The 10 Best Down Jackets of 2021

By Michael Lanza

Whatever you need an insulated jacket for, there’s a down or synthetic puffy for your needs, within your budget. And whether you want a puffy jacket for outdoor activities like backpacking, camping, and climbing, or just to keep you warm around town or at outdoor sporting events, this review will help you figure out how to choose the right jacket for your needs, and it spotlights the best down and synthetic puffy jackets available today.

I selected the jackets covered in this review after extensive testing on backpacking, camping, backcountry skiing, climbing and other backcountry trips. I’ve field-tested dozens of insulated jackets over nearly three decades of testing and reviewing gear, formerly as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine for 10 years and even longer running this blog.

Technology has blurred the traditional lines between down and synthetics, with water-resistant down that traps heat even when wet—all but eliminating the weakness that had long been the Achilles heel of down—and synthetic insulation materials that approach the warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility of down.

If you’d prefer, scroll past my buying tips to dive immediately into the jacket reviews.

If you have a question for me or a comment on this review, please leave it in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.


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The Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie in Yosemite National Park.
Testing the Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie in Yosemite National Park.

How to Choose a Synthetic or Down Jacket

Insulated jackets today differ not only in type and amount of insulation, but also in water resistance, breathability, and as always, design features like the hood and pockets. When choosing between down and synthetic models, consider the usual conditions and temperatures in which you’ll use it—in other words, how wet and cold you expect to get, and your body type (how easily you get cold)—as well as the seasonal and activity versatility you require. Some questions to consider:

• Do you want one jacket for four seasons?
• Do you want it primarily for one or two activities like backpacking, camping, climbing, or skiing?
• Does it need to be breathable because you’ll wear it while on the move at times, or will you only wear it while relatively inactive in camp, when breathability doesn’t really matter?

And perhaps the most-important question: How warm an insulated jacket do you need for how, where, and when you will use it?

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The Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket.
Testing the Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket in the Pasayten Wilderness.

Some performance aspects of puffy jackets you should understand include:

Standard down feathers lose their ability to trap heat once wet, rendering down less practical in wet environments.

• The primary advantage of synthetic-insulation jackets is the ability to still trap warmth when wet—although the wetter the jacket, the less warm it will feel.

• However, some jackets are now made with water-resistant, or hydrophobic down feathers that greatly improve their ability to repel water, continue to trap heat when damp, and dry faster. And even those jackets that contain standard down often have a water-resistant shell fabric that repels light precipitation (but isn’t designed to withstand a steady rain).

• The down fill-power rating is a measure of the volume, in cubic inches, that one ounce of that down fills; in other words, an ounce of 800-fill power down will occupy 800 cubic inches of volume. Down feathers are separated during processing according to this measure.

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The Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody in Wyoming's Wind River Range.
Testing the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Higher fill-power ratings translate to more warmth per ounce of down, so if two jackets contain identical amounts of down by weight, the jacket with the higher fill-power rating will probably be warmer and more compressible (and more expensive). That said, of course, an ultralight 800-fill power jacket may not be as warm as a 700-fill power jacket that contains more down.

• Similarly, while synthetic insulation traditionally was not as lightweight and compressible as down, the best modern synthetics—including those reviewed below—have a warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility that compares with mid-grade (700-fill) or better down.

• Some modern synthetic insulations are also constructed in a way that makes them more durable, although, for the most part, down retains the edge there.

Insulated jackets are usually sewn in one of two ways:

• So-called “sewn through” construction stitches the outer, shell fabric to the inner, liner fabric, creating pockets of down, but also potential cold spots at seams where there’s effectively no insulation. This method reduces a jacket’s weight and often its cost, and is practical in ultralight jackets for moderate temperatures (think summer in the mountains).

• The more-expensive method of creating so-called box baffles eliminates cold spots and makes a jacket look puffier, but adds weight and usually cost.

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Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Down Hoody
Testing the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Down Hoody in Hells Canyon.

How Warm a Jacket Do You Need?

As I write in my blog post “How You Can Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is,” an insulated jacket’s total weight offers a rough idea of how warm it is. But that’s certainly not precise. Warmth (and weight) will vary with factors like type, quality, and amount of insulation, the jacket’s construction, and whether it has a hood.

Still, with down and synthetic jackets, I look at the garment’s total weight as a general guideline to its warmth. Although I encounter exceptions to the following weight categories, they provide a starting point. These guidelines and temperature ranges also apply to my body’s metabolism (my tolerance for cold is probably a little higher than average), and they presume I’m wearing one or two base layers underneath the puffy that are appropriate to the season and temperatures.

Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
Testing the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody in the Grand Canyon.

• When I’m going ultralight on summer backcountry trips, and I expect temps no lower than around 40° F, I bring a down or puffy jacket weighing seven to 11 ounces. If the temp drops lower, I supplement with my other layers or get in my sleeping bag when necessary.

• For trips when the temp could dip below freezing, I want a jacket that’s 12 to 16 ounces.

• For colder trips and in winter in the backcountry, my insulated jacket weighs roughly 16 to 22 ounces.

Having a hood certainly keeps you warmer and is worth the additional weight and cost. You should consider whether other layers in your clothing system already have a hood, and make sure that any two hoods you’re wearing together pair up well.

I usually consider a hood mandatory in temperatures near and below freezing, but less important on milder trips, when I’ll pack a hoodless, ultralight puffy jacket to reduce pack weight and because I’m bringing a hat, anyway. However, I also consider the activities for which I’ll use the jacket; for high-speed activities in cold temps, I usually wear a lighter, hoodless insulated jacket.

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The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie.
Testing The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie in the Boise Mountains.

Which is Better, Down or Synthetic?

In my experience, if you compare a down and synthetic insulated jacket of the same weight and basic design—for example, assuming both have a hood—I still find that down feathers have the edge in pure warmth. I think that assessment bears out in the products listed below.

To simplify your choice between down and synthetic insulation, think of it this way: If you want a puffy jacket primarily for warmth when you’re inactive (say, in camp), and expect mostly dry conditions or to wear a rain shell over the puffy when needed, get a down jacket. Get water-resistant down if it may occasionally have to endure a light shower. But if you expect to often wear it in wet conditions, get a synthetic puffy. If you will wear it while active in wet conditions, get a synthetic puffy with breathable insulation.

I’ve ranked the following down and synthetic puffy jackets roughly in order from lightest to warmest in each of these two categories. Please share what you think of my review or any of the jackets covered here in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

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The Best Down Jackets

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Down Hoody.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Down Hoody.

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody
$325, 8.8 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

When my goal is minimizing pack weight on summer trips with cool but not freezing nights, I bring this wispy jacket. The 800-fill goose down delivers beaucoup warmth for a puffy jacket that’s barely over a half-pound, and the hood boosts its versatility for nights dipping into the 30s Fahrenheit (for some people). It has been my go-to insulation for summer backpacking in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness, Nevada’s Ruby Crest Trail, the 96-mile Wind River High Route, and other trips.

When stuffed into one of the two roomy, zippered hand pockets, the jacket packs down to slightly larger than a liter bottle—and lofts up almost instantly. Even better, the 10-denier shell fabric consists of 100 percent recycled nylon ripstop, and the feathers are RDS-certified down—so this newest iteration of the Ghost Whisperer series is as light on the Earth as it is in your pack.

Read my full review of the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com; or other versions of the Ghost Whisperer down jackets at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com.

Get warmth that stands up to winter temps, water-resistant insulation, and a fit aided by stretch materials in the Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Jacket ($250, 1 lb. 2 oz.). Hardwear’s 750-fill Q.Shield down repels moisture and retains loft when wet, and the unique, stretch-welded channel construction moves with you and traps heat more efficiently than jackets with standard stitching. You can support my blog, at no cost to you, but clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Jacket at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

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Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket.
Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket.

Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket
$389, 11 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
featheredfriends.com

At windblown mountain passes in Glacier National Park and cool evenings and mornings in camp from Glacier to Idaho’s Sawtooths, the Eos proved itself one of the best puffy jackets on the market—and an incredible value. Stuffed with 900+-fill goose down, the Eos kept me completely warm over just a long-sleeve top in the high 30s Fahrenheit and strong wind—impressive for an 11-ounce puffy. Its warmth-to-weight ratio is as good as any I’ve seen.

The well-fitted, elasticized hood stays put on your head even when the jacket’s front zipper is halfway down, and the water-resistant, Pertex Quantum shell with a DWR (durable, water-resistant treatment) sheds light rain.

Read my full review of the Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket at featheredfriends.com, or a women’s Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket at featheredfriends.com.

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Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody.
Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody.

Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
$379, 11 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

Pulling on this hybrid down-synthetic jacket in a windblown campsite at around 10,500 feet in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, I instantly felt warmth infuse my torso and arms. Slightly edged out only by the Feathered Friends Eos and Helios and Mammut Meron in warmth per ounce, the Cerium adds another dimension of performance: It marries the stratospheric warmth-per-ounce of 850-fill power down in the hood, sleeves, and torso, with lightweight, breathable, and compressible Coreloft synthetic insulation in areas like the shoulders and armpits, to keep it trapping heat even when wet.

A close-fitting, under-the-helmet, adjustable hood amps up the warmth. It has two zippered hand pockets, and the shell’s DWR (durable, water-resistant treatment) fends off light precipitation.

Read my full review of the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody.

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The Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket.
The Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket.

Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket
$449, 14 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

In chilling wind on damp, August and September evenings and mornings backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness, the Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket immediately surrounded me with warmth as soon as I pulled it. Fat but exceptionally light and packable, this puffy vaulted to the top of my list of insulated jackets for pushing the edge of three-season adventures.

Stuffed with 900-fill-power goose down, the Meron’s warmth-to-weight ratio is matched by very few down jackets. The adjustable, helmet-compatible hood shields your face from wind. The fitleaves room for a couple of base layers and/or a light insulation piece. Two very spacious, warm, zippered hand pockets are positioned higher than a backpack or climbing harness belt. Plus, the jacket stuffs into a zippered inside pocket, packing down to the size of a small bread loaf.

Read my full review of the Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase a men’s or women’s Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

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Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket.
Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket.

Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket
$280, 15 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XXS-XXL, women’s XS-XXL
backcountry.com

When rain and chilly wind whipped through our campsites on evenings and mornings around 40° F in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, as well as on a late-September backpacking trip in Yosemite, the Microlight Alpine Down Jacket passed the test, thanks to features designed to fend off wet and raw conditions.

The hydrophobic, 700-fill goose down traps heat even when damp and dries faster than standard down, while the micro and nano stitch-through baffle construction helps reduce the jacket’s weight and cost. With a stiffened brim and close fit around your head, the adjustable hood boosts warmth substantially. The 30-denier Pertex Quantum ripstop nylon shell sheds light precipitation; paired with the hydrophobic down, it makes this a better (read: warmer) choice for wet weather than many down jackets. Green creds: The Microlight Alpine Jacket has a fully recycled shell, insulation, and lining.

Read my full review of the Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

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

Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Jacket
$439, 1 lb. 1 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL
featheredfriends.com

On winter nights in the single digits outside a yurt in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, and raw, wet spring mornings camped in Idaho’s City of Rocks, this fat down jacket felt crazy warm—especially for its weight and packability, spotlighting its versatility as an outstanding down jacket for winter and a puffy that’s light and packable enough for chilly, three-season trips.

The Helios is stuffed generously with 900+-fill down, the highest-quality down produced, including in the comfortable, adjustable hood. The water-resistant, 20-denier Pertex Endurance LT shell fabric repels light rain, and the jacket has two hand pockets with overlapping stretch flaps in lieu of a zipper, plus one small, zippered inside pocket.

Read my full review of the Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase a men’s Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket at featheredfriends.com.

The Black Diamond Vision Down Parka.
The Black Diamond Vision Down Parka.

Need ultimate warmth? If this list was expanded to the 11 best down jackets, the Black Diamond Vision Down Parka ($450, 1 lb. 4.5 oz.) would be on it. This poofy puffy jacket felt blessedly toasty on an early-March morning with the temperature at 17° F at a campsite on the edge of The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. Read my review.

BUY IT NOW You can support my blog, at no cost to you, but clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s Black Diamond Vision Down Parka at moosejaw.combackcountry.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com.

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The Best Synthetic Jackets

The Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody in the Grand Canyon.
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody.

Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
$299, 9 oz.
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XXS-XL
backcountry.com

The Micro Puff Hoody delivers more warmth than you expect, given that it weighs barely more than a half-pound. Patagonia’s proprietary, water-resistant PlumaFill insulation matches the warmth-to-weight ratio of high-quality down (850- to 900-fill power), while delivering the primary benefit of synthetic insulation—trapping heat when wet. That’s because it’s constructed as a continuous strand, which, combined with the jacket’s discontinuous quilting design, creates internal spaces that trap heat—imitating how down delivers so much warmth.

The non-adjustable, elasticized hood clings snugly around your face and fits under a helmet, giving the jacket a serious warmth boost. Choose this puffy for three-season backpacking and camping, not deep cold.

Read my full review of the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody at backcountry.com, patagonia.com, or patagonia.ca in Canada.

Want a synthetic puffy that’s warmer than the Micro Puff Hoody? Made with 55 percent recycled polyester, the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody ($249, 13 oz.) features water-resistant PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco, which has a warmth-per-ounce ratio similar to mid-grade down, and the jacket zips into its inside chest pocket.

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The Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie in Yosemite National Park.
The Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie.

Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie
$199, 11 oz.
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

On a late-September backpacking trip in Yosemite, this lightweight and packable puffy jacket kept me warm on evenings and mornings in the 40s Fahrenheit—including one morning when a steady, chilly breeze blew through our camp. The breathable and stretchy VerticalX ECO SR insulation delivers a high warmth-to-weight ratio, traps heat when wet, and derives from Repreve recycled polyester and 37 percent plant-based Sorona textile. Beyond green creds, that combination of materials produces an insulation that lofts more than some synthetics.

The wind- and water-resistant Pertex Quantum shell fabric is made from 41 percent recycled materials and has Diamond Fuse technology, consisting of yarns with interlocking, diamond-shaped filaments that OR says makes the shell twice as durable as fabrics commonly used in lightweight insulated jackets. And it stuffs into one of the two zippered pockets.

Read my full review of the Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or outdoorresearch.com, or a women’s Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie at moosejaw.com or outdoorresearch.com.

What touches your skin matters, too. See my picks for the best base layers for any season.

The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody.
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody.

Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody
$259, 12 oz.
Sizes: men’s XS-XXXL, women’s XS-XXL
backcountry.com

From backcountry skiing and winter hikes to biking around town on cold days, the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody has spent almost as much time on me as in my closet. Among breathable insulated jackets designed for being active in cool to cold temps, the Atom LT Hoody’s weight and features make it uniquely versatile.

The Coreloft Compact synthetic insulation kept me warm while standing around evaluating avalanche hazard and lost none of its warmth when it got damp. Wide, stretch side panels dump moisture. With an adjustable, warm hood that fits under a helmet; an athletic fit in an unusual six women’s sizes and seven men’s sizes; tough, water-resistant, breathablefabric that blocks wind and shed falling snow; good warmth for its weight, and breathability, the Arc’teryx Atom LT functions well for everything from climbing to summer backpacking.

Read my full review of the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody.

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The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie.
The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie.

The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie
$280, 15 oz.
Sizes: men’s and women’s XS-XL
moosejaw.com

From cool summer evenings and mornings in camp on a six-day backpacking trip in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness to days of backcountry skiing in a full range of winter weather, The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie demonstrated a versatility seen in only the best synthetic insulated jackets—light, warm, and breathable enough to function as the only puffy jacket you need year-round.

TNF’s “dynamic” 60g Ventrix polyester stretch insulation breathes well enough to allow damp base layers to dry out, thanks to perforated micro vents that open to release body heat with a wearer’s movement and close with decreased activity. Like other synthetic insulation, it traps body heat even when wet. The stretchy, adjustable hood fits under a helmet, the fabric easily shed lightly falling snow, and the jacket has four zippered pockets.

Read my review of The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

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74 thoughts on “The 10 Best Down Jackets of 2021”

  1. Hi, I am a very cold prone female who sweats a lot while skiing and backpacking and everything else on the move. I have so many variants of jackets it’s not even funny. But still haven’t gotten it right with the insulating layer for skiing.

    I have an Arc’teryx Ski shell and have been wearing a down jacket underneath my shell with all the appropriate layers beneath that (synthetic or wool base layer, sometimes a synthetic vest on top, then my North Face Summit series 800-fill hooded down jacket or a Stio Azura hooded jacket–not bad but not breathable).

    I go from hot to cold quickly with that moisture building up. I know I should start ‘cold’ but it gets too cold on the lift. I don’t need a hood because my helmet helps me with that. I’d like to use the jacket for hiking and backcountry too. I’d only throw it on at the top. I have Raynaud’s so have to do a scramble as soon as I stop moving in order to prevent the full on white-out. I find that the advertised warmth for sleeping bags and jackets aren’t what they say they are.

    What is the most breathable, warmest insulating layer for the PNW rainy ski season for women? Would love to get rid of a layer if I can as it all gets so bulky. THANKS!

    Reply
    • Hi Rachelle,

      Good question, I’m sure a lot of people experience the same thing. Sitting on a lift is cold and it’s easy to heat up and sweat going downhill. And a down jacket isn’t very breathable, so that compounds your problem.

      I suspect that your layering system just has too many nylon jacket shells built into it to really move moisture out effectively. That may be a major contributing factor. You might even consider a very warm, heavier fleece layer under your shell, like the Fjallraven Women’s Abisko Trail Fleece Jacket. A fleece doesn’t have a nylon shell, so it’s quite breathable, and you have a shell over it to block wind and falling snow. You could even pair the fleece with a vest to add some core warmth.

      Among the jackets in this review, you should get one with maximum breathability, like the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody, which has breathable side panels, or the even warmer The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie.

      I hope that helps. Good luck.

      Reply
  2. Hey! I am a huge jacket fan and have really enjoyed getting to read your post. I am a firm believer in testing gear and love to see that you do a legit review of these products. I am looking in the future to buy a down jacket and then a really good shell. I did not know about Feathered Friends and am really liking the EOS series! I don’t have much Arcteryx, but what I have from them is the bomb. Is there a specific shell I should consider getting? I like quality products so I’m not afraid to put money into good gear. Thanks for your time!

    Kyle

    Reply
    • Hi Caio,

      That judgment seems a little arbitrary and vague. The Dynafit Radical Down Hooded Jacket ($280, 15 oz.), available in men’s and women’s sizes, is designed for four-season use with water-resistant Downtek. That’s good for that type of user. For the price, a three-season backpacker can find a down jacket that’s lighter and/or has a higher down-fill rating than the Radical 800-fill, as some of the above jackets have. For four-season use, you might also consider a synthetic insulation and possibly save money.

      Reply
  3. Have you ever worn Rab clothing? My my mountaineering kit includes two Rab down jackets. Both spot on. Check them out. I have great from Arc’teryx and Mammut. La Sportiva. But mostly Rab for my insulation.

    Reply
    • Hi Josh,

      Thanks for asking about Rab. Yes, I’ve worn a variety of apparel pieces from them and I particularly like their insulation. I’ve been field-testing and will review soon the Rab Hooded Microlight Alpine Jacket. Watch for it.

      Reply
  4. Michael, thanks for doing this. I have to say I’m a bit overwhelmed by the shopping process. I am looking for a light women’s jacket for above freezing (mostly 40’s and 50’s) that’s good in light drizzle (for traveling and light hiking). I would like an unobtrusive hood that rolls into the neck that is not real thick. I wonder if there is one that is just a single layer of nylon for blocking wind rather one that is insulated.
    any suggestions?
    thanks – Paula

    Reply
  5. Hey Michael, just found this article and it has been very helpful to read. I am looking to get a down jacket that will keep me warm in cold conditions, like when belaying while climbing outside or sitting around a campsite. I have been very interested in the Patagonia Down sweater hoodie or the Arcteryx cerium LT. Open to other suggestions as well. Want something that will last me and keep me warm.
    Appreciate your work!
    Scott M.

    Reply
    • Hi Scott,

      It sounds like you’re talking about a three-season puffy jacket. If so, I think the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody and Feathered Friends Eos are two of the warmest, especially for their weight. I’ve used the “Patagonia Down Sweater,” and it’s nice, but not quite as high-quality down as the Cerium or Eos and perhaps not quite as warm, even though it’s slightly heavier and bulkier. If you’re looking for a really warm puffy for winter temps, see the Feathered Friends Eos or the Black Diamond Vision Down Parka (mentioned below the Mountain Hardwear Stretchdown Jacket review). All of those jackets are well constructed, though I always recommend being a little careful with lightweight fabrics; belaying and sitting around camp in them, but not climbing in them.

      Thanks for the comment and keep in touch.

      Reply
    • Hey Scott,
      Also check out Arc’teryx Proton. It’s very durable and longer than the atom so when you’re reaching up its not going to expose your belly. It breathes so well you are not going to get too warm in the middle of a climb. I wear it climbing and hiking all the time. It’s definitely worth the money. Plus it looks nice enough you can go from the woods into town and not look like a goof.

      Reply
  6. Hi … i like Duluth Trading Company’s Alaskan Hardgear … Water resistant , Ripstop , warm , helmet compatible , attractive and reasonably priced . Thanks

    Reply
  7. Nice article. Have tried most of the down jackets on your list. However, my go to and personal favorite is Rab Hooded Microlight Alpine. I tend to run hot, and am rarely in below freezing temps.
    so this was most comfortable and versatile. . The shell is slightly more durable at 30D (vs 10 like other lightweight down jackets). And with DWR shell and hydrophobic down is the most water resistant which has really been appreciated.

    Reply
    • Chris, I’ve been eyeing this jacket too. Do you feel like this would do well as an outlayer, but over a sweater, in freezing temps walking around or sitting on a park bench for a reasonable amout of time.

      Reply
        • Thanks Michael! I already have a nano-air (plus various baselayers) for active winter pursuits (eg cross country or hiking) but I want something that can be my cozy ‘at camp’ jacket OR active for very cold temps (eg a short-medium bike ride in very cold weather). I’m puzzled at the right down jacket to get here…

          And thank you for all your great reviews, don’t listen to the trolls in the comments. I’ve bought a few things through your links in past years and will continue to do so.

          Reply
          • Thanks for the compliment about my reviews and buying through my affiliate links, Jake. Are you looking for a puffy that will serve as a camp jacket in very cold temps or in summer, as well as for being active in very cold temps? Do you want something that’s somewhat breathable?

        • Hi Michael I couldn’t reply to your last question (maybe too many “levels” of reply were reached?) but I admit what I want is a goldilocks… Something that I can easily throw over a sweater and take walks in the city while its not *bitter* cold (so at least 20s+ when you realistically feel like you want to take a walk with a friend) and maybe stand in line to buy coffee (or get a vaccine!), but also that is packable and durable enough to use as my lunch-stop or camp when I’m out hiking or cross country skiing in upper 20s-30s weather.

          I know I can just go “big” and get a Helios (or even just a massive down parka for real bitter winter temperatures) but I was hoping there was something a bit more packable and smaller that would work for me, like the Rab.

          Reply
          • Jake, that Rab Hooded Microlight Alpine Down Jacket (that’s an affiliate link) may be good for your purposes. I’d suggest you consider one that’s breathable, like the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody, which may be the best for walking in temps in the 20s, especially because you can adjust base layers as needed. The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie and Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hooded Jacket are similar but heavier and possibly warmer than you’re looking for.

            I hope that’s helpful. Thanks again for the good questions and buying through my affiliate links. Good luck.

  8. What would you recommend for winter landscape photography? I get out before sunrise and stay past sunset so I’m out in some of the coldest parts of the day. While I might work up a bit of body heat getting to a location, there’s a lot of standing around waiting to get the shot. I need something more than what I have right now to keep me warm.

    Reply
    • Hi Robert,

      For times when you’re hiking to a location, as I’m sure you know, you need a layering system that balances adequate warmth with avoiding overheating. See “The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry” and How to Dress in Layers for Winter in the Backcountry.”

      For those long periods standing around, you’ll want extra warm layers from head to feet, but I’d recommend the fattest and warmest down jacket reviewed in this article, the Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Jacket. It packs some powerful heat-trapping power.

      I hope that’s helpful. Keep in touch.

      Reply
      • Hi Michael – Thanks so much for the quick reply. I’ll definitely check out the article on layering and look into the Helios Hooded Jacket – I think the hood will be a big plus as I just use a beanie with my current hoodless down jacket.

        Best regards,
        Robert

        Reply
        • You’re welcome, Robert. I’ll add that a hood boosts a puffy jacket’s warmth in greater proportion than the small amount of weight and bulk it adds to a jacket. And the Helios is a fat jacket with a fat hood. Good luck.

          Reply
  9. Mike,

    Do you have any opinions on treated vs non-treated goose down. I am trying to decide on a down jacket for BC Skiing and backpacking. I have it narrowed down to the Montbell Alpine Light and the REI Plasma 850. Montbell has about an extra ounce of down vs REI, (even though the overall jacket is about an ounce lighter). But the REI jacket has hydrophopic treatment on the down. Not a huge price difference.

    So it seems to come down to more down vs treated down. Even though I have never used it, I kind of like the idea of the extra insurance that treated down provides, but on the other hand I don’t see a lot of precip as I rarely go anywhere outside of ID and UT.

    Thanks a bunch.

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      I think hydrophobic down works, although it’s probably not as efficient at trapping heat once soaked as the best synthetic insulations. But down is warmer per ounce than synthetics. I’d recommend hydrophobic down to people who sometimes go to wet destinations, especially if there’s no significant price diff.

      For you, as someone not likely to get your down jacket wet, I’d say find the best deal on the warmest down jacket you want. If it happens to be hydrophobic down, nothing wrong with that.

      Good to hear from you and thanks for the good question.

      Reply
  10. Great information! Question… which would you recommend for hiking and snowshoeing in Yellowstone in January ? I live in Florida, am very lean and get cold easily. How many layers should I use underneath or should I go with a hard shell over…or hard shell not necessary?

    Reply
    • Thanks, Sandra. Good question. I’ve cross-country skied in Yellowstone several times and it can get very cold there (and it’s a wonderful place to explore in winter). Snowshoeing, like cross-country skiing, involves a moderate level of exertion that produces plenty of body heat while you’re moving, and you can also cool off very quickly when you stop.

      I suggest you go for one of these jackets with breathable insulation, so that you don’t overheat and perspire too heavily while on the go, which means either of the Outdoor Research models: the Air Refuge Hooded Jacket or the heavier and significantly warmer Refuge Hooded Jacket. The lighter Air Refuge can be augmented with other layers, making it more versatile for a wider temperature range.

      And, yes, I do recommend you get a winter shell jacket and pants. Check out my review of “The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry” and my “12 Pro Tips for Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter” and expert tips on “How to Dress in Layers for Winter in the Backcountry.”

      I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for the good question and get in touch anytime.

      Reply
  11. There is question if the waterproof down will really work especially in very wet conditions. Down is proven to be the better insulator over synthetic. Sitka makes a down jacket with new technology that combines Down and synthetic to give you the best of both warmth and keeping warm when in wet conditions. You may want to research their product.

    Reply
    • Hi Ron,

      Water-resistant down certainly gets wet and loses some of its ability to retain warmth, as does synthetic insulation, of course. But water-resistant down does better than standard down in that regard. I’ll look at Sitka, thanks.

      Reply
  12. Hey Michael, this is a really great list of quality winter jackets. Between all the jackets with synthetic insulation, which one in your opinion has better thermal insulation?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Alex,

      Thanks for the compliment. I suppose the answer to your question depends on whether you mean the purely warmest of all of these synthetic-insulation jackets, or the warmest-per-ounce. The warmest overall would also be the heaviest (it has the most insulation), the Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket. If you’re talking about the most efficient, i.e., the warmest-per-ounce of jacket weight, I would say the two OR jackets (including the Refuge Air) and the Patagonia Micro Puff are comparable, although the Micro Puff is much lighter and not nearly as warm as the other two (but it’s also much lighter).

      Does that answer your question?

      Reply
  13. I think one consideration missed in selecting down versus synthetic is the cruelty required to get the down from our “feathered friend” and into the jacket. Is our enjoyment of outdoor activities worth torturing and killing a sentient being?
    It seems like the new synthetic technology can meet or exceed the “natural” technology, so why is it even a question?

    Reply
    • Hi Jason,

      You raise a good point that all buyers can consider. But everyone should also realize that there has been a growing awareness in the outdoor industry about harming animals used for apparel production. The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) “aims to ensure that down and feathers come from animals that have not been subjected to an unnecessary harm.” A growing number of brands have embraced the RDS and promote that when they do so.

      And the reason consumers can consider the choice between down and synthetic is that high-quality down (800-fill and higher) is still generally warmer per ounce of insulation than synthetic-insulation puffy jackets.

      Thanks and keep in touch.

      Reply
  14. Really great review with the kind of discriminating details I was searching for! In particular, I found the inclusion of some general advice around temperature ratings particularly helpful, as I was drawn toward some of the ultralight puffier (read: Ghost Whisperer), but concerned they wouldn’t work for me in New England shoulder season or moderate winter days. I have been searching for a puffy I could bring on an upcoming bikepacking trip through NH and Maine next week and am now glad I didn’t opt for the Ghost Whisperer or one of the Patagonia puffies. After 5-6 hours of riding in 40-50 degree temps, I know I’ll need something warmer and that my body temp and energy will already be cooler going into 30 degree evenings. Leaning toward the Feathered Friends Eos if I can get it in time.

    By the way, Michael, I had the pleasure of getting to know you years ago in a charity hike of Mt Olympus. You were generous with your wisdom then and I’ve since read lots of your stuff (particularly on New England). I’m glad to stumble onto this site and just bookmarked it! Hope you and your family are well!

    Reply
    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you found my down jackets review and The Big Outside. The Feathered Friends Eos is definitely an excellent down jacket for warmth, especially for its weight, and packability, because of the high-quality down. Depending on how much of a heat engine your body is, I suggest considering whether you want a puffy like the Eos, which will trap heat most efficiently but not breathable, or one of the warmer breathable synthetic jackets, like the Outdoor Research Refuge Air or the (even warmer) OR Refuge.

      I remember our Olympus climb well; what a great time with a fun group of people. Glad to have met you there and it’s really nice reconnecting with you. I’m glad you’re getting out on more adventures. Please keep in touch.

      Reply
  15. I am really torn between the OR Refuge and Refuge Air. I live in the PNW where winters are often quite damp. I do tend to get cold easily but fear the Refuge might get too warm — primary activities are bike commuting and hiking (year round) as well as XC skiing in winter. Wondering if the Refuge Air would be warm enough for colder temps if paired with an additional layer (either a hard shell or a best like the Patagonia Nano Puff). Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Kate,

      Good question and always difficult to figure out. As someone who does not get cold easily, I find the Outdoor Research Refuge too warm to wear while moderately active except in a combination of ambient temperatures and wind that create the equivalent of temps below about 10° F. It’s quite warm. However, for instance, with an activity like downhill/resort skiing, when I’m alternately exerting at a moderate level (skiing downhill) and sitting for several minutes inactive (riding the lift up) and possibly in wind, I find the Refuge ideal either by itself or, more often, under a shell, for its degree of warmth and breathability.

      I believe the high level of insulation provided by the Refuge was the motivation behind OR following it with the Refuge Air, which is still warmer than the lighter synthetic jackets in this review. I think it’s probably a better choice for many people—especially since, as you point out, you can add a layer if needed. However, I would add either a hard shell over it or a midweight base layer under it for breathability. Adding another insulated jacket would significantly reduce breathability.

      The Refuge Air seems like a good choice for bike commuting and cross-country skiing in the Pacific Northwest, where you winters are damp but not often frigidly cold.

      I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for the comment and good luck.

      Reply
  16. I bought two new jackets from Moosejaw.com. The jackets are very nice & comfortable to wear. At the time of my order, I just tried Moosejaw Coupons collected from MyCoupons Site. By using these Coupons, I got 40% off on each one & got benefited.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing that, Grace. Moosejaw and the other online retailers that I provide links to as affiliate partners of The Big Outside do often have various discount offers and sales. You’ll always find those links in my reviews, and buying through them helps support my work on this blog, so I appreciate that.

      Reply
    • Hi Tom, actually, take a close look at the example of the Rab Microlight that Ryan suggested. The hooded version is $280, the non-hooded version is $250, and they have 750-fill power, hydrophobic down. By comparison, for $220, you can get the Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket, which has breathable synthetic insulation and will be just as warm and has a hood. Or if you don’t need a hood and want a puffy jacket that’s warm enough for three-season camping, even when wet, The North Face ThermoBall Jacket is $199 (and there are various versions, including with a hood).

      Some of these synthetic-insulation jackets now have warmth-to-weight ratios that compare with 750-fill down, and often have more seasonal versatility, and often at a better price.

      I know some consumers will buy one jacket and deciding that they like it, and that’s fine. But my recommendations are based on having tested a lot of down and synthetic insulated jackets over the years and looking closely at the differences between them.

      Reply
  17. Nice article. I’ve been getting into more winter hiking (but no overnights) in the northeast, primarily the white mountains of NH. I was ready to purchase the FF Eos for quick lunch breaks on the trail to add to my layering system, but I’m almost wondering if the Helios would be a better bet. It seems like most people I hike with have light puffy jackets similar or lighter than the Eos even, so I’m pretty torn. Thoughts on the jackets for quick breaks on aggressive cold hikes, rather than ‘around camp’ in the evening?

    Reply
    • Hi Sean,

      Good question, thanks for the comment, and congrats on exploring the Whites in winter. That’s where I began hiking (many moons ago), and I love hiking there still, year-round, including in winter. Very rugged and adventurous there, especially at that time of year, not to mention really beautiful.

      The Feathered Friends Eos is one of my favorite, pure down jackets for three-season insulation in camp in the mountains. The Helios is certainly much warmer and what I would certainly recommend if you anticipate being stationary for any significant length of time. It’s also a nice piece of safety gear in an emergency to have a really warm down jacket.

      I suspect many have puffy jackets of the Eos weight largely because a bigger, warmer jacket is more expensive. However, there’s something to be said for having a puffy like the Eos in winter when you have other layers you can combine it with when you need added warmth.

      One other consideration: Pure down jackets like the Eos and Helios do not breathe, so while you can hike in them if needed (in extreme conditions), if you start overheating, they’ll get uncomfortable. For winter, you may want to consider a jacket made with breathable insulation, like the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, which would provide good warmth for hiking in freezing temps, or the Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket, which is warmer and would provide good warmth on short periods standing around, as well as be something you could wear on the move in colder temps than you could wear the Ascendant. Again, you could combine other layers with either of these.

      For warmth comparisons, I’d say the Helios is by far the warmest of the jackets I’ve mentioned, the Eos and Refuge are comparable (even though the Refuge is heavier, because of the high-quality down in the Eos), and the Ascendant is definitely for being on the move in winter, not for standing around for very long.

      I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for writing.

      Reply
  18. I am out in the cold winter 6-8 hrs a day, 5-6 days a wk. I get cold easy but I keep moving. Every year I try to figure out how I stayed warm as a child. Anyways I have a heated coat but with that it doesn’t heat the arms so once again I’m warm, I chilly, my toes, arms, and it just continues. I was thinking about the mountain down stretch or the outdoor research refuge. What are your thoughts? I can’t be constricted, I need to be able to move and get around easily. But I want to be warm this year. If you can help I’d appreciate it. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Donna, it’s a little hard to judge without more information, like how much you’re moving, your activity level. Are you walking, running, snowshoeing, hiking, working? Is your body core very warm or even sweating a lot? I don’t think a heated coat will help you because that will keep your body core warm but not your arms and hands.

      But to address your question, it depends on your exertion level. Look at my buying tips at the top of this story, and then narrow your choices in the jackets based on what type of jackets you’ve already tried that weren’t warm enough. The Mountain Hardwear StretchDown is a traditional down jacket in that it’s not breathable; if you overheat in it, it will trap sweat and make your base layers wet. Most of the jackets in this review are not breathable, so they are not intended for a high level of activity.

      The two jackets that are breathable are the Outdoor Research Refuge and the Outdoor Research Ascendant. The Refuge is significantly warmer, but make sure it’s not too warm for how you intend to use a jacket. Also, you should not just rely on one jacket to keep you warm, but develop a layering system that you can adjust as needed. See my story “How to Dress in Layers for Winter in the Backcountry.”

      Hope that’s helpful. Good luck.

      Reply
  19. This article would have been much more useful if for each jacket you had listed the coldest temperatures the jacket would withstand given wind chill conditions. I was also surprised to not see some really top brands such as Canada Goose.

    Reply
    • Hi Saleem, down and synthetic insulated jackets do not have temperature ratings, partly because people are different, so what’s warm enough for one person isn’t warm enough for another. So instead of giving readers temp ratings that would be entirely subjective and often inaccurate, you can see that this story offers some expert tips on how to figure out approximately how warm a jacket is (in the section above with the sub-head “How Warm a Jacket Do You Need?”). Scroll back up and read that. Also, I think it’s clear this review is comprised entirely of top brands that are well known to many consumers, especially outdoors enthusiasts, but thanks for your suggestion about Canada Goose.

      Reply
  20. LL Bean gets plus points for actually making a tall version. Maybe someday giants like me will get more than one option.

    Reply
  21. Nice review, but I think that you are a bit late as the winter is about to get over.Besides that, all these jackets are surely the best and as I live in Canada I know what a good jackets look like.

    Reply
    • Hi Liam, as an expert yourself on down and synthetic jackets, you undoubtedly understand that all 10 of these jackets would be useful camping in the backcountry in spring, summer, and fall; and while some are also good for winter, some of them are clearly too light for winter, anyway. Lastly, read more closely and an expert like you will see that they are all quite different from one another.

      Reply
  22. Hey Michael, fantastic breakdown of down jackets. I recently bought an Arc’teryx Cerium SV Hoody and I absolutely love it. Pricey, yes. However, this year I’m heading around Iceland, Finland and Norway and I think the price I paid will pay for itself 😉

    Reply