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, skiing, climbing, and hut treks, 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 insulated jackets available today.
I selected the jackets covered in this review after extensive testing on backpacking, camping, backcountry ski touring, 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.
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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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, especially once that dampness reaches your skin.
• 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. (Read more on this below, under Which is Better, Down or Synthetic?)
• 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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• 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. The price of down jackets usually correlates with the quality of the 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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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.
• 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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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 or hydrophobic down if it may occasionally have to endure a light shower. But many accounts and lab testing, hydrophobic down provides some water repellency and protection until it gets soaked—and most users will not encounter conditions where they would notice any difference in performance between hydrophobic down (whether in a jacket or a sleeping bag) and standard down. (See much more detail on this topic in a comment I posted at the bottom of this story, dated Sept. 13, 2022, responding to a reader’s question about hydrophobic down.)
• 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
$350, 8.8 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
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.
Mountain Hardwear has now outdone itself with the hooded Ghost Whisperer UL Jacket ($400), an even lighter version of the Ghost Whisperer that, at six ounces, still has two zippered hand pockets.
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; a men’s or women’s Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Jacket at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com; or other apparel in the Ghost Whisperer series 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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Black Diamond Approach Down Hoody
$360, 10 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-XL
Wearing BD’s Approach Down Hoody on cool, very windy evenings and mornings down to the 40s Fahrenheit backpacking in the Grand Canyon and similar temps backpacking in the Wind River Range, I stayed both perfectly warm and happy that I’d packed a very light puffy that didn’t compromise on warmth or features.
Barely more than an ounce heavier than Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer/2, the Approach bests it with features found in heavier down jackets, like a chest pocket and a hood that adjusts with a one-hand drawcord and stays in place when turning your head side to side. Stuffed with 800-fill power, water-resistant goose down, it has high warmth for its weight and won’t lose loft when damp—expanding its usefulness from three-season backpacking to active insulation in cold temps. Plus, it boasts green cred with fluorocarbon-free, RDS-certified down and a PFC-free and water-free DWR that’s more durable than traditional DWRs.
Read my full review of the Black Diamond Approach 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 Black Diamond Approach Down Hoody at moosejaw.com, backcountry.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com.
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Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket
$409, 11 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL
If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. In updating its Eos Down Jacket, Feathered Friends made just two minor improvements. Testing the Eos on a windy and chilly June trip in Idaho’s City of Rocks and on cool, windy evenings and mornings in August on the John Muir Trail, I found it just as warm and comfortable as I found the previous version in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, Glacier National Park, and countless other wild places.
Stuffed with 900+-fill goose down and weighing just 11 ounces, the Eos has a warmth-to-weight ratio matched by few competitors. The Pertex Quantum shell sheds light precipitation. The updated Eos placed the zippered chest pocket behind a flap and made the warm hood adjustable using drawstrings; it still features two zippered hand pockets, elasticized cuffs, and a drawcord hem. A great fit, superior warmth and packability make it an excellent choice for three-season trips.
Read my full review of the 2022 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.
Looking for a more affordable down jacket?
Check out the REI 650 Down Jacket. Read my review.
Arc’teryx Cerium Hoody
$400, 11 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL
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. While slightly edged out only by the Feathered Friends Eos and Helios and Mammut Meron in warmth-to-weight ratio, 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. With a comfortable, athletic fit that allows layering a couple of warm base layers underneath, the Cerium LT Hoody is a good choice for three-season adventures, especially in damp climates.
Read my full review of the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody. Arc’teryx has simply renamed it the Cerium Hoody without significantly changing the jacket.
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 Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody at arcteryx.com or rei.com.
Buy smartly. Read my “10 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear” and
“Why and When to Spend More on Hiking and Backpacking Gear.”
Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket
$449, 14 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
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 on. Fat but still reasonably 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 and the length exceeds most sub-one-pound puffy jackets. Two spacious, warm, zippered hand pockets sit higher than a backpack or climbing harness belt. 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.
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Stay dry, happy, and safe.
See my review of “The 6 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking.”
Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket
$280, 15 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XXS-XXL, women’s XS-XXL
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. At this price, it’s a great value.
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.
Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Jacket
$469, 1 lb. 1 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL
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 surprising packability, spotlighting its versatility as an outstanding down jacket that’s light and packable enough for sub-freezing temps or people who just get cold more easily on three-season trips.
The Helios is stuffed generously with nearly eight ounces (men’s medium) of 900+-fill down, the highest-quality down you can find, which explains its stratospheric warmth-to-weight ratio. The comfortable, adjustable hood seals nicely around the face to trap heat and fits over a climbing helmet. 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 or other Helios apparel at featheredfriends.com.
Need ultimate warmth? If this list was expanded to include the warmest down jacket reviewed at this blog, the Black Diamond Vision Down Parka ($465, 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 work on this 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.com, backcountry.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com.
See a menu of all my reviews and expert buying tips at my Gear Reviews page.
The Best Synthetic Jackets
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
$329, 9 oz.
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XXS-XL
In cool, strong wind from Idaho’s City of Rocks to the Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, the Micro Puff Hoody delivered more warmth than expected, given that it weighs barely more than a half-pound. Patagonia’s water-resistant PlumaFill insulation matches the warmth-to-weight ratio of high-quality (800-fill power) down, while 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 water-resistant, windproof, 10-denier Pertex Quantum shell with a DWR shrugged off a couple of hours of very light rain in one camp. The non-adjustable, elasticized hood clings snugly around your face and fits under a helmet. Appealing to ultralighters and anyone seeking one of the lightest, most packable puffy jackets, the Micro Puff excels for three-season backpacking and camping in moderate temps.
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 ($279, 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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Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie
$199, 11 oz.
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
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. While backcountry skiing in low 20s temps in December, it provided a perfect amount of insulation for skiing downhill and similarly for a cold skin track on the climb up—and the synthetic insulation won’t lose its warmth when damp. The breathable and stretchy VerticalX ECO SR insulation packs a good 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, 15- by 30-denier 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. The adjustable hood is helmet-compatible and the jacket stuffs into one of the two spacious zippered pockets. And did you see that price?
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 or a women’s Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or outdoorresearch.com.
What touches your skin matters, too. See my picks for the best base layers for any season.
The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie
$300, 15 oz.
Sizes: men’s and women’s XS-XL
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. The stretchy, adjustable hood fits under a helmet, the fabric easily shed lightly falling snow, and the jacket has four zippered pockets—a rarity. Consider this a quiver-of-one puffy jacket for bridging three-season backpacking and winter days in the mountains.
Read my full 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 this affiliate link to purchase a men’s or women’s The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie at moosejaw.com.
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See all of my reviews of insulated jackets and outdoor apparel that I like at The Big Outside. And don’t miss my picks for “The Best Backpacking Gear” of the year.
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139 thoughts on “The 10 Best Down Jackets of 2023”
Great review, lots of options. As I have an allergy to down I’ll be making selections from the Synthetic jackets you’ve reviewed. For early August JMT does the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody fit the bill? I’m probably “normal” in terms of how cold i get… Thank you!!!
Thanks. Yes, for summer on many Western mountain trails, including the JMT/High Sierra, the Patagonia Micro Puff will be excellent. I had a down jacket of similar weight on the JMT last August and we had one night so cool and windy that I had to augment that with a midweight long-sleeve base layer and my rain shell to help block the wind (plus a wool hat). That combination was enough.
Good luck with your plans for that big adventure!
Perfect, thank you!
Hello, who can tell me if the purchase of the RAB POSITRON PRO jacket is serious as a product ?
can it withstand a temperature of – 40° with a French Army Sympatex overjacket ?
Sorry, I’m not familiar with that jacket and -40 is extreme cold whether you mean Celsius or Fahrenheit.
Hi. Thanks for your article, it was quite informative. What would you suggest is the warmest and longest women’s coat on the market? My wife needs a very warm coat as she gets cold very easily. Also could you recommend something that’s long and warm and had the straight/smooth look on the outside? Thanks
I’m sorry but I focus this article on lightweight insulated jackets for carrying and wearing in the backcountry, so I have not used the kind of heavier, long coats you’re looking for. Good luck.
Really informative piece of Narrative. Question…why don’t you review Canada Goose and their collection. I know not all their clothing is suitable for real outdoor performance?
Thanks, Brian. I’ve looked at some Canada Goose down jackets that are relatively lightweight for backcountry use but have not yet seen a model that compares with jackets reviewed here, especially on value: Canada Goose jackets seem more expensive, for the same design, features, and materials, than even the highest-priced jackets in this review.
These seem like great options. I’ve recently purchased the Katabatic Tincup Puffy. What are your thoughts on it? It has a lot of premium features including the pertex. I had it down to 0°F in windy conditions and was warm.
Hi. Do you also have recommendations for colder temperatures in the minus 25 to minus 40 F? Thank you
The Black Diamond Vision Down Parka is the warmest jacket mentioned in this review but you’d want want layers underneath it, too. I’d suggest you find a jacket that’s significantly bigger and heavier, like the Marmot WarmCube GORE TEX Golden Mantle Jacket.
Thank you so much this was helpful, but I’m still stuck between down and synthetic, I’m looking for something specifically just as a mid layer with an insulated shell over the top so weather proofing isn’t the biggest deal but temps in the -20 range is. With a merino wool baselayer I can’t figure out what i should choose.
Sounds to me like you just want a very warm insulated jacket and down is generally warmer per ounce than synthetic. Good luck.
Your choices are too expensive. Why don’t you rate some lower priced offerings? Expert guidance is important at that price point.
That’s a fair question but that this review spotlights my picks for the best down jackets, which are, not surprisingly, more expensive. See this menu of all insulated jacket reviews at The Big Outside, including the See REI 650 Down Jacket, which is $100 for the jacket version and $119 for the hoody.
Good luck and thanks for the question.
Would you recommend one of these jackets as a mid layer for ice climbing?
Thanks and happy Christmas!
Yes, any one of the three synthetic jackets, really depending on how much warmth you need for the temps and conditions you climb in and your body (see tips above on that). Those will hold their warmth better when damp than the down jackets.
Good luck and happy holidays to you.
What jacket do you recommend if it’s rainy cats and dogs outside?
I need a water proof medium warm jacket.
None of these insulated jackets are rain jackets. My review of the best rain jackets has several waterproof shells, but they’re not insulated. You’ll need either one insulated jacket and one rain jacket or an insulated rain jacket, and I haven’t reviewed anything in that last category. Good luck.
Fantastic article! Thanks for putting it all together and all in one spot.
You’re welcome, Mary. Good luck.
Awesome info, helped me better learn about overall down weights to know which jacket is warmer. Before, I mistakenly thought it was the fill-power. I’ll be returning my Cerium LT in exchange for the Thorium AR. Thanks again for the great article and pics!
You’re welcome, Glen, thanks for the comment.
Thanks Michael for the reply and Recommendation….You picked my thoughts correctly, it was indeed 10 degree Celcius…..
Also it is a great advice to consider lighter and insulated jackets so that it can be used in milder winter days…..
On that note, I checked there are lot of good reviews for Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2….Can that be also considered over Helios or EOS or Microlite Alpine? Its in the top of the list in your review as well.
The Feathered Friends Jackets are not available in India, so only option left are the RAB or the Mountain Hardwear…
Hi Michael, That is indeed a great review and analysis!!!
It would be great if you could help me out on my dilemma to buy a down jacket…..
I am going to move to Europe soon from India and so you would understand the temperature difference…besides my body feels it is freezing temperature even at 10 degree Fahrenheit….So could you suggest a daily use home to office down jacket which offers the warmest feature?
Was just wondering if you could check out RAB Neutrino Pro over the RAB Microlight Alpine?
What’s your thought? Weight is not an issue for me…..
Thanks for the question and congratulations on your upcoming move. While much depends on where you’ll be living—Spain and Italy and other southern countries are much warmer than, say, the U.K. and Scandinavian countries—I’m sure you’ll find it feels much colder than India. I suspect you meant 10 degrees Celsius rather than Fahrenheit, too. You’ll mostly need an insulated jacket for fall, winter, and spring and I would suggest one of the warmer midweight jackets like the Feathered Friends Eos, Mammut Meron IN, or Rab Microlight Alpine. The Feathered Friends Helios is a bit heavier and warmer than all of those, perhaps a better choice for northern Europe. The RAB Neutrino Pro is significantly heavier and presumably warmer than all of those and may be more jacket than you want; you can always wear a sweater or another layer under one of the jackets I recommended for exceptionally cold days, which gives you more versatility than a jacket that’s too warm for many winter days.
Good luck with your move. Thanks again for the question.
Nice Review, Just wondering, can you review the cool apparel for gulf countries, especially Dubai? I was used to chilling Europe weather for quite some time and recently shifted to Dubai for work and better opportunities.
Thanks, Kash. I wish I could be more helpful with suggestions for gear for the Gulf countries but I have not been to the Middle East. I would only assume you’d want the most breathable materials and best sun protection, like my review of the best sun shirts. Good luck.
Can you sight a source that “hydrophobic down feathers that greatly improve their ability to repel water”? I haven’t been blue to find any evidence of that. I’m hearing and seeing that the effect is minor. Also it has the effect that it’s shortens the life of the down.
Hi Nate, thanks for asking for asking a legitimate question. Here’s some of the research and other information I’ve found:
This mountain-equipment.com blog post goes deep into explaining why the company mostly does not use hydrophobic down in its sleeping bags and it comes down to tradeoffs. The article acknowledges that hydrophobic down does provide some water repellency and protection until it gets soaked, but hydrophobic coatings do not have as much durability as standard down—and, simply put, most users will not encounter conditions where they would notice any difference in performance between hydrophobic down bags and standard down bags. Most of us don’t tend to lay our bags down in water or sleep outside in the rain.
In this forum at sectionhiker.com, many users exchange observations about their experiences, or lack thereof, with hydrophobic down in sleeping bags and jackets. Read through enough responses and you may draw the conclusion that in some situations, hydrophobic down made a significant difference in someone’s comfort and warmth: In one example of a bag getting fairly wet from dripping condensation inside a tent, users found the hydrophobic down worked very well at maintaining the bag’s loft; but, as another example, sustained rain on a hydrophobic down jacket rendered it as useless as a non-hydrophobic down jacket.
In this post a nikwax.com, the company that makes Nikwax Hydrophobic Down reports that it “is the first and only hydrophobic down to exceed 10,000 minutes on the industry IDFB 18a Shake Test. That’s 7 days constant exposure to water.” The post also claims “it will not wet out from rain, snow, and condensation produced whilst exercising or camping.” That article concludes that “Keeping down free from moisture allows it to be effective for longer when in use. Additionally, it is protected from microbial action which can cause breakdown of damp down, therefore increasing the usable lifetime of your item. Nikwax Hydrophobic Down prolongs the effective life of your down gear.” That link also shows a video depicting a tester floating in a glacial lake in Iceland (one I have been to) inside a sleeping bag filled with Nikwax Hydrophobic Down and the video shows the person literally floating atop the water in a bag for what appears to be some minutes at least, without the bag becoming soaked and overwhelmed by the water. There’s no indication of whether the bag’s shell is waterproof. Granted, this information source has a clear self-interest; nonetheless, it’s an impressive visual demonstration.
Frankly, all of these observations above are consistent with most claims I’ve read and heard about hydrophobic down. As I state in the tips on selecting an insulated jacket (above), hydrophobic down is best chosen when you expect to regularly encounter circumstances where your jacket (or sleeping bag) may be exposed to some moisture or light precipitation but not get soaked by it. If you don’t expect to have much direct exposure to moisture, get standard down for its warmth-per-ounce and durability.
Hi Michael, received the link to this article from a friend of mine and I have to say, you have written it so very well! I am moving to Toronto from Dubai next month and is going to be quite a change for me. I am trying to prep myself by purchasing some winterwear in Dubai but the collection isn’t the greatest. I have bought a few jackets from Columbia and North Face, the warmest I think would be the Columbia Buqaboo and the North Face Evolve II Triclimate. I can see that the best jackets often come at a cost (rightly so), so if you had to recommend something that would be good for Toronto winters and something I can use from December to March, which jacket would you recommend? The Rab Microlight is close to 1000 CAD and that is expensive. Any other recommendations that you may have?
Good question. I’m glad you found my blog and congratulations on your move to Toronto, although I’m sure it’ll feel frigid compared to Dubai! If you strictly want a very warm jacket, look to some of the fattest and heaviest, although the quality of the down matters a lot: an 800-fill or higher down rating indicates that jacket’s much warmer than a 600-fill jacket that weighs overall about the same. And down is generally warmer per ounce than most synthetic insulations.
I just happened to open backcountry.com after reading your question and there’s a really good 40% price on a very warm, good-quality down jacket, the Outdoor Research Coldfront Down Jacket. I think you’d like that one in Toronto. Much heavier, maybe not quite as warm (I think the Coldfront is a better jacket), but a bit cheaper is the Columbia Horizon Explorer Insulated Jacket.
Those are affiliate links so you can support this blog (at no extra cost to you) by making your purchase through those links.
Good luck with your move!
Hi Michael, thanks for the honest advice and host of information.
I have recently moved to Canada (Calgary) from Singapore. You can easily imagine what level of temperatures I am used to. For me, 5 degree celsius is extremely cold. Please recommend a jacket for daily home-to-office walk kind of life where I will need a jacket for temperatures from 0 to -20 degree celsius.
Below -10 degrees, my friends suggested I should buy a car, not a jacket 🙂
Congrats on your move and don’t listen to your friends, keep on walking to work, you can dress for it and will get more used to it over time.
As you know, walking generates heat in your body so you actually want to be careful not to overdress. You can always layer a rain shell over a down jacket or a lighter layer under it when needed. I think you would like a down jacket that’s as warm as the Mammut Meron IN Hooded Down Jacket and perhaps even better, have the warmth and moisture resistance of the Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket.
Good luck to you and thanks for the question.
Thanks a lot for the really prompt reply. Unfortunately your link to RAB microlight jacket has no shipping to Canada. I will search google for other sellers.
On the other hand, there is a popular store in Calgary: Mountain warehouse.
How are these jackets?
(claimed -60 degree), and
And for my wife: https://www.mountainwarehouse.com/ca/isla-ii-womens-down-jacket-p16835.aspx/black/
How are decathlon jackets? E.g. Mt 500 hiking down jacket
I’m not familiar with Mountain Warehouse or Decathlon, but regarding the former, I’m immediately suspicious of a claim the jacket’s rated to -60 C, because that’s absurd. And they offer no indication of the down-fill quality/rating, which is a key way to judge the quality and warmth of the jacket, as well as the jacket’s total weight. I don’t want to make the sweeping claim that price directly corresponds with quality, but there’s a pretty close correlation. You should read my story “How You Can Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is.”
I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in August. I have purchased the Eddie Bauer Evertherm 2.0 Down Hooded Jacket. It says it is rated to -20F, but seems way too thin for that kind of weather. Do you have any input on this jacket? I’m nervous to take this as my “main” jacket for warmth. Here’s the link.
Congrats on your plans to climb Kili. I have not used the Eddie Bauer Evertherm 2.0 Down Hooded Jacket but I just looked it up. As I’m sure you’ve read, Bauer says the jacket uses a new Thindown fabric, which replaces traditional, high-loft down clusters with ultrathin down sheets, eliminating the need for quilting or channels and creating maximum thermal efficiency without bulk. The jacket weighs 12.6 ounces in medium.
First of all, I’d be skeptical of virtually any down jacket that’s rated to -20 F. That’s extreme cold and I would expect you’ll need multiple layers to stay warm in that temp—if indeed it may get that cold on Kili, perhaps not. Still, even teens or single digits is plenty cold, requiring multiple layers top and bottom. See my story “How You Can Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is,” which covers this topic, albeit not the technology that jacket apparently uses.
I’d normally look for a hooded down jacket weighing 20 ounces or more for deep cold like you may face on Kili, and still wear multiple layers. That said, maybe this technology really does provide that level of warmth. I just don’t know. But I would try it out before your trip.
Sorry I can’t provide first-hand knowledge about that jacket but I hope this has helped. Good luck.
I’m in the market for a puffy & loved your article. It’s helped me get more idea of what I want & need.
I’m glad to hear that, Gabriella. Good luck.
Arguably Polish down products are the best. Can’t compare most of the mentioned jackets to those made by Cumulus, Aura, Pajak, Malachowski or Roberts.
Thanks for the suggestion, Tom.
Thank you for your outstanding report. Just amazing. Well done.
For me, personally- it was an information overload. So many things to consider. I feel the cold like there is no tomorrow due to medical reasons. I don’t hike. I’m just after the warmest puffer jacket, with a hood which I can wear every day. I’m still confused which jacket is best.
Again, I congratulate you on your extensive and outstanding report.
Thanks, Chris. The warmest down jacket I’ve reviewed is the Black Diamond Vision Down Parka. But that doesn’t mean it’s what you need. Read the section above “How Warm a Jacket Do You Need?” The choice comes down to personal circumstances. No one can tell you what’s perfect for you without knowing more than what you wrote in your comment.
Hi! Great review! I am really struggling to pick the perfect coat. I will be doing van life full time and traveling the US. We hike, backpack, bike and kayak. I think i will need 3 coats- a Rain layer (leaning to the beta arteryx), a puffy layer and a vest. What would you recommend?? I do overheat (read- sweaty betty here!!)- so i need something breathable!
If you’re looking for something breathable for being on the move in sub-freezing temps, look at the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody or even The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie, which will be warmer than the Atom LT (possibly too warm for being active, unless you’re in temps well below freezing or just get cold easily).
But if you want something for three-season temps, those will be too warm to wear while active and probably not as warm as you want for in camp in evenings and mornings in the mountains. Read my tips above under How Warm a Jacket Do You Need? It really depends on your body and what you want the jacket for. Think about your layering system as much as your specific puffy jacket.
See also my reviews of the best rain jackets and of the best base layers.
Thanks for the question. Good luck.
Can you recommend a jacket for Michigan winters??
Well, that depends on what you do in Michigan winters. What will you use the jacket for? If it’s not for an activity that involves some level of exertion, then get the warmest jacket you can find (which often but not always correlates with the jacket’s weight).
Thanks for your response. No I am not into any adventurous activities but just for walks during winter time. Can you please recommend a good jacket in the range of around $300
Check out the Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket (above). It might not be quite enough for the most frigid days in a Michigan winter, but you can always add a layer under it. Assuming you warm up a little when walking, I think you’ll find it good for your purposes and a good value. Thanks for asking.
Thank you so very much! I will give a try and let you know.
You’re welcome and good luck, Kartik. Tell us how it turns out for you.
Can you comment on the significance, if any, of the size of the jacket channels. I see some are wide while others are not, is one better than the other? Thanks.
Thanks for the good question, John. I assume you are referring to the baffles on a jacket, or the “pockets,” sometimes shaped like diamonds or in horizontal rows, where insulation is sewn into the jacket. Some of those are wider or larger than others, and some of those designs are more style-focused than others.
But in short, baffles that are in smaller segments or pockets trap insulation in specific locations, whereas as continuous baffles allow some types of insulation to migrate on its own, or for the wearer to move insulation to where they believe it’s more needed. That’s more common with down, which consists of small feathers, than with some types of synthetic insulation, which sometimes consists of larger fibers or solid pieces of material that would not migrate.
Fewer baffles also translates to fewer seams, which can improve a jacket’s durability and reduce cold pockets along seams.
So it really matters what type of insulation the jacket contains.
I hope that helps.
Yes, I was referring to the baffles, thanks for the info, makes sense and did help.
Good, thanks John.
Try the new Rab Infinity Gore-Tex down jacket. It’s a fantastic jacket. Light, far warmer then the Rab Micro Light or the Arc’teryx Cerium (my wife owns one), just about as warm as the Feathered Friends Eos (I own an Eos). With its Gore-Tex shell, it’s the most rugged and windproof of the bunch. The Cerium is very fragile and has lousy zippers.
I’ve been wearing the Rab Infinity for the last six weeks in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I’ve hiked in 20+ degree temperatures with 30mph winds across 6,000 feet open summits while wearing the Infinity hooded jacket. Usually, I just wear a good base layer under it. When it’s really cold and windy, I add a lightweight Arc’teryx vest. The Infinity hasn’t leaked down, has good zippers, great pockets, a very adjustable hood and an easy to use hem adjuster. It’s a very cozy, very lightweight hooded jacket that’s also very breathable. Check it out.
Thanks for that suggestion, Jack. It looks like a warm hooded down jacket, but at nearly 20 ounces, it’s much heavier than the other jackets you mentioned, and at $450, it’s more expensive. The Gore-Tex Infinium shell contributes to that high price tag, and many three-season backpackers don’t need a down jacket that warm or water-resistant. As Rab advertises, it’s made more for mountaineers. I can see why you’d like it for winter hikes, though.
Very helpful. My sport is shooting clay targets and I need a jacket for optimal warmth and unrestricted by bulk movement in raising my gun at 36-48 degree winter, damp but not wet-can add shell over if rain. I am a 104-pound woman who gets cold. Which jacket do you recommend ?
I think you’d like something with the warmth of the Mammut Meron or Rab Microlight (which has water-resistant down, if it gets damp). The Outdoor Research Helium is a good value and may be warm enough, especially over a light fleece, but the other two are definitely warmer.
Look at the decathlon forclaz 100 under 100 bucks nearly as good as the ghost whisperer 2
Thanks for the suggestion, Sam. I looked at the jacket’s details and would agree that it seems like a good price. Not having used the jacket, I can’t comment on its construction quality, but I’ll say that, at 10 ounces, it’s highly improbably that down jacket is comfortable in temps much below the mid- to high 30 F unless you’re wearing a couple of warm layers underneath it.
You probably missed the best jacket to test. The Fjallraven Expedition Down Jacket I feel is better then all you tested. Why don’t you give it a try.
Thanks for the suggestion, Jeff. I just looked briefly at the Fjallraven Expedition Pack Down Hoodie version and I’m intrigued enough to look into it.
Great information! Unfortunately, these coats are too pricey for me. How about providing “10 best warm coats on a budget”?
Yea, I understand, Chris. I’ll give that some thought.
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!
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.
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!
That depends entirely on what you want a shell jacket for. You should read my stories “The 5 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking” and “5 Expert Tips for Buying a Rain Jacket for Hiking.”
Good luck and thanks for the comment.
dynafit down like radical model would beat any of these.
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.
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.
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.
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.
thanks – Paula
Thanks for the question. With the caveat that none of these jackets has a hood that rolls into the collar, the lightest jackets on this list meet your warmth needs and have relatively unobtrusive hoods (that you could conceivably tuck inside the collar, but that’s a matter of personal comfort). For a light drizzle, I’d recommend one of the lightest synthetics: the Patagonia Micro Puff, which comes in hoodless jacket and vest versions. or the Arc’teryx Atom LT, which comes in a hoodless jacket version.
Arc’teryx Proton FL Hoody should check all of your boxes.
Good suggestion, Scott, thanks.
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!
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.
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.
Thanks for that suggestion, Slade.
Hi … i like Duluth Trading Company’s Alaskan Hardgear … Water resistant , Ripstop , warm , helmet compatible , attractive and reasonably priced . Thanks
Thanks for that recommendation, Cordell.
Just bought the Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Jacket, and I really loved it so far. Was able to make a decision faster because of your list there so thanks a lot!
Great choice, Jeff, and thanks for the comment.
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.
Thanks, Chris. I’ve been curious about that and you’re now the second reader who’s recommended it to me. Much appreciated.
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.
Thanks for the question, Jake. I’m getting a Rab Hooded Microlight Alpine Down Jacket and plan to test and review it. Watch for that.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
It was “warmest-per-ounce” and you have answered at it clearly.
Thank you for the clarification, Michael!
You’re welcome, Alex. Good luck. If you find a jacket you like, please tell us about it.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Yeah, hard to believe to didn’t include any Rab down jackets.
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.
Did you test any Rab Jackets? I’m a big fan of the Rab Microlight Down Jacket.
I have tested Rab down jackets and other apparel. Thanks for the recommendation on the Microlight, I’ll look into that one.
Very good information and helpful.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These are more technical outdoor brands, whereas Canada Goose, while warm, is more of a fashion brand.
LL Bean gets plus points for actually making a tall version. Maybe someday giants like me will get more than one option.
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.
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.
Thanks Michael. I’m looking forward to it. I go to Iceland regularly for work etc. but other two will be my first. Can’t wait!
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 😉
Thank, Shameer. I agree with you. As I wrote in my story “Why and When to Spend More on Outdoor Gear” (https://thebigoutside.com/why-and-when-to-spend-more-on-outdoor-gear/), if you can afford it, why settle for less? I’ve hiked in Iceland and Norway, and I know how cold and wet it can be in both places even at the height of summer, so a good insulation layer is invaluable. Have fun.