Every winter wardrobe needs a puffy down jacket. But how to choose? Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.
It’s one of the simple truths of the outdoors: When warmth is a must, it’s gotta be down. Synthetic insulation has come a long way, but its warmth-to-weight ratio just doesn’t quite rival the best down jackets (yet).
Down is plush, warm, packable, and even something of a fashion staple nowadays. But with dozens of brands offering hundreds of different styles, it can be crazy overwhelming to peg which down jacket is right for you. So we leaned on our experience, testing, research, and insight to cull the best of the best. Each of these down jackets is available now and merits a look for its construction, price, features, and warmth.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for. At the end of our list, be sure to check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide, as well as our comparison chart. And if you have some questions, take a look at our list of frequently asked questions.
- Best Overall Down Jacket
- Best Budget Down Jacket
- Best Lightweight Down Jacket
- Warmest Down Jacket
- Best Everyday Style
- Best for Belaying
- Best of the Rest
The Best Down Jackets of 2022-2023
In researching all the down jackets on the market, we paid particular attention to standouts within a particular category. For example, we have selections for those shopping on a budget, those searching for more sustainable options, and for others who just want the most durable puffy of all.
This article includes the best down jackets for men and women. You can also check our expanded list of the best down jackets for women.
Wading through the crowd of stinky, exuberant hikers at the Appalachian Trail Days festival this year in Damascus, Virginia, we were shocked at the sheer number of Arc’teryx Cerium LTs ($379) trotting about.
When you start to see a jacket popping up in more and more thru-hikers’ packs as their insulator of choice for a 5-month journey across America, you know they’re made right.
At 11 oz. for a men’s medium, the Cerium strikes a healthy balance between reliable warmth and lightweight simplicity for a wide range of backpackers and adventurers. While not as light as the classic ultralight synthetic jackets most die-hard trekkers are using, its stellar packability and crazy warmth put it on our radar.
Arc’teryx employed an interesting hybrid design for the insulation of the Cerium, which they call “Down Composite Mapping.” 850 fill power down is placed along the core, while Coreloft, a synthetic insulation, is used in places that may be more prone to getting wet, such as the shoulders, underarms, cuffs, and collar at the mouth. This means these areas will retain a lot of their warmth when wet.
Our one complaint, if we had to find one, is that we wish the included stuff sack was integrated into the jacket, or that the jacket packed down into one of its pockets.
In short, the Arc’teryx Cerium LT is one of the best down jackets you can buy for lightweight epics across the country or weekend outings to your favorite alpine lake. Boasting a stellar warmth-to-weight ratio, durable fabric, and a stylish fit, you really can’t go wrong with it.
- Fill: 850
- Weight: 11 oz.
- Key features: Synthetic insulation strategically placed in areas prone to getting wet
- Hybrid insulation design is helpful in wet weather
- Solid warmth-to-weight ratio
- Comfortable, stylish fit
- No integrated stuff sack
As an all-around, affordable workhorse, the REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.0 ($100) scored a spot on this list for its reliable warmth, solid durability, and approachable price point. It’s nothing flashy and fancy, but boasts a surprisingly solid warmth-to-weight ratio, and has held up great over many adventures.
It’s one of the more versatile, run-of-the-mill jackets we tried that just works well for most situations and looks fine around town. Not too technical, yet not too simple to be ineffective.
Though it doesn’t break any records in the packability or weight department, this jacket is designed to look good for casual wear, while still being functional on the trail. It doesn’t have a hood, sinch cord along the waist, or some other features of more technical jackets, which makes it harder to trap warmth or customize the fit than other models.
It is made with pretty comfortable fabric and uses a recycled nylon shell fabric with DWR treatment that has shown little to no signs of wear after extensive testing in harsh environments.
Given its weight category, (11 ounces) it would be nice to have had a couple more additions that add to its warmth and adjustability, but again its simplicity is partly what makes this jacket special.
For the casual weekend warrior or even the dedicated backpacker on a budget, this REI staple will disappear in your pack, and keep you warm when you need it most. Its simple, slimmed-down design means you’ll look great at your local coffee shop, and be able to charge into the mountains after work if the opportunity arises.
- Fill: 650
- Weight: 11 oz.
- Key features: Durable and recycled shell fabric, slimmed down simple design looks good around town
- Quite durable given the price
- Simple and sleek design looks good around town
- Somewhat heavy for the lack of features
- Not much adjustability
When testing a bunch of down jackets, the surest way to know which one is best is to look at which one you find yourself wearing most often. That’s exactly what put Outdoor Research’s Helium Down Hoodie ($279) so high on this list.
Its athletic cut has made it ideal for early winter getaways, allowing this tester to toss a big wool flannel on over it when things get especially frosty. But it was still great by itself when things didn’t dip below a little chilly.
The quality and feel are everything you’d expect from a brand like OR — and then some. The brand dubs it the “most durable, lightweight, and technical down hoodie” in its arsenal. That durability comes from a strategic hybrid construction.
The hood and shoulders use Pertex Quantum Shield 30-denier ripstop that fights abrasion and adds a waterproof barrier where you need it — head and shoulders, exactly where rain hits.
But the toughness doesn’t stop there. Covering the Helium Down Hoodie’s 800-fill down is Pertex’s Diamond Fuse ripstop shell, affording the jacket enhanced durability without any significant weight penalty.
By no means the warmest puffy we tested, this one wound up in the backseat, at the ready for just-in-case adventures. If you need one puffy to grab that can handle a range of elements, this one fits the bill.
- Fill: 800
- Weight: 15.4 oz.
- Key features: Wind, water, and abrasion resistance plus waterproof shoulders and hood
- Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified down
- Five pockets: two external hand pockets, chest pocket, dual internal stash pockets
- Cozy but not built for supreme warmth
What made the original Ghost Whisperer an editor favorite and brand icon, the Ghost Whisperer UL ($375) has in spades — or feathers, rather. Shaving off 2.2 ounces may not sound like much until you realize that’s a 25% reduction in weight (the Ghost Whisperer/2 tips the scales at 8.8 ounces, while the UL comes in at 6.67 ounces).
The Ghost Whisperer UL accomplishes this in large part thanks to 1,000-fill down, giving it an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. A great layering piece you’ll hardly notice behind a wind-blocking shell, the UL sports two zippered hand pockets, one of which it packs into.
This ultralight jacket is a minimal piece, so no accessory pockets here. And the hood doesn’t cinch, though elastic cuffs offer some range of motion. If your adventures don’t hinge on saving every cubic centimeter or gram, the Ghost Whisperer UL is probably more coat than you need — or less, rather.
- Fill: 1,000
- Weight: 6.7 oz.
- Key features: Super warm fill, very lightweight
- King warmth-to-weight ratio
- Pockets aren’t included
For marathon belays in freezing temps, or winter excursions requiring maximum warmth, the Rab Neutrino Pro ($385) stands out as one of the best down jackets for the job. This is probably one of the comfiest, most versatile, and most well-designed jackets we’ve tested in a while for cold climbing expeditions or chilly adventures where weight and durability are a concern.
From multi-day big wall ascents of El Cap in Yosemite, to nippy fall nights around a fire in the Appalachians, we put this thing through the wringer to see if it lived up to the hype. In short, this jacket is everything it’s cracked up to be.
What probably surprised us the most about this long-standing staple for alpinists is just how well it moves with you during high-output activities. Rab used what they call “twisted arm baffles,” which improve arm pre-curve and gives you complete freedom of movement. While we don’t really understand all that jargon, whatever they did definitely works, and this was a joy to wear in the mountains.
Other features that contribute to its usability include a two-way zipper (essential for belaying and climbing) with an insulated storm flap, a down-filled over-the-helmet hood with stiffened peak, and beefier ripstop nylon fabric over high-use areas like the shoulders and upper sleeves for increased durability. Despite the extras, the jacket maintains a relatively minimalist and sleek feel, so it still looks great around town.
Finding any negatives for this jacket was hard, but if we had to pick one, it would be that the hood really only fits well if you wear a helmet. Without one it is quite large and floppy, obstructing your vision and just generally getting in the way. It’s designed for alpine use though, so we can’t bash it too much on this front.
With 7.5 ounces of 800-fill goose down and an overall weight of only 20 ounces, it’s hard to find a technical down jacket of this caliber anywhere else. For the dedicated mountain athlete who needs a durable, mega-warm down jacket for the toughest adventures, don’t overlook this beast.
- Fill: 800
- Weight: 20.6 oz.
- Key features: Tougher ripstop fabric over high-use areas, two-way zipper with storm flap, over-the-helmet hood with stiffened peak for increased protection
- Superior warmth-to-weight ratio
- Anatomical shape that allows the jacket to move with you during activity
- Hood is pretty large and floppy unless you are wearing a helmet
Of all the down jackets we tested, the Cotopaxi Fuego ($275) received the most “ooh, that’s a nice jacket” comments. Not really surprising, as Cotopaxi has built its reputation on flashy, devil-may-care designs — coupled with ethical and sustainable manufacturing processes.
The Fuego carries on that identity, albeit with a more toned-down, intentionally retro aesthetic. As a puffy, it’s a great around-town choice, with some ready-to-party chops. The 800-fill down makes it acceptably lightweight and packable. Though if you take it out enough, you’re bound to scuff up those pretty stripes.
Still, the Fuego is plenty warm for autumn wind and some light precipitation (thanks to a DWR treatment), and it can even fend off some winter bluster. But the jacket’s fit — not too trim, not too baggy — makes it easy enough to layer for added warmth.
The 20-denier shell construction adds a little extra defense against feather loss and daily abuse. Two internal stash pockets and hand pockets round out the build.
- Fill: 800
- Weight: 14 oz.
- Key features: Water-resistant goose down, DWR-treated nylon face fabric
- Packs into its own pocket
- Increased bust circumference on women’s jacket for improved fit
- 20-denier ripstop nylon liner
- Not premium construction for rugged outdoor play
As you’d expect, Black Diamond’s Vision Down Parka ($465) provides high-loft warmth and just the right feature set for cold-weather belays. It wins for durability, using a ripstop reinforced with a “Japanese Liquid Crystal Polymer.” This makes it tougher, but a little less soft than the Fitz Roy.
However, the Vision offers a two-way zipper and water-resistant zippers on the hand pockets — nice added touches for those planning to be in the wild on cold days. It also offers a bigger fit for layering under.
The Vision is extremely warm, very durable, and great for belays. But it’s heavier than many options, and its price tag will empty your wallet a bit more.
Check our in-depth full review of the Black Diamond Vision Down Parka.
- Fill: 800
- Weight: 20.5 oz.
- Key features: Two-way front YKK zipper, helmet-compatible hood, RDS down, DWR finish
- Very durable
- Underarm gussets for mobility
- A bigger investment
- Not a streamlined fit
Best of the Rest
Super-plush, super-soft, and super-warm, Patagonia’s Fitz Roy ($399) is a winner for cold days at the crag. Its down-like Pertex Quantum face fabric isn’t the absolute toughest, so expect some tears if you’re brushing against rocks. But all down jackets are meant to be patched, right?
That said, Patagonia employs 100% recycled material in that fabric, along with Fair Trade sewing. So the brand, per usual, strikes the best available balance between outright performance and social and environmental sustainability.
Two zippered chest pockets add some utility, and while there’s no two-way zipper, the hand pockets are nice and high to accommodate a harness. Overall, the jacket excels in warmth and comfort — so much so, you’d be excused for wearing it away from the granite.
- Fill: 800
- Weight: 22.3 oz.
- Key features: Certified Advanced Global TDS by NSF International, DWR treatment, Fair Trade Certified sewn
- Helmet-compatible hood
- Two external chest pockets and two hand pockets for easy access while on the wall
- Take care: Not the most tenacious face fabric
Stio has made the list with the Hometown Down jacket — and that’s still a solid puffy. But we gave the nod this year to its rowdier cousin, the Colter ($429). It has a lot of what we loved about the Hometown — plush and cozy in a uniquely Stio way — with an eye toward pow days and nasty weather.
A two-layer GORE-TEX waterproof fabric covers the oversized baffles, stuffed with water-resistant down. This 50-denier fabric also shrugs off errant branches or nasty countertop corners with aplomb. Pit zips and all the ski day goodies make this a solid multi-use option.
- Fill: 650
- Weight: 26 oz.
- Key features: YKK two-way front zipper, helmet-compatible hood, brushed tricot interior collar, interior zippered stash pockets
- Quiet face fabric
- Underarm zippers
- Not the lightest down
The Mountain Hardwear Stretchdown Hoody Down Jacket ($290) is among the most flexible down jackets we’ve ever worn, making it super comfortable for everyday errands and recreation. The jacket performed well on commuter rides, nippy walks, and snowy hikes in a range of temperatures from 10 to 35 degrees plus wind chill at 10,000 feet.
One of the aims of the Stretchdown line was to blend the warm insulation of down, with the range of motion and versatility of a softshell. From what we can tell, the designers did a pretty great job. When we lean over the handlebars or shovel snow, there’s no seam restriction on the upper back, arms, or shoulders — it feels like we’re not wearing a jacket at all.
The Stretchdown is the first-ever jacket with stitch-free baffle construction and is made from a single fabric, eliminating the need for glue. The 700-fill jacket is relatively lightweight and warm but somewhat bulky. Most impressively, water droplets roll off the surface with no signs of absorption or loss of loft.
Its hood is stretchy and spacious, however, when fully zippered, the hood’s elastic slightly pulls back the front collar, so the lower face is exposed from time to time.
- Fill: 700
- Weight: 17.7 oz.
- Key features: Stitch-free baffle construction for non-restrictive flexibility, meets RDS
- Zippered hand and chest pockets
- No stitches or glue to degrade or restrict movement
- Pretty heavy for the warmth you get
We expected France’s Decathlon Sports would make a splash in the U.S. And for us, it starts with this 800-fill Trek down jacket ($90). At that loft and price, the Decathlon Forclaz Trek 100 ($90) even beats out REI’s very popular 650 Down Hoodie. For the money, you get a highly packable jacket (stuffs into its own pocket) that meets the Responsible Down Standard.
Unlike the higher-end offerings on this list, it isn’t loaded with features like two-way front zippers, felt-lined pockets, or recycled materials. But it does stand as a remarkable value considering its light weight, warmth, and basically unmatched price.
- Fill: 800
- Weight: 10.2 oz.
- Key features: Meets RDS, DWR coating, packs into its own pocket
- Two external hand pockets
- 15-denier face fabric isn’t the strongest among our list (it’s also not the lowest)
- Fill is only protective for temps as low as 23 degrees F
- Not the highest stitch quality
A solid entry on our list is REI’s Stormhenge Down Hybrid ($259). If price, durability, versatility, and function are all important, this jacket would have to be among the considerations.
Covered in a two-layer waterproof/breathable shell with taped seams and DWR-treated down inside, the Stormhenge can take on sleet and a cold November rain. It’s not the most style-minded coat on this list, but functionally, it’s a solid bet at a very reasonable price.
The jacket has both down and synthetic insulation which is strategically placed along the body, providing warmth in the places that need it most, and cutting down on bulk where it isn’t. While it’s not a particularly breathable jacket, pit zips allow you to dump excess heat as it builds up during activity.
It is constructed with recycled and bluesign-approved materials, and RDS-certified down, so if sustainability is a concern, this is another great choice.
- Fill: 850
- Weight: 32 oz.
- Key features: Meets RDS, fully seam-sealed, body-mapped insulation, zippered chest and hand pockets, insulated hood
- Waterproof/breathable shell outer
- Pit zips
- Recycled and Bluesign-approved materials
- Not super lightweight
- Not a very flattering cut
Who would know how to fend off the cold better than the Swedes? Fjallraven’s Expedition Pack Down Hoodie ($275) is a handsome coat with not too many features but a solid build. And surprisingly, you get all that without the sticker shock you might expect from the premium outdoor brand.
Fully recycled poly construction is a nice touch. The jacket sports a neutral fit, an interior accessory pocket, and a range of toggles on the hood, hem, and neck. It’s a solid, no-frills coat made by a brand that knows winter.
For a more modest price, you get similar warmth to the Arc’teryx Cerium LT, though it doesn’t pack down quite as small and is a little bit heavier. They also added a layer of synthetic insulation over the shoulders of the jacket to help resist moisture, which makes carrying a heavy backpack for long periods of time much easier. The jacket is undeniably durable and just looks good around town, making this a solid cross-over piece.
- Fill: 700 (plus synthetic touches)
- Weight: 15.3 oz.
- Key features: Ethically sourced down plus 100% recycled polyester synthetic insulation over shoulders, 100% recycled nylon liner, and shell fabric
- Modest price
- Packs into its own pocket
- One-way front zipper
- Only three pockets
This 800-fill Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie ($329) withstands wind, resists moisture, and is lightweight for its level of warmth. We took this jacket on rolling hikes, bike rides, and walks on crisp bluebird days during 5-degree lows and with dry blizzard conditions in Colorado’s Elk and Sangre de Cristo mountains. We stayed dry, thanks to the shell’s DWR finish, which resists moisture.
Heavier amounts of water noticeably dampen the exterior, though it rebounds. This hoodie easily withstood bitter gusts, and the elastic cuffs are comfortable and block the wind. When fully zippered, the reinforced neck rise doesn’t slouch, which protects the lower half of the face. But the hood shape is a little too snug to comfortably wear a helmet.
The shell is made with NetPlus 100% recycled ripstop nylon which is constructed from recycled fishing nets in a push to help bring down ocean plastic pollution. Pretty cool. It’s also insulated with 100% Responsible Down Standard (RDS) down, certified by Control Union. This thing has the planet’s well-being in mind.
This is an excellent everyday down jacket with great style and protection for the winter season. It’s awesome to pull on post-cardio activity, like after a winter run. It also maintains its loft and warmth even with snowfall and light moisture.
- Fill: 800
- Weight: 14.8 oz.
- Key features: Recycled ripstop polyester fabric and liner, interior chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack
- RDS down
- Super comfortable
- Only three pockets
- On the heavier side
Popular among outdoor enthusiasts, the latest iteration of Rab’s Microlight Alpine ($280) does what its predecessor did, only with far more recycled materials.
Recycled down, a recycled shell, and a recycled lining quietly combine to make a Microlight Alpine that feels and performs like the original. It’s not an ultralight contender, but it’s also not a jacket meant to just go to the grocery store and back. The Microlight Alpine is plenty warm, cozy, and packable.
Thoughtful construction makes this jacket suitable for a range of uses — pockets situated to be climbing harness-compatible, a wire-brimmed hood, neutral sizing, and a stuff sack.
- Fill: 700
- Weight: 17 oz.
- Key features: Down has a fluorocarbon-free water-resistant finish, 100% recycled fabrics, and down insulation
- YKK zippers on hand pockets
- Large chest pocket
- 30-denier ripstop nylon face fabric
- Fair weight but not ultralight for minimalists
No down jacket guide would be complete without the legendary, time-tested Ghost Whisperer ($350) from Mountain Hardwear, now dubbed the “2.” This recently revamped classic introduces slight increases in durability and warmth (with a small weight penalty), and is made with trash … though it’s far from trash itself.
Using completely recycled face and trim fabrics, and stuffed with responsibly sourced RDS-certified down, they have designed it to leave as little of an impact on the planet as possible without sacrificing the warmth and comfort it’s known for. Something we’re pretty stoked on.
At 8.8 ounces with 3 ounces of 800 fill down, this jacket boasts one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios out there, and is still ultra-packable. It really does stuff down smaller than pretty much all of the jackets (both down and synthetic) we’ve tested. The hem is adjustable, and the shell fabric is quite durable, and wind and rain-resistant.
We would have liked to have seen them address some of the complaints of earlier models, however. Namely, the cuffs and overall fit. Prior iterations of the Ghost Whisperer had people wishing for elasticated cuffs, and a more athletic, less boxy fit. They don’t seem to have addressed these issues in their update, and the cuffs still make it hard to seal out the cold.
These gripes aside, this jacket still remains a super solid option for fast and light missions into the mountains, and for adventurers who need stellar packability and reliable warmth without weighing them down. We love their nudge toward greater sustainability, and still think this deserves a spot as one of the best down jackets on the market.
- Fill: 800
- Weight: 8.8 oz.
- Key features: Adjustable hem, packs down small into hand pocket, ultralight ripstop fabric
- Stellar warmth-to-weight ratio
- Packs down ridiculously small
- Cuffs aren’t elasticated, making it hard to seal in warmth
- Somewhat boxy fit in the torso
Down Jacket Comparison Chart
|Jacket||Price||Weight||Fill Power||Shell Fabric Denier||Packability|
|Arc’teryx Cerium LT||$379||11 oz.||850||10D||Included stuff sack|
|REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.0||$100||15.4 oz.||650||20D||Packs into hand pocket|
|Outdoor Research Helium Down||$279||11 oz.||800||15DX30D||Packs into hand pocket|
|Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL||$400||6.7 oz.||1,000||5D||Packs into hand pocket|
|Rab Neutrino Pro||$385||20.6 oz.||800||20D (larger over shoulders/sleeves)||Included stuff sack|
|Cotopaxi Fuego||$275||14 oz.||800||20D||Packs into internal pocket|
|Black Diamond Vision Down Parka||$465||20.5 oz.||800||20D||No|
|Patagonia Fitz Roy||$399||22.3 oz.||800||20D||Packs into hand pocket|
|Stio Colter INFINIUM||$429||26 oz.||650||50D||No|
|Mountain Hardwear Stretchdown Hoody||$290||17.7 oz.||700||Unavailable||No|
|Decathlon Forclaz Trek 100||$90||10.2 oz.||800||15D||Packs into hand pocket|
|REI’s Stormhenge Down Hybrid||$259||32 oz.||850||Unavailable||No|
|Fjallraven Expedition Pack Down Hoodie||$275||15.3 oz.||700||Unavailable||Packs into internal pocket|
|Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie||$329||14.8 oz.||800||20DX30D||Packs into internal chest pocket|
|Rab Microlight Alpine||$280||17 oz.||700||30D||Included stuff sack|
|Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2||$350||8.8 oz.||800||10D||Packs into hand pocket|
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team has tested, reviewed, and published down jacket guides for men and women across several seasons. For this guide, we considered the most durable, highly acclaimed, well-constructed, and environmentally responsible down jackets. These layers are made for a variety of conditions and present a range of prices.
To challenge and determine the top designs, our product testers donned these jackets across all seasons, from snowy environments in the Rockies, to chilly big wall ascents of El Cap in Yosemite. The crew has used these jackets for camping and urban commutes, as well as alpine and rock climbing, backcountry skiing and splitboarding, bikepacking, and alpine skiing. The testers ranged from AIARE-certified backcountry venturers to lifelong recreationists.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Down Jacket
Unlike sleeping bags which usually have a handy EN (European Norm) temperature rating associated with them, figuring out how warm a down jacket is can often be a tricky process. Many of us are familiar with the “fill power” of down jackets, but an equally, if not more, important component is “fill weight.”
Fill power measures the loft and quality of the down. To calculate fill power, a one-ounce sample of down is compressed in a cylinder. Generally speaking, the higher the number, the warmer the jacket — though the fill power isn’t the only variable affecting a jacket’s warmth.
The higher the fill quality, the less down is needed to create the same warmth. This is because it’s able to trap more air and warmth within the jacket. Higher fill power is also more compressible, loftier, lighter, and pricier.
Fill power ratings range from 300 to 900 and even greater. Most of the jackets on this list are in the 800-fill range, with a few clocking in above or below. Generally, the quality increases with the fill number:
- 400-500: fair quality
- 600: good quality
- 700: great quality
- 800: excellent quality
- 900 and above: highest quality
Fill weight, on the other hand, is the precise amount of down that has been shoved into the jacket. A jacket with a lower fill weight provides lower warmth per ounce, making this a super important stat in determining just how warm each model is. A jacket may boast a fill power of 900, but only have 3 ounces of that down, while another could have 5 ounces of the same fill power and be much warmer.
The shell fabric is an important factor for both durability and packability. Ultralight jackets tend to be made with a lighter, thinner shell material. Denier is the measurement used here. A lower denier rating means the outer fabric is lighter and therefore more prone to tears.
For backcountry excursions, the lower weight can be a worthy tradeoff. But for daily use, a higher denier is recommended. And if you do get a tear or campfire burn hole, there’s always the reliable duct tape, Tenacious Tape, or Noso Puffy Patch repair options.
Water Resistance & Hydrophobic Down
Down does not perform well when wet. And this is one of the places synthetic jackets tend to win out. In the past decade, there has been a growing use of hydrophobic down. Essentially, the down feathers are coated in a water-resistant polymer. It still doesn’t match the water resistance of synthetics, but for light precipitation, hydrophobic down can’t be beat.
The face fabrics of some down jackets are treated with DWR to help block light moisture, too.
Down vs. Synthetic
Most of the jackets in this guide are made with down, though a handful are filled with synthetic insulation that mimics down or a blend of the two.
Synthetic insulation, on the other hand, is made from polyester fibers and designed to imitate down clusters and properties with a few key differences. If you compare two jackets of equal weight, down is warmer than this alternative. But synthetic insulation retains warmth even when wet. It’s also easier to wash and usually comes at a lower price point.
- Pros of down: excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, comfort, compressibility, lightweight, high inherent warmth
- Cons of down: inability to insulate when wet, more difficult to wash, pricier
Within synthetic jackets, active insulation is another progressive subcategory to know. These technical garments are designed to dump extra heat and dry fast, so you don’t have to remove the jacket during vigorous activity. But these layers need also to be durable, warm, and wind-resistant. It’s a tricky balance.
Overall, in wet or mixed weather and when weight isn’t an issue, synthetics can be a better, safer choice. Active insulation is best for high-output action. If it’s cold and dry, down is optimal despite a higher cost. This guide lists a wide variety of the best down jackets to keep you covered in the cold.
Responsibly Sourced Down
Outdoor industry brands have made an effort to source down ethically without animal cruelty and create transparency in the global supply chain. Various certifications exist, such as the Responsible Down Standard, the Patagonia Traceable Down Standard, and the National Sanitation Foundation’s Global Traceable Down Standard.
Without meeting such standards, abuse can become part of the supply chain. Synthetic choices can set some folks at ease.
Eco-Friendly & Recycled Materials
Beyond responsible down, down jackets have an opportunity to include a bunch of eco-friendly design traits. Some jackets are created with PFC-free DWR treatments or recycled materials.
The activities you do while wearing your down jacket will influence the type of fit you need. Some jackets are more streamlined, while others are roomier, boxier, or longer.
If you’re using the layer for climbing and skiing, you’ll want an athletic or slender design that can be layered below or above a midlayer or shell. For big movements, it’s nice to have a silhouette that’s also stretchy and flexible, especially in the shoulder and chest area. Jackets such as Rab’s Neutrino Pro have been specifically designed with an anatomical shape that contributes to stellar freedom of movement while climbing or trekking in cold weather.
For daily commutes or bicycling around town, when your activity is generally creating less heat, a puffier and less athletic down jacket can be really cozy.
The down jackets in this guide range from 6.7 ounces at the low end to more than 30 ounces on the heavy side. The median weight is around 15 ounces, and the most common weight is closer to 20 to 23 ounces.
Super lightweight down jackets typically come with a premium price tag, but the investment can be worthwhile for recreationists with limited space looking to trim ounces.
Some of these down jackets can compress to the size of a water bottle, while others are bulkier — influenced by the fill, face fabric, and overall design.
Hoods & Sleeves
Many down jackets include a hood, some of which are helmet-compatible, while others have a tall collar. Some hoods may have a stiff wire at the brim which improves protection and visibility during snowy conditions. Zipper width, toggle size, and durability can vary. But as a general rule of thumb, YKK produces the strongest zippers. Minimized zippers can reduce weight and bulk.
Cuffs and sleeves can have a flexible, comfortable elastic closure or a Velcro tab for extra security. Occasionally, designs have wrist gaiters with thumb loops.
Two front hand pockets with zip closures are common, though some pockets are smaller or placed higher than others for harness compatibility. These handwarmer pockets often become super important for keeping heat from escaping your extremities once the temps start to drop.
Additional accessory pockets might include an interior or exterior chest, inside mesh pockets, and a pocket the jacket itself stuffs into.
For high-output activity, down jackets can feature mesh-lined pit zips and a powder skirt. Some designs also have a two-way zipper down the front, which is helpful when wearing a harness and belaying.
It’s easy to spend $250 to $500 on a down jacket. And that’s no small investment. The main thing to consider when looking at your budget is the end use.
If you’re regularly packing into the backcountry, an ultralight, super-packable, rather expensive jacket may be necessary. If you’ll mostly wear it around town, something like the budget-friendly Decathlon Forclaz or REI 650 Down Jacket will keep you warm for less than $100.
When Should You Wear a Down Jacket?
A down jacket holds heat around your body’s core in order to maintain a comfortable level of warmth when the temperatures drop. A spectrum of down jackets exists from plush and stylish for everyday use to lighter, packable designs for year-round backcountry adventures.
What’s the Difference Between a Down Jacket’s Fill Power and Fill Weight?
A jacket’s fill power is the down’s quality and amount of loft. You’ll see jackets labeled as 600-fill or 800-fill, for instance. The fill weight, which is measured in ounces, reflects the density or amount of down stuffed inside the jacket.
So when two 700-fill jackets have different weights, we know the heavier one is warmer.
On the other hand, if two down jackets weigh the same with different fill power (two 15-ounce jackets with 650 fill and 800 fill), the higher fill jacket is going to be less bulky, lighter, and more compressible.
It’s tricky to compare jackets with differing fill power. But in general, the lower the fill power, the less loft and warmth.
What Warmth Should I Choose for a Down Jacket?
Down jackets have a huge variance of warmth. Some jackets are constructed to withstand freezing or sub-zero temperatures, while others are a match for summer, spring, and fall backpacking trips. Here are the broad categories of jackets, depending on their fill weight:
- Lightweight: 3-4 ounces of down fill, three-season jacket, skiing midlayer
- Moderate weight: 5-6 ounces of down fill, more warmth for sub-freezing temperatures
- Heavyweight: More than 6 ounces of down fill, tenacious design for winter conditions
The combination of the fill weight and fill power, which is the loft and quality of the down, changes how warm a jacket is. The higher the fill power and higher the weight, the more heat the jacket retains.
How Heavy Should My Down Jacket Be?
Lightweight down jackets are very compressible and a great choice for cramming into your pack for emergency use. But they often cost more. Those weights range from close to 8 to 15 ounces. Midweight options bump up to the 20-ounce range, and heavier down jackets are around 30 ounces.
What Is the Best Down Jacket to Buy?
The best down jacket for you is based on where and how you’ll use it. If the weather is relatively dry and super cold, a down jacket with greater down fill that will retain more heat could be worth the investment. If you’ll be in a really wet environment, a synthetic down jacket might be a better choice.
What Qualities Should I Look For in a Down Jacket?
As you search for a down jacket, pay attention to the fill power, overall fit, and price. Be sure the warmth and features match your needs, like whether or not the jacket has a helmet-compatible hood, underarm zippers, and harness-compatible hand pockets.
Examine the level of weather resistance, like DWR-treated material or down, and if it matches the exposure you’ll be in. Some jackets are even reinforced in high-use areas, like in the shoulders for pulling on and off a pack. If you plan on venturing into the backcountry, weight and compressibility make a difference, too.