For lightweight and efficient insulation, you can’t beat a good down jacket. Get the right one and it will end up accompanying you on every outdoor adventure throughout the year.
Down jackets are useful for hiking as their warmth-to-weight ratio tends to be much better than any other alternatives. By and large, they’re nearly always lighter than knitted or padded wool jackets, polyester fleeces, and jackets that use synthetic fills, though the gap is starting to narrow here as explained in our list of the Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets.
Also known as quilted jackets, or puffer jackets, down jackets are normally worn as an external layer over a t-shirt or long-sleeve baselayer on mild and dry days. When it rains, it’s useful to have a waterproof layer that can fit over your jacket comfortably. On very cold days, some down jackets can be worn over a number of layers as part of an insulation system.
What’s The Best Down Jacket?
The best down jackets will strike a perfect balance between warmth, weight, breathability, packability and wet weather performance. A good down filled jacket will also have a long lifespan and ideally won’t cost you an arm and a leg either.
Down itself is a layer of fine feathers found under the tougher outer feathers found on ducks and geese. The best down insulation tends to be goose down as it’s more thermally efficient than duck down. Because of this, goose down is usually more expensive.
If you’re looking to buy a down jacket, it’s worth checking the fill power when measuring the quality of down insulation. The higher the number, the better the quality. The best down jackets tend to have a fill power of over 750. A fill power of 1000 is premium.
The best down jackets usually have a box wall baffle construction to lower the risk of heat escaping through any stitching. That said, this design does usually result in a slightly puffier and heavier jacket than down jackets with stitched-through baffles.
Down can be made ineffective when it gets wet, and therefore waterproof down jackets or water resistant ones are extremely useful. Some will come with a durable water repellent coating (DWR) to repel water, but you can also add this yourself. Nikwax, Grangers and Storm make treatments that can be applied at home.
For more on what makes the best down jacket, including the synthetic jackets versus down jackets question, plus our guide to ethical down, check out our full down and synthetic jackets buyer’s guide.