Here at GearLab, we take our testing seriously. While we may start by trying on all these down jackets in the comfort of our own homes (to test their fit!), we spend months testing every single contender in the great outdoors. We have taken down jackets to Russia and Japan, to Antarctica and Iceland, up frigid mountain peaks, and through gusty town squares. Over the past decade, we have put jackets through their paces and sometimes to their breaking points. We test and evaluate every model's performance in five different metrics.
We exposed these jackets to cold drips on ice climbs in Montana and inclement weather in the Pacific Northwest. We toted waaaay too many down jackets on every adventure so we could compare them in similar field conditions. Noting the temperatures and conditions, we evaluated how warm each jacket was relative to the others, ranking them on a spectrum. Then we compiled the information from each jacket's technical specifications, notably the quality of the down and the thickness and protection of the external material, to complete the picture of how warm each jacket feels. We made note of points of heat loss and features that make us feel warmer. We tested hood adjustability, cuff security, and layering ability, both over and under other clothing.
Testing comfort involved asking as many of our friends and family as we could gather to try each jacket on and gauge how it feels. We considered fabric feel on bare arms, how well it moves over the top of a thick fleece, and the many touch point features like soft cuff elastic or felt chin guards. We looked at their shapes, lengths, room within, and compared that versatility to the wide array of human body shapes that might want to wear them. We moved in them, looking for features that can keep our wrists and torsos covered as we push kids on the swingset or reach up for the next hold on our route. We considered their full suite of features, including pockets and adjustability.
To gauge portability, we first weighed every jacket and considered that absolute weight against their warmth. We then packed them in as many ways as we could. We tested packing pockets, stuff sacks, and roll-top bags, cramming them in backpacks, suitcases, and day bags. We also considered the effects of those actions on each jacket's materials and how that may affect their longevity. And we asked that crucial question of every model: in what situation would I actually bring this with me?
To test weather resistance, we focused on wind and water repellence. We took jackets out to windy mountaintops and compared them in side-by-side lab testing with a high-powered fan. We considered features that help lock down a jacket, like cinch points and adjustability. We wore them out in the rain and wet snow when we could and then compared those observations to our laboratory water testing. We considered their fabric properties and treatments and evaluated their effectiveness.
To test breathability, we did hard work while wearing these jackets. We wore them snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, walking the dog, climbing, and exploring new cities. We noted features they may have to facilitate breathability, like key venting areas and two-way zippers.