When it comes to keeping warm throughout the winter, there are few better options than a down jacket. They surround you with heat, rarely restrict your movement, and are easy to layer with wind or waterproof shells.
Yet despite their ubiquity, it can be somewhat hard to understand what it is you are getting when you buy a down jacket. The outdoor industry has so many inside-baseball terms for the equipment they sell, it often leaves cold-weather-gear neophytes in the dark. Sure, you may at least understand on some level that one jacket has synthetic down while the other features natural – but what that means in terms of performance? Who could say for sure. Well, we can. So, in addition to pulling together a list of what we think are the best down jackets for men, we drew up a kind of cheat-sheet you can use to interpret the terms used to describe the down jackets that are being sold this winter.
How Do Down Jackets Work?
Down jackets don’t keep you warm. You keep you warm. The insulation in a down jacket helps trap the heat you generate and holds it close against your body – making it so you can stay toasty even when the temperature outside is below freezing. The more down insulation there is in the jacket (referred to as power fill, i.e. 700 fill, 800 fill), the more warmth the jacket will trap.
This technology isn’t something that was dreamt up in a lab or invented in the past few years. It was actually just stolen from a bunch of birds. Geese and other waterfowl evolved to grow a special, fluffy fiber in-between their oily waterproof feathers and body called down. This layer is then used to trap all the heat they generate – making it possible for them to swim around in frigid waters, or fly for hundreds of miles through cold, wet weather without dying of exposure. We’ve mimicked this evolutionary trait of theirs first by simply taking their down feathers, and now in a number of different ways using synthetic materials.
Types Of Insulation
So, what exactly are these different materials, and what benefits and drawbacks do they have? We’ve laid it all out here simply for you.
Synthetic: The basic idea of down is to provide an insulating layer between you and the cold, unforgiving tundra that is your office parking lot in January. So why not use materials other than down feathers sourced from birds? Just about every outdoor gear brand has synthetic versions of their down-jackets. Aside from being animal-product free, these jackets manage to keep their insulating properties even when wet, and are generally more breathable and affordable than regular down. The drawbacks? They’re heavier, don’t compress as well, and are generally speaking not as durable as natural down.
Down: Natural down is, unsurprisingly, sourced from birds. Because this can leave some consumers feeling a little guilty – a lot of outdoor brands go through pains to make sure they source their insulation responsibly, only using factories that use cruelty-free methods. That means no force-feeding or live-plucking. As far as performance goes, folks tend to prefer down because it is more lightweight, durable, and compressible than synthetic options. But with that being said, it has its drawbacks. If it isn’t made with hydrophobic down, it can lose its loft and ability to keep you warm. It also will leak down easily if there are any cuts or rips.
Hydrophobic Down: The best of both worlds, hydrophobic down provides all the insulation and lightweight feel of classic down jackets – but manages to maintain its loft even when soaked in water. That means you don’t have to rush and throw your down jacket in a waterproof sack overnight, or worry about sweating through your layers on long hikes.
Marmot Tullus Down Jacket
This simple, warm jacket features 600 fill power down with Marmot’s proprietary Down Defender hydrophobic coating – making it an ideal pick for wearing out as a mid-layer even in inclement weather. The jacket doesn’t feature all too many bells or whistles – just a high neck, elasticated hem and cuffs, two zippered pockets at the waist. You can pick it up in one of eight different colors.
REI Magma 850 Down Jacket
A durable water repellent treatment on this 850 fill power goose down makes this jacket ideal for wearing out on overnight hikes or through wintery weather. The Pertex ripstop nylon shell keeps the down fill safe and sound while the variable baffling provides warmth where you most need it and strips back insulation where it isn’t. For a closer fit, the 10.8 ounce jacket also has a pair of elasticated cuffs and hem.
Outdoor Research Transcendent Down Sweater
Responsibly sourced 650 fill power goose down is what keeps this polyester ripstop shell toasty throughout long hikes into the woods, or quick jaunts across town. The 20D polyester shell and 44D embossed taffeta lining keep wearers comfortable and the down from spilling out on the trail.
Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket
This jacket is hands down one of Patagonia’s most popular items. It features an 800 fill power traceable goose down filling and DWR treated recycled ripstop nylon shell. That shell also features a trio of Vislon zippers – one down the center, and two hand warmer zipper pockets along the waist. The jacket boasts an internal chest pocket for storing valuable items, or for using as a stuff-sack for the layer.
The North Face Morph Hoodie
A slim fit, tough down jacket engineered specifically for wearing out in harsh conditions and through inclement weather. The durable water-repellent nylon shell contains 800 fill power down that’s held in its baffles by an internal woven chamber construction. Built with climbers in mind, the jacket has a harness and pocket-friendly pocket replacement and a couple of hidden hem cinch cords.
Columbia Outdry Ex Gold Down Hooded Jacket
If you often find yourself in wet, cold weather – this jacket may be the one for you. Columbia’s proprietary OutDry membrane and taped seams provide total protection from rain and snow while the 700 fill power down insulation and adjustable hems lock heat in. A great, lightweight pick for those who are on the go year round.
This jacket from Penfield is decidedly less technical than others on the list, but it makes up for its lack of athletic prowess with its sharp look and sturdy build. It features a 550 fill power down, a water resistant and windproof nylon shell, as well as a detachable hood. A good grab for city commuters.
Mountain Hard Wear StretchDown DS Hooded Jacket
Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you have to give up all of your mobility. Or at least that’s what Mountain Hardwear thinks. This 800 fill power down jacket features a special stitch free baffling that is purpose-built to flex and move with you without compromising on the level of insulation it provides.
Mountain Hard Wear Ghost Whisperer
For those looking to head out into the wild, no matter the weather, there is the 800 fill power down Ghost Whisperer. This jacket features an active cut and nylon shell with Q.Shield down that is engineered to resist moisture – so you’ll stay warm no matter what. And thanks to its special storable design, it’s easy to pack away once the sun comes out.
Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
More than just featuring hefty helping of 850 fill goose down, this jacket from outdoor apparel brand Arc’teryx boasts a specially designed Coreloft insulation placed in strategic areas that often overheat. The combination of the two insulating materials make this jacket warm, but never stifling. As added protection, the jacket also has a special DWR treatment on its proprietary Arato shell.
Rab Valiance Jacket
Along with featuring hydrophobic 800 fill goose down, this jacket from RAB has a special box-wall internal architecture that provides better protection against the elements. The jacket also boasts leak-proof zippers, a fully taped waterproof outer, and drawcords for protection from the snow.
Aether Crest Down Jacket
A 3-layer waterproof and breathable Japanese nylon facing on this jacket makes it tough enough to wear while tearing down the slopes, or going on serious, snowy adventures. And this tough exterior paired with the jacket’s 800 fill power grey goose down makes it warm enough to stay out for a long time.
How To Layer For Cold Weather Hiking
A down jacket is only one part of an overall system engineered to keep you warm on the trail. Take a look at our rundown on how to layer for cold weather hiking to get a look an idea of what else you’d need to stay toasty when the mercury is low.