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.
Best Down Jackets of 2020
Feathered Friends Eos
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
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
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
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
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
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
Weight: 8.4 ounces
Fill: 1,000 fill-power down
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
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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