Last Updated November, 2017: We’ve added 10 new down jackets for Fall 2017 and Winter 2018. Prices and links have also been updated.
Editor’s Choice: Arc’teryx Thorium AR Hoody
By most accounts, the Thorium AR looks like your standard down jacket. But underneath an unassuming exterior lies a technically advanced jacket built specifically with versatility in mind. The “AR” at the end of the jacket’s name signifies “All Round,” meaning that Arc’teryx designed the jacket to function well across a number of different activities. One of the most interesting features of the Thorium AR is the combination of down and synthetic fill. In most cases, down and synthetic insulations are as separate as church and state. In the case of the Thorium AR Hoody however, they work together to strategically provide warmth and breathability where you need it most. — AJ Powell
Weight: 14.5 ounces
Fill Material: European grey goose down and Coreloft synthetic
Fill Power: 750
Shell Material: Colibri 40D mini-ripstop nylon
Waterproofing: DWR finish
What You Should Know
The 10 Best Down Jackets of 2018
- Best Jacket for Freedom of Movement: Mountain Hardwear StretchDown DS Hooded Jacket
- Most Innovative Jacket: Eddie Bauer EverTherm Down Hooded Jacket
- Most Stylish: Peak Performance Helium Hooded Jacket
- Best Expedition Jacket: Jöttnar Fjörm
- Best City-to-Mountain Jacket: Goldwin Terra Hybrid Down Jacket
- Best Bang for Your Buck: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
- Best Ultralight Jacket: Montbell Plasma 1000
- Best Jacket for Inclement Weather: Rab Vailance
- Best All-Round Jacket: Arc’teryx Thorium AR Hoody
Down is warm enough that ducks and geese can swim in freezing water and light enough that they can fly. It’s those two qualities that also make it arguably the best form of insulation yet devised for outdoor apparel. Down’s warmth, light weight and ability to compress make it the perfect material for activities like skiing, mountaineering and backpacking (it’s also great for just cruising around the city, too). Advances in chemical treatments also mean that down jackets are more resistant to down’s mortal enemy, moisture, than ever before. From lifestyle wear to burly mountaineering layers, down jackets are lighter, tougher and more water resistant than ever. These ten jackets are perfect for every activity, from walking your dog on frigid January mornings to conserving warmth and energy at Camp Four.
What You Should Know About Down Jackets
An Intro to Down
Down is found in layers underneath the rougher outer feathers of ducks and geese — it’s what keeps them warm while floating around all winter, so, naturally, it will keep us warm too. Despite that, moisture is the undoing of down, causing it to clump up and lose its heat-retaining qualities. It also should be noted that while large-scale efforts have been made by big brands such as Patagonia and The North Face, not all down is ethically sourced, and animal cruelty does happen.
Fill Powers Decoded
Down fill powers are numerical ratings that usually range anywhere from about 450 to 900. This number comes from a standardized test in which an ounce of down is compressed in a graduated cylinder and then measured for volume in cubic inches; that volume is the fill rating. An ounce of 900-fill down occupies more space (and thus traps more air and provides more warmth) than an ounce of 600-fill down. The two samples weigh the same, but one takes up more space and can trap more air, which means more warmth.
What this boils down to is the idea that a higher fill power means more warmth for less weight. It’s important to note that two jackets or sleeping bags may have different fill ratings while providing the same amount of warmth — the difference is that whichever has the higher rating will pack down to a smaller size because less material is needed to get the same amount of warmth. High down fill powers tend to come with a heftier price tag, so consider what you’re going to use a product for when getting into those loftier feathers.
The 9 Best Down Jackets of 2018
Best Jacket for Freedom of Movement: Mountain Hardwear StretchDown DS Hooded Jacket
The first noticeable feature in Mountain Hardwear’s latest down jacket is that it’s done away with traditional baffles entirely. Instead of stitching, the StretchDown DS uses an array of welds to create the channels that hold its 800-fill down insulation in place. The advantages of this are twofold; baffle stitching is a recurring culprit for durability issues, and the new welds do exactly what they’re supposed to do — they stretch. I purposefully tried to flex the jacket to its limits, Hulk-style, and never actually reached them. That alone makes the StretchDown a great option for active use. (It also gives the jacket a unique visual appeal.)
The outer shell material of the StretchDown is an equally stretchy fabric made from polyester that isn’t waterproof (like most of the jackets on this list) but does have a solid DWR treatment. The polyester does have a slightly chalky feel to it, which, depending on your preferences and how picky you are, might be slightly off-putting. Two zippered hand pockets, an exterior zippered chest pocket and twin interior gear pockets allow for ample opportunities for essential gear stashing. Whether the jacket is put to use on a trail or sidewalk — it’s a solid choice for both. — Tanner Bowden
Weight: 1 pound 3 ounces
Fill Material: NIKWAX Hydrophobic Down
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: Dynamic-Stretch knit polyester
Most Innovative Jacket: Eddie Bauer EverTherm Down Hooded Jacket
Because technological advances in insulation typically happen on the molecular, fiber level, they often aren’t seen. That’s almost true for Eddie Bauer’s EverTherm Down Jacket, which is arguably the brand’s most innovative yet. You’ll notice the jacket has no baffles — that’s because Eddie Bauer has figured out how to arrange the down feathers in a single sheet, (the new material is called Thindown) which means no extra stitching (they’re frequent fail points in a jacket) and much less bulk — but all the same lightweight warmth.
It works; the jacket is remarkably warmer than it looks, which was one of Eddie Bauer’s goals in designing the new technology. One of the few downsides (if it can be considered such) to the new Thindown tech is that it does its job too well — the reduced loft gives the jacket a very casual look, and champions of down might miss the visual appeal of puffy baffles. For casual use like commuting and wearing around town, the EverTherm is best suited to temperatures just above freezing, but if you plan on putting your body to work, it can easily go below that (and it makes a great mid layer, thanks again to that low profile). The EverTherm’s outer shell is constructed of nylon treated with Eddie Bauer’s StormRepel DWR finish, which proved fully capable of standing up to a full-on New York City downpour. — Tanner Bowden
Weight: 9.12 ounces
Fill Material: Thindown
Fill Power: N/A
Shell Material: Nylon
Waterproofing: StormRepel Super DWR
Most Stylish: Peak Performance Helium Hooded Jacket
Leave it to a company based in Sweden’s northern wilderness to cook up an awesome down jacket. The first noticeable quality about the Helium is just how lightweight it is — about 10.2 ounces. It’s an impressive number, given that Peak Performance fit the jacket with zippered hand pockets and an adjustable hood. That lightness belies the high-quality warmth that the jacket provides. At this weight, with 700-fill insulation, the Helium is well-suited as an outer layer during the chillier months between summer and winter, even when temperatures drop into the 30s and 40s. You’ll probably want something with a higher fill power or more insulation overall for anything colder — but that’s not to say that the Helium won’t make an excellent mid-layer for skiing and winter hiking.
The Helium’s outer shell is a windproof and water-resistant nylon by Pertex that, unlike some of the other jackets on this list, has a great hand feel and adds to the jacket’s overall comfort. As far as aesthetics are concerned, the Helium excels. It fits slim but not tight, and its sine wave-shaped baffles are a welcome break from the horizontal tubes customary to most down jackets. It’s also available in a variety of handsome muted colors. — Tanner Bowden
Weight: 10.23 ounces
Fill Material: Duck down
Fill Power: 700
Shell Material: Pertex nylon
Best Expedition Jacket: Jöttnar Fjörm
Jöttnar’s tagline is “Conquer Giants,” and that’s exactly what this expedition-class down jacket was built to do. The Fjörm is big, puffy, and most of all, warm. It’s filled with just under ten ounces of DownTek’s responsibly-sourced, water-resistant, 850-fill goose down — that’s a lot of warmth, but the jacket is still incredibly lightweight and compressible (it packs down into what seems like an impossibly-small stuff sack). That much warmth may be overkill for shoulder season use, but the jacket still breathes well enough to be worn in temperatures just above freezing and is certainly suited to go far below that mark.
Despite the Fjörm’s size, it doesn’t feel bulky, as some expedition jackets tend to. It’s also incredibly comfortable, and Jöttnar improved the cuffs (small yet key points of jacket-on-skin abrasion) with the addition of a fleece lining. A drawcord waist, extra-large internal gear pocket, helmet compatible hood, and two-way zipper give the Fjörm serious (and practical) mountain chops. But while this jacket may be built to equip high elevation adventures, its undeniable warmth and comfort make it suitable for wear in cities that see their fair share of frigid temperatures (like New York, for example). — Tanner Bowden
Weight: 9.7 ounces
Fill Material: DownTek hydrophobic goose down, synthetic fill in cuffs and neck
Fill Power: 850
Shell Material: Nylon
Best City-to-Mountain Jacket: Goldwin Terra Hybrid Down Jacket
Imagine a bulky alpine suit climbed Everest, descended, bought an apartment in Manhattan, fell in love with the city, and never climbed a mountain again. That’s the Terra Hybrid Down Jacket. Goldwin, a Japanese company with deep roots in skiing, has carved out a specialty in this kind of stylish-yet-technical outerwear. As you can see, the all-black Terra’s silhouette is wonderfully minimal; the only non-black detail is the interior pocket (red for visibility), and Goldwin’s logo is nearly impossible to spot from more than a few feet away.
All-black, minimal: both common descriptors in nearly all urban winter attire. But I can say from first-hand experience that the Terra is also absurdly warm and surprisingly weatherproof. I have very little body fat, and I get cold easily, yet I felt like I was wearing a furnace; hours of heavy rain did not penetrate its Pertex shell. My only complaint was that its a bit chunky, but I suppose that’s to be expected in a jacket with such lofty hybrid insulation. I’m also not used to wearing down jackets this big, let alone down parkas. But when it looks this good, getting used to it shouldn’t be a problem. The only downside? The Terra is currently only available in Japan, but maybe that’s just another reason to book that ski trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. — Michael Finn
Weight: 2 pounds 2.22 ounces
Fill Material: 72% down, 20% rayon, 8% feather; Primaloft in shoulders, sleeves and hood
Shell Material: Pertex nylon/polyster composite
Best Bang for Your Buck: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
As far as winter equipment goes, Patagonia excels at one thing above all else: lightweight, extremely thin down jackets. Few others do it as well, and certainly none enjoy the same cult-like respect that comes with Patagonia’s classic Fitz Roy logo. It’s nicknamed Patagucci for good reason. On the technical/lifestyle spectrum, the Down Sweater Hoody resides mostly in the realm of lifestyle. It’s less technical alpine wear, more stylish streetwear. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But whether or not this was Patagonia’s intent is unclear.
I’ve worn this jacket — and many of its predecessors — on both the streets of New York City and the high, windswept plains of the Midwest. It’s warm, fits nice and slim and performs great during active winter pursuits — ice climbing, snowshoeing, those sorts of sweaty things. I maintain that it is better suited for mild winters in the city. It’s not completely weatherproof, and on below-freezing days, you’d likely need several baselayers underneath to avoid shivering. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s simply a great-looking jacket that’ll keep you warm in most mild winter climates; especially in the city. — Michael Finn
Weight: 15.1 ounces
Fill Material: Advanced Global Traceable Down (goose)
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: ripstop polyester
Best Ultralight Jacket: Montbell Plasma 1000
If you aren’t familiar with Montbell, you should be. They are one of my favorite ultralight brands (I own two of the brand’s sleeping bags). After testing the Plasma 1000, I was not disappointed. At first, the aesthetics of the Plasma 1000 didn’t sell me. The MVDS (Mojave Desert) colorway felt a bit too spaceman for my tastes, but it quickly grew on me. As soon as I picked up the jacket I was shocked — I’ve felt lightweight rain jackets that are heavier. When you toss it up in the air and let it float down, hyperbole aside, it literally mimics a feather. Despite its lean stature, the Plasma is toasty warm and packs down into a tiny stuff sack that fits in its pocket. I took the jacket on a shoulder season camping trip, and I’m glad I did. It took up virtually zero space in my pack and was warm enough to extend a sunset hike into the dark. In the ultimate test, I got a bit too close to the campfire on more than one occasion. Shockingly, none of the flying embers managed to put a hole in the Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon shell. — AJ Powell
Weight: 4.8 ounces
Fill Material: Power EX Down
Fill Power: 1000
Shell Material: 7-denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon
Waterproofing: standard DWR treatment
Best Jacket for Inclement Weather: Rab Vailance
For me, only one jacket rivals the Vailance and that’s Arc’teryx’s Firebee AR Parka. From a simple economic standpoint, the Vailance takes the cake. It costs $549 less than the Arc’teryx jacket and performs at the same level. The Firebee AR is warmer overall, but with a proper layering system, you can easily make up for that. By far the most impressive feature on the Vailance jacket is its waterproofing. I took the jacket out in a full-on downpour, and it was 100 percent dry after 40 minutes. It beaded water on par with the best rain jackets out there. It’s lightweight, packable and warm enough for those frigid days at the mountain or even commuting to and from work. It also comes with a drybag-style stuff sack so you can easily store the jacket in a backpack or a crowded Brooklyn apartment.
Pro Tip: go for the Rococco colorway. It has tonal branding that isn’t as noticeable as it is on the other options. —AJ Powell
Weight: 23 ounces
Fill Material: R.D.S. Certified European Goose Down
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: Pertex Shield fully taped waterproof outer with 100% nylon inner
Best All-Round Jacket: Arc’teryx Thorium AR Hoody
By most accounts, the Thorium AR looks like your standard down jacket. But underneath an unassuming exterior lies a technically advanced jacket built specifically with versatility in mind. The “AR” at the end of the jacket’s name signifies “All Round,” meaning that Arc’teryx designed the jacket to function well across many different activities. One of the most interesting features of the Thorium AR is the combination of down and synthetic fill. In most cases, down and synthetic insulations are as separate as church and state. In the case of the Thorium AR Hoody however, they work together to strategically provide warmth and breathability where you need it most. — AJ Powell