As the winter season approaches and the temperatures start dropping, most climbers are reevaluating their cold-weather clothing options. For many of us, that means looking at a new down-filled jacket. You see, in a world of seemingly endless synthetic wonder-insulations, none have managed to usurp down’s warmth-to-weight ratio and long-term durability.
Here is our list of the best down jackets for 2022.
Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer 2 Hoody – $450
BEST FOR THOSE SEEKING THE LIGHTEST AND LEAST BULKY JACKET
If you are moving light-and-fast or want a warm and highly compressible insulating layer for those just-in-case situations, check out the Ghost Whisperer 2 Hoody. 800-fill-power down is stuffed into an ultralight recycled nylon shell for maximum weight and bulk savings. The addition of a low-profile hood increases the jacket’s versatility by adding a surprising amount of warmth when deployed. This trim-fitting garment is perfect on its own in milder conditions but also easily slides under other layers for comfort in colder weather.
Patagonia Down Sweater – $349
BEST FOR THOSE WANTING A VERSATILE MID-LAYER
This is a classic mid-layer jacket that needs no introduction. Patagonia starts with 800-fill-power down and encases it in a lightweight and windproof recycled nylon ripstop shell. The result is a versatile jacket suitable for cooler cragging conditions but can also be worn under other layers when the temperatures drop. The Down Sweater’s understated aesthetics and middle-of-the-road construction (not super-light) also make it a solid option for more urban-oriented adventures. Patagonia also throws in an adhesive-backed repair patch eliminating the need for duct tape when the inevitable tear or burn hole (don’t stand so close to the fire) emerges.
The North Face 1996 Retro Nuptse Jacket – $399
BEST FOR CLIMBERS THAT WANT WARMTH AND URBAN STYLE
When it was initially released, the Nuptse Jacket became an instant classic with climbers. It offered a wonderful combination of warmth, low weight and compressibility that made it perfect for cool weather climbing, and when layered under a shell, it delivered the necessary warmth for colder winter conditions. The jacket also sported a unique aesthetic that eventually made it very popular with the urban crowd – we can’t blame them for liking what we like. So, it’s not surprising that TNF is now offering an updated retro version of the jacket. While the jacket’s aesthetics remain very similar, TNF is now using 700-fill-power down and a recycled nylon taffeta shell. The result is a surprisingly warm jacket that’s perfect for both outdoor and more urban expeditions.
MEC Radiator Lite Down Hoodie – $249
BEST COMBINATION OF TECHNICAL CONSTRUCTION AND VALUE
Insulated with 850-fill-power down that’s wrapped in an ultralight nylon shell, the Radiator Lite punches way above its price in terms of performance. Yet even with such an approachable price point, MEC still manages to include woven baffle chamber construction. This innovative manufacturing technique eliminates the traditional and less efficient sewn-through stitching (found on almost all down garments of this weight), which reduces the heat escaping from the stitch lines. Warm enough to be worn on its own in milder weather, the Radiator Lite can also be easily layered under a shell when the conditions take a turn for the worse. A great value.
Rab Neutrino Pro Down Jacket – $525
BEST FOR CLIMBERS SEEKING WARMTH WITH EXTRA WET-WEATHER PROTECTION
If you plan on summiting peaks in cold weather or belaying during challenging winter alpine ascents, consider adding the Neutrino Pro to your clothing quiver. Insulated with 800-fill-power down with a hydrophobic finish and covered with a 20D recycled Pertex Quantum Pro shell, the Neutrino Pro combines exceptional warmth for extreme conditions with relatively minimal weight and bulk. Rab has repatterned the arms for easier movement and speced a slightly larger pattern ripstop fabric over the shoulders and upper sleeves for increased durability without adding extra weight. This is a great no-compromise down jacket for difficult cold-weather climbing.
Outdoor Research Super Alpine Down Parka – $499
BEST FOR EXTENDED BELAY SESSIONS AND BASE CAMP WARMTH
With its slightly longer cut and 800-fill-power down, the Super Alpine parka is a top choice for cold winter belays or when you’re hanging around base camp. Outdoor Research wisely specs a 30D Pertex Quantum Pro nylon ripstop shell fabric that’s highly wind-resistant, water-resistant and, more importantly, surprisingly durable. The parka’s longer cut provides additional warmth and weather protection, but thanks to the two-way zipper, climbers can still easily access their harness for belaying. The addition of a heat-trapping helmet-compatible hood and multiple pockets for gloves and other small essentials make this an excellent cold-weather parka for climbing or even just frigid days around town.
Black Diamond Approach Down Hoody – $439
BEST LIGHTWEIGHT JACKET FOR DAMP CONDITIONS
At first glance, the Approach Down Hoody looks like many other lightweight down jackets currently on the market; it’s light, highly compressible and ideal for cool weather climbing or even more extreme weather if layered under a shell. Where it distinguishes itself from the competition is with its innovative water-resistant treatments for both the 800-fill-power down and the lightweight nylon shell. The result is a down jacket that maintains its insulating properties longer in damp conditions. This makes the Approach Down Hoody an ideal choice when climbing in changing weather conditions.
Mammut Broad Peak IN Hooded Jacket – $409
BEST MIDWEIGHT DOWN JACKET WITH CLIMBING-SPECIFIC FEATURES
Like many high-quality down jackets, the Broad Peak IN is packed with super-efficient 800-fill-power down that’s encased in a lightweight wind-resistant nylon shell. While this is a solid foundation for any down jacket, there are a couple of unique features that are clearly designed to appeal to climbers. First, Mammut has chosen to place all side pockets high enough that they can be easily accessed when wearing a harness. Second, the jacket has a two-way zipper allowing climbers to belay even when wearing the jacket over the harness. Yes, many larger belay parkas also offer this type of zipper, but it’s nice to see it on lighter down jackets as it increases the garment’s versatility. This is a solid choice for cold conditions while still being sleek enough to layer under a shell.
Norrona Lyngen Down 850 Hood – $579
BEST MIDWEIGHT DOWN JACKET FOR WINTER ACTIVITIES
This versatile midweight down jacket features 850-fill-power down and a lightweight recycled nylon shell for exceptional warmth, low weight and compressibility. Unlike lighter down jackets, the Lyngen Down 850 Hood is plenty warm on its own in average winter conditions, but it can also slide under a shell if the weather takes a turn for the worst. Climbers will appreciate the roomy helmet-compatible hood as well as the articulated arm fit which does not restrict climbing movement.
Here are some common FAQs (and answers) about down:
What is down?
Down is the layer of very fine feathers found under the exterior feathers of all birds. Unlike feathers, down has a very delicate structure and lacks the stiff quill associated with feathers. Down is located closest to the bird’s body (beneath the feathers) and is incredibly efficient at trapping warmth. For high-quality outdoor clothing, down is harvested from ducks and geese as they have higher quality down.
What does fill power mean?
Fill power is a number used to describe down quality and refers to the volume (cubic inches) that one ounce of down fills in a pre-determined cylinder size. I won’t bore you with the exact process; suffice it to say that higher fill-power down fills more space for the same ounce of weight. This means that if two jackets use the same amount of down (weight), the one with the higher fill-power down will have more loft and therefore be warmer. Alternatively, the jacket with the higher lofting down can use less down while still achieving the same level of warmth. Finally, the coat with the higher fill-power down will be more compressible than a jacket with the same loft level that uses a lower fill-power (and therefore more) down. Most good quality down garments have a minimum of 550-fill-power down, while higher quality clothing will use up to 900-fill-power down. The only real drawback to better quality down is the price – it will be more expensive.
Is down difficult to clean?
A common myth is that down is difficult to clean. This is not true. While you don’t want to throw high-quality down jackets in the washing machine with harsh detergents, cleaning is relatively simple. Start by using an appropriate down-wash cleanser – there are many on the market. Next, use a front-loading washing machine. Down becomes surprisingly heavy when wet and washing machines with a central agitator can pull these heavy down clumps resulting in torn seams and baffles. Rinse the jacket thoroughly and then put it in the dryer. That’s about it. Stop the dryer occasionally to break up the down clumps, or alternatively, throw in some tennis balls to help eliminate the clumps. It will take some time to dry the jacket, but that’s all that’s necessary to clean a down garment.
Is down environmentally friendly?
Down, like wool, is very environmentally sustainable. Also, the fact that down continues to retain its heat-trapping properties for years (decades?) when properly maintained, means that you will not have to replace your jacket as frequently as with garments made with synthetic insulation. Finally, down is completely biodegradable.
How is down ethically harvested?
There is not one major outdoor clothing manufacturer that is not using ethically sourced down. Down is harvested from birds used in the meat industry, and many companies only source down from independently accredited RDS (Responsible Down Standards) suppliers.
What if my down jacket gets wet?
Unlike synthetics, if down becomes wet, it will begin to lose its insulating properties. That said, once the down dries (which may take some time, depending on how saturated it’s become), it will continue to work flawlessly.
Down sounds like a wonder-insulation. Does it have any drawbacks?
Down’s major drawbacks include its long drying time and its inability to retain heat when wet. Some companies are treating their down with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish to reduce moisture absorption but down is perhaps not the best insulation for extended wet weather conditions. A small number of individuals may also suffer from down allergies, making down a less-than-ideal insulating choice.