Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Down Jackets

Wednesday May 18, 2022
down jacket - the sun gets low, the cold comes out in southern utah in early spring.
The sun gets low, the cold comes out in southern Utah in early spring.
Credit: Elizabeth Paashaus

Our testing process begins by wearing all of the jackets in the field, having the same adventures that you will be having, whether that be cragging, skiing, backpacking or going to an outdoor winter festival with the family, all while evaluating each model, noticing what works and what doesn't. Often we will wear two or more contenders on the same adventure to compare them side by side, and we love to lend out our test products for others to try. Their feedback helps confirm ours. In all cases, we strive to produce a comparison review.

This means that there is no standard against which we test all these jackets; 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.


Most of our testing for this metric was conducted on adventures in the field, but to get the best idea of exactly which jackets are the warmest, we tested these 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 so we could be sure to feel any drafts that got through. While these tests weren't performed in a lab, they were taken seriously and done in a systematic way.

all the jackets in this test have sewn-through baffles. that's a...
All the jackets in this test have sewn-through baffles. That's a cheaper way to make a jacket, but not an effective way to produce the warmest jacket possible due to the thin spot created by the stitch itself. However, it's a perfect method for producing a lightweight down jacket. Shown here is the Ghost Whisperer 2.
Credit: Elizabeth Paashaus


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.

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

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 durable DWR coating, as DWR does, in fact, degrade with time and use. We then tested them head-to-head by spraying them with a misting spray bottle, all over, to get an idea of how well the DWR coating performs in a drizzle or light rain. We graded based on the performance of the DWR and gave bonuses to those jackets that had special features and hydrophobic down.

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, here testing the Tullus Hoody.


To assess for fit, we had numerous people wear each jacket and give their opinions and feedback. 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.

the outdry ex gold had the dubious distinction of being the only...
The Outdry Ex Gold had the dubious distinction of being the only jacket we have tried where the fit in the elbows are too tight. We noticed that if we attempt to bend our elbows, the jacket doesn't allow it. The sleeves are too short, and the fit was also problematic across our shoulders and upper back.


To test for compressibility, we stuffed each jacket into its provided stuff sack or pocket (or both) and then compared the size of each. Jackets that packed down the smallest received the highest scores, while jackets that packed down large received lower scores.

the stow pocket is oblong and kinda tough to pack but once it's...
The stow pocket is oblong and kinda tough to pack but once it's stuffed it has a pretty small size.


Most of our testing of features took place in the field. We first identified what features each jacket possessed and then set about testing each of them. 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.

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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