Best Down Jackets for Backpacking of 2020

Your insulation layer is a key component to your backpacking setup, and rarely is there a time when you should hit the trail without an insulation layer wedged in your pack. Here are our tips for choosing a down jacket for backpacking, as well as the top picks from our gear review team, editors, and writers.

Choosing a Down Jacket for Backpacking

Beyond a few basic recommendations (listed below), your down jacket choice is up to personal preference. For fit, aim for a slim-to-medium style to save weight and bulk. This middle-ground sizing allows the jacket to be layered over base layers as well as under rain gear. As far as fill weight goes, consider if you run warm or cold, and the climates you’ll be hiking through. Will you be spending multiple nights camped in the alpine zone? Hiking through chilly shoulder seasons? Opt for a heftier option. You can always send it back or trade it out if it’s too much. Remember that you will occasionally be hiking in this layer, so it should allow freedom of movement without being too bulky with excess space to heat up. Keep durability in mind as well. If this is your thru-hiking puffy, you’ll want the insulation and face fabric to have some protection against dampness, as well as some level of abrasion-resistance.

Caring for Your Down Jacket

This layer will spend a lot of time smushed into your pack. Take it out of your pack during breaks or on town days, shake it out, and let it air dry in the sun. This will help keep the insulation lofted (maintaining insulating properties), and prevent clumping. Wash it at least once per season with a down wash in a front-loading washing machine, then tumble dry on the lowest setting with a few tennis balls to re-loft the down.

Specs to Look For

These are simply guidelines, but should narrow down a pretty packed field.

Weight: Under 14 ounces
Fill power: At least 750 fill
Treatment: Treated down is your best bet, as is a DWR-treated shell. Different brands have varying names for their treatment for both insulation and fabrics.
Pockets: Should be placed high enough to be accessible under a hip belt. Zippered side pockets are best; a chest pocket doesn’t hurt either.
Hood: Optional, but a hood is nice as it prevents drafts from blowing down the back of your neck.

Here are our favorite insulated jackets for the year, specifically for backpackers. They have a variety of fits, fill powers, and features, but are all lightweight, warm, and packable for long treks.

-Maggie Slepian
Managing Editor

Best Down Jackets of 2020

Feathered Friends Eos
MSRP: $339
Weight: 10.6 ounces
Fill: 900-fill goose down

This light, super packable jacket from the Seattle-based company is as versatile as it gets. It can layer over or under, is packed with insanely lofted 900-fill down, and is made in the US. The fit is more slim than others on this list, so keep that in mind when figuring out sizing. It works well as an active layer, and doesn’t feel bulky under a pack. We’d like to see a chest pocket or an inner pocket, but other than that, the deep hood, durable Pertex Quantum face fabric, and 3.7 ounces of down give this jacket top marks. –Editors

Note: The Eos is tough to keep in stock, so if you’re looking to add this to your collection, just sign up for the notification.

Montbell Superior Down Parka
MSRP: $209
Weight: 8.7 ounces
Fill: 800 fill-power down

The MontBell Superior Down Parka is one of the best values for a down jacket—$200 for an 800 fill-power down jacket with hood and pockets that weighs 7.7 oz. Basically, it’s the Ghost Whisperer, but more than $100 cheaper. The square baffles keep the down in place, and the high collar protects from drafts. I’ve also have the MontBell Plasma Jacket, which is lighter and more expensive, but the Superior Down Parka is more versatile. –Megan McGowan

Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody
MSRP: $349
Weight: 850-fill-power goose down/Coreloft synthetic fibers
Fill: 7.6 ounces

I carried Arc’teryx’s Cerium SL Hoody every step of the way on the PCT this year. At just 7.6 ounces for a medium, it’s competitive with all the other gram-counter-loved jackets out there and also has a pretty unique design. It uses Down Composite Mapping, which places synthetic insulation in the “high use” areas (cuffs, armpits, top of the shoulders, and facial area). Everywhere else uses 850 fill-power goose down, which does a solid job keeping you warm out on the trail. While it isn’t quite as warm as some other jackets out there, it hit the spot for me all the way down into about the 20s in the snow (paired with a shell). As a thru-hiker out on the trail from May to October, this jacket spent a lot more time in my pack than on my body, so the light weight was a big factor for me. This is just about as light as you can reasonably expect for warmth like this, so if you can stomach the bill, I highly recommend the Cerium. –Carl Stanfield

Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie
MSRP: $279
Weight: 14.1 ounces
Fill: 800-fill goose down

I wore the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie on the PCT in 2017, and throughout numerous trips since then. I’ve had it for over two years and it still keeps me warm. It’s durable, reasonably water resistant, and I prefer a jacket with a hood. I started the trail with a Patagonia Nano Puff, and upgraded to this sweater model on trail. I also appreciate that Patagonia has responsibly sourced down and highlights sustainability. -Alex Cremer

REI Magma 850
MSRP: $219
Weight: 11.5 ounces
Fill: 850-fill-power goose down

The REI Magma was designed with movement in mind, with articulated shoulders and thoughtfully placed seams to avoid chafing from pack straps. The zippered hand pockets are placed high enough to be accessible while wearing a hip belt, and the face fabric is an abrasion-resistant and water-resistant Pertex mini ripstop nylon. This jacket has fantastic warmth-to-weight ratio, and is reasonably priced to boot. DWR-treated goose down dries quickly, and body-mapped baffles keep the down where you need it most. –Editors

Rab Microlite Alpine
MSRP: $280
Weight: 12.6 ounces
Fill: 750 fill-power goose down

Throughout the years, Rab has consistently built durable, sleek apparel with function and fit in mind. The Rab Microlite Alpine is a mid-fit layer packed with ethically sourced down and narrow baffles. This jacket fits well either as a mid-layer or on its own, and with an intended use for alpine climbs, it packs down small and has a deep hood. This jacket has a windproof and water-resistant face fabric (Pertex Microlight), lining (Pertex Quantum), as well as hydrophobic goose down, making it one of the more protected jackets on the list, ideal for hikers who might be heading into questionable conditions. –Editors

Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka
MSRP: $439
Weight: 8.4 ounces
Fill: 1,000 fill-power down

plasma 1000 alpine montbell

Simply put, the Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka is the best down jacket I’ve ever tested.  It uses 1,000 fill-power down, which is borderline unheard of, weighing in at just 8.4 ounces. It’s plenty warm for three-season backpacking. And for being made with such ultralight materials, is surprisingly durable. Mine has seen nearly 3,500 miles of trail and still going strong.  I’ll say it again; it’s the best down jacket I’ve ever tested. –Zach Davis

Uniqlo Ultralight Down Parka
MSRP: $79.90
Weight: 14 ounces
Fill: 640 fill power

This is the best budget pick out there. For $80, you get a down jacket with a moderate fit and enough durability to last for a thru-hike. This parka is packable, has zippered hand pockets, and has a DWR coating. Be aware that this jacket won’t last quite as long as the models that cost more than three times as much, but an $80 down jacket is a pretty sweet deal. –Editors

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Comments 5

  • Stephen Rickard : Feb 10th

    I have a question about the durability of the VERY expensive Montbell Plasma 1000 which I just bought and am now trying to decide whether to keep it.

    It is SO light-weight that durability is a big concerns. Zach, you said that yours has been very durable. But a Montbell rep told me over the phone that he does not recommend wearing the jacket when you are hiking unless you have another layer (that is, a shell) between the Plasma 1000 and your pack.

    So my question is: Did you baby your Plasma 1000 like this in order to have it last the 3,500 miles? Did you wear it directly next to your pack when it was cold, or either just use it in camp or use it under a shell as Montbell recommends?

    Reply
    • Zach : Feb 11th

      Good question, Stephen. I sweat a lot, so I very rarely hike while wearing my down jacket. In the rare situations where I would hike with my down jacket- when it’s exceptionally cold (below freezing)- I would also pair it with my rain jacket- more so to trap body heat than preserve the down, though I suppose that is an unintended benefit.

      I am careful with the piece, however, and would caution anyone using this or any piece with a thin denier to be.

      Reply
  • Stephen : Feb 12th

    Thanks, Zach. Super helpful. I’m 5’8” and about 150 lbs and the medium seems a bit roomy if I’m just going to wear it with a base layer. What size do you have if your don’t mind my asking?

    Reply
  • David : Feb 21st

    Just going to throw this out there. I know its not down, and some of you will hate this, but the Amazon Essentials puffy coat is not awful. Its water resistant, packs down very small and is quite liteweight (comes with its own stuff sack) I know it is not a down jacket, but its just as warm as the Columbia puffy down coat I have except it only cost $40. Zippered pockets, proper fitment, wind resistant zipper, truly Water resistant, and a price that I could afford to spend again when something happens to it. Because something always seems to happen to a puffy coat on trail. Again, I know its not down, but it is a decent jacket. Just as good as some of the cheaper offerings listed here. I like it because I don’t overheat in it when really hiking hard. Also, they are true to size.

    Reply
  • Daniel : Sep 2nd

    Just curious but why was the northface summit L3 hoody left off of this list? I’ve tried a couple of these jackets and that one was by far my favorite.

    Reply

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