Take a peek at the photo below to compare the sizes of several jackets stuffed into their stuff sacks or pockets. With the new polymer instead of wire hood brim, you don't look ridiculous when you forget to bend it into shape. Since these smaller baffles are only under the arms, the area is often protected from the wind and otherwise covered by the arms themselves. There are a lot of variables to consider when choosing a down jacket.
Not only is that what they look like, but that is pretty much exactly what they are. Lots of these little blobs all clustered together form millions of tiny air pockets, providing "loft," which serves as an incredible insulator.
The more inert air that can be trapped in between you and the cold outside air, the better you will be insulated from its chilling effects. Down is the best insulator on the planet in terms of warmth-to-weight ratio. It is also very resistant to the damage caused in compression, meaning you can stuff it in your pack time and again without compromising its ability to keep you warm.
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. Synthetic insulated jackets are quite a bit heaver at the same thickness and warmth, and they don't compress and pack down as well, but they keep much of their loft when wet.
This means that even when wet a synthetic jacket can still retain some of its insulating capability and thus its warmth. Down tends to last longer, and the feathers themselves allow for more breathability than synthetic insulations. Your average synthetic jacket will lose much of its warmth over years, depending on wear, compared with your average down jacket that with equal care can retain its warmth for years. Down also has a higher resiliency after being compressed than synthetic insulations, so after being unpacked a down jacket will regain its shape more quickly.
Synthetic jackets are more durable when it comes to abrasion. If you climb that last chimney pitch in the dark wearing your synthetic puffy coat and put some holes in it, no big deal.
If you put holes in your down coat, the filling will leak out like the first winter snow. Depending on the quality of down used, it also tends to be more expensive than synthetic insulation, although the extra cost will be offset in the long run due to the increased longevity of the product. The pros and cons of down and synthetic insulation are summed up in the chart below:. Hydrophobic down is down that has been coated with a DWR coating, similar to what companies apply to the outside of jackets to repel water.
The hope is that these coatings will allow the down to repel water as well as synthetic insulation, thereby eliminating the one serious drawback to down — it's inability to maintain loft, and therefore warmth retention, when wet. Many different companies have developed proprietary hydrophobic down, and in our review four of the jackets — the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded , Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded , Rab Microlight Alpine , and the Marmot Tullus Hoody — incorporated their versions of this technology.
It is not exactly clear how long one can expect these coatings to continue to work, as DWR coatings on face fabrics inevitably wear off after a reasonable amount of use. At least one manufacturer's marketing claims included the words "permanent" water resistance, although we find this a bit hard to believe.
An even more important question might be: Presumably, cost of development as well as cost of implementation have something to do with this fact. We will admit that we found it difficult to successfully test the claims made about hydrophobic down and its performance in a wet environment compared to regular down. We wore the hydrophobic down jackets into the shower for minutes at a time, getting them fully and completely soaked with water, and did indeed find that they seemed to lose little to no loft due to the soaking.
This would suggest that the claims are mostly accurate. That said, some of the other jackets we doused fully in the shower performed equally well, as in, also lost little to no loft when wet, because the DWR coatings applied to the face fabrics were very effective at preventing water from being absorbed into the down at least when they are fresh.
The best that we can say is that we couldn't disprove hydrophobic down as a potentially superior technology, and when considering whether to buy a jacket that uses it or not, there is really no reason not to get the hydrophobic down jacket. Fill power is perhaps the most commonly misunderstood purchase decision factor.
Usually a manufacturer will advertise a "fill-power" of , , etc. These numbers are a reference to the quality of the down insulation used. The number is actually a volume — the amount of cubic inches one ounce of down occupies. For example, one ounce of fill-power down will occupy cubic inches when compressed by a standardized weight.
If you use two ounces of fill on jacket A, and two ounces of fill on jacket B, jacket A — with the fill down — will be warmer because it has more loft. However, a jacket may have eight ounces of fill down and yet be of similar warmth to a jacket with twelve ounces of fill down.
The jacket featuring fill down has similar warmth but will weigh less, and be more compressible, since it has less down in it. In other words, higher fill power down allows for better warmth-to-weight ratios, but is not always the definitive factor when considering warmth of a jacket. The quantity of down is just as important as the quality of down when figuring out how warm a jacket will be.
While it is common with other down filled products, like sleeping bags, to list the actual amount of down used to stuff the product in ounces, this is unfortunately not the case with down jackets. If you want the lightest and warmest jacket, then high fill-power down is very important, and this will usually come with a higher price tag. Conversely, if you want to save some money, lower fill power down is usually cheaper, but more of it is needed to create the same warmth, and so your jacket will be heavier.
Both of these jackets tied in our comparative rankings for the warmest jacket. The Arc'teryx uses high quality fill down, weighs only Down is a fluffy white substance that ducks and geese use as insulation from the cold and which resides between their skin and outer feathers. It is not a substance that can be synthetically replicated, and must be harvested directly from either ducks or geese, although in general goose down tends to be a bit higher quality and have higher fill powers.
In order to address concerns about where the down in their products comes from, and to assure buyers that the animals were well treated before relinquishing their down for your jacket, most companies are using "traceable down," or "certified responsibly sourced down," which essentially means that they disclose their down sources and the harvesting practices of those sources.
Companies that trace their down ensure that it is solely the product of the food industry, and that animals were never live-plucked simply for their down. They take great measures to ensure that the humanely treated animal's down does not mix with other down from animals that were not humanely treated some of the worst practices involve live plucking the birds as well as force-feeding.
Users who are concerned about the welfare of animals are encouraged to purchase down jackets from companies that trace their down or use only responsible sourced down, and to put pressure on companies that do not. In this review, the only jacket that we could not find any evidence of specifically using responsibly sourced down was the Marmot Tullus Hoody.
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. In general, there are two primary construction methods used in these down jackets: Although it is a reasonably common form of creating down baffles, none of the jackets we reviewed this year feature box-baffles.
This method is most common. It is easier, less time-consuming, and therefore cheaper for manufacturers than other forms of baffle construction, like welded baffles. The outer material is stitched directly into the inner lining, separating the down in different baffles, which are horizontally oriented. This method uses less fabric and is lighter than more complicated box baffle construction, and is less costly.
Because of weight, simplicity, and cost, most of the lightweight jackets, and many of the heavier ones, utilize this construction. Although sewn-through construction saves weight via the use of less material, it is less warm than box baffle construction because the down is pinched at the seams of the sewn-through baffles and thus loft is reduced to zero at each point of baffle stitching.
The sewn-through baffling prevents the migration of the down, but due to the simple construction it also reduces the optimum loft of the down, creating "cold spots" at each baffle seam. Most of the jackets in this review are made with sewn-through construction. The photo below shows three things: Two of the jackets in this year's review feature "welded" or "bonded" baffles, which are essentially the same thing, described with different verbiage.
This construction technique fuses the inner and outer pieces of fabric together to create a baffle that holds the down using heat, chemicals, glue, or a combination of all three. Honestly we aren't sure about the exact techniques used to achieve these effects, they aren't disclosed, and are likely different and proprietary from company to company, and also depending on materials.
There is one major benefit to these techniques: Other benefits touted by the companies but which are either negligible or unverifiable are: In regards to the last point that welded or bonded baffles are warmer than sewn-through baffles, we must point out that in both of the jackets that had welded baffles, the inner and out fabric still pinch together between baffles, creating an un-insulated dead space, just like sewn-through baffles.
Also, we noticed that the width of these dead spaces is actually quite a bit larger on the welded jackets than the sewn-through ones, and so we surmise that this method of construction may actually be less warm than sewn-through baffles, not the other way around. While there are many other factors at play, including type and quantity of insulation, as well as the properties of the face fabrics, we found that these two jackets were amongst the least warm of any we tested. The main fabrics the outer shell and the lining affect a jacket's performance in four primary ways: A lightweight model that weighs about nine ounces usually has only three ounces of down.
The remainder of the total garment weight is the fabric, zippers, and other various small features like cinch cords for adjustability.
Jackets with lighter materials are obviously more compressible and lighter. Different fabrics have different levels of durability. Thinner and lighter materials are usually more vulnerable to abrasion and snagging.
There are many super-light shell fabrics on the market that are rather impressive — they allow for the construction of jackets with phenomenal warmth-to-weight ratios.
However, if you are looking for a down jacket that you can use and abuse for years and years, considering shell fabric durability may be your primary concern considering that down is itself inherently durable if properly cared for. When researching a jacket you're considering purchasing, take the time to note the shell fabric material and it's relative weight compared to other similar jackets.
The material used as the face fabric of a given jacket is described in the specs column of a jackets review page. The shell fabric will also affect the warmth of the jacket.
You want the material to breathe a bit, allowing perspiration to escape. Otherwise, the down would wet and lose its loft. Finally, the shell fabric is what protects the down from the elements. Fabrics with a tighter weave are more water resistant. Although all of these jackets tested here have some sort of DWR durable water repellant coating, these wear off in varying degree of quickness.
If weight and packability are your primary concerns, consider one of the jackets here with super-light shell material like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded. If durability is your primary concern, consider some of the jackets with slightly burlier shell fabrics like the Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody. Overall, hoods keep you warmer, especially in windy conditions. In order to be sure that we were comparing apples to apples, we chose only jackets with a hood for this year's review, with the exception of the REI Co-op Magma , which only comes hoodless.
Many of these models are also made without a hood for a few less dollars, and we made note of that in the specs column. If you're looking for a down layer to keep you as warm as possible, then get a hood. If you often wear your jacket as a mid-layer, consider a non-hooded model, which will layer a bit easier under your chosen outerwear, which probably has a hood.
Keep in mind that not all hoods are designed the same. Some hoods are made to wear over a climbing helmet and are rather large if you don't happen to be wearing one at the time. Other hoods, like on the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer , are designed to be tighter fitting to the face and worn under a helmet. These hoods are good at keeping the cold out and offer a tighter, sleeker profile while climbing or hiking.
One of the great advantages of down is its compressibility; many jackets either come with a stuff sack or compress into their own pocket. Jackets that stuff into either a chest or hand pocket and have a clip-able carabiner loop are more advantageous for climbing then a separate stuff sack because of the ease with which you can attach the stuffed jacket to your harness.
This is particularly nice when climbing multi-pitch routes where you only have a small follower's pack, as it allows the leader to lead with the jacket on their harness and thus have it at the belay, while the follower carries the pack. The other issue with a separate stuff sack is that you have to be careful not to lose it.
Take a peek at the photo below to compare the sizes of several jackets stuffed into their stuff sacks or pockets. Besides the obvious differences in warmth, lighter jackets and parkas also differ quite a bit in terms of pockets and features. Several of the light down jackets reviewed here skimp significantly on features as a means of saving weight. Features that are often cut include draw cords on the hood and waist and having fewer pockets.
On the other side of that spectrum are parkas that are designed for expedition use and are full of features intended to make your life easier in the cold. Below we briefly make mention of the common features found on these jackets, and what styles worked well, and what didn't.
These are the two front pockets designed for keeping your hands warm or stowing your snacks in. Every handwarmer pocket in this review was zippered, which we love for keeping your valuables safe when moving about.
Some had fleece linings, which felt nice. An important aspect to consider is whether the pockets are high enough to sit above a pack's waist belt, otherwise they become unusable when wearing a pack. Most jackets have one of these, although some do not.
These pockets are great for storing items like a smartphone, sunglasses, or chapstick close at hand. Internal pockets are generally better insulated, a nice feature for keeping a phone's battery alive in the cold, while external pockets are without doubt easier to access quickly.
These are some of our absolute favorite pockets, but unfortunately only two out of 10 jackets had them — the Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Hooded and the OR Transcendent Hoody. These are large, un-zippered pockets on the inside of the coat with a top opening. They are great for storing hats, gloves, warm water bottles, or even rock climbing shoes, on the inside of your jacket where they can stay toasty warm within your heat envelope.
The jackets in this review used three methods of securing and tightening the hood: While elastic was the least adjustable in fact its not adjustable at all! Our favorite method was the single draw cord that tightens at the back of the head.
These cords were both easy to use, and held the hood in place very well. While they are our preferred method for adjusting a hood on a shell jacket, in the case of these down jackets we didn't really enjoy the dual side-of-the-face draw cords. Down, the soft feathers mentioned, is usually taken from the breasts and wings of the duck or goose.
Down is the material that provides the insulation that makes down jackets so warm, as they retain heat inside the jacket. However, today, most down jackets are not made of pure down and are often mixed with other materials, such as feathers. Whether to buy synthetic or down is the first decision to make when it comes to buying your outerwear.
Down is much warmer for its weight, breathes better, and compresses better, but when it gets wet, it loses its ability to keep you warm. Synthetic jackets are more durable when it comes to cuts and holes. A hole in your down jacket triggers a leak of feathers and down, whereas synthetic jackets do not leak in this way.
This new, expert technology is still in testing, and there are both advocates and doubters. Different factors come into play when finding your perfect down jacket, for instance, men and women have different needs, as does someone who lives in the city versus the mountains.
To reap the utmost insulation and benefits of down jackets, you must understand your needs and how to find the best product on the market to fulfill your needs. The tips below can teach the buyer the several aspects that should be looked into before purchasing the down jacket. It is important to keep in mind for what you are going to use the jacket.
These jackets are ultra-light, compressible, and great for low-altitude rock climbing, ice climbing, or backpacking trips. A down jacket's fill power is a number that represents the fluffiness of the jacket relative to the insulating value of the down. In more accurate terms, it is the number of cubic inches that one ounce of down fills. A bigger number usually represents better insulation.
Fill power depends on several things, including the type of down used, such as feathers, duck, or goose. A down jacket with a fill power of and above is a good buy, and anything above provides excellent insulation. A down jacket with a higher fill power is usually more compressible. The higher the fill power, the more insulating ability an ounce of down has. Beside the jacket's fill power, another number that is usually listed in a down jacket's information is the percentage of down in comparison with regular small feathers in the jacket.
The number may look something like this: The first number is the percentage of down in the jacket, while the second number is the percentage of feathers. Typically, the down rating over can be very expensive. Most commercially available down only has a fill rate of about because it comes from immature geese or ducks, whereas higher-quality down comes from mature birds.
The buyer should purchase a down jacket according to his or her needs. For general use, though, a bulkier jacket may be needed. A down jacket with a fill power has to be bulkier and heavier than a down jacket of fill power to offer the same kind of warmth. So, for the lightest weight, it is preferable to buy jackets with higher fill powers. In addition to the materials used to insulate a jacket, the shell materials, key features, fit, and style should also factor into your decision.
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.
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.