Likewise, the Rab Microlight Alpine provided top of the line warmth, in no small part because it did an excellent job of sealing off all the openings to keep the heat in and the cold out.
It has great wind resistance, helping us stay warmer on blustery days. We also liked the fit, which was roomy in the shoulders but trim down the sides. The DWR coating keeps water out of the down for a time, but Patagonia does not treat the fill, so its wet weather performance is not fantastic overall.
It's a little heavy for the warmth it provides, but we loved the features that it has, including an internal chest pocket and a stash pocket, and a high collar that comes up over your nose when fully zipped. As you've read above, other options are lighter or less expensive, but if you're looking for something that is also "outdoor chic," the Patagonia Down Sweater is hard to beat.
We tested a narrow range of down jackets in this review. We focused on the light to mid-weight category and did not include super fat belay or expedition style parkas. These down jackets are lightweight, fairly compact, reasonably affordable, and offer stand-alone insulation down to around 32F, but can be used as part of a layering system to keep you warm in much colder temperatures. The list of potential uses for a highly versatile layer like these is nearly endless. They are perfect for wearing in the evenings around town or while camping during the shoulder seasons, as an everyday around-town jacket during the winter, or as a warm layer or overcoat for colder seasons in the mountains, regardless of activity.
All of these models feature down insulation, long known to provide the best warmth-to-weight ratio, with the caveat that they lose their warmth-trapping loft when they get wet. While most of these jackets now use some form of hydrophobically treated down coupled with external DWR applications to add water resistance, people who are concerned about their jacket getting wet should also check out our Best Men's Synthetic Insulated Jackets Review.
When they were available, we chose to test the hooded versions of all these jackets, because a hood adds both warmth and versatility. Not everyone likes a hood though, or if you are specifically looking for something to layer with, too many hoods in your layering system can get in the way, so we also point out which jackets also come in hoodless versions.
To be able to give you the best possible advice on buying a down jacket, we chose to rate each contender on a scale of for six different metrics: We weighted each of these six parameters based upon how important we felt it was to the overall performance of a down jacket, i. Adding together the scores for each metric gave us a final, overall rating, which you can peruse in the table above.
Note that in our ratings we were comparing the products to each other, and not the entire outdoor apparel market as a whole. So when we say an option is highly water resistant, that is compared to other down jackets, and not to a rain jacket.
Most of our testing and scoring took place on adventures in the field, but in some cases, we also devised specialized tests to help us better understand how each jacket scored for a given metric. Below, we break down the ins and outs of each of the six scoring metrics, including the crucial factors, how we tested for it, what percentage it counts in the final score, and what were the best jackets for that particular metric. In all cases, ratings were given compared to the competition.
For that reason, just because a product scored poorly does not mean it is not worth owning or using, as all of these jackets are among the best available on the market today. For users who have a particular purpose or use in mind, or who place greater importance on a specific metric, we recommend diving deep into the individual reviews, focusing on what is most important to you, rather than looking only at overall scores.
One of the metrics that we don't score for but do consider in our reviews is the value of a product. While we are always trying to find the best products possible, sometimes those can be the most expensive too, which isn't always going to work for everyone.
If you need an option that will get the job done without setting you back a ton of money, take a look at our Price vs. We've graphed each model's score X-axis according to its price Y-axis. Those that lie on the bottom of the graph but towards the right have excellent value. Warmth is the most important criteria when selecting a jacket, because, after all, if not for its warmth, why do we need one?
Since it's so important, we decided to weight each model's score for warmth as 30 percent of its total score. The primary measurement of warmth in a down jacket is down-fill power. Fill power numbers for the jackets we tested range from lowest quality up to highest quality. The fill power represents the ability of the down to loft up and create insulating dead space.
Since trapped air within a jacket's baffles is what insulates you from the cold outside, the more loft a jacket has, the warmer it will be. However, fill power does not translate directly to warmth. To fill a particular space, one company could use a little bit of very high fill down to accomplish the same thing as another company that uses a lot of lower fill power down.
Since most of the jackets in this review have a similar ideal temperature range, using higher fill-power down tends to mean that the jacket will be lighter and also more expensive. Conversely, jackets that use low fill power down will usually be heavier and less costly to provide the same heat-trapping loft. Lightweight down jackets are typically made using sewn-through baffle construction that helps produce a lighter weight and less expensive contender.
The baffles are the individual compartments that hold down and are needed so that it doesn't all sink to the bottom. Sewn-through construction means that the fabric on the outside of the jacket is sewn to the material on the inside, creating a baffle, which is typically oriented horizontally, although some are square shaped.
This design makes them lighter, thinner, and less expensive. On the downside, sewn-through baffles create thin places near the seams where there is no down, and trapped heat can escape.
There are a few different alternative techniques for generating baffles besides the sewn-through method, but the only other one used by jackets in our review is the welded or bonded baffle construction. These two names describe a similar technique where the outer and inner fabrics of a model are "bonded" together using chemicals or glue free from any stitching. The Columbia Outdry Ex Gold and the Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded are the two jackets that use this method , which in general offers better water and wind resistance, as no holes or threads are compromising the outer layer of the jacket.
However, we also noticed that this style has more massive gaps between baffles where there is no insulation, and so doesn't automatically lead to a warmer design. Though thickness, loft, and method of construction have a lot to do with warmth, it's not only about fill quality and amounts. The design and features of a jacket, such as a hood and drawcords, the thickness and quality of the outer material, how well the jacket fits, etc.
How well you keep the cold out is as important as how well you keep the heat inside. To test these jackets for warmth we used them each countless times on adventures during the late fall and early winter: We also tested them side-by-side on a frigid, windy morning in the mountains to best tell how they compare against each other.
Although they do not come with temperature ratings like sleeping bags, we feel these jackets offer good-to-adequate stand-alone warmth down to freezing and can help you stay warm in much lower temperatures used as part of a layering system. However, in our testing, a few jackets stood out for their warmth. The Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody uses super high fill down to create a thick, cozy, and very lightweight jacket that was warmer than all the others.
Likewise, the Rab Microlight Alpine provided top of the line warmth, in no small part because it did an excellent job of sealing off all the openings to keep the heat in and the cold out. Although not as good as those two jackets, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody was also among the most comfortably warm jackets in this review. The higher, further, and steeper we take ourselves, the more important the weight of what we take becomes.
The utility of an object comes in measuring how much use you get out of it for how much energy is expended carrying it. The warmth-to-weight ratio of a jacket is a key measure of value, and a down jacket has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any technical insulated jacket.
Additional ounces are added or subtracted to a jacket's weight by the fabric and design features. Frequently, durability and other critical features such as a hood are sacrificed on the altar of ultra-light design, to the detriment of the final product. An ultra-light jacket that doesn't keep you warm or that falls apart after limited use doesn't have a lot of value.
To test weight, we weighed jackets on our scale as soon as they arrived. In the cases where a contender came with an included stuff sack for compression, we included that in the item's overall weight, since weight tends to matter more when it's being carried than when it's being worn. To find the best fit for our head tester, some of the jackets we ordered were size Large, while others were size Medium.
Despite their differences in stated size, they all fit our head tester pretty much ideally, so we compared weights straight across the board, regardless of jacket size. From our testing, we noticed that weight seems to be a product of three factors: Using a higher fill-power down means that you get the same loft with less filling, so higher fill jackets tend to be lighter, and there is a little trade-off here except for added expense.
Similarly, using a thinner fabric can make a jacket lighter, with the compromise, in this case, being durability. Lastly, to save weight, some models have far fewer features, such as pockets, zippers, or draw cords, while others use much lighter and smaller zippers to shave half an ounce here and there. The trade-off for using less or lighter features can again be durability in the case of super small gauge zippers or the lack of ability to fine-tune the fit if a jacket eschews the use of drawcords.
The lightest jacket in this year's review was once again the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded , which came in at 7. Despite its low weight this jacket had a hood, zippered pockets, and a hem drawcord, and was surprisingly warm given how light it was.
The insulating capacity of untreated down is almost completely negated by water, so jackets insulated with down have historically had a bad reputation in wet environments. While a down jacket is never an excellent idea for a rainy day, having some level of water resistance is important simply to protect the down. All of the jackets reviewed accomplish this to some degree by applying a Durable Water Resistant DWR coating to the jacket.
DWR coatings are chemical applications designed to repel water before it has a chance to be absorbed by the face fabric and, subsequently, the down inside. By helping to keep the face fabric dry, DWR coatings allow a jacket to breathe better should moisture accumulate on the inside from sweating.
The only downside to DWR coatings is that they vary widely in quality and durability. Once a DWR coating has worn off, you must reapply. Unfortunately, this can happen in as little as a few uses.
Water resistance can also come by using treated down that has a DWR coating. Because we do not have access to the down inside a jacket, we found it difficult to test how useful these DWR applications are at creating hydrophobic down.
In years past we only reviewed a couple down jackets with hydrophobic down used inside, while this year there were four that made our selection of the ten best, suggesting that this is a technology that companies think improve the performance of down that comes in contact with water.
Never-the-less, despite soaking these jackets in the shower, we found it difficult to accurately compare the performance of the treated down versus regular down. In general, our scores in this metric were a reflection of the performance of the DWR coating and the face fabric, although we chose to award bonus points to jackets that used hydrophobic down. The most water resistant down jacket was, without doubt, the Columbia Outdry Ex Gold , specifically designed to be waterproof on the outside.
This model was like combining down insulation on the inside with a rain slicker on the outside, and while it came with a few drawbacks, water resistance certainly was not one of them.
While we can think of a few improvements we would make, we think this jacket is an intriguing start to the niche of waterproof down jackets.
Our Top Pick for Wet Weather is the Rab Microlight Alpine , which combines water-resistant Pertex microlight shell fabric with an impressive DWR coating, Nikwax treated down, and a hood that keeps the rain out of your face.
While it wasn't wholly water proof , this is the down jacket we would want to take to wet climates, with the caveat that we would still do all we could to keep it as dry as possible.
And with its combination of Q. Shield water resistant down and a durable and high-quality outer DWR coating, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded also received high scores for water resistance. This metric accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score.
Unlike heavy overcoat-style down parkas, these mid- and lightweight down jackets are designed to be worn while you recreate. Whether you wear them over the top of your other clothes, or as a warmth layer underneath a shell jacket, the fit needs to be conducive to movement. For this reason, we prefer jackets that are sleeker fitting and not excessively baggy, although your specific body type will dictate what constitutes a good fit.
For us, an ideally fitting jacket is one that mimics the shape of the body, so that it moves as we do, but is also large enough to wear a layer or two beneath. We try to avoid jackets that are overly baggy in the torso, as we find them to be annoying when we are wearing a pack or trying to look down at our feet when skiing or climbing. There's also the fact that they have more dead space that needs to be warmed up using your body heat. We are also very particular about the length of the sleeves, as well as the shape of the jacket through the shoulders and upper back and chest.
Simply put, we want our jacket to be ready for any activity, and no matter what we are doing — ice climbing, skiing, scrambling — we are likely to be moving our arms about and sometimes swinging them over our head.
Some jackets have sleeves that are too short, causing them to ride up above our wrists when our arms are outstretched. Likewise, we found some the jackets to have constrictive fits around the shoulders, upper back, and chest that impede our freedom of movement, and affect the overall fit. Other areas that we paid attention to the fit were the collar, the hood, and the length of the hemline at our waist.
In particular, we loved how the sleeves were plenty long and the cut of the shoulders spacious enough for us to perform any conceivable movement without impingement. While it was big enough to layer beneath, the cut was also sleek enough not to impede our motion.
For us, it fits very close to the body with virtually no dead space. We felt this fit perfectly complemented its lightweight design, as we most often wore it as a stand-alone jacket in cool weather, or as a close to the body warmth layer in frigid weather.
The Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody was among a small handful of other jackets that also fit nicely , offering versatility and a wide range of movement. Regardless of whether you are hiking, alpine climbing, or skiing, when you are working hard you will likely get too hot to wear a down jacket. Except when the weather is frigid, or we are doing a lot of hanging out, we typically only wear our down jacket during breaks in the activity, and then take it off and stuff it in the top of the pack again before we get moving.
Since a down jacket typically spends so much time in the pack, it is important to consider how easy it is to compress and how small it is once fully packed up. It is worth noting that down is superior to synthetic insulation when considering compressibility. Every time you stuff a synthetic jacket away, the insulation breaks down and loses its heat retention capacity. Down can handle many more compressions and expansions than synthetic insulation, and is also smaller when compressed and is lighter weight than synthetic materials.
The down used in the construction of the jackets reviewed is high quality and resisted degradation throughout testing. Consequently, the stratifying characteristic for this metric tended to be how small they were when compressed.
The jackets with few features, lightweight fabric, and high fill-power down compressed the most, while the jackets with heavy and bulky face fabrics or low fill-power down tended to compress the least. Some jackets easily fit into one of their own pockets and could be zipped up with an attached clip-in loop. Others included a dedicated lightweight stuff sack that lives in the breast pocket. Unfortunately, some of the jackets in this review did not have a specialized method of compression, and so to get them as small as possible, we rolled them up inside their hood.
Not surprisingly, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded was the highest scorer when considering compressibility. It is the thinnest and lightest weight of the jackets we tested, and its high fill-power down means that it easily stuffs into its pocket in a tiny little package that can be clipped and taken anywhere. Despite offering the most warmth of any jacket we tested, the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody also stuffs down extremely small, a testament to the fill-power down used inside.
The only downside was that it uses a dedicated stuff sack rather than stuffing into its pocket, which adds a tiny bit of weight and bulk, not to mention the possibility of losing the stuff sack. A handful of other jackets, including the REI Co-op Magma , also stuff down pretty small in their own pockets. With so many companies producing high-quality clothing, it often comes down to the little things that make all the difference when deciding on a jacket.
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