Mar 21, 20172433 views

Guide to Lightweight Down Jackets for Backpacking

By Alan Dixon of Adventure Alan. This is a reprint of an article of the same title:

Forget synthetics! Down rocks. A lightweight down jacket is the most weight and cost effective way to stay warm. Lightweight down jackets are less expensive than synthetics,* they weigh less, but most importantly they are so much warmer! It is true that down jackets may be one of the most expensive items in your kit. BUT, if you want to stay warm and happy, nothing else comes close.
Debunking a Few Myths About Down Jackets
  • Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t do a good job of keeping me warm. New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve your odds.
  • And make no mistake, a wet synthetic jacket is no joy! Keeping your jacket (down or synthetic) dry in the first place, is a better strategy. (See more on this below)
  • *Down is the better long term value for staying warm. The only advantage to synthetics is the price. From there it’s downhill. I find synthetics usually lose loft after less than a season of use. This makes them a poor long term value. A good down jacket can easily last you 5 to 10 years.
Go for Down – Skip the extra shirts, pants, and base-layers If you really want to be warm, Lightweight Down Jackets are where it’s at. That is, your money and gear weight is better spent investing in a warmer down jacket—or even down pants, down hat and down booties. All are far warmer per ounce than extra shirts, pants, and base-layers. You’ll be warmer, pack lighter and save money in the long run.
Tip – Keeping your Lightweight Down Jacket Dry The best way to keep your gear dry is not to get it wet in the first place. This means keeping the gear in your pack dry (especially your down sleeping bag, and down jacket).
  • Pack contents dry: A trash compactor bag inside your pack is lighter and works considerably better than a pack rain-cover. Inside that, put your down bag and down jacket in their own waterproof or highly-water-resistant stuff sacks or more expensive but drier Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. I like a stuff sack of around 6-9L for my down jacket and 20L or larger one for my down sleeping bag/quilt.
  • Waterproof backpack: Even better but a lot more expensive, get a Cuben fiber backpack, with a roll top closure and sealed seams along with stowing your sleeping bag/quilt and down jacket in Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. This is a great way to keep your gear truly dry and is less complicated and time consuming than pack rain-covers or liners.
Sometimes you need down and lots of it. Like jacket, pants, and booties. Author on a winter backcountry trip in Montana and Wyoming’s Beartooth Plateau.
Lightweight Down Jackets in this Guide
* NOTE: “down volume in liters” is a rough approximation of jacket warmth. See more on this below.The table above gives you a lot of ways to look at down jackets and their specifications since different aspects are important to different people. E.g. someone may be interested in getting the best value down jacket, while another is looking to get an ultra warm jacket for a cold trip.
  • What’s the lightest?
  • * What’s the warmest? Use “down volume in liters” as a measure of warmth. While “down volume in liters” is the most significant factor, there are other factors that contribute to warmth. A such, down volume is only a crude approximation/starting point for warmth. [Down volume in liters = 0z-down x fill-power-of the-down x 0.016 liter/in3]
  • What’s the warmest for its weight? Take a look at “% down” and “down vol. to weight”
  • What’s a good value? Take a look at “price,” when compared to “down volume in liters.” And finally, look at “down vol. to price,” which is a crude approximation of the warmth per dollar.
  • How durable is it? All of these jackets are fine for use around camp and for rest stops. But note that jackets with 10D or below “shell fabric” should be treated with extreme care. These might not be good candidates for bushwhacking.
And finally, don't forget a pair of Down Booties at the end of this list. They are essential for cold weather or those who have feet that run cold in camp. Bliss for your trotters!

Introducing the Lightweight Down Jackets Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket – $290

Montbell EX Light Down Anorak – $220

Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Hooded  – $350

Montbell Mirage Parka – $320

Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket – $340

My Trail Co – Men’s Down Light Hooded Jacket – $175

REI Co-Op Down Jacket – $99

Montbell Superior Down Parka – $169

Patagonia UL Down Jacket or Hoody – $349 at REI

Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket – $230 at REI

Sierra Designs Elite DriDown Hoody Jacket – $250

Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash Jacket – $350

Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash XR Jacket – $425

And finally, don't forget a pair of these. They are essential for cold weather or those who have feet that run cold in camp. Bliss for your trotters!
Feathered Friends Down Booties – $99
Learn more about the author here:

About Adventure Alan Alan grew up in northern California and spent his formative mountaineering years in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. At age five, he carried his own backpack into the Yosemite backcountry. In the ensuing 50 years he’s climbed and adventured in North and South America, Europe and around the world. Somewhere in there he was part of the initial ultralight backpacking movement and co-founded Backpacking Light. He is a co-author of “Lightweight Backpacking and Camping: A Field Guide to Wilderness Equipment…,” as well as numerous reviews, and technical articles. A jack of all trades, Alan is a writer, photographer, outdoor guide, nationally competitive masters triathlete, and a national champion masters kayaker who also went to 2008 olympic trials in kayaking.Alan’s adventuring focus in the last 15 years has been his passions of mountaineering and canyoneering, but also pack-rafting in Alaska, Nordic skiing, and expedition kayaking. In the last few years Alan and his climbing/adventuring partner Don Wilson have setup and documented/published two new mountain high routes; The Southern Sierra High Route SoSHR, (an extension of the SHR to Mt Whitney and beyond), and the The Wind River High Route, WRHR. They intend to continue to explore, document and publish new mountaineering and canyoneering routes.
Landon726, AlexPk, and 4 others

What's the blue jacket on the Montana/Wyoming trip? Looks good and very puffy!
What about the Ran Xenon ?
Assume you mean the Rab Xenon X. It's a synthetic jacket so not included in the review. Best, -a
I'd also take a look at small companies like Luke's Ultralite and Goosefeet Gear, they have similar jackets that usually tend to be cheaper in price and lighter for the same warmth!
It's worth noting that in some conditions, where you can have a few days of fog in a row, it's better to get synthetic. Other than that, down is excellent! It would also be nice to see some Rab jackets in the review.
I think if Alan can't add Rab to the review, we could at least look at adding some of their jackets to the table for comparison. It would be interesting to see how the Continuum, Infinity or Zero G compare.