Ultralight Down Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket
$320, 7 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
When trying to lighten a backpacking load, besides focusing on the heaviest items you carry (tent, bag, pack), your clothing offers potential for shaving ounces and bulk. Rather than assuming I need the same clothing for every trip, I choose layers based on the forecast and likely range of weather and temperatures—and I don’t pack more than I need. So I’m a big believer in ultralight insulation when the temperature will remain well above freezing. Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket proved perfect on a recent four-day, 86-mile backpacking trip in northern Yosemite National Park in early September: It kept me warm on the coldest morning, around 40° F, while weighing barely more than the wool hat and light gloves I brought.
The 800-fill, water-resistant, Q.Shield down delivers a lot of loft and warmth for such a slim jacket, and quilted construction prevents the feathers from shifting around. The collar comes up high on your neck to seal out cold air and wind, and a drawcord hem keeps out drafts from below. When stuffed into one of the two roomy, zippered hand pockets, the jacket packs down to the size of a liter bottle. And even after a solid two days stuffed into that pocket (while I was traveling to Yosemite and through the first, long day of hiking), the down lofted up almost instantly. The front zipper runs smoothly without snagging. And the very light, seven-denier by 10-denier ripstop nylon allowed no down to leak out, but I’ll be careful to avoid brushing it against sharp edges or rough stone.
One bonus benefit of an ultralight, puffy jacket like this is that its low bulk makes it comfortable enough to wear in a sleeping bag without feeling straitjacketed—meaning you can go with a lighter bag and count on the Ghost Whisperer for a little extra warmth at night, if needed. I also generally prefer a hood on a down jacket because it adds significant warmth for a negligible increase in weight and bulk, and the Ghost Whisperer comes in hooded versions for men ($340) and women ($350).
One caveat: People who get cold easily may want a warmer (and slightly heavier) insulation layer for backcountry camping in temperatures within about 10 degrees above freezing. But for many people, ultralight insulation like the Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket makes a lot of sense on most summer backcountry trips in the mountains, or spring and fall trips to warmer destinations.
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See all of my reviews of down and puffy jackets and all of my reviews of outdoor apparel, as well as my article, “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun.”
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.