The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Down Jackets

Monday October 29, 2018
Lightweight down jackets are perfect for those shoulder seasons when you need some extra insulation  especially in the evenings. We loved the Microlight Alpine for camping during the fall when the temperatures were dropping.
Lightweight down jackets are perfect for those shoulder seasons when you need some extra insulation, especially in the evenings. We loved the Microlight Alpine for camping during the fall when the temperatures were dropping.

From light-and-fast summer alpine pursuits to ice climbing to walks to the coffee shop, we tested and lived in these jackets in a variety of situations from the Sierra Nevada of California to the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, from the Colorado Rockies to the frozen land of Antarctica, and many places in between. Each year we order an entirely new selection of jackets to test and review because not only do tried and true models get updated over time, but the entire market changes so that what were once fringe designs eventually become entirely mainstream. In 2017, we have worked hard to select the most recent iterations of the best jackets available, and test them against the best of the newer wave. We spent countless hours and days comparing the jackets side-by-side, evaluating and researching materials, features, and design so that you know not just what to expect from a jacket, but how it performs relative to others in its class.

Lightweight down jackets are ideal as active layers when out on hikes in cold seasons  here wearing the Morph Hoodie while looking for wildlife and enjoying the late fall sunshine in Ironton  San Juan Mountains.
Lightweight down jackets are ideal as active layers when out on hikes in cold seasons, here wearing the Morph Hoodie while looking for wildlife and enjoying the late fall sunshine in Ironton, San Juan Mountains.

Our process begins with wearing all of the jackets in the field, having the same kind of adventures that you will be having (badass ones!), 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, 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.

Warmth


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 wore each of them outside, with nothing underneath but a t-shirt, on a frigid, breezy 15-degree morning in the shade. Since these jackets are ideal as stand alone garments to around 32F, testing them in much colder conditions helped us understand which jackets we felt warm in, while others allowed the cold to creep in.

While it wasn't the absolute warmest down jacket in this review  the 800-fill power down does a nice job lofting up and trapping heat. Trying to stay warm around the fire on a chilly and windy night in Oregon.
While it wasn't the absolute warmest down jacket in this review, the 800-fill power down does a nice job lofting up and trapping heat. Trying to stay warm around the fire on a chilly and windy night in Oregon.

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. While some of the jackets we tested were size Large, and others Medium, we felt that since they each represented the ideal fit for that model for our head tester, we compared them head-to-head, regardless of stated size.

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.
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. 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. Next, we soaked them all thoroughly in the shower, to test the efficacy, or not, of treated hydrophobic down. However, this test did not yield usable results, and so for this metric, 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 copiously with a spray bottle to simulate light rain  here testing the Tullus Hoody.
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.

Fit


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 layers on beneath it, as well as under a shell jacket.

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.
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.

Compressibility


To test for compressibility, we stuffed each jacket into its provided stuff sack or pocket and then compared the size of each. In instances where a jacket did not come with a method for compressing it, we simply rolled it up into its hood. Jackets that packed down the smallest received the highest scores, while jackets that did not have a method of compression or packed down large received lower scores.

The two most compressible jackets in this year's review stuffed down about the same size as a Nalgene  or a little bigger. On the left is the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded  stuffed into its own chest pocket. On the right is the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody  stuffed in its own included stuff sack.
The two most compressible jackets in this year's review stuffed down about the same size as a Nalgene, or a little bigger. On the left is the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded, stuffed into its own chest pocket. On the right is the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody, stuffed in its own included stuff sack.

Features


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.

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.
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.