Down Jacket
Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Jacket
$389, 1 lb. 1 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL
featheredfriends.com

As I stood outside our yurt on a December evening in the backcountry of Idaho’s Boise Mountains, enjoying an inky-black sky riddled with stars as the temperature plunged into the single digits Fahrenheit, this fat down jacket felt like an impenetrable force field keeping all of my body’s warmth inside and the frigid cold outside. My companions who tried it out agreed: The Helios Hooded Jacket is just crazy warm—especially for its weight and packability. Those qualities define it as one of the best high-quality down jackets for winter that you’ll find today, but also a puffy jacket that’s light and packable enough for cooler, three-season trips.

I tested this puffy on that yurt trip, in temps ranging from the single digits to the teens, and on raw, wet, very windy evenings and mornings camping in May at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, with lows in the 40s and high 30s—and was happy for its abundant warmth every time.


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The Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket.
The Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket.

The Helios is stuffed generously with nearly eight ounces of 900+-fill down (in the medium), the highest quality of down produced, which explains the bag’s high warmth-to-weight ratio. The sewn-through construction technology—used when the goal is to minimize the jacket’s weight—creates baffles that do not overlap or allow feathers to migrate, which means potential for drafts along seams (which is why that construction method is more common with lighter, three-season down jackets designed for moderate rather than sub-freezing temperatures). However, in this case, sewn-through construction does not hinder this jacket’s superior warmth.

The adjustable hood, also generously stuffed with feathers, seals nicely around the face to trap heat and block drafts and fits over a climbing helmet. The front zipper is sturdier than found on many lightweight jackets and has a wide draft tube.

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The Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket.
The Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket.

Strikingly warm for 17 ounces, it’s also remarkably compact. The first time I stuffed it inside the sack that comes with the jacket, I thought: Will this jacket actually fit inside this sack? It did—with space to spare, in fact. In its sack, it’s slightly bulkier than a loaf of bread, but you could easily fit it into a smaller sack. For just a few ounces more weight and a bit more bulk than some of the best three-season down jackets, the Helios delivers noticeably more warmth for chillier backpacking or climbing trips, or simply for people who need a warmer puffy jacket.

The fit is athletic, close but not confining, with room for a midweight layer underneath. The length extends to a couple of inches below the waist, which helps minimize weight. The two hand pockets, with overlapping stretch flaps, eliminate the weight of zippers and warm cold fingers instantly, and I never noticed any tendency for items, like gloves, to fall out of the pockets for the lack of a zipper. The hem similarly has stretch fabric rather than an adjustable drawcord and closes snugly around your hips.

The water-resistant, 20-denier Pertex Endurance LT shell fabric repelled drizzle and light rain when I spent evenings and mornings outside at our campsite in the City of Rocks, but it is neither waterproof nor breathable; it’s reasonably durable, but avoid sharp points or edges. The zippered inside pocket is only large enough for the jacket’s stuff sack, a standard smartphone, and small valuables like a key and map.

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Demerit: There are no women’s sizes, but Feathered Friends says women buy this jacket, and the sizing does cover a wide range of people. As with many jackets sized primarily for men, the Helios likely would not fit women who are relatively thin for their torso and arm lengths; it may be so overly bulky on those women that its thermal efficiency is compromised. But given that its main use involves sitting or standing around, and the stretch hem seals snugly, a slightly large fit wouldn’t be much of a detriment to performance and would allow you to layer underneath it.

The Verdict

With exceptional warmth per ounce and packability, the Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Jacket is one of the best high-quality down jackets for temps well below freezing, but also light enough for chilly three-season trips.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a men’s Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket at featheredfriends.com.

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See my review of an outstanding lighter down jacket for three-season use, the Feathered Friends Eos, my “Review: The 10 Best Down Jackets,” and all of my reviews of insulated jackets and outdoor apparel that I like at The Big Outside.

Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my “10 Tricks for Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of both stories for free, or download the e-guide versions of the 10 tricks here and the lightweight backpacking guide here without having a paid membership.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

 

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