A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Uncommon Path.
Mastering a shift system requires work. But once you do it, chances are you’ll never come back. Layer systems typically consist of a base layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. A down jacket, usually worn as a warm outer layer or middle layer, is a key element in this equation as it keeps your core warm by trapping valuable body heat without adding bulk or weight.
To bring you the best down jackets of 2020, we first looked at the online customer ratings to identify the most popular jackets REI sold. Then we talked to several experts about the value of a good layer system and the properties of a well-made down jacket. After our research was complete, we selected the eight most popular down jackets and tested them in the Pacific Northwest during the winter months. After more than 20 hours of testing, we have selected the following down jackets that you can buy from REI.
Best for everyday use
Versions: Ladies, Men’s
- insulation: 800-Fill-Power-Down certified according to the Global Traceable Down Standard
- Weight: 12.2 oz. (Women); 13.1 oz. (Men’s)
- Price: $ 229 (with hood $ 50 more)
Down jackets are ideal as they trap body heat to keep your core warm without adding a lot of weight. We’ve studied baffle design, fill power, sustainable down, and more, and the Patagonia down sweater has proven to be our first choice for everyday wear. We wore it on cool walks; on camping, hiking and backpacking trips in the off-season; and on snowshoe adventures. The jacket’s 800-fill power-down was consistently warm and stayed in place even during the most chaotic activities due to the jacket’s well-designed baffles. In the slightly undersized pockets you will find cords on the hem, with which you can easily pull your hands without exposing your hands to the cold. The front zipper is in a garage on the chin, which prevents chafing. There is also an inner breast pocket that doubles as a pack sack. Patagonia’s down sweaters also come in one Ladies and Men’s Hooded Pullover.
Preferably under $ 100
Versions: Ladies, Men’s
- insulation: 650-Fill-Power-Down certified according to the Responsible Down Standard
- Weight: 10.8 oz. (Women); 11 oz. (Men’s)
- price: $ 99.95
After weeks of testing, we reached for the REI Co-op 650 2.0 while running errands on winter days. The jacket isn’t the warmest we’ve used, but its weight and fill power (650) make it more comfortable than expected. The shell blocks the wind and the insulation fills well, even after being squeezed into its own pocket. The baffles have tightly sewn seams that keep the responsible sources from shifting far (some other materials are also sustainable). The front zipper hugs your neck in a soft garage and there are two large back pockets. The 650 2.0 worked well in light rain, but felt damp in prolonged snowfall. Some reviewers noticed frayed seams and a few feathers popping out for over a year. It’s still a steal for the price. The jacket is also available in a variety of sizes, including Plus size women, Men are tall and a Men’s hoodie.
Best synthetic alternative
Versions: Ladies, Men’s
- insulation: 60 g PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco
- Weight: 10 ounces. (Women); 11.9 oz. (Men’s)
- price: $ 199
The Patagonia Nano Pouf is best for adventures in wet and cold climates. The jacket is made from PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco, which contains 55% recycled post-consumer fibers. Even when you’re soaked, Patagonia claims the jacket maintains 98% thermal efficiency – and we wore it warm and dry on a wet, snowy day. We also found the jacket to be the most breathable. Like most Patagonia products, the Nano Puff is made from responsible, bluesign-certified fabric. The insulation offers the same high feeling as down and the jacket is in its own pocket. The ripstop polyester shell of the Nano Puff blocks the wind and a water-repellent finish dissipates rain. It also comes a Ladies and Men’s Hooded Pullover.
Best for stormy weather
Versions: women, men
- insulation: 850 fill power down with synthetic insulation in key areas
- Weight: 9.8 oz. (Women); 10.9 oz. (Men’s)
- price: $ 379
If you are headed for a windy or cold climate, consider the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie. It is mainly insulated with down, but has synthetic insulation in important sweat areas and offers a wind-resistant nylon cover with a water-repellent surface. The tight-fitting hood with elastic trim on the jacket has a drawstring at the back that hugs your head, and the nylon fabric is soft on the skin. This was the warmest jacket we tested, with a contoured deflection system that keeps the 850 fill power in place during high-intensity activities. And because it weighs only 9.8-10.9 ounces (depending on the version), there is no penalty for packing it as an insurance policy.
How do I buy a down jacket?
What makes a good down jacket?
A good down jacket should contain lightweight, compressible insulation. In most cases, a down jacket has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any product you own (except maybe your sleeping bag). It should be snug but not body-hugging so you can comfortably wear a layer or two underneath.
What is down fill power?
The filling capacity is the number that indicates the relative quality of the down and is between 450 and 900. A higher fill number means more loft (or fluff).
Down fill power is important because loft is an important indicator of a jacket’s insulation. Down isolates you well, as small air spaces form in the traps of the down (superfine feather-like plumage). The more loft you have, the more heat storage there is in the jacket. (More information can be found here Instructions for filling the number.)
What is the Responsible Down Standard?
All jackets in this manual are certified according to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). In order to receive an RDS label, a brand must demonstrate that their down feathers are from animals that have been treated well. RDS certification requires that the ducks and geese in question have been free from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and suffering. (For more information, see Responsible Down Standard.)
You may also see terms like Global TDS on clothes. The Global TDS label is similar to the RDS label but also requires testing from parent farms where birds are raised to produce eggs before their feathers are used. Global TDS is a little stricter than RDS, but both are credible standards that tell you the materials are made without placing undue stress on the animals. It is planned to merge the global TDS and RDS standardization processes in the near future.
When should I buy a synthetic jacket instead of a down jacket?
A synthetic jacket might be right for you if you want to be outdoors in a damp place or if you do a sweaty activity (such as running). Synthetic materials are also generally cheaper than down. However, down is usually warmer, more compressible, and slightly lighter. The choice between the two is yours and depends entirely on the type of adventure you are planning. (For more information on this decision, see our Down lead against plastics.)
How should I look after and care for my down jacket?
Down jackets can lose their insulating properties if they get wet or dirty. Therefore, you should clean your jacket from time to time to get the most out of it. Most down jackets can be washed in a front-loading domestic washing machine. However, be sure to read the label on your jacket before throwing it in. If you wash your jacket at home, use a gentle, detergent-free cleaner (Nikwax’s Down Wash is only made for this situation). Then, dry your jacket on low heat with a few clean tennis balls to break up any clumps. (Down tends to clump up when wet and it can take a while to dry, so be patient.) You should also store your down products on hangers instead of compressing them. (You can find more cleaning tips on our Down jacket cleaning instructions.)
If your jacket rips or tears, you can use duct tape to fix it. Check out our guide to repairing a down jacket at REI.