Taking a break from climbing in the midwinter sun in the cozy and durable Rab Microlight. While we did not punish any company or jacket in this review that did not disclose that they use responsibly sourced down, we encourage you to consider this humane and important aspect of your jacket before making a purchase.
It is important to research the outer material as much as you research the insulation. Gore-Tex is a great exterior feature for down jackets. It is a waterproof and breathable fabric membrane that can repels liquids but allows vapor to pass through it. Gore-Tex is designed to be lightweight for all weather use. However, when purchasing a jacket, be sure to inspect the material to ensure that no feathers or down are poking out of it, as this means that the material is not sturdy enough to support the down material inside.
To be very sure, compress the jacket and check again. If the material passes both these tests, then it is likely strong enough and does not degrade with wear. Also, try to buy a down jacket that has an extra layer laminated onto the fabric, as this increases the jacket's ability to keep out water and keep the wearer dry and warm.
The materials of the jacket also factor into the overall weight of the jacket. For reference, a typical lightweight model weighs about 9 oz. The rest of the weight is made up of the fabric, zippers, accessories, and other features of the jacket. The shell fabric of jackets is an important factor in your warmth and protection from the elements. Different fabrics have different durabilities.
While thinner and lighter materials are more prone to abrasion, when backpacking, hiking, or climbing, jackets with lighter materials and a high warm-to-weight ratio are usually preferable as they are more compressible and light to carry. Down jackets are constructed in a number of different designs, including the tube wall design, which has smaller baffles, or compartments, or the box wall design, where the jacket is constructed of two outer layers, as well as many others.
There is a dispute over which designs are better. It is not just the stitching that the buyer must pay attention to; the buyer must ensure that the down jacket is made for use by a woman, as women's down jackets have a different construction than men's jackets. Therefore, do not attempt to purchase jackets that are made for men when the wearer is going to be a woman. Nobody wants a jacket that is so big they look like a giant marshmallow.
Whenever possible, try on jackets before purchase. Many down jackets come with other features that should be examined, like hoods, zips,pockets, adjustable hems, and so on. For example, a hood may not be convenient in situations where the buyer has to wear helmets or other kinds of head gear, but at the same time, it may be useful to keep one's ears and head warm and dry in the event of rain or heavy winds. As for zips, front zips should ideally have overlap panels so that the heat is not lost at the zipper area.
Most down jackets have pockets either on the outside or inside, but some have pockets on both sides. The type of pockets that the jacket contains are important, not the number of pockets. If the buyer likes to keep things in her pockets, then perhaps zipped pockets would be a secure option.
For women with hands that often get cold, having hand warmer pockets on the outside of the jacket is certainly helpful.
The Ghost Whisperer is the best down mid-layer in this review. The main features you want for this kind of climbing is light weight and very compressible, not to mention a fit that will go over other clothes. Our experience with winter and ice climbing is that we are willing to sacrifice a bit of weight in favor of serious warmth, as we are generally willing to do anything to stay warm, keep having fun, and keep blood flowing from our torso to our extremities.
We might easily wear a down jacket as a mid layer under our hard shell to keep us warm all day and to keep it dry and protected. We will always also have a large puffy belay jacket ready for times when we stop moving.
For this kind of jacket we want the warmest we can get, with internal pockets for keeping extra clothing items warm and trying to dry gloves out a huge bonus. Down has long been shunned in wet climates due to the fact that it shrinks up like a ball of cellophane when it gets soaked with water.
However, recent advances in technology are making it so that you need not automatically dismiss down if you live in, say, Portland. The Columbia Outdry Ex Gold is actually water proof , meaning you could wear it all day long in a downpour and likely stay dry.
That said, since it isn't very warm or super compressible, and is also fairly heavy, we would use this jacket around town, but wouldn't choose to lug it on a backpacking trip. If you are going backpacking in a wet area, down can still be a good option. It still retains its awesome warmth-to-weight ratios, which can make it a real MVP piece on overnight trips.
Combinations of high quality DWR coatings and hydrophobic down, like that found in our Top Pick for Wet Weather, the Rab Microlight Alpine , can keep you warm, even if it gets a bit wet. It must be said that these jackets are not a substitute for a rain jacket, and if we took them backpacking we would still do all that we could to keep them as dry as possible.
Some people work outside in the winter in very extreme environments, and need extra clothing in order to stay warm. Granted, most of these people seem to get by with layering various inexpensive Carhart-style solutions, but depending on your job, a high quality insulation layer could make you a lot happier. However, this is another circumstance where we would recommend synthetic insulation over down, because of the increased durability should you tear the jacket.
If we were to wear a down jacket for work, we would be sure to have a far more protective shell jacket layered over the top of it to protect it from rips or scratches. Any of the lighter weight, mid-layer selection of jackets in this review would work well in these circumstances. If the primary reason for buying a warm down jacket is simply to keep you warm as you live your life in your freezing cold winter town, then you are probably like most people.
For you, weight and compressibility probably have far less importance in your selection than warmth, fit, and style. We typically throw one of these jackets on over the top of whatever normal human clothes we are wearing for the day, so it is important that the jacket is large enough to be worn as an outer layer. When it comes to style, we typically shy away from overly technical garments, and instead gravitate toward what matches our regular wardrobe, and perhaps more importantly, doesn't make us look like a weirdo or fat.
All of these jackets will keep you warm, but there is a wide range exhibited here. Your decision will certainly be different if you live in a town where the overnight low is 20, versus if you live in a town where the low is If you just need insulation from 20, then any jacket in this review is fine in conjunction with your other clothes, and we recommend the ones that look the best.
If your home is truly butt-ass cold, then please choose either the Rab Microlight Alpine or the Arc'teryx Cerium LT , or better yet a heavier down parka, and don't be fooled into thinking one of these super light jackets will keep you happy and toasty at We hope that our research, in-depth reviews, and recommendations above have helped you to narrow down and effectively choose the best Down Jacket for you.
As with most pieces of equipment, the process begins with identifying the conditions you will likely face, and then finding the product that best handles those circumstances. While we have ranked all the jackets we tested and given awards to our favorites, the reality is that all of these jackets have their pros and cons, and there is a perfect situation or person for every jacket here. Curious how we rate products? Read our How We Test article to find out. How to Choose the Best Down Jacket.
Testing down jackets and the strength of the sea ice, Bay of Sails, Antarctica. Having the right insulation in the mountains is imperative to having a good time and sometimes survival, and a good jacket can be the difference between the summit and surrender. Down is the most efficient insulator, with a warmth-to-weight ratio yet to be surpassed by synthetic technology.
As a highly technical layer that features only the very highest quality materials to make it as light as possible, the Ghost Whisperer does not come cheap. Sometimes quality is worth its price, however, and this is certainly one of those times.
The Ghost Whisperer had one of the best DWR coatings that we tested, shown here working to cause water to bead up without absorbing into the nylon face fabric. Underneath, the fill power down is also hydrophobically treated to resist water absorption. Samples of the same weight show that increasing down fill power displaces more volume, resulting in a lighter and more compressible product.
A close up of the fabric of the Down Sweater Hoody. The fill power down really lofts out these thin sewn through baffles, making this one of the puffier jackets in the review. What we really liked about it is Patagonia's commitment to tracing and using only the most responsibly sourced down. With its very high quality fill power down, the Cerium LT Hoody had unrivaled amounts of loft and was also the warmest jacket in this review.
It uses sewn-through baffles to keep the jacket light. Heat sensing photo showing cotton hoody on left and down jacket on right. You can see how much heat escapes from the cotton hoody.
And how heat escapes from down jackets at the seams. The fit of the StretchDown jacket was one of the most difficult for us.
As you can see here, we found the sleeves to be quite a bit too short. Also, the fit in the shoulders, underarms, and across the upper back was very tight and restricting.
This photo also does a good job of showing off the stretch welded baffles, eschewing the use of stitching through the fabric. Here you can see the combination of the Pertex Quantum Microlight fabric and the DWR coating working to prevent water from absorbing into the fabric and the down underneath.
Despite having no draw cords to help cinch up this hood, the elastic rimmed face opening was well sealed against the cold, and fit very comfortably. The three middle sized jackets when stuffed. On the left is the Rab Microlight Alpine, stuffed into its included stuff sack. On the right is the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, stuffed into its internal chest pocket.
While these jackets compressed easily, they were not among the very smallest compressed jackets. This jacket has a pretty light set of features, here showing the internal zippered chest pocket that is nice for storing a phone or snacks inside the warmth envelope, where they won't freeze.
One of our favorite features about the StretchDown Hooded, and all down jackets that have them, are internal stash pockets that are large and perfect for storing items like gloves when not in use. These dual draw cords inside the collar of the Rab Microlight Alpine offer fine tuning ability for the fit of the hood, and also do a great job of sealing off the face enclosure if it is really cold.
They are relatively easy to use with one hand. You can also see the wire-brim of the hood. Shown here on the Morph Hoodie is the hem pull cord that lives inside the front handwarmer pockets, and has a recessed release buckle that lives inside the fabric, and releases by being pinched, as our other hand is doing.
This was the single most optimal combination of hem draw cord location and buckles on a jacket that we tested. Wearing lightweight down jackets to fend off the cold and wind on a mountaineering expedition in Argentina.
Even in the sun, hanging out at a local crag at 11, ft. This jacket worked great as a belay coat for us during the prime climbing season of autumn. Testing the water proofness of the Columbia Outdry Ex Gold in a very wet early season snow storm. It certainly keeps the water out and the down inside dry, as claimed. Despite being the most expensive jacket in this review, we think that it is well worth the money, and loved how warm it kept us pretty much all the time while camping.
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A down jacket is a jacket which has been insulated with the soft and warm under feathers from duck or geese. Down is a fantastic insulator as the loft (or fluffiness) of down creates thousands of tiny air pockets which trap warm air and retain heat, thus keeping the wearer very warm. Synthetic vs. Down Insulation. The first decision when buying an insulation layer is to decide if you need a down or synthetic jacket. Down is much warmer for its weight and compresses better, but when it gets wet, it will lose its loft, meaning it will also lose its ability to keep you warm. Down jackets are constructed in a number of different designs, including the tube wall design, which has smaller baffles, or compartments, or the box wall design, where the jacket is constructed of two outer layers, as well as many others. There is a dispute over which designs are better.