A version of this story appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Uncommon Path.
Mastering a layering system takes work. But once you’ve done it, we think you’ll never go back. Layering systems are typically made up of a base layer, a mid layer and an outer layer. A down jacket, typically worn as a warm outer layer or a mid layer, is a key element in this equation because it keeps your core warm by trapping precious body heat without adding bulk or weight.
To bring you the best down jackets of 2020, we first looked at online customer reviews to suss out the most popular jackets sold by REI. Then we spoke with several experts about the value of a good layering system and the qualities of a well-made down jacket. After our research was complete, we chose the eight most popular down jackets and put them through the paces during the Pacific Northwest winter months. After more than 20 hours of testing, we picked the following as the best down jackets you can buy at REI.
Best for Everyday
- Insulation: 800-fill-power down certified to the Global Traceable Down Standard
- Weight: 12.2 oz. (women’s); 13.1 oz. (men’s)
- Price: $229 (with hood is $50 more)
Down jackets are ideal because they trap body heat to keep your core warm without adding much weight. We researched baffle construction, fill power, sustainably sourced down and more, and the Patagonia Down Sweater emerged as our top choice for everyday wear. We wore it on chilly walks; on shoulder-season camping, hiking and backpacking trips; and on snowshoeing adventures. The jacket’s 800-fill-power down was consistently warm, and it stayed in place during even the most chaotic activities because of the jacket’s well-constructed baffles. You’ll find hem drawcords inside the slightly undersize pockets for easy cinching without exposing your hands to the cold. The front zipper tucks into a garage at the chin, which helps prevent chafing. There’s also an interior chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack. Patagonia’s Down Sweater also comes in a women’s and men’s hoodie.
Best Under $100
- Insulation: 650-fill-power down certified to the Responsible Down Standard
- Weight:10.8 oz. (women’s); 11 oz. (men’s)
- Price: $99.95
After weeks of testing, we found ourselves reaching for the REI Co-op 650 2.0 while running errands on winter days. The jacket isn’t the warmest we used, but it is cozier than expected for its weight and fill power (650). The shell blocks wind, and the insulation fluffs up well, even after being compressed into its own pocket. The baffles feature tightly stitched seams that keep the responsibly sourced down from shifting far (some other materials are also sustainable). The front zipper nestles into a soft garage up at your neck, and there are two big hip pockets. The 650 2.0 functioned well during light rain but felt soggy under prolonged snowfall. Some reviewers noticed frayed seams over a year’s time, and a few feathers popped out. It’s still a steal for the price. The jacket also comes in a variety sizes, including women’s plus sizes, men’s tall and a men’s hoodie.
Best Synthetic Alternative
- Insulation: 60g PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco
- Weight: 10 oz. (women’s); 11.9 oz. (men’s)
- Price: $199
The Patagonia Nano Puff is best suited for adventures in wet and cold climates. The jacket is made using PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco, which contains 55% post-consumer recycled fibers. Even if you get soaked, Patagonia claims that the jacket will maintain 98% thermal efficiency—and we kept warm and dry wearing it on a wet, snowy day. We also found the jacket to be the most breathable of the bunch. Like most Patagonia products, the Nano Puff is made from responsibly sourced, bluesign-certified fabric. The insulation offers the same lofty feeling as down, and the jacket stuffs into its own pocket. The Nano Puff ’s ripstop polyester shell blocks wind, and a water-repellent finish sheds precipitation. It also comes a women’s and men’s hoodie.
Best for Stormy Weather
- Insulation: 850-fill-power down with synthetic insulation in key zones
- Weight: 9.8 oz. (women’s); 10.9 oz. (men’s)
- Price: $379
If you’re heading for a windy or frigid climate, consider the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie. It’s insulated mainly with down, but it has synthetic insulation in key sweat areas and provides a wind-resistant nylon shell with a water-repellent finish. The jacket’s tight-fitting elastic-trimmed hood has a rear drawcord that hugs your head, and its nylon fabric is soft against the skin. This was the warmest jacket we tested, with a contoured baffling system that keeps the 850-fill-power down in place during high-intensity activities. And because it weighs only 9.8 to 10.9 ounces (depending on the version), there’s no penalty for packing it as an insurance policy.
What makes for a good down jacket?
A good down jacket should contain lightweight, compressible insulation; in most cases, a down jacket will have the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any product you own (except for maybe your sleeping bag). It should fit close to your body but it shouldn’t be form-fitting, to allow you to comfortably wear one or two layers underneath.
What is down fill power?
Fill power is the number that indicates the relative quality of down, ranging from about 450 to 900. A higher fill count number means more loft (or fluff).
Down fill power matters because loft is an important indicator of a jacket’s insulation. Down insulates you well because of the formation of small air spaces within the down’s plumules (superfine featherlike plumage). The more loft you have, the more heat-trapping air space there will be in the jacket. (For more information, check out this down fill count guide.)
What is the Responsible Down Standard?
All of the jackets in this guide are certified by the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). To get an RDS label, a brand must prove that their down feathers came from animals that were treated well. An RDS certification requires that the ducks and geese in question were free of hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress. (For more details, visit Responsible Down Standard.)
You may also see terms like Global TDS on garments. The Global TDS label is similar to the RDS label but it also requires that parent farms, where birds are raised to produce eggs before their feathers are used, be audited. Global TDS is slightly stricter than RDS, but both are credible standards that tell you the materials were produced without causing undue distress to animals. There are eventual plans to merge the Global TDS and RDS standardizing processes in the near future.
When should I buy a synthetic jacket instead of a down jacket?
A synthetic jacket might be right for you if you plan to be outdoors in a wet place or if you’re undertaking a sweaty activity (like running). Synthetic materials are also generally less expensive than down. Down, however, is usually warmer, more compressible and a bit lighter. The decision between the two is yours and will entirely depend on what kinds of adventures you’re planning to take. (For more on this decision, visit our down vs. synthetics insulation guide.)
How should I care for and maintain my down jacket?
Down jackets can lose their insulating properties when they get wet or dirty, so you’ll want to clean your jacket every so often to keep it at its best. Most down jackets can be washed in a front-loading home washing machine, but make sure to read your jacket’s instruction label before tossing it in. If you do wash your jacket at home, use a gentle, detergent-free cleaner (Nikwax’s Down Wash is made just for this situation). Then, dry your jacket on low heat with a few clean tennis balls in the mix to break up clumps. (Down tends to clump when wet and it can take a while to dry, so be patient.) You should also store your down products on hangers rather than compressing them. (For more cleaning tips, visit our down jacket cleaning guide.)
If your jacket rips or tears, you can patch it with gear repair tape. Check out our guide on how to repair a down jacket at REI.