Down Jacket Buying Guide
Here's a run-down of the very best down jackets that are currently available at Outside.
For more technical information on down itself as an insulating material, check our guide to Down Insulation.
Ultra-Lightweight Micro-baffled down jackets
One of the most versatile insulating jackets around. These skimpy little jackets provide a huge amount of insulation. The jackets pack down well and worn all year round. Worn over a t-shirt on a breezy summer's evening or as part of a layering system when the temperature drops.
The jackets can easily be clipped to the back of your harness to make a chilly belay more bearable, or keep stashed in a drybag as an extra emergency layer. Their slim, low bulk profile layers really well under a waterproof shell, although be wary of getting damp from sweat. Usually about as warm as a thick fleece, but offers more protection from the wind at a fraction of the weight.
For the very lightest down jackets, take a look at the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and the Arc'teryx Cerium SL. Both jackets use incredibly fine 7-denier fabrics and come in at under 200g in their hoodless versions. The Rab Continuum uses a lightweight outer fabric (Pertex Quantum GL), but fills it with more down to make a warmer jacket. Still lightweight, but a bit more durable, are the Rab Microlight range and the Arcter'yx Cerium LT.
Warmer and thicker, but still lightweight
Alpine climbing is one activity where saving weight is everything. The cold can be a killer, so down is the obvious choice for an insulating layer. Jackets for alpine climbing will have incredibly lightweight outer fabrics filled with a lot more down than the previous category.
The warmer ones will have a box-wall construction Whether or not you need a box-wall construction largely depends on just how warm the jacket needs to be. It's usually cold enough for precipitation to fall as snow, rather than rain, but even so hydrophobic down and a decent DWR treatment on the outer will be useful, as you will sweat at some point, snow can melt on you, stoves can be spilt, and the consequences are rather more serious than a stroll in the Lake District. If getting wet is a serious concern, we recommend using a synthetic (Primaloft or equivalent) insulation piece and just dealing with the extra weight.
Check the fit, will you need to put it on over the top of a lot of other clothes? Generally, a jacket this thick won't be going under a harness or rucksack hipbelt, so handpockets are best placed conventionally. A two-way zip that opens at both the top and bottom may be useful for access to your belay loop and (male) toilet stops.
The benchmark in this category has to be the Rab Neutrino Endurance Jacket. This jacket uses top quality 800 fill-power down with a fluorocarbon-free Nikwax treatment in a highly water-repellent Pertex Endurance shell for better performance in damp conditions. The baffles are stitched through to keep the jacket weight down. Slightly warmer is the Rab Neutrino Plus, which uses even more down and a box-wall construction, with the same level of water-resistance.
High Altitude/Polar Expedition Down clothing
This is when things get serious. Expect huge amounts of top quality down (800 Fill Power minimum) in a box wall construction for the maximum warmth to weight.
A protective hood that covers most of the face (some are designed for use with oxygen masks, if you'd prefer to bring the mountain down to your level) lightweight yet durable fabrics (reinforced in all the right places) and a plethora of pockets. You can either go full romper suit, like the Rab Expedition Suit, or the separate Expedition Jacket and Salopettes. There's also a fully waterproof version, the Rab Batura Jacket, using Pertex Shield fabric to keep the down dry.
Jackets for casual use
Weight saving isn't going to be of such a great concern here. You can get away with down of a lower fill power, 5-600 fill power is common in these garments. One of down's major selling points is its longevity. Invest in a jacket that is well made and pair it up with a durable outer layer. With proper care it could still be in good condition for 30 years,