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The 10 Best Down Jackets for Hiking and Mountaineering in 2023
When the temperature drops in the mountains, the piece of clothing I immediately reach for is my down jacket. Down is incredibly warm and lightweight, and it’s rare for me to head into the alpine without a down jacket in my pack.
In this guide, I’ll review the 10 best down jackets for hiking and mountaineering in 2023. I’ll also explain how to choose the perfect down jacket for any conditions.
My Down Jacket Review Process
My process for reviewing down jackets means putting them to the test in as wide a range of conditions as possible.
In the North Cascades, where I live and adventure, winter temperatures rarely drop that low, but high humidity and wet conditions make for bone-chilling cold and pose a challenge to keeping down dry. In the summertime, overnight temperatures can drop below freezing, which makes climbing trips perfect for testing out a down jacket’s warmth and comfort.
For this review, I tried out more than a dozen down jackets, comparing everything from weight to outer fabrics to fit. Based on my experience, I’ve ranked the top 10 down jackets for all the different conditions you’re likely to encounter in the mountains.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2
Best overall down jacket
Snug, athletic fit
Doesn’t fit many layers underneath
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is more of a jack-of-all-trades down jacket than an ultra-warm, ultralight, or ultra-stylish specialist. But it’s that very versatility that makes it my absolute favorite down jacket, and the jacket I typically reach for when I don’t know what conditions to expect.
The Ghost Whisperer 2 weighs in at just 8.5 ounces, making it one of the lightest down jackets on this list—although minimalists might prefer the Arc’teryx Cerium SL, which sheds another ounce. It includes hand pockets and an insulated hood, but not much else in terms of features. It’s also snug-fitting, which I love for climbing but isn’t as great when you’re sitting around camp and want to stuff as many layers as possible underneath the jacket.
For how lightweight it is, I found the Ghost Whisperer 2 to be impressively warm. It’s packed with 800-fill Responsible Down Standard (RDS) down and the outer layer is made from recycled nylon. It’s finished with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating, which does a nice job of staying dry in a typical North Cascades drizzle.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2
The North Face Summit Down
Best ultralight down jacket for men
Exceptional warmth in cold temperatures
Roomy enough for a harness and extra layers
Large zippered pockets for your hands
The North Face Summit Down jacket is a close runner-up behind the Ghost Whisperer 2 for my top pick. The main thing that held the Summit Down jacket from being my top pick is its weight. At 14.4 ounces, this isn’t the jacket I’m going to throw in my pack for late spring and summer mountaineering trips. That said, the ample stuffing of 800-fill power down will keep you toasty. This jacket excels in cold conditions, and it’s particularly good for mid-winter mountain activities like ice climbing, ski touring, and winter camping.
The fit of this jacket is notably looser than the Ghost Whisperer 2, and that can be a good thing. It’s easy to stuff extra layers underneath, and the waist opening easily accommodates a climbing harness. The Summit Down jacket also features large handwarmer pockets and an oversized chest pocket.
Given that it’s designed for cold conditions, it should come as no surprise that the Summit Down doesn’t have any waterproofing. Still, this is worth bearing in mind if you’re looking for a jacket you can wear in the shoulder seasons.
The North Face Summit Down
Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
Best lightweight down jacket for women
Sustainably sourced 800-fill down
Thoughtful features and adjustments
Weighs nearly one pound
The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody is a versatile down jacket that combines stylish looks with incredible performance. The jacket is packed with a generous serving of 800-fill down, making it one of the warmer jackets I tested (I tested the men’s version). It also features a ripstop nylon outer shell with a DWR coating, so it’s relatively water resistant and durable.
Patagonia paid attention to the little things when designing this jacket. The insulated hood and waistline are both adjustable, meaning that you can cinch them down to trap in heat. The hand pockets are insulated on both sides, making them feel extra toasty when your hands are cold. Plus, there’s a bit of fleece on the inside of the collar, which helps protect your chin against the zipper.
The only complaint I have about the Down Sweater Hoody is that it’s slightly heavier and less compressible than I’d typically like. It weighs in at 14.9 ounces, moving it firmly out of the category of ‘ultralight.’ Still, for how versatile and warm this jacket is, it’s a great choice for everything from climbing and skiing to hiking and camping.
Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
Eddie Bauer CirrusLite
Best value down jacket
Weighs only 9 oz
Elastic waistband and cuffs
Not the warmest down jacket
Doesn’t have a hood
If you’re on a tight budget, the Eddie Bauer CirrusLite down jacket is worth checking out. It sacrifices a lot compared to the more expensive picks on this list, but it also delivers solid warmth at an incredibly affordable price.
The main way that this jacket achieves such a huge level of cost savings is by using 650-fill down instead of 800-fill down. That yields a lower warmth-to-weight ratio, but this jacket still weighs in at just 9 ounces. You might not feel warm in sub-zero temperatures in the CirrusLite, but it can keep you toasty in more moderate spring and fall conditions with relative ease.
The CirrusLite also lacks padding around the collar to protect your chin and doesn’t have an adjustable waist. Perhaps the biggest drawback, though, is the lack of an insulated hood. This is normally a must-have feature in the mountains, so plan to invest in an insulated beanie or something similar.
Eddie Bauer CirrusLite
Patagonia Fitz Roy Hooded
Best belay down jacket
8 ounces of down insulation
Durable nylon construction with DWR coating
Extended waist and bulky fit to trap heat
Can be too warm in spring and fall
Belaying a climber in the mountains typically means sitting in a windy spot for an extended period of time, shivering until it’s your turn to climb. The Patagonia Fitz Roy Hooded down jacket puts an end to the shivering, though, with nearly half a pound of 800-fill down to keep you cozy and warm. If you’re looking for extreme warmth, this is one of my top picks along with the Rab Neutrino jacket.
The Fitz Roy weighs in at a whopping 22.3 ounces—so in addition to being the warmest jacket I tested, it’s also the heaviest. The outer shell is made from Pertex Quantum nylon, a durable fabric that’s slightly heavier than the nylon typically used in down jackets. That’s a plus for climbing, though, since it handles abrasion from the rope and your belay device well. It’s also coated with DWR to protect against moisture.
This down jacket is designed to be bulky and has an extended waist to help lock in more heat. The design is great when you’re standing still and fully layered up, but don’t expect to wear this jacket while moving. In fact, on longer climbs it might make sense to pair this with a much lighter down jacket like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2—you can wear the Fitz Roy when belaying and the Ghost Whisperer when actively climbing.
Patagonia Fitz Roy Hooded
Feathered Friends Eos
Best premium down jacket
900-fill down stuffing
Incredible warmth-to-weight ratio
Durable construction with DWR finish
Easily fits additional layers
Hood doesn’t cinch down
Feathered Friends is known for making some of the best down products in the mountaineering world, from down sleeping bags to down jackets. The Eos is one of my favorite down jacket options from the company because it delivers excellent warmth at a weight that’s fairly reasonable. The Eos weighs in at just under 13 ounces, yet it’s warm enough to take on any ice climbing, skiing, or winter camping trip.
The secret to this jacket’s performance is its 900-fill down stuffing. That gives the jacket an airy feeling and enables it to trap a surprising amount of heat for how insignificant it feels when you’re wearing it. The Eos is also roomy enough to fit additional layers, but not so roomy that you can’t climb or ski in it comfortably.
There’s not much to dislike about the Eos. The only thing I could point to that could be improved is the hood, which feels just too snug when wearing a helmet and doesn’t have an adjustable cinch. The price is a little eye-watering, too, but I can say from experience that Feathered Friends products are built to last for decades of hard use.
Feathered Friends Eos
Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody
Best fast and light down jacket
Very wind-resistant outer shell
Works well as a mid-layer
Snug, adjustable hood
Not as warm as down jackets with more insulation
Not the most durable construction
The Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody is one of the lightest down jackets I tested, weighing in at 7.6 ounces. That alone is a good reason to opt for this jacket, especially if you like to travel fast and light in the mountains. It’s also impressively windproof, thanks in part to the narrow baffles and extremely snug hood.
Of course, an ultralight down jacket like this is bound to have some shortcomings. The Cerium SL isn’t as warm as the Feathered Friends Eos or the Ghost Whisperer 2, and the thin nylon outer layer doesn’t feel very durable (although I haven’t had any issues with tears or leaking feathers).
One thing I especially liked about the Cerium SL is that it works well both as an outer layer and as a mid-layer. It has an athletic fit and a normal-length waist, so it fits easily under a shell. At the same time, the jacket is roomy enough to wear a fleece or softshell underneath.
Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody
Montbell Plasma 1000
Best down jacket for hiking and backpacking
Weighs less than 5 oz
1,000-fill down stuffing
Compresses extremely small
DWR water resistant coating
Not suitable for colder temperatures
No pockets or hood
The Montbell Plasma 1000 weighs in at a shocking 4.8 ounces. That’s not a typo—this jacket is really that light. The key is that Montbell uses 1,000-fill power down, which gives the jacket a pretty incredible amount of loft while using almost no stuffing. In fact, the Plasma 1000 has just 1.5 ounces of down in total (around one-tenth as much as the Patagonia Fitz Roy).
Of course, achieving such an enormous weight savings comes at a cost: this jacket isn’t nearly as warm as others I tested, despite costing as much as other premium options. The Plasma 1000 also doesn’t have handwarmer pockets, a chest pocket, or a hood.
While I’d consider those features essential for mountaineering, this jacket still finds a place in my rotation for hiking and backpacking. It’s warm enough for cool spring and fall temperatures when I’m actively moving most of the time. Plus, if it spends a lot of the trip in my pack, it’s not a problem since it’s so light and packs down to just larger than a tennis ball.
Montbell Plasma 1000
Rab Microlight Alpine
Best down jacket for wet conditions
Hydrophobic down doesn’t get wet easily
Pertex nylon shell with DWR coating
Fits a climbing helmet
Comfortable fit with room for a mid-layer
Heavier than comparably warm jackets
Not very compressible
The Rab Microlight Alpine is my top pick for mountaineering in wet ranges like the North Cascades and British Columbia’s Coast Range. It features several adaptations to keep your down dry even in a rainstorm. First, the 700-fill down itself is treated to be hydrophobic, meaning it won’t clump and lose its warmth like most down insulation. Second, it’s built with a Pertex Quantum nylon shell that prevents water from leaking into the down. Finally, the whole jacket is coated with DWR to add an additional barrier against moisture.
The downside to these adaptations is that the Microlight Alpine jacket is heavier than its peers that provide a similar level of warmth, like the Ghost Whisperer 2 or the Feathered Friends Eos. The jacket weighs in at 15.7 ounces—nearly a pound. I also found that the 700-fill down doesn’t compress down to the same size as similar jackets.
As for fit, I thought Rab nailed it with this jacket. The waterproofing means that it’s meant to be worn as an outer layer, and it comfortably fits a softshell mid-layer underneath. The hood is also big enough to accommodate a climbing helmet, and the athletic fit is great for climbing while wearing the jacket.
Rab Microlight Alpine
Warmest Down Jacket for Mountaineering
7.5 ounces of 800-fill down
Pertex Quantum Pro windproof shell
Reinforced fabric for durability
Two-way zipper for belaying
Bulky and doesn’t compress well
The Rab Neutrino takes the title for warmest down jacket out of any that I tested. It beats even the Patagonia Fitz Roy for warmth while saving a few ounces.
The Neutrino is made with 7.5 ounces of hydrophobic 800-fill power down. It’s incredibly toasty and provides a ton of loft. Plus, the Neutrino’s 20-denier Pertex Quantum Pro outer fabric—which finished with a DWR coating—blocks out wind to ensure all of your body heat remains inside the jacket.
Rab built this jacket with alpinists and big mountain objectives in mind. The insulated hood is helmet compatible and fully adjustable. The shoulders and upper sleeves are reinforced with ripstop nylon to add durability against rock scrapes. Plus, there’s a two-way zipper that makes it easier to belay while keeping your hands inside the jacket. All in all, the Neutrino would be my pick for high elevation climbing in the Rockies or Alaska.
How to Choose a Down Jacket for Hiking and Mountaineering
A down jacket is a big investment, so you want to make sure you’re getting a jacket that will work for a broad range of conditions and that will last through years of use. Here are some of the key things I look at when choosing a down jacket.
Down Fill Power
The fill power of down in a down jacket is important because it impacts the jacket’s warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility.
Down with a higher fill power—say, 850 or 900 as opposed to 700—offers more warmth for the same amount of insulation. That means a jacket can provide the same degree of comfort with less down, and thus less weight. Higher fill down jackets also compress better, which makes them easier to stuff in a pack or to clip to your climbing harness.
Down fill power is one of the main things that differentiates premium down jackets from budget alternatives. Still, don’t get too caught up in this. The difference between 800-fill down and 900-fill down isn’t huge, especially when you’re comparing jackets made by companies with decades of experience in designing backcountry gear.
Weight is one of the first things I look at when comparing down jackets. I prefer to go as light as possible, so I lean towards jackets that are under 10 ounces.
However, ultralight jackets typically give up insulation, pockets, durability, or all three. If you don’t mind carrying an extra couple ounces, jackets like The North Face Summit Down, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody, and the Feathered Friends Eos that offer a lot more versatility.
Another important aspect to consider when choosing a down jacket is whether or not it is water resistant. Down clumps together and loses its insulating properties when it gets wet, so it’s critical that your down stays dry at all times.
Down jackets typically take two approaches to this problem. First, most jackets are coated with DWR, a water-resistant chemical treatment that causes water to bead up and roll off the outside of your jacket. This works well in light precipitation, but it won’t hold up in a downpour. Second, jackets like the Rab Microlight Alpine and Rab Neutrino use hydrophobic down. The down itself is treated to resist water, so it stays dry even if water leaks through the outer layer of your jacket.
How a down jacket fits is also worth considering. If you’re planning to climb or hike in your jacket, you’ll probably want a more snug, athletic fit. On the other hand, if you need a jacket primarily to put on when you stop moving or for belaying, a roomier fit can do a better job trapping in extra warmth and leave room for layering underneath.
If you frequently find yourself in wet conditions, it’s also worth thinking about how well your jacket will fit beneath a rain jacket or another shell layer.
Hood, Pockets & Design Features
Features like the hood and pockets are just as essential to a jacket’s performance as its insulation. After all, your head and hands are quick to lose heat in cold weather, and if that happens it can lead to discomfort extremely quickly.
Ideally, a down jacket’s hood will be loose fitting enough to accommodate a climbing helmet. Hood adjustments like a cinch can then enable you to snug down the hood to lock in heat when you’re not wearing a helmet.
As for pockets, I typically look for zippered hand pockets and a chest pocket. Fleece or another insulating layer inside the hand pockets is especially nice, since I’m typically sticking my hands in there to warm them up. The zippered chest pocket isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s a great place to store your phone or headlamp.
Another design feature to look for is an adjustable waist cinch cord, which can help close off your jacket to cold air from below. A two-way front zipper is also nice if you’re planning on using your down jacket as a belay parka, since it enables you to keep your hands inside your jacket while you belay.
How Much Does an Ultralight Down Jacket Cost?
The range of prices for down jackets is enormous. You can find down coats at fast fashion stores and online for as little as $20, and yet many of the jackets I’ve reviewed cost upwards of $350.
As I mentioned above, the main difference in price stems from the fill power of down used and the overall quality of the jackets. High quality down jackets use down with higher fill power, adding warmth and cutting weight. In addition, ultralight down jackets built for hiking and mountaineering are constructed with extremely lightweight, yet durable materials like Pertex that are much more expensive than cotton and denim.
As a rule of thumb, expect to spend at least $200 for a versatile down jacket. There are definitely decent-quality cheaper options—the Eddie Bauer CirrusLite costs less than $70—but the investment in your outdoor gear is worth it. A quality jacket can last for decades of use in the mountains.
The Pros and Cons of Down
Down jackets are the standard choice for hikers, climbers, and mountaineers looking for extreme insulation. However, they’re not the only choice, and down jackets do have some drawbacks. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of down compared to synthetic insulation:
Pros of down insulation:
- Best warmth-to-weight ratio of any modern insulation material
- More compressible than most synthetic fabrics
- Extremely durable
- Can be treated to make it hydrophobic
- Down filling in your baffles can be replaced when needed
- Can be sustainably sourced
Cons of down insulation:
- Loses warmth when wet and it’s hard to dry in the field
- More expensive than synthetic insulation
- Not hypoallergenic
For most backcountry travelers, the pros of down far outweigh the cons. But if you’re on a tight budget or need a jacket that’s equipped for wet weather, you might want to consider a synthetic jacket.
How to Care for Your Down Jacket
A well-cared for down jacket will last for years or even decades of use. Thankfully, down jackets are relatively easy to clean and maintain.
The most important thing you can do for your down jacket is to take it out of your pack and hang it up after every trip. This gives it a chance to let any moisture out so mold doesn’t grow. It also lets the down feathers spread out, which prevents them from clumping together and losing their loft over time.
Don’t Wash After Every Trip
Unlike other clothes, down jackets shouldn’t be washed after every trip. If they smell bad, sure, that’s a sign they need a wash. But if you stick to washing your jacket a few times a year rather than every week, the down will keep its loft for much longer.
That said, you don’t want to let your jacket go years without a wash. Oil from your skin and grime from the environment can seep into the insulating layer and cause down feathers to stick together.
When it’s time to wash your jacket, use a dedicated down detergent rather than your standard laundry detergent. You’ll also want to use a front-loading washing machine rather than a top-loader, as the agitator can damage the lightweight fabric. If you don’t have a front-loading machine, hand washing is fine.
Once you’re done, put the jacket in the dryer on the lowest heat setting with a tennis ball to dry and re-fluff the down feathers. Down takes a long time to dry, so budget about two to three hours in the dryer.
If you get a tear in your jacket, that’s easy to fix, too. Simply push any protruding feathers back in and use a piece of gear tape to cover the hole. For bigger rips, you can glue or tape on a nylon patch. In any case, don’t try to sew the fabric back together since that just creates more holes.
If you really want to rejuvenate your jacket after a number of years of use, you can replace the down. Most manufacturers have a repair shop where you can send your jacket. For a fee, they’ll take care of opening the baffles, adding in new down, and closing your jacket back up.
Down jackets are an essential piece of gear for mountaineering. Whether you’re trying to stay cozy at camp, looking to keep warm at a belay ledge, or simply need a warm layer you can count on throughout the day, the best down jackets can help.
I especially recommend the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 as one of the best ultralight down jackets. It’s featherlight yet offers exceptional warmth and durability, and the snug fit works great for keeping warm when hiking and climbing.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.