The Best Women's Down Jackets of 2020
Best Overall Model
Feathered Friends Eos - Women's
The Feathered Friends Eos, named for the goddess of the dawn, is our favorite lightweight model for its extraordinary warmth; every time we don this jacket, it's as if the sun's rays came out to beam warmth to our core. With remarkably high quality 900+ fill down, the Eos was up to the task. If we wanted to take it with us on a backpacking, hiking, skiing, or climbing trip, the high-quality down also made this an exceedingly light and compressible jacket for the warmth. Feathered Friends also uses Pertex Quantum fabric, which is specially designed to keep the wind out and still air inside the baffles, increasing the warmth of the jacket even more.
To be so light and nimble, Feathered Friends streamlined the features, so this is a relatively simple but adequately featured model for most mountain adventures. It's a little puffier, so it's not as easy to layer under a hardshell jacket; since it's warmer, that also means that if it's precipitating when you're wearing it, it is likely to be snow, which is easier to brush off the fabric. It has an outdoorsy look, which is certainly in vogue in a city like Seattle, but it may not be your first choice for urban adventures. The Eos is impressively versatile and a total joy to wear.
Read review: Feathered Friends Eos - Women's
Best Lightweight Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hoody 2 - Women's
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is the latest iteration of a model that has been an award winner for many years running. It's one of the lightest, most compressible models we've ever tested, and it remains impressively warm for the weight. It feels as soft as our favorite cotton hoody but is technical enough for a fast-and-light climbing mission. We love this jacket for long hikes or rock climbs in the fall when we needed some extra insulation. The fit is athletic and allows excellent range of motion. The Ghost is also a decent midlayer insulating jacket for those frigid days and can be easily worn underneath a hardshell jacket. With this updated Version 2, the Ghost is now made with sustainability in mind, using responsibly sourced down and recycled materials.
It's important to note that the Ghost is not a thick insulating jacket. It's warm for the weight, but not the warmest in our fleet. Fortunately, the fit and style are a good match for the utility of this jacket, and it's easy to wear it under other layers like a big parka or hardshell jacket. The Ghost does not have a ton of features — just a hood and two hand pockets --though it can be stuffed into the hand pocket and clipped to your harness. We consider the Ghost to be like a wind shirt, one of our favorite layers; both are expensive for such a little amount of fabric, but will quickly become your favorite go-to layer that you thought you could live without.
Best Bang for the Buck
Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket - Women's
The Rab Microlight Alpine has long held a special place on the rack of our reviewers. It's durable, super comfortable, and highly versatile. The cut is athletic, allowing excellent range of motion for a wide variety of activities. The fabric has a soft but slightly stiffer feel, making it very pleasant to wear and resistant to snagging. It's a remarkable high-performance technical jacket, with thoughtful features for all-mountain use — and it still earns compliments when we wear it around town. The durability also ensures that it looks good for a long time.
The Microlight is insulated with 750 fill down; for its weight, it's not the warmest in our fleet. Rab uses Pertex Quantum fabric, which is specifically designed to trap still air and improve the insulating properties of the down loft inside. The result is a svelte, more slim-fitting model that offers a decent level of warmth.
Read review: Rab Microlight Alpine - Women's
Best on a Tight Budget
REI Co-op 650 Down 2.0 - Women's
The REI Co-op 650 Down 2.0 is an outrageously affordable contender. This comes with limitations, but this year REI made some adjustments that give this jacket a boost. The larger baffles allow the down to loft better, increases the long term durability of the jacket, and make it feel cozier. We are much more impressed with this year's model than its predecessors.
The 650 is made of, you guessed it, 650 fill down. This is on the lower quality end of products; the lower number means the down is less compressible and not as warm for the weight. It also does not have a hood, which further limits the warmth and versatility of the jacket. That said if you're not sure you will use a down jacket much, but you have to have one for a summertime backpacking trip, this might be a good choice.
Read review: REI Co-op 650 Down 2.0 - Women's
Best for Lightweight Weather Resistant Down Insulation
Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody is one of the marvels of modern technology. It compresses down to the size of a pineapple and puffs up into what looks like an expedition parka. The large baffles help the down re-loft efficiently and effectively, and the high quality down performs its lofting magic time and time again. This jacket has synthetic insulation where you're most likely to accumulate moisture (armpits, top of hood and shoulders), and a clever separate but attached stuff sack in the chest pocket. You can stow it and climb without the risk of scuffing the material of the jacket's pocket (when climbing with it hanging off your harness). Smart.
This is, you guessed it, also an exorbitantly expensive down jacket. But like all things Arc'teryx, it is tested and has proven itself in harsh field environments, time and time again. This is not the most durable daily wearing down jacket also due to the lightweight materials. However, if you value lightweight and warmth as an avid ice climber or backcountry skier, this jacket just might be your dream come true. Either plan to use it sparingly for those big climbs or descents, or plan to eventually wear it out.
Read review: Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody
Analysis and Test Results
The boxy down jackets of lore are a thing of the past — that is until they become fashion-forward. Through the years, fabrics and designs have improved; the iconic down jacket has become a fashion-forward jacket for the avid outdoors person, as well as the weight and comfort-conscious consumer. They are all high-performance garments, featuring some of the most technologically advanced insulation ever invented, the all-natural down feather. They thrive in long and wide baffles, which have a distinctive look and a certain aesthetic appeal of their own, as well as a variety of utilities in outdoor adventures. This is a category of jackets that can take you from city to crag, coffee shop to mountaintop, and all places in between. That said, not all models make sense for all environments.
In this review, we examine the full range of contenders to let you know which ones are good for your urban bike commute, which ones are optimized for long ice climbs, and which ones are best for casual rest days around town, or camping trips with friends and family. While the quality down or fill power, might be high for some jackets, they may not be well suited to severe cold weather because the amount of loft matters, too.
One internet search for down jackets will reveal a costly category of garments. As guides and outdoor professionals, we take a lot of people who are relatively new to outdoor activities into the mountains for the first time. For these people, it's easy to balk at the cost of the jacket and opt for a cheaper alternative; after all, when will they wear it again if they don't get into this new mountain sport? On the flip side, as guides and instructors, we won't even leave the house for the grocery store without one. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but barely.
A few models provide adequate function for minimal damage to the bank account, but these are rare. We recommend taking time to examine your interests alongside your desires and goals and consider this piece of insulation to be an investment. The good news is that companies are increasingly using sustainable fabrics and responsibly sourced down, which also makes us feel more connected to our investment.
To decipher whether or not a jacket will be a good value, we compare the score from our rigorous field testing to the retail price. If the jacket scores well and is lower in price, that's the mark of great value. The Feathered Friends Eos, for example, scores well and is moderately priced. That's one reason it earned our Editors' Choice Award. We've also included budget-friendly models, like the Rab Microlight and REI 650 Down, which offer exceptional performance for their cost.
Types of Insulated Jackets
The down versus synthetic question will probably never be an easy one to answer. Even the best synthetic fibers are no match for the warmth-to-weight ratio of natural down feathers. But when down gets wet, it might as well be a pasta meal when you've run out of camp fuel; it's pretty much useless.
After several years of review cycles, and decades of experience in outdoor adventures, we have put together rigorous field tests to evaluate which jackets excel for what purposes. Each jacket then accompanied us on adventures far and wide, across continents and landscapes that challenge the garments in their intended (and varied) environments.
The warmth of down comes from the air space held by the lofted down feathers. The higher the loft, the warmer the jacket is for its weight. This loft is measured in "fill power" with a very high quality down jacket being 800 fill power or higher. An 800 fill power down, for example, fills 800 cubic inches for every ounce of down.
This also means that a 650 fill jacket can be just as warm as an 850 fill jacket; it'll just be bulkier. But the most common misconception is that a higher number means warmer when in reality, a 650 fill jacket can be warmer than a super thin 850 fill ultralight jacket.
The Feathered Friends Eos earned our Editors' Choice Award because it has high loft and high quality down, and thus provides very high warmth for the weight. But the slimmer Summit L3.
Many of the jackets tested are designed to be lightweight, technical insulating layers. Most of them have down in the 750-850 fill power range and provide excellent warmth and loft for the weight. These jackets are optimized for the mountains and related activities, which is a challenging balancing act of lightweight, durability, and warmth.
Depending on your top priority, you will likely find a good match among our award winners. We have included some models which are more fashion-forward. You may not find these as useful for outdoor activities like hiking, but their best attributes are still very well suited to casual, urban use, and for travel. Similar to backpacking, where you want to minimize the weight on your back, it's nice to minimize the bulk and weight of the items you tote with you on your daily commute. You may not be counting ounces quite as carefully, but taking a nice looking down jacket instead of a thick, heavy wool jacket, for example, will reduce strain on a strenuous and busy urban commute.
No synthetic fiber has matched down to its incredible warmth-to-weight ratio.
You will probably always remember your first down sleeping bag; did it revolutionize the way you felt about carrying gear on your back? For many, the investment in lightweight down products correlates to increased happiness in the backcountry.
If you are looking to shave ounces, the featherweight Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is the obvious choice, as it's among the lightest in our fleet.
The Arc'teryx Cerium SV is even more impressive for its warmth to weight ratio, and is one of the warmest in our fleet. If you're looking for a good around-town model, the weight may not be a critical factor in your decision. However, since down is one of the best materials for lightweight, warm jackets (and sleeping bags, quilts, booties, etc.), we think this is an important metric for judging the quality of a down jacket. The best jackets were those with the highest quality fill power down (800 and above), which also overlaps with our next rating metric.
One of the main reasons to buy a down jacket, other than the stellar warmth to weight ratio, is the compressibility. For many outdoor activities, space in your bag-of-choice is a considerable commodity (along with weight). This may be because you're carrying all your gear on your back, cramming it into a small bike commute bag, or stuffing it into dry bags. Whatever the adventure, it's ideal to have everything you need in a compact and lightweight kit.
The first aspect we look for when searching for a highly compressible down jacket is the down fill power. A higher number means more loft, and that means more warmth to weight, and a higher level of compressibility; this is the best stuff. Generally, anything above 750 fill down is considered high quality.
Next, the rest of the jacket's materials will factor into the compressibility of the jacket. A sturdier fabric will be bulkier, as will a jacket with other materials, like fleece or softshell, integrated into it. We also considered the size of the stuff sack or stowable pocket that the jacket stuffs into; this is not a direct reflection of how compressible the jacket is, but since it does affect the size of the jacket when stuffed, we thought this was worth at least some consideration. Excessively large stuff sacks or oblong, large pockets made for annoying carrying when stuffed, while too-small stuff sacks or pockets could be challenging and slow to stuff. More trade-offs.
The Arc'teryx Cerium SV, as well as the Cerium LT, were some of the most compressible jackets featured. The two end up very different sizes when stuffed, however, because the SV is designed for colder temperatures and therefore has bigger baffles and more down. The LT is designed for more mild temperatures and is, therefore, lighter weight with less down insulation overall.
The Feathered Friends was one of the most compressible with 900+ fill down, followed closely by our Top Pick winner, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. But the Eos and Ghost differ in purpose: the Eos has much more loft and is warmer, whereas the Ghost is thin and light, like the Cerium LT. It is the high quality down, which allows these jackets to compress down. A small compressed size is ideal for climbing, backpacking, or even bike commuting where pack space is a commodity.
This category is a catch-all for the little things we liked or didn't like about the jackets, from pockets and hoods to drawcords and well-placed soft fleece patches. In general, we like models with durable plastic zippers that don't bend or kink over time (counter-intuitive, but plastic zippers are much more durable than metal ones). Hem drawcord cinches are vital to keeping cold drafts out. A little fleece or creative baffling in the right place goes a long way in promoting freedom of movement.
A jacket didn't have to have a lot of features to score highly in this category. The Ghost Whisperer has few features, but Mountain Hardwear kept the ones that count for a high functioning layer. It earned high marks for careful selection of key features. In most situations, we love hoods because they add warmth. We also appreciate chest pockets for ease of access, and because it helps keep essential items, like snacks or electronics, warm and accessible. The streamlined design also makes the jacket look sleek, easily sliding with you into Happy Hour or your favorite Apres Ski venue.
Arc'teryx stole the show again in this category with details such as a separate stuff sack girth hitched into the chest pocket. This feature meant we could cram it into our luggage or carry it on the back of our harness without fear of snagging the jacket's material while chimneying up a long rock route. And when wearing the jacket, if we unzipped that chest pocket to retrieve our phone or snacks, the stuff sack wouldn't fall out. The Cerium SV was a favorite, with the Rab Microlight near the top as well.
Aesthetic features are increasingly gaining popularity as down jackets gain traction as a stylish and functional garment for more broad use. The Lululemon Pack It Down features a stitching pattern in the front baffling design that draws the arc of the company's logo. Very clever and very classy.
The durability of a jacket's material is important when spending over two hundred dollars. Fabrics are, in general, very durable these days, but there are a few things to pay attention to. Lower denier ratings typically translate to lower weight but less durability, but the fabric is not the only durability concern.
In our tests, the lightest fabrics ended up being the most fragile. If it is important you have a lightweight jacket, and it might be worth sacrificing a little durability. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is an impressively durable jacket for the weight; the fabric resisted snagging and abrasion while climbing. Alternatively, the Editors' Choice Feathered Friends Eos and the Rab Microlight Alpine performed very well in this metric. The most durable were not always the overall top scoring jackets; this is largely because extremely durable fabrics tend to be heavier.
Down is one of the best insulators on the planet, and no human-made fiber has managed to replace it for its impressive warmth to weight ratio. However, down has one critical Achilles heel; it cannot get wet. When it does, the feathers become matted together, and the jacket, sleeping bag, vest, or whatever the item is, loses its warmth. This is because down traps heat in the air pockets between the down feathers.
Most outdoor enthusiasts accept this risk and choose to take good care to keep their down items dry on their adventures. However, if you spend a great deal of time out in wet climates, you might consider synthetic insulation, at least for some of your insulation pieces; the synthetic fibers have more structure and retain warmth even when wet. Another way to manage the risk of down getting wet is to encase it in waterproof fabric, or at least use materials coated with a durable water repellent finish (DWR).
Arc'teryx uses a clever Down Composite Mapping technology where they integrate Coreloft synthetic insulation in high-risk areas such as cuffs, shoulders, armpits, and hoods. In previous reviews, these jackets stayed wetter longer because the synthetic insulation would absorb water, which would then leak into the down and the shell fabric. In this round of testing, however, even dripping ice climbs couldn't manage to get the Cerium's cuffs wet (which is one of the areas most prone to moisture).
Most of the jackets are treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the exterior fabric to prevent water from soaking through the material and dampening the down. It is important to note, however, that these jackets are not designed to be remotely waterproof, so if you are out in the rain, be sure you can fit your rain or hardshell jacket over your down jacket to ensure those feathers stay dry and lofted.
We appreciated this when we got caught in storms, and the chill started to creep in. The Arc'teryx Cerium SV and LT both did a spectacular job of protecting us from the elements. These were our favorite models to wear on winter vacations to our favorite snowy wonderlands, especially great for those traveling from warmer climates and who therefore are not as acclimated to the cold. We particularly liked the Cerium SV for ice climbing, winter backpacking, and long backcountry ski tours. The stylish Lululemon Pack It Down impressed us as well with the water repellent Glyde fabric, which reliably shed a steady stream of water in our faucet test.
One of the most intriguing aspects was the continued opportunity to test out some jackets with treated hydrophobic down; in a practical sense, we still cannot say we notice a big difference in the field. Water repellent fabrics still seem to make the most difference in a down jacket's water resistance. We took almost all of these jackets hiking, ice climbing, and ski touring to test the water resistance. Dripping ice climbs offered an excellent real-world opportunity to observe the jackets' water-repelling abilities. In the end, most jackets performed to our expectations.
Down jackets are valued by outdoor enthusiasts for the impressive warmth-to-weight ratio, with an acute Achilles' heel; if the down gets wet, it loses its loft, and therefore all of its insulating properties. Some will thus choose a synthetic insulated jacket instead, but the ounce-saving value of down persists. With even the most impressive technological advances, we have not figured out how to improve upon the all-natural down feather.
Today, the iconic baffled look of down jackets has become more hip and stylish, and jackets have also become more aesthetically pleasing. The benefit of lightweight warmth extends to the daily bike commuter, walker, and a wide variety of user types. We hope this review has helped you to identify the best down jacket for your needs. A good down jacket won't weigh you down in your busy days — something we can all appreciate.
— Lyra Pierotti