Duck, Duck, Goose!

The 12 Best Down Jackets of 2020

December 16, 2019 Sports and Outdoors By Photo by Chandler Bondurant

Last updated December 2019: Prices and links have been updated to reflect current availability.

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, low 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 12 jackets are perfect for every activity, from walking your dog on frigid January mornings to conserving warmth and energy at Camp Four.

The Best Down Jackets of 2020

Down Jackets 101

Mountain Hardwear Super/DS StretchDown Hooded Jacket

Editor’s Choice:

We consider our list of the best down jackets of the year to be exhaustive, but throughout the year, we tested many more that you won’t see here. Down jackets have existed as functional outdoor protection for decades, and while the central concept that guides their design — ultralight warmth — hasn’t changed over the years, companies are still finding new ways to make them more functional than ever.

Mountain Hardwear is one of those companies. Instead of adhering to the iconic horizontal baffle design, it used a meandering pattern and a woven construction to disperse the down throughout the coat, thereby increasing durability and stretch while minimizing cold spots. The Super/DS StretchDown also uses a stretchier shell fabric that’s less shiny than traditional down coats, making it more approachable for those trying to avoid looking too “outdoorsy.” The sum of all these features is a down jacket with a vast range of applications. Mountain Hardwear may have built it for rock climbing, but the Super/DS StretchDown Hooded Jacket can function anywhere. Plus, with a price tag that’s less than $300, it’s also very affordable.

Weight: 17 ounces
Fill Material: Q.Shield responsibly-sourced down; 90% goose down, 10% goose feather
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: Toray I-Tube (85% nylon, 15% elastane)
Waterproofing: DWR

The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoodie

Best Do-It-All Down Jacket

Summit Series represents the most technical apparel and equipment that The North Face can cook up. These are the tents that are used as Himalayan base camps, the one-piece suits that look as suitable for outer space as for high peaks. It’s not just marketing chatter either; The North Face outfits its ambassador athletes in this stuff so that they’re better equipped to explore the places in the world we might only see in the pages of National Geographic, and when it sent its team to Antarctica this summer, it kitted them out in the L3 Down Hoodie.

In an expedition kit, the L3 is more of a mid-layer, which means it’s perfect for the rest of us who tend to explore less extreme latitudes. It’s the classic down jacket, made thoughtfully in every way: it’s lightweight with 800-fill down and a ripstop exterior, includes two hand pockets, an adjustable hem and an adjustable hood. It has a much wider range of motion than we expected and is treated with a DWR finish. The best thing though? The cuffs, which are soft and stretchy and more comfortable than what the rest of the field uses.

Weight: 13.4 ounces
Fill Material: responsibly-sourced goose down
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: nylon
Waterproofing: DWR

Mountain Hardwear Phantom Down Hoody

Best No-Frills Down Jacket

By “no-frills,” we mean that the Phantom is exactly what a down jacket should be. It’s warm, thanks to its 800-fill water-resistant down interior and very packable. Its features are sparse: just a hood, two hand pockets and an adjustable hem.

The minimalism here is a holdover from the Phantom’s predecessor, Mountain Hardwear’s popular Ghost Whisperer, which the company developed in close collaboration with Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck. Steck desired the lightest warm layer imaginable, so Mountain Hardwear made it – the Ghost Whisperer is only 8.3 ounces. The Phantom isn’t much heavier though – it weighs in at 9.9 ounces – but it is more durable thanks to a new shell. That makes it great for anyone looking for a very lightweight jacket, whether you’re bagging peaks or not.

Weight: 9.9 ounces
Fill Material: goose down
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material:20D Pertex (100% nylon)
Waterproofing: XXX

Montbell Plasma 1000

Best Ultralight Jacket

If you aren’t familiar with Montbell, you should be. They are one of our favorite ultralight brands, making high-quality sleeping bags in addition to down jackets. That reputation held up through testing the Plasma 1000, and we weren’t disappointed. At first, the aesthetics of the Plasma 1000 can be jarring. The MVDS (Mojave Desert) colorway likely touches closely on spaceman for some tastes, but it grows on you. Simply picking up the jacket can be shocking too — even the lightest lightweight rain jackets are heavier. Exaggerations aside, when you toss it up in the air it’ll float gently back down, like a feather. And despite its lean stature, the Plasma is toasty warm and packs down into a tiny stuff sack that fits in its pocket. We took the jacket on a shoulder season camping trip and were glad we did. It took up virtually zero space in a pack and was warm enough to extend a sunset hike into the dark.

Weight: 4.8 ounces
Fill Material: Power EX Down
Fill Power: 1000
Shell Material: 7-denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon
Waterproofing: DWR

Jöttnar Fjörm

Best Heavy Down Jacket

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).

Weight: 9.7 ounces
Fill Material: DownTek hydrophobic goose down, synthetic fill in cuffs and neck
Fill Power: 850
Shell Material: nylon
Waterproofing: DWR

Rab Infinity Light Jacket

Best Down Jacket for Windy Places

For years, the presence of a Gore-Tex tag on a product has signified best-in-class waterproofing. With the recent launch of Gore-Tex Infinium, the label means more (Infinium tags are also white instead of black). In Rab’s Infinity Light Jacket, which is still one of the few down jackets to utilize Infinium, it means superior windproofing and breathability. That combo makes it ideal for getting out and active in super-cold temperatures. Rab made it with mountaineers in mind, but it’s perfect for mountain towns and frigid cities too.

Weight: 1 pound 2.5 ounces
Fill Material: Nikwax hydrophobic down
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: nylong with Gore-Tex Infinium and Gore-Tex Windstopper
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Infinium (water-repellant)

Norrona Lyngen

Best Down Jacket for Cities

Not everybody is into the look of technical winter gear. The materials that make jackets warm and waterproof are often shiny or brightly-colored and covered in pockets and zippers, making wearers look like they’re headed to the mountains when they might just be commuting to the office. Gore-Tex launched its Infinium with remedying this stigma in mind. With Infinium, lifestyle drives performance, and technical fabrics might not look like technical fabrics, even though they’re still highly weather-proof and breathable.

It’s true for Norrona’s Lyngen down jacket. Its outer shell is water-repellant and fully windproof, but unlike many of the other options here, it doesn’t have the characteristic sheen of ripstop nylon. Instead, it looks and feels more like a thin layer of leather. But style isn’t the Lyngen’s only play; that same material is incredibly breathable (Norrona built this jacket with ski touring in mind) and it’s filled with a hearty load of 850-fill, responsibly-sourced down. It’s very warm as a result — warm enough to wear as an outer layer in Northern Hemisphere towns during the dead of winter.

Weight: 17 ounces
Fill Material: responsibly-sourced down
Fill Power: 850
Shell Material: Gore-Tex Infinium
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Infinium (water-repellant)

Black Diamond Vision Parka

Most Durable Down Jacket

Black Diamond emphasizes two things in the Vision: warmth and durability. The former is a given, but down jackets, particularly the lightweight, packable ones, are known for outer shells that are far from tear-resistant. So Black Diamond worked with a company in Japan to create a liquid crystal polymer coating that makes the Vision significantly more durable.

The coating works wonders for rock climbers scraping up against a granite, but it also comes in handy when you accidentally scuff up against a wall in town or intentionally bash your way through brush on a hike. Oh, and the Vision is warm. Really warm. It’s Black Diamond’s warmest down jacket to date.

Weight: 1 pound 4.5 ounces
Fill Material: goose down
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: 20D nylon liquid crystal polymer ripstop
Waterproofing: DWR

Blackyak Bakosi

Best Active Down Jacket

The Bakosi is far from the typical down jacket. Some of its unique features are obvious — like the two deep mesh pockets that are on its front or the lightweight grid fleece hood. They’re a departure from the “normal” image of what a down jacket looks like, but they have real-world application in mind. That hood, for instance, is more form-fitting than a down-filled one and doesn’t inhibit field of vision. It also fits under a helmet or stretches over a baseball cap.

But the Bakosi excels with features that are less visible — specifically, a body-mapped construction that combines both down and synthetic insulation as well as stretch paneling. The idea behind this is that the body retains and vents heat differently in different locations. For instance, the arms don’t need as much insulation, so Blackyak shrunk the baffles here and added less fill. Goose down is used on the upper section of the jacket to provide maximum warmth while the lower region is filled with synthetic Primaloft Gold, which is also water-resistant. The back is extra stretchy and filled with Polartec Alpha, another synthetic insulation that’s highly breathable — this helps with that sweaty back issue you might experience while climbing or hiking. It’s a complex construction (which contributes to its high price tag) but it’s also incredibly well thought-out, and more importantly, it works.

Weight: 21 ounces
Fill Material: traceable goose down, Primaloft Gold, Polartec Alpha
Fill Power: 750
Shell Material: Cordura ripstop nylon, Cordura 4-way stretch fabric, Polartec Power Grid fleece
Waterproofing: DWR

REI 650 Down Jacket 2.0

Best Budget Down Jacket

The middle ground between price and quality is a small plot, but REI figured out how to land there with its 650 Down Jacket 2.0. For only $100, this jacket is lightweight and provides plenty of warmth for use as a mid-layer on colder days and an outer layer when it’s slightly more temperate. The jacket is relatively unadorned – it has two zippered hand pockets and two interior drop-in pockets, and that’s it for features. For even more warmth and a more technical set of features, upgrade to REI’s Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0, which is an equally good deal at $219.

Weight: 11 ounces
Fill Material: power down
Fill Power: 650
Shell Material: recycled nylon taffeta
Waterproofing: DWR

Foehn Robson Down Hoody

Best Down Pullover

Familiarize yourself with Foehn. The small brand, which draws its name from the type of warm wind that can develop on the leeward side of mountain ranges, produces a small collection of apparel with rock climbing in mind while paying close attention to style — everything that the brand makes is suitable for city life too. Foehn’s most well-known piece is the Brise Pant, which raised more than $70,000 on Kickstarter, but its down jacket is equally-worthy of high praise.

Unlike many of the other jackets on this list, the Robson is a pullover. It doesn’t use the common quarter-zip construction either, favoring a zipper on the side to accommodate entry and exit instead. This keeps the jackets face — a matte, Japanese-made stretch fabric treated with DWR — plain, like a sweatshirt. It makes for a stylish profile that’s sure to draw compliments (and questions about who makes it). But the Robson isn’t all looks; it’s plenty warm with a substantial helping of 800-fill down and includes laser-cut underarm vents that aid breathability during high-output activities.

Fill Material: responsibly-sourced down
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: Nylon
Waterproofing: DWR

Marmot West Rib Parka

Most Innovative Down Jacket

Like Jöttnar’s Fjörm, Black Diamond’s Vision and Rab’s Infinity Light, the West Rib is a big, puffy parka for the coldest conditions. Marmot achieved furnace-level warmth in an unconventional way, though; in addition to employing the horizontal baffles standard in down jackets, it created a new technology that it’s calling WarmCube.

Unzip the West Rib, and you’ll see where the name comes from – the jacket’s interior is lined with rectangular pods of 800-fill down. Each one is separate from the others, which creates a system of channels that hold in lots of warmth. Toward the exterior of the jacket, Marmot used synthetic insulation to add a layer of weather resistance, and all of that is held in with a new durable and weatherproof diamond weave shell material from Pertex.

Down jacket essentials are also present in the West Rib, including inner mesh pockets, two exterior chest pockets, two exterior hand pockets, a two-way zipper, adjustable hem and oversized hood. The sum of all these parts: a wildly warm layer capable of guarding against the worst conditions imaginable.

Weight: 2 pounds
Fill Material: goose down and 3M Thermal R 40 gram synthetic insulation
Fill Power: 800
Shell Material: Pertex Quantum 100% nylon diamond ripstop
Waterproofing: water resistant

The Best Down Jackets of 2020

Down Jackets 101

The 11 Best Synthetic Down Jackets of 2020

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What to Know Before You Buy a Down Jacket

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.

How To Wash Your Down Jacket

Most people take their down jacket for granted, expecting it to perform the same year after year without any maintenance. Over time though, down becomes compacted and dirty, which inhibits its loft and makes the jacket less warm. To clean your jacket, revitalize its warmth and get it ready for all your adventures, follow our simple guide.

Put your jacket into a washing machine without an agitator. It is easiest to do this at a laundromat, but if your home washer is of the large, front-loading variety, feel free to toss it in there. If you use a washing machine with an agitator, you run the risk of tearing open your jacket or clumping the down in large balls inside — so avoid agitators at all costs.

Wash with Nikwax Down Wash. Though there are other good down washes out there (namely Granger’s), we recommend using Nikwax’s Down Wash. Add the Down Wash directly into the washing machine, using about three ounces. Follow the directions on the care label of your jacket for specific temperature and cycle settings.

Switch your jacket to the dryer and add tennis balls. Move your jacket over to the dryer, but before you turn it on, add in a package of new tennis balls. As the drier spins, the tennis balls will bounce around inside the drum, breaking up any clumps of down and helping dry the jacket completely. This also helps to restore the loft in the down feathers. As for dryer settings, low heat for a long period of time is the name of the game.

Pause the dryer and manually break up any clumps. Every twenty minutes or so, pause the dryer and manually work out larger clumps of down. While the tennis balls work well to help break up clumps, you’ll need to put some extra effort in to break them up completely.

Tumble dry until the jacket is completely dry. Dry the jacket until it is dry the entire way through. Not only does moist down function terribly as an insulator, it’s also prone to mold, which will lead to a stinky jacket.

The Gear You Need
Nikwax Down Wash $11
Tennis Balls $10

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Tanner Bowden

Tanner Bowden is a staff writer at Gear Patrol covering all things outdoors and fitness. He is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and a former wilderness educator. He lives in Brooklyn but will always identify as a Vermonter.

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