Best down jacket

Down jackets are a winter staple for hikers and non-hikers alike. But they vary a lot in terms of performance and design. A down jacket designed for everyday winter wear differs significantly from a jacket designed for alpine trekking, for example.



Backpacker in a down jacket looks out over the bay


© Credits: Image by Everste on iStock
Backpacker in a down jacket looks out over the bay

Down insulation works by creating air pockets and trapping your body heat.

We’ve put together this guide that explains what to look for in a down jacket and tests and recommends some of the best. This way, you will be able to determine the best down jacket for your needs.

The best down jackets

1. Lightweight with a heat boost: Berghaus Tephra Reflect 2.0 Insulated Down Jacket

2. Ideal for trekking and cold: Lightline Mountain Equipment Jacket

3. Warm and Adjustable: Columbia Grand Trek Jacket

4. Designed for high intensity use: Jack Wolfskin Mountain Down Jacket

5. Comfortable and Reliable: FJÄLLRÄVEN Expedition Lätt Hooded Jacket

6. Best value for money: Montane Flylite Jacket

Berghaus Tephra Reflect 2.0 Down Insulated Jacket

Our thoughts: The Tephra 2.0 is warm, comfortable and lightweight (just 380g), with good features including two hand warmer pockets, an inside phone sized zipped pocket and cuffs with stretch binding. The lack of a hood might be a deal breaker for some, but you can always wear a woolen beanie.

Benefits:

Has super high-tech heating systems.

Athletic cut but with a simple overall design.

The inconvenients:

Lacks a built-in hood.

Lightline Mountain Equipment Jacket

Our thoughts: The bulky, plump style works best as a stand-alone outer rather than a layer, and the durable, windproof and water-resistant 40-denier Drilite Loft outer fabric means it can be used without a hard shell in rain more light. However, it’s almost certainly too thick for faster, lighter adventures.

Benefits:

A high down content provides greater thermal insulation.

The water-resistant outer fabric means it can be used without a hard shell in lighter rain.

The inconvenients:

The set has a somewhat heavy design, which you want to avoid if weight is already an issue.

Columbia Grand Trek Jacket

Our thoughts: Clever features we particularly like include a drawcord-adjustable hood, adjustable waist hem, two zippered hand pockets and Velcro-adjustable cuffs. Even better is the OmniTech shell, which definitely feels tougher, tougher and more weatherproof than many others.

Benefits:

Adjustable cuffs to prevent heat loss.

Double zippers provide rain protection for your wallet, keys, phone, etc.

The inconvenients:

This jacket is not super comfortable in the long run.

Jack Wolfskin Mountain Down Jacket

Our thoughts: The jacket offers excellent warmth for the minimalist weight and fits comfortably in use, with alpine-like style and performance. The hood is delightfully warm, thanks to excellent baffles, and is adjustable for a precise fit. The thin 15 denier Stormlock shell is windproof and water repellent, as expected, but doesn’t offer as much durability or abrasion resistance as heavier-duty jackets.

Benefits:

Soft fleece material around the chin retains warmth and adds comfort.

Storm flaps and toggle on main zip for added security.

The inconvenients:

Not the warmest or most comfortable overall, but for the low weight, it’s worth it.

FJÄLLRÄVEN Expedition Lätt Hooded Jacket

Our thoughts: The fit is spacious and the classic retro look is undoubtedly beautiful. Ethically, this jacket is top notch too, with responsibly sourced down and 100% recycled polyamide lining. You also get an adjustable hood, three zipped pockets, soft chin lining, elastic cuffs and drawcords at the waist.

Benefits:

Reliably warm in almost any climate or environment.

Ethically sourced materials.

The inconvenients:

The jacket is quite heavy, so it won’t suit those looking for an athletic fit and lightweight construction.

Montane Flylite Jacket

Our thoughts: At just 350g, the Flylite is also incredibly light and compact, fitting neatly into right-hand pockets. The hood is not adjustable, but its pre-fitted design looks perfect and the cuffs are also pre-elasticated. The shell is made of 20 denier ripstop nylon with a DWR coating.

Benefits:

This slim fit is suitable for fast-paced activities.

Works great as part of a stacking system.

The inconvenients:

It’s not the thickest or warmest jacket.

What to look for in a down jacket

Down vs synthetic: Down or synthetic? This is the dilemma. Down has a superior warmth to weight ratio, but struggles when it gets damp unless it has a hydrophobic treatment. Synthetic insulation offers better value, easier care and better performance than untreated down when damp. For ethical reasons, ensure that goose or duck down meets the Responsible Down Standard.

Fill weight: Fill weight is the amount of down in a jacket (or sleeping bag), measured in grams. The higher the fill weight, the warmer a jacket will be. This means that it is important to check both fill weight and fill power. A jacket with a fill power of 650 can still be as warm as a jacket with a fill power of 900 if the 650 jacket has a higher fill weight (ie more down).

Fill power: Fill power is a rating system for down that measures compressibility and loft (down) – and gives an indication of its insulating properties (i.e. how effectively it creates that air pocket insulating). Higher fill power indicates better down quality and a better warmth-to-weight ratio.

Outer fabric: Down jackets typically have a nylon outer fabric, with some having a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to some degree. But most are not waterproof. But there are down jackets that are waterproof – either with a waterproof outer fabric or designed as a 3-in-1 jacket with a removable down inner jacket and a waterproof outer shell.

Zipper: Two-way zippers are more suitable for hiking because they allow the jacket to be opened from the bottom as well as from the top. This gives more room at the bottom and is therefore more comfortable when sitting.

Baffles: To prevent down insulation from clumping at the bottom of the jacket, down jackets have baffles – closed sections to trap the fill inside the pockets. There are two types: wall deflectors and sewn deflectors. Box wall partitions are better for warmth because they allow the down to fluff up nicely. The trade-off is that it’s more expensive because it requires more fabric and heavier too. Sewn-in baffles are typically used on lighter down jackets and are easier and cheaper to make, but they don’t allow the down to fluff up to its full potential.

Ben Weeks is a leading gear review writer for Live For The Outdoors, a photographer, qualified mountain guide and climbing instructor.