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Our team of apparel experts has tested down jackets in the mountains, around campfires, on morning commutes, and on dog walks. After checking out more than 50, we narrowed it to the 13 most promising and used our systemized testing to compare them to each other. Whether you're looking for armor for an alpine adventure or something warm to walk the dog with, our in-depth analysis will help you find the perfect jacket for your needs and budget. We purchased and retested each one in our rigorous side-by-side testing process.//
Editor's Note: This review was updated on November 9, 2022, to include new models, such as the Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded and Fjallraven Expedition Pack Hood. We also purchased and retested each one you see in our fleet, putting every down jacket through our rigorous side-by-side testing process.
The versatile Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 easily ranked as our favorite. At a lightweight 8.5 ounces, it offers an incredible warmth-to-weight ratio because of the 800 fill down. Easily packing into its own pocket and compressing down to one of the smallest jackets, this garment acts as a just-in-case layer that can easily be thrown into a pack. The athletic fit accommodates broader shoulders, allowing for easy overhead movement. Layering a light fleece underneath proved easy and the jacket's tailored fit kept it from feeling bulky. The stretchiness, athletic fit, lightness, and high-quality durability make it ideal for rugged, high-activity outdoor activities, either as a stand-alone piece or as a mid-layer. Our testers easily found comfort during temps in the low forties and upper thirties. When sub-freezing temps came, they added a light fleece to stay warm.
This streamlined jacket has two zippered hand pockets, no drawcord, no interior pockets, and no adjustment on the hood. While the absence of these features help shave weight, an additional pocket and more adjustment on the hood would be nice. Overall, this jacket's comfort, good looks, and incredible performance make it a great option.
Weight: 8.7 ounces | Fill: 800-fill responsibly sourced down
REASONS TO BUY
Less expensive than similar models
REASONS TO AVOID
Poor hood adjustment
The MontBell Superior Down's excellent features, high quality, and light weight make it a steal at the price. It weighs a mere 8.7 ounces, making it one of the lightest jackets in the review, but also has a cinchable hood and hem. With these adjustments, the jacket's 800 fill down and subsequent great warmth-to-weight ratio, this jacket will keep you warm and not let precious body heat escape.
Despite the jacket's high performance, it fits a bit boxy and has less than ideal construction. The two-part adjustment of the hood helps seal the cold but feels cumbersome compared to some of the other models. Minor complaints aside, this feature-rich, lightweight, packable jacket comes at a remarkably low price.
Weight: 7.6 ounces | Fill: 850-fill goose down certified to responsible down standard
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio
REASONS TO AVOID
Fragile shell fabric
The ultralight Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hoody has features that make it technically capable while omitting extra bells and whistles that would add weight, bulk, and complexity. It was built for packing light and going fast. The incredible compressibility and light weight made it stand out. It's the ideal jacket to clip to your harness, stash in your pack, and forget about until the temps drop. Whether hiking or commuting, this jacket's lightweight compressibility and classic Arc'teryx fit lets it transition well from the mountains to town. It's an ideal all-around piece.
The Cerium SL's lightness comes at a bit of cost. When compared to heavier jackets, the thin ripstop nylon shell can only withstand marginal tears. Thus, it suffers from durability issues and the thin zippers wear quickly. On a positive note, the adjustable drawcords in the hood and hem lock out the cold. Most light jackets lack these features. As a high-quality jacket that prioritizes weight and compressibility, Arc'teryx delivers.
Designed for warmth, the Rab Electron Pro will keep you cozy on backcountry ski trips, or while layering up during stop-and-go winter activity. Like the best jackets in our review, Rab stuffed this jacket with 800 fill-treated hydrophobic down. While no down jacket can replace a hard-shell rain jacket, the Electron Pro does fight the elements well. With a great fit, elastic wrist cuffs, an adjustable and pinchable waist hem, and a brimmed and helmet-compatible hood, it's a highly functional cold-weather workhorse. The hand pockets sit in a great spot for easy access.
This jacket is on the heavier side of things compared to other models in this review and has relatively poor compressibility. It lacks internal drop pockets for gloves, but overall has the basic necessities. This warm and water-resistant puffy will keep you warm and dry from the ice crags to ski slopes, It's ideal for anyone seeking extra warmth without adding too much weight.
Weight: 14.9 ounces | Fill: 800-fill advanced global traceable down
REASONS TO BUY
Responsibly sourced, traceable down
REASONS TO AVOID
The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody has been a staple in our wardrobe for years. Style is not one of our official testing metrics, but this this piece has it, offering a more refined look than the other more techy-looking pieces. This is our go-to option for day missions with variable and uncertain conditions. Its great wind resistance helps battle bitterly cold days and we also like the athletic fit, which is roomy in the shoulders but trim down the sides. The adjustable waist hem traps warm air, and the fleece chin guard keeps the zipper from rubbing when you need to be fully zipped up.
The DWR coating keeps water from soaking into the down for a while but overall, the jacket lacks solid wet weather performance. It's heavy for the warmth it provides but has great features, including an internal chest pocket, stash pocket, and a high collar that comes up over your nose when fully zipped. While there are lighter and less expensive options, the Patagonia Down Sweater can do it all.
The Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer is not technically a down jacket as it uses synthetic Nylon insulation. We include it in this review knowing that many people just don't want to spend more than $100-300 on a jacket. If you live in a more mild climate or plan to layer this jacket with a rain jacket or hardshell jacket, this jacket may be totally adequate and save you a lot of money. Down jackets also generally take more care, especially expensive ones that you may be extra concerned about maintaining and keeping clean. An inexpensive synthetic jacket is a lot less stressful to own.
This jacket does not compress as small as a "true" down jacket that uses down feathers. While it is not that heavy, it is also not that warm compared to its much more expensive down competitors. That said, it might be all your need at a fraction of the cost of a down jacket. For more high-end synthetic jackets, see our best insulated jacket review.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our panel of expert gear testers is headed up by James Lucas, Buck Yedor, and Adam Paashaus. Growing up in New England, James's appreciation for quality insulation started young. After graduating from high school, he moved to Yosemite Valley, where he realized that the right clothing can make or break a day in the mountains. Over the years, James has tested gear in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, in the boulders of Rocky Mountain National Park, and in his home in Boulder, Colorado. The Rocky Mountains also served as Buck's home. After graduating from college, he worked for Yosemite Search and Rescue, where he saw firsthand 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. 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 in 2001 when he started working in the retail side of the industry.
Down jackets were assessed using six performance metrics:
Warmth tests (30% of total weighted score)
Weight tests (20% of score)
Water resistance tests (15% of score)
Comfort tests (15% of score)
Compressibility tests (10% of score)
Features tests (10% of score)
In the last decade, we've tested over 50 down jackets in the Sierra, the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, the Big Horn Mountains, and the Green Mountains. After hours of researching the best jackets, we took the top jackets climbing, hiking, skiing, camping, and even sleeping in them. We focused on the the fit, performance, and versatility of each one. During testing, warmth accounted for 30% of each jacket's score. We tested each jacket in temps in the low 30s with a 0-degree windchill, wearing only a t-shirt underneath to identify drafts and cold spots. Weight accounted for another 20% of the score. Instead of blindly trusting manufacturer specs, we weighed each jacket on our own scales. Water resistance made up 15% of the score. We stood in rain and snow and poured water on the jackets to gauge absorption rates. For compressibility, which makes up 10% of the score, we packed the jacket into its own pocket or additional stuff sack to see how small it would get. We then compared sizes. For the features, which make up the last 10% of the score, we examined how well each bit of adjustability performed, how many pockets each jacket had, how accessible the pockets were, whether they fit larger items like binoculars and noted any good or bad features.
Analysis and Test Results
Our testers love packable, affordable down. Worn on their own during shoulder season or as a mid-layer when it's freezing outside, light and midweight down jackets make up some of the best garments in the outdoor market. A lightweight down should be in everyone's wardrobe. To cull the best from the best, we used six metrics to evaluate each jacket: warmth, weight, water resistance, fit, compressibility, and features. Using these metrics, we compared each one to determine which model is right for you.
We performed comparison testing for this review. We gauged each jacket against each other and kept the entire outdoor apparel wardrobe out. When we discuss the quality of a jacket's water resistance, we're comparing it to other down jackets and not to a top-ranked rain jacket.
Spending hundreds of dollars every season just to have the latest innovation or replace still- usable gear adds up quickly. Our significant time in the mountains allowed us to test the durability of the jackets and appreciate high-value garments. Value often comes with a higher price tag, so our review includes lower-cost jackets that offer warmth, compressibility, and similar performance. These jackets often come with lower quality down, fewer features, or lack brand recognition.
Our best-value winners offer quality construction for a reasonable price. While the REI Co-op 650 Down 2.0 scores poorly in the performance metrics, it's being compared to the best of the best and is easy on the wallet. The Montbell Superior Hoody offers better warmth and performance but costs more. For a bit more, the ultralight Superior includes a full feature set. Another well-priced product, the Rab Microlight Alpine, offers incredible weather resistance at a competitive price.
The most important factor in a down jacket is its warmth. That's what they're designed for. In keeping with this, we weighed each jacket's score for warmth as 30% of its total.
Most companies produce lighter, less expensive down jackets by using sewn-through baffle construction. The baffles, the spots between the stitching, hold the down in place, keeping it from sinking or clumping. Sewn-through baffle construction involves the outer fabric being sewn to the inner fabric, creating an often horizontal though occasionally square-shaped baffle. The size of the baffles varies between jackets and square baffles tend to be lighter, thinner, and less expensive.
However, sewn-through baffles create thin spots at the seams where there's no down and warm air can escape. Some companies use different methods for generating baffles but the sewn-through method tends to be the most common. A jacket's warmth relates to the size of the baffles but more to the fill power, the ability to insulate a space. Down's fill quality is figured out by filling a cylindrical container with one ounce of down and then compressing it for a minute. After the sixty seconds, the amount of space filled is then considered the fill so 600 cubic inches of down equals a 600 fill. 900 fill down is as good as it gets. Most of the jackets in this review have 800 fill power. The warmth of a jacket is then measured in not only the quality of the fill but also the amount of it.
High-fill power down (800 and up) needs less weight to insulate the same amount of space as down with a lower fill power. The top-performing jackets use higher fill. Less expensive jackets using a lower fill power sacrifice weight and compressibility but can still provide a warmth-to-weight ratio that outperforms synthetically insulated jackets.
The loft of a jacket makes up part of a jacket's warmth while the fit and design make up another factor. Slim, thermally efficient jackets and those with a longer hemline tend to be warmer. To gauge a jacket's warmth, we took them on fall, winter, and spring activities, hiking, camping, climbing, skiing, and walking around town.
We also compared the jackets on frigid, windy mountains mornings. Although they do not come with temperature ratings like sleeping bags, these jackets offer good-to-adequate standalone warmth down to freezing temperatures. They can also help you stay warm in lower temperatures when used in a layering system.
Responsibly Sourced Down
In the past few years, companies have been using responsibly sourced down. Harvesting down, duck and goose feathers, can be a cruel process. It's important that the animals are treated compassionately.
In our testing, a few jackets stood out for their warmth. The Rab Electron is the warmest down we tested but 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 Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 offered an incredible weight-to-warmth ratio. Often warmth came down to the quality of the down used as well as the fit.
While weight barely registers close to camp or home, the higher, further, and steeper we venture the more every ounce matters. An object's backcountry utility relates to the amount of energy needed to carry it. Thus, a jacket's warmth-to-weight ratio becomes a crucial part of shopping for a jacket. The efficiency of down makes it ideal for shaving ounces. The fabric, design, and features add or subtract ounces as well. Sometimes, companies sacrifice durability, a hood, and other elements to lighten the jacket. This creates a push-pull as everyone wants light weight but not at the cost of the garment falling apart and lacking features.
Weight accounted for 20% of a jacket's score with it being a product of three factors: down fill-power, type or weight of the fabric, and amount and type of features. Using higher quality down translates to higher loft with less filling, so higher fill-power jackets tend to be lighter but more expensive. Similarly, a thinner fabric can make a jacket lighter, compromising 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.
There can be trade-offs for using fewer or lighter-weight features. Warmth can be sometimes sacrificed when a jacket lacks drawcords to cinch up drafty areas. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 lacks a hood adjustment which saves weight but there's less ability to block out cold drafts. Durability may be sacrificed with small gauge zippers.
The lightest jacket in this year's review, the Arc'teryx Cerium SL, weighs a mere 7.6 ounces. 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 also weighs a scant 10.4 ounces but that comes at the cost of warmth, as there's little fill and few features like hood and waist cinches to trap warm air.
The Rab Electron offers incredible warmth but also tipped the scales as the heaviest model at 17.3 ounces. Winter and cold weather gear will always be heavier than spring and summer jackets. When considering that, we'd still call the Electron a lightweight option.
Wearing a down jacket in the rain will quickly make you realize why all jackets aren't made of the lightweight insulation. Down fails to insulate when wet and wearing a down jacket in a storm can go from uncomfortable to dangerous as down takes a painfully long time to dry and reloft when saturated. Fortunately, designers have several strategies for negating this vulnerability.
Drydown and Downtec and other "hydrophobic" down supposedly have better water resistance and faster drying times. Evaluating the hydrophobic quality of down proved difficult. Even after soaking the jackets in the shower, we found it difficult to isolate the waterproofness of the down from other factors that add to each jacket's water resistance. Thus, we believe that hydrophobic down lacks significance. Hold onto your hardshell instead. Our scores mainly reflect the DWR (durable water treatment) of the face fabric, but we added a point to jackets with hydrophobic down.
A great choice 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 deflects rain. While it's not water proof, this down jacket works well in wet climates. The warmer and heavier duty Rab Electron sports the same waterproofing technology.
The Outdoor Research Helium Down Hoodie comes in at a close third. Two types of fabric comprise the outer shell with waterproofing on the hood and shoulder panels. This keeps water off 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. This is not their intended purpose nor is any down jacket truly waterproof. We stress warmth as the top priority when selecting a puffy.
Durable Water Repellent Treatments
The chemical coating of a durable water-repellent (DWR) treatment causes water to bead and roll off the treated material. Imagine a Teflon pan. Out of the box, DWR-treated models effectively keep the down dry and lofty 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 prolongs the DWR treatment. Take care of your jacket, and it will take care of you!
A jacket's fit not only affects its warmth but also works closely with the garment's comfort. The pieces in this review can all function as a standalone piece, mid-layer, or outer layer needed to accommodate a fleece layer underneath and be form-fitting enough to fit underneath a waterproof shell layer. These requirements limited our selection to light and midweight models.
An ideal-fitting jacket mimics the body's shape so that it moves as we do but also features enough space large enough to wear a layer beneath it. Sleeve length and the shape through the shoulders, upper back, and chest also affect comfort. We want jackets ready for ice climbing, backpacking, hiking, skiing, scrambling, or any activity where we are likely to be moving our arms about and swinging them over our head.
Some jackets have excessively short sleeves, causing them to ride up above our wrists when our arms are outstretched. Likewise, some jackets have a constrictive fit around the shoulders, upper back, and chest that impede movement. Other aspects of fit include the collars, hoods, and hemline length.
Baggy fitting jackets like the REI Co-Op 650 Down 2.0 lost points because of their insulation inefficiency. The comfortable Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 had enough room to layer; it is unrestrictive to movement without being baggy. The Arc'teryx Cerium SL has a great fit and offers a high level of comfort. The North Face Summit Down has the most athletic fit of the heavier midweight downs we tested and an exceptional level of comfort. The classic Patagonia Down Sweater is an excellent all-rounder, particularly when it comes to comfort. For this metric, fit accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Except in extremely cold conditions, strenuous activity causes overheating in down jackets. That means your puffy will spend a lot of time in your pack when you're backpacking, skiing, or hiking. A compressible jacket makes it easier to carry.
The superior compressibility of down jackets versus synthetic is significant. More importantly, down's durability is greater than synthetic insulation that degrades and loses its re-lofting ability over time.
The thinnest and lightest jacket in the review, the Arc'teryx Cerium SL, scored well in this metric. The high fill-power down easily stuffs into a separate stuff sack, making it a small package that can fit anywhere. A handful of other jackets, including the REI Co-Op 650 Down 2.0, also stuff into 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 remain lofty, compression after compression. The size and how easily they pack away sets the different jackets apart. Some models stuffed down into an internal pocket, while others, like the Arc'teryx Cerium SL, included a small stuff sack. The stowaway pocket cuts down on extra weight and material. It also means there's no stuff sack to lose. Jackets with a stuff sack are generally easier to pack away than those with smaller stash pockets. High-fill power jackets like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer have better compressibility.
Features are easy to critique. Which pockets have the best placements? How many pockets do we even need? Which hood fits best? Which jacket has our favorite zipper? We prefer jackets with fewer features that work well rather than jackets with extraneous bells and whistles that only contribute to the weight.
Durability and Down Jackets
As down jackets lighten, thinner fabrics come into play. While most companies 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. Carrying a roll of nylon repair tape on extended trips will help immensely. Then you'll be able to prevent your jacket from leaking precious feathers from a tear or a burn.
The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody has all the features we look for in fully tricked-out jackets. The hem drawcords live neatly inside the hand pockets so they don't dangle below your waist. The soft fleece-lined chin guard on the inside of the collar prevents chafing, and the hood can be tightened with a single drawcord (yet the hood is still large enough to fit over a helmet). The snug elastic cuffs keep drafts at bay but still stretch enough that they can be pulled up. Remember that too many features can weigh you down. Our favorite lightweight models, like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, skip hood adjustments and superfluous pockets. Features accounted for 10% of a jacket's overall score.
Having a warm insulating layer is an essential part of any layering system. How warm, how light, how water resistant, how comfortable, how compressible, and what features your insulating layer needs comes down to your preference. We hope our in-depth breakdown of these down jackets will help you decide which one will work best for you. As down jackets keep getting lighter and warmer, we'll continue to stay on top of new developments and present our findings here.
Our testing takes place in the backcountry, by a team of...
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