting against the weather is the first step in protecting the wearer and the second is how well the jacket holds up while wet. For this we look at the piece's water treatment, and if there are features that protect against weather. The second part is how well the jacket insulates while wet.

To test these jackets for water resistance, we waited until the end of our testing period, so we could get a better idea of which products had a more resilient DWR coating. DWR degrades with time and use. We then tested them head-to-head by spraying them with a misting spray bottle to understand how well the DWR coating performs.

We studied each jacket's features to see how they prevented it from soaking and we examined how well the jacket dries out. We graded based on the performance of the DWR and gave bonuses to those jackets that had special features and hydrophobic down.

down jacket - we initially tested all the jackets dwr coatings by spraying them...
We initially tested all the jackets DWR coatings by spraying them copiously with a spray bottle to simulate light rain.

Fit


To evaluate the fit and comfort of each model, we noted how the down felt on the user's body. We compared the fit and feel fresh out of the package and after a reasonable break-in period. We noted if we sensed any oddness in the material, the patterning, or the features like the zippers, hoods, and pockets and how they felt against the skin and while used. We also checked to find any distinctive tightness while moving and any areas where the jacket felt too loose and bunchy. We also looked for features that might be impacted by different body types.

We had numerous testers of various body types wear each jacket. We also wore them side-by-side, noticing the differences in fit for each. In particular, we paid special attention to the length of sleeves and hemlines, and whether any constrictions were felt in the shoulders, upper back, and chest, especially when moving the arms to the sides and overhead. We tested each jacket with other layers underneath, as well as under a shell jacket.

Compressibility


To test for compressibility, we stuffed each jacket into its provided stuff sack or pocket (or both) and then compared the size of each, measuring them. Jackets that packed down the smallest received the highest scores, while jackets that packed down large received lower scores. The shape of the compressed jacket and how easily it compressed was also considered.

Features


We tested the features of the jackets in the field, identifying what stoof out in each jacket and then using those attributes as best as possible. Jackets with highly functional features scored better than jackets with features that didn't work as well. We tended to rate the usefulness of the features rather than the quantity. Jackets that were missing needed features lost points, while jackets that had minimal, but well-executed features may have scored well.

down jacket - while we love having hem draw cords that are accessible and easy to...
While we love having hem draw cords that are accessible and easy to pull, we prefer designs that don't leave a loop like this one hanging below our waist. In our experience these loops can get caught in branches or even crampon points if they dangle low enough.

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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

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