(The Gear Loop) - When the cold bites, very little can compete with a classic insulated down jacket, whether that’s one stuffed with the plumage of ducks and geese or fashioned from a slightly more vegan-friendly synthetic texture.
Designed to be worn as a mid-layer, with perhaps a t-shirt or warm base layer beneath (depending on your intended use and destination), what the humble puffer lacks in waterproofness, it more than makes up for with pure, unadulterated heat. Ask anyone who has conquered the North or South Poles and they will swear by an insulated down jacket for its life-supporting abilities.
Favoured by hikers, campers and winter sports enthusiasts, there tends to be an insulated jacket for most outdoor pursuits, with those more sports-specific numbers packing features that benefit the pursuit you plan to use it for.
With that in mind, we’ve collated and tested five of our favourite insulated down jackets, all of which are lightweight, can generally be packed into tiny stuff packs and are incredibly warm, acting as the perfect companion for dryer winter walks or as a vital layer when out on the slopes or climbing mountains.
Most of the jackets feature real duck or goose down, with many opting for a recycled version that’s kinder to the environment, while others have signed up or created various programmes that ensure the down comes from ethical sources. In general, most of the down is located around the core and vital organs, with synthetic textiles used for those more susceptible areas, like the shoulders. I nthe case of Patagonia, synthetic is used throughout.
Wherever insulation is mentioned, it’s difficult to escape fill power numbers and in general, the higher the figure, the better quality of insulation used and the warmer the jacket will be. Fill is the internationally recognised measurement of how well down will “loft”. This is basically the amount of space one ounce of down will occupy - or in other words, how fluffy it is. The higher the number, the fluffier and better quality the down.
Another term frequently used is baffles, and this refers to the stitched panels inside which the down resides and these can be mapped in a number of ways in order to promote greater flexibility for climbing or skiing, or cover more of the body for greater warmth.
Every jacket manufacturer is different and will tempt buyers with numerous technologies that are said to favour particularly activities or promote unique features. We’ve picked a fine selection that cover a broad range of activities and cover a number of price points, so you can ultimately decide what’s best for you.
The best insulated down jackets
Rab Infinity Microlight Down Jacket
- Super light
- Comfortable to wear
- Surprisingly warm
- Very difficult to fault
One of the best-selling all-round down jackets, this lightweight, breathable and multi-faceted 700FP down number from Rab is fantastic for stomping around damp forests or acting as a warm but breathable layer when out on the mountains.
It uses Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper fabric on the outer, meaning it offers superb weather and wind resistance, while remaining exceptionally light and comfortable to wear. The zoned micro and nano baffles, filled with recycled down, are mapped in a way to move with the body when hiking and climbing. The plumage is also coated in Nikwax to ensure it doesn’t become sodden and useless with a bit of snow or rainfall.
We found the fit to be superb, with superior stretch in the fabrics to ensure the jacket moves with you. It’s also unfathomably light and soft, plus the clever elasticated wrists make it easy to slip over bulky gloves or quickly check a watch.
Better still, it stuffs down into its own small stack when the temperature rises, meaning you can slide it into the back of a backpack or even shove it into a pocket of a pair of walking trousers. In our opinion, this felt like one of the best value, all-rounder jackets on test here.
The jacket was kindly supplied by Trekkit for this test, where it costs £216.
The North Face 50/50 Down Jacket
- A great layering option
- Awesome flexibility for snow sports
- Hood isn’t the warmest
And now for something a little different: the 50/50 jacket from ultra-stylish mountain experts The North Face is ultimately designed for the slopes and is intended to be worn as part of a system with other Steep Series layers TNF offers.
That said, it makes a fantastic mid-layer or lightweight general winter coat for anyone wanting something featherweight and thin to wear under a waterproof layer, yet one that is packed with the warmest 800-fill ProDown. Said down is carefully positioned around the body and vital organs, with a super stretchy raglan sleeve, helmet compatible hood and thumb loops proving the last word in stability and mobility for busting big airs on the mountainside.
We didn’t get anywhere near a terrain park during our time with the jacket, but found ourselves reaching for it on numerous occasions, purely because it offers exceptional levels of warmth and weatherproofing without the added bulk of some of the jacket on test here. Granted, it’s arguably not the final word in outer layers and with that in mind, it feels expensive. But it is an extremely versatile mid-layer nonetheless.
Buy this jacket direct from The North Face, where it costs £335.
Fjällräven Expedition Pack Down Jacket
- Classic looks
- Packs into its own pocket
- Warm and light
- Boxy fit
- Limited pockets
If you were to ask this jacket to perform its party trick, it would quickly and efficiently pack itself into its own inside pocket. Slightly freaky, but even more amazing is how much quality, 100 per cent traceable down Fjällräven has managed to squeeze into a jacket that weighs just 415g when specified in a medium size.
Like many jackets on test here, it places synthetic over the shoulders and at other pinch points to improve longevity, something you’ll be keen on after parting with £255 for a coat. Part of the Fjällräven’s much lauded Expedition series, the jacket draws on nearly 50 years of experience in extreme cold conditions and oozes quality. For example, there is an easy access elasticated hem and securing toggles, so you can pull it tight to prevent cold gusts blowing up your midriff - something much aped by other brands.
It is also super lightweight, but the fit is quite classic and boxy compared to the more athletic cuts of the Rab and The North Face. On top of this, it only has three pockets - two for the hands and an inside number that doubles up as a stuff bag. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but filling those deep pockets with keys and other items spoils the cut of the jacket and items tumble around a lot.
The jacket on test was the basic Pack Down model, but there is a hooded variant that costs an additional £20, but offers vital protection to the head if you get caught in a storm. We also think it looks ace and it comes in a fetching new Deep Forest green.
Buy this jacket direct from Fjällräven, where it costs £225.
Forclaz MT900 Trekking Down Jacket
- Great price
- Performs like a champ
- Not hugely waterproof
- Bulkier than rivals
Part of Decathlon’s top tier hiking and trekking range, the Forclaz MT900, like so many of Decathlon’s modern products, represents fantastic value for money. Available in Whale Grey (as tested here) or Carbon Grey, it’s an 85% down/15% feather-filled beast with a near-700 fill power rating.
It has been tested (not by us, we should add) to handle temperatures of -18°C with a base layer and mid-layer fleece also in place, or in other words, it will happily tackle the worst of the winter weather with just a t-shirt or light jumper worn beneath it.
For the price, it’s a fantastic outer jacket that’s most definitely bulkier than most of the rivals on this list but more than makes up for it with warmth and a decent amount of weather-proofing to boot. We also liked the under arm zips, great for promoting air circulation in the sweatiest areas, as well as the elasticated storm toggles at the hem and on the hood.
It fits well too, with an athletic cut and cleverly designed elongated cuffs that shroud a watch or glove without the need to constantly move elastic about. The YKK zips are reliable and the rope toggles are all really easy to access and use, even with gloved hands.
Out of all the jackets here, this one drew some of the most positive comments on the way it looks and the most surprised mumbles when we mentioned where it was from. The downside? It’s probably not the most mobile for really intense sports or activities.
Buy this jacket direct from Decathlon, where it costs £99.99.
Mountain Equipment Lightline Jacket
- Furnace-like warmth
- Packed with tech features
- Ace hood
- Not great as a mid-layer
- Fitted cut, not great for bulky underlayers
One of the beefiest jackets on test, this proper puffer crams 296g of 90/10 Pure Down (with a fill power of 700) into the larger size jackets, yet still manages to be ultra-lightweight and pack down small enough to cram into the top of a backpack.
Designed to be all the jacket you really need, rather than merely an insulating mid layer, the Lightline uses a Drilite Loft outer, which is a tough, windproof and highly water-resistant Nylon textile with a bespoke coating that provides a hydrostatic head of 1500mm to keep the insulation dry in hostile environments. Great for drizzly winter days and superb for keeping the down dry.
On top of this, the hood has a wired peak, so you can adjust it to sit back and out of the way when not needed, or pull it down (and it stays in place) when the wind and adverse weather starts whipping up. Or, if you don’t want a hod in the way, you can easily zip it off and stash it away.
A number of the jackets on test feature a collar that’s lined with a soft, almost fleece-like fabric, which improves comfort dramatically but also traps warm breath when zipped up over the face to keep the mouth and nose toasty when it gets really cold.
The zips are of excellent quality and we never experienced any snagging or jamming when using it, the only slight downside is that it’s slightly bulkier than the other models we tested, so arguably not quite as good for climbing or other high excursion activities. Plus, sticking a thick wooly jumper underneath does limit movement a little, so be wise with your layering.
This jacket was kindly supplied by Trekkit for this test, where it costs £198.
Patagonia Macro Puff Hoody
- Super light and easy to pack
- Storm flap zipper
- Hand-warmer pockets
- Synthetic down not as warm
- Very expensive
Patagonia opts for 100 per cent recycled polyester, high-loft PlumaFill insulation over the traditional duck or goose down and it believes it is not only kinder to the planet but also performs much better when wet.
The jacket is clearly designed with hardcore climbers and mountaineers in mind, because it is festooned with clever and often difficult-to-spot features. The hood, for example, is designed in such a way that it will happily slip over an alpine helmet, with a superb aperture that increases field of view while keeping its wearer protected from snowstorms.
Patagonia is also generous with the pockets, as this Macro Puff Hoody offers two welted hand-warmer pockets, one external left-chest zippered pocket and two large, internal drop-in pockets with elasticised edges that we found were great for keeping maps and other gadgets safe.
Although extremely lightweight, the jacket fits well and has plenty of comfort features that make it easier to wear over extended periods of time. The front zip, for example, has what Patagonia refers to as a "garage" at the chin to avoid any rubbing or chafing.
This is a mighty expensive jacket but like the majority of Patagonia’s kit, has been tested and used by professionals on far more extreme conditions that most buyers will ever face. We found it made an excellent mid-layer or a very lightweight option for those who don't like hiking with the bulk.
Buy this jacket from Alpine Trek, where it costs £379.95.
What to look for when buying an insulated jacket
Check the fill quality
As previously mentioned, down and other insulated products (like sleeping bags) will come with a Fill Power (FP) number and this refers to how much space an ounce of the fluffy stuff will take up. The higher the number, generally the better the quality of down and the warmer you are going to be. Anything over 700 is at the premium end of the market and will incur an additional cost, but you’ll be so toasty it likely won’t matter.
Think about weather-proofing
Insulated jackets aren’t particularly storm-proof and if you get caught in an almighty deluge, it’s likely the performance of the internal down is going to be compromised if it gets damp. Certain manufacturers have combatted this with the use of innovative outer textiles, ensuring they offer some water-proofing while remaining breathable. Alternatively, look for jackets that come from the factory with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating. It’s also possible to purchase bespoke products, like Nikwax Down Wash Direct, which covers the jacket in an invisible layer of waterproof protection and can easily be applied at home.
Consider your activities
If the jacket is simply for chilly winter walks, then most of the models we’ve mentioned here will perform perfectly well. However, the more adventurous among you might be thinking of climbing, speed-hiking or performing all manner of high intensity winter sports. If that’s the case, you’ll like want an insulated jacket that acts as a flexible mid-layer, keeping the body warm yet not impeding mobility. If this is the case, you’ll want to pair it with a waterproof outer layer, too.
Get the lowdown on the down
Consumer trends have shifted of late, with more buyers understandably concerned where the textiles they are buying come from and the environmental impact they have. Most of the top manufacturers now use responsibly sourced down, with unique tracking numbers in each jacket allowing the buyer to see exactly where the down has come from. What’s more, the use of recycled down takes things one step further, removing waste from landfill and putting it to good use.