Updated November 2017
Down jackets bring fantastic warmth that can last you for years but usually equate to a hefty price tag. It's critical to put in the legwork up front to make sure you get optimal value out of your purchase, which is why we are here to help. This November brings new changes, such as the Patagonia Down Sweater stealing the show and winning the Editors' Choice award. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer remains a top-notch competitor and wins the Top Pick for Lightweight Warmth.
Best Overall Model
Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
High fill power means light and compressible
Traceable down and recycled polyester
Feature set is a bit simplistic
Doesn't use hydrophobic down
From the moment the Patagonia Down Sweater
was first released, it became an instant classic. With some subtle but significant tweaks to the sizing, we think that it is once again the Best Overall Down Jacket, so we garnished it with our Editors' Choice award. If we had to sum it up using only three words, they would be "simple, stylish, and perfect." From the awesome fit of the hood to the soft fleece chin guard, not to mention the hem drawcords recessed into the zippered handwarmer pockets, we love everything about the way this jacket is constructed. We also applaud Patagonia for not only taking the lead politically but also with their sustainable clothing production. This jacket not only features certified traceable down that came from geese that were neither force-fed or live-plucked, but is also made of 100% recycled polyester. We have been fans of the Down Sweater Hoody
for a long time, but last year we complained that the only thing keeping it from our Editors' Choice award was an awkward fit, seemingly a common complaint with Patagonia clothing. It seems they were listening, as this year issues with tightness in the shoulders and armpits, as well as sleeves that were a bit too short, have all been erased to deliver perhaps the best fitting Patagonia garment we have ever worn. Living in the high mountains, we prefer the warmest setup we can find, so purchased and tested the Down Sweater Hoody
. If you don't like hoods or would prefer to save weight, or you simply want something perfect for layering, we also recommend the Patagonia Down Sweater
, which comes hoodless.
Read review: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
Stylish, with an ideal set of features
Responsibly sourced down
Not super warm
Not terribly water resistant
Could be lighter for how thin it is
With huge dual internal stash pockets, a three-adjustment-point hood, and comfortable fleece-lined pockets, the Transcendent Hoody
has the best selection of features. Even better, it costs $225, hundreds of dollars less than several other jackets tested. If you want attention to detail and warmth on chilly belay ledges, while backcountry skiing, or around camp in the evenings, this down hoody is an optimal choice. For a great level of performance without emptying your wallet, look no further than the Transcendent Hoody
. Want to save another $25 and don't need the hood? Check out the Transcendent Sweater
Read review: Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
Top Pick for Lightweight Warmth
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer
Lightest in review
Warm for its size and weight
Effective hydrophobic down
No cinch hood
Waist cinch leaves cord hanging below the waist
No down jacket we have ever tested is more unique than the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hoody
. Simply put, it offers the warmth and comfort of a big fat thick puffy jacket in a sleek, lightweight package reminiscent of an under-layer. If wearing the other down jackets in this review are akin to driving a beat-up pickup truck, then wearing the Ghost Whisperer
makes one feel like they are taking the inside line in a sports car. It was for this reason that we chose to recognize the Ghost Whisperer
as our Top Pick for Lightweight Warmth. Our size medium weighed in at a measly 7.7 oz., an incredible statistic considering we found it to be as warm as some jackets more than double its weight. We enjoyed wearing it pretty much all the time, using it as an outer-layer for cool fall evenings while camping, and also as a mid-layer while backcountry skiing. For those who are looking strictly for a layering piece, we point you in the direction of the Ghost Whisperer Jacket
, a hoodless version of the same jacket. Testing it for the fourth time, we found that not much has changed about this MVP-worthy piece of clothing, which makes us happy as it's still one of the best!
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded
Best Value for Around Town
REI Co-op Magma 850
High-quality 850 down
Fit has bulge in belly
No hood available
The Magma 850
is another example of REI offering good quality at a reasonable price. It retails for $189 but seems to be on sale a fair amount. Despite its low cost, it's one of only two jackets in our test to use high-quality 850 down. It's also the lightest jacket and comes complete with a convenient internal chest pocket for a phone. The downside: there is no hood option, and we didn't appreciate the boxy belly fit (but some body types might).
Read review: REI Co-op Magma 850
Top Pick Award for Use as a Mid-Layer
Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody
Stylish and innovative design
Responsibly sourced down
Lacking hood or hem adjustments
Featuring remarkable craftsmanship and supreme performance as a mid-layer, the Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody
is deserving of a Top Pick Award. Most lightweight down layers suffer from an ambiguity of function: they tend to be too light to keep you warm and too hot to keep you from sweating while working hard. The breathability and warmth of the Hybridge Lite Hoody stem from its design and materials. With its high quality down, light and durable 10D shell material, and breathable Tensile-Tech panels on the arms and torso, this jacket achieves design perfection. At a mere 12.9 ounces, it is also one of the lightest reviewed. The only thing that kept the Hybridge Lite Hoody from competing for the Editors' Choice Award was its price tag. After the sticker shock has worn off, we bet you'll be pretty happy with this jacket. Check out the Hybridge Lite Jacket if you're looking to cut down on bulk
and don't need a hood.
Read review: Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody
Top Pick for Warmth
Marmot Guides Down Hoody
Uses hydrophobic down
Heavy and bulky
Use only as an outer layer
DWR coating not so great
Let's be real; you want a down jacket because you want to be warm. There's no other starting point for considering a purchase like this one. It only makes sense that we give out a Top Pick Award for Warmth. In this review, there is no competition, that award goes to the Marmot Guide Down Hoody
. Puffed full of 700 fill-power down treated with Down Defender, a hydrophobic coating, you can't put this jacket on and not be warm. In fact, we couldn't recall a single time we put this jacket on and weren't on the verge of sweating in minutes. While it was the heaviest jacket reviewed and isn't likely to fit underneath your outer shells, it is, without a doubt, the winner when it comes to the most important reason to buy a down jacket: warmth.
Read review: Marmot Guide Down Hoody
Analysis and Test Results
We tested these jackets across a wide range of environments. We intentionally selected and bought midweight and lightweight models designed for technical applications in which the wearer will be moving, working up body heat for at least part of the day. When using these products in the backcountry and backyards, we took notes on performance. On top of our experiences with these products in the outdoors, we also designed tests to distinguish the capabilities and limitations of each jacket. We tested and rated all models on a scale from 1 to 10 in six different metrics: warmth, weight, water resistance, compressibility, style, and features. Each metric was weighted based on its importance to the function of this type of jacket, resulting in a product's overall performance score, which you can see in the table below.
Taking in the views on a hike near the top of Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains. On this windy day the Guide's Down Hoody kept us plenty warm, by a long ways.
Each product's score in every metric is about the other products reviewed. Read on for a description of the characteristics of each grading parameter, how we tested for them, how they weighed into a product's final score, and to find out what were the best and worst performers for any category.
An evening descent in October off of McMillan Peak in the San Juan Mountains. Despite the lack of snow the wind was whipping and a down jacket was needed to stay warm.
Warmth is the most important criteria when selecting a jacket, because, after all, if not for its warmth, why do we need a jacket? We decided to weight each jacket's score for warmth as 30 percent of its total score.
Lightweight down jackets typically have a sewn-through baffle construction that helps produce a lighter weight and less expensive jacket. 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.
The quilted pattern on the Flash XR meant that the down has little ability to move about in its baffles, and does a good job of preventing cold spots. This was one warm jacket, and also one of the best in terms of water resistance.
On the downside, it does create thin places near the seams where there is no down, and trapped heat can escape. The alternative to sewn-through construction is box baffles, which are shaped like a three-dimensional box and do a better job of distributing the down. The box baffle style, although warmer, is bulkier, less easy to move in, and often makes a jacket more expensive. The only contender reviewed that features this design is the Arc'teryx Thorium SV
Five of the down jackets in this year's review shown with their hoods on. From left to right: Marmot Guides Down Hoody, The North Face Trevail Hoody, REI Co-op Down Jacket, Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody, Arc'teryx Thorium SV.
Though thickness and loft have a lot to do with warmth, it's not just about fill quality and amounts. The design and features, such as a hood, the thickness, and quality of the outer material, how well the jacket fits, etc. all significantly contribute to how warm a jacket will be. How well you keep the cold out is as important as how well you keep heat in.
Down Jackets shown while wearing the hoods, from left to right: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, Western Mountaineering Flash XR, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded, Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody.
Although it features only 700 fill-power down, compared to many that used 800, the Marmot Guide Down Hoody
was the warmest jacket tested. It was also the heaviest, and one of the puffiest. Despite their thin construction, both the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Jacket
and the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
surprised us with their warmth due to the 800 fill-power down, although overall they were average. On the other end of the spectrum was the REI Co-op Hoodie
that used narrow baffles with only 650 fill-power down, and more importantly, inadequately sealed out the elements.
Thrown on over our wind breaker for the chilly start to the morning long ride, this super lightweight jacket was very quickly shed as the trail started to climb, but easily fit into the small riding pack. This is in the La Sal Mountains of Utah, at the very beginning of the Whole Enchilada bike route.
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 in a 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.
The fabrics used by most major manufacturers are typically high quality. The primary difference is their weight and thickness. The heavier the material, the stronger and more durable it is, with lightweight materials being less robust. The denier of fabric is a description of its thread count, which in practical terms means weight, with a higher number being heavier and therefore typically stronger. So, a seven denier fabric is much finer and lighter than 30 denier fabric, but also less durable.
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. All of the jackets that we tested were men's size large, except for the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
, which was a medium.
The Trevail Hoodie employs sewn through baffles to hold the down in place. This method is lighter and makes for a thinner, less puffy look, than box baffles, but is not quite as warm. The down fill power of this jacket is 700, about in the middle of ones we tested.
The lightest jacket in this year's review was the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded
, which came in at 8.4 ounces, about four ounces lighter than its closest competition. Many jackets fell in the 12-ounce range, which is still light for how much warmth is afforded by them. The two most substantially weighted models, the Marmot's Guide Down Hoody
and Arc'teryx Thorium SV
, were also the two warmest, so there was a tradeoff when considering warmth versus weight. For this type of jacket, weight is an important factor, so we made it worth 20 percent of a product's final score.
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 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 beading up on the surface of the Down Sweater Hoody due to the DWR coating applied to the face fabric. This is after a light rain, and unfortunately we found that for most jackets in the test, water was still absorbed into the nylon face fabrics.
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 effective these DWR applications are at creating hydrophobic down. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
and the Marmot Guide Down Hoody
are the two jackets reviewed that have hydrophobically treated down, and each of these applications is proprietary. The Arc'teryx Thorium SV
blends down insulation around the torso with Coreloft synthetic insulation in parts of the body most likely to get wet, namely the hood, shoulders, and sleeves.
A closeup of the way that a DWR coating works on the outside of a shell to cause water to bead up so that it can be easily shed without soaking into the outer material.
In our tests, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
and the Western Mountaineering Flash XR
both had similar abilities to force water to bead up and shed off without allowing absorption into the face fabrics or down beneath, a testament to their DWR applications and high-quality materials. On the other end of the spectrum was the Marmot's Guide Down Hoody
, whose DWR coating seemed ineffective, showing lots of evidence of water absorption after a mild drizzle.
We also put these jackets to the test in the shower, soaking them as much as we could. Two hydrophobically treated models, despite absorbing water through their face fabric, neither allowed water to soak the inside of the jacket nor lost any visible loft from the soaking. 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. Water resistance accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score.
More than just how small a jacket gets when packed, compressibility is a measure of how well a material resists damage and recovers from being compressed. Down is superior to synthetic insulation in this regard. Every time you stuff a synthetic jacket away, the insulation breaks down and loses its heat retention capacity. Down can handle more compressions and expansions than synthetic insulation. Down 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 tended to be how small they were when compressed. The jackets with few features, lightweight fabric, and high fill-power down compressed the most. The majority stuffed into their own pockets, a convenient feature.
The 10 jackets in this year's review stuffed into their own stuff sacks or pockets, with a nalgene bottle for comparison. Left, bottom to top, smallest to largest: Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, REI Co-op Down Hoody, Outdoor Research Transcendent Jacket. Right, bottom to top: The North Face Trevail Hoodie, some blue jacket we cut from the review (stuff sack), Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, Marmot Guides Down Jacket, Arc'teryx Thorium SV (stuff sack), Western Mountaineering Flash XR (no sack, stuffed into its own hood).
The Arc'teryx Thorium SV
came with a separate stuff sack, which we appreciated, but is just one more thing to carry around (or lose). Only one jacket, the Western Mountaineering Flash XR
, had no stuff sack or pocket-stuffing method and received the lowest score. The Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody
packed down into the smallest compressed size of any jacket, with the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
and REI Co-op Down Hoodie
close behind. Compressibility accounted for 15 percent of a product's final score.
In our opinion the Down Sweater Hoody was the most fashionable jacket in this test, with a retro vibe common to many of Patagonia's recent clothing items. Here wearing it out on a chilly evening on the way to the brewery in Ouray, Colorado.
Even if Instagram is not your sole motivation for getting outdoors, looking good is never a bad thing. Once the least sexy item of clothing in your pack, the oft-maligned puffy jacket used to be the great equalizer, turning all who wore it into the same androgynous blob. With the introduction of lighter materials, t flashy colors, and a lemming-like focus on fashion, the outdoor industry has made impressive forward bounds.
Five of the down jackets in this year's review shown without hoods. From left to right: Marmot Guides Down Hoody, The North Face Trevail Hoody, REI Co-op Down jacket, Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody, Arc'teryx Thorium SV.
Most of the jackets reviewed feature athletic or trim cuts and narrow baffles that keep the "puff" in the puffy jacket to a minimum. Our selection is predominantly designed with function in mind before form, although a few blur the lines.
Comparing the look of the jackets without hoods deployed, from left to right: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, Western Mountaineering Flash XR, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded, Canada Goose Hybridge Lite Hoody.
According to our panel of fashion experts, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
had the most town-worthy look, and it won our Top Pick for Style. On the other end of the spectrum, the Western Mountaineering Flash XR
, with its short, baggy cut that left a lot of waistline exposed exuded more "outgrown hand-me-down" than it did outdoorsy chic. Style accounted for 10 percent of a product's final score.
Two stash pockets that are huge! We can't say enough how awesome these pockets are. We especially love them for putting out rock climbing shoes in when belaying in during chilly fall and spring, or even winter weather, keeping them nice and toasty warm for our turn at the sending temps.
The REI Magma 850
had the least flattering fit in the review: there is a distinct belly bulge. However, some people might appreciate the extra space there. It also had a tricky fit: we had to go down a size.
The Magma does not have an athletic fit: there's extra space in the belly.
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. This means a zipper that out-performs another, pockets a few inches higher, or a hem a few inches lower might make or break your choice. We've tested plenty of jackets that got away with elastic instead of a drawcord in the hood (with varying results). However, only a few attempted to do away with the drawcord at the waist, and usually, we did not like this design (to be fair it worked for the Canada Goose Hybridge Down Hoody
). There are a few things that you can do without, but some features are essential.
The top scorers were two jackets that had a ton of them that all worked well. The Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
has dual internal stash pockets, three drawcords for adjusting the hood precisely, and fleece-lined hand pockets. The Marmot Guide Down Hoody
also has fleecy pockets but also has a two-way front zipper, hem pull cords inside the hand pockets, and Velcro wrist enclosures. Both of these jacket's features make them ideal choices for technical endeavors.
While the Ghost Whisperer
was light on features in a conscious way, two other jackets — the REI Co-op Down Hoody
and the Western Mountaineering Flash XR
— were noticeably devoid of features that are necessary for top performance in cold temperatures, like a waist drawcord for keeping cold air out. These two jackets received the lowest scores in the review. Features accounted for 10 percent of a product's final score.
Shown in this photo is an awesome fleece lined pocket that really make one's hands feel snuggly warm, as well as the waist pull cord that lives inside the pocket, ensuring that no ends of cords are left hanging.
Properly caring for your investment is important. Over time the down will get covered in dirt and oils, causing it to lose its loft and therefore its warmth. To clean your jacket, we recommend ReviveX Down Cleaner
to safely clean the down and restore its loft.
Here we test technical down jackets in the cold, dry environment of Antarctica.
An inexpensive jacket in this category is pretty much an oxymoron. Down jackets are an investment that shouldn't be taken lightly, especially when considering how important it is to stay warm in cold environments. We hope that careful consideration of your winter climate, in addition to the analyses of top-shelf and popular models in this in-depth review, will be all you need to narrow down your choices.