Shopping for a down jacket for wintery hikes or dog-walks this year? We’ve review five of the best, plus some advice on what to look out for while you make your choice…
Things to consider before you buy
Despite all the research into synthetic insulation, feather and down are still popular ways to insulate jackets. Down fill is extremely light for its weight, and breathable too.
If you plan to wear your down jacket while hiking, though, its warmth may be a double edged sword. Too warm and you’ll start feeling uncomfortable the moment you start exerting yourself. If you hate the cold, big, bulky down jackets may look tempting, but they are designed for sitting around in base camp or sipping Campari on alpine terraces, rather than walking in the UK.
The down jackets in this test have a relatively low profile, with less fill, so they should be suitable for hiking up hills and down dales. Provided you keep moving and layer up in subzero- temperatures, they should be perfectly warm in typical UK conditions. (If you are heading for the Cairngorms in January, that’s another matter.)
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Most down jackets are windproof and may be worn as a top layer in dry weather. Few, though, are waterproof enough to resist rain for more than a short period. Wet or damp down does not insulate well, so you may find your temperature crashing if your down jacket gets soaked. So it makes sense to take a waterproof jacket out too, if there’s the remotest chance of rain.
Note that some down is chemically treated to repel moisture, so it retains its more of its insulating properties even when damp. Environmentally conscious walkers may want to check whether the chemicals used to spray the down contain harmful substances.
Recent scandals about cruel methods of harvesting down – namely, removing down from live animals – have led major brands to reassure customers that their down is acquired humanely, and all the jackets included here bear that promise. If you are shopping around for a down jacket and want to be sure you are shopping ethically, look for the labels such as RDS (Responsible Down Standard, or Allied Feather & Down), which tell you that the down should be humanely harvested.
The best down jackets reviewed
Helly Hansen Vanir Icefall Down Jacket
The heaviest and bulkiest jacket we tested was luxuriantly warm. The down combines with panels of waterproof Primaloft Silver synthetic insulation in places likely to get soaked – including the shoulders. Velcro cuffs keep out cold air. The hood is very snug and easy to adjust. hellyhansen.com
- FILLING: 85% down, 15% European goose feather, responsibly sourced by Allied Feather & Down; plus patches of synthetic PrimaLoft Silver insulation.
- WARMTH: 4
- WEIGHT 648g (men’s large)
- WATER-RESISTANCE: The outer fabric is treated PFC-free Durable Waterproof Repellency (DWR). Assume it will cope with a shower but not persistent rain. Will need reproofing after repeated wear and washing.
- HOOD: Soft peak, two-way adjustment, water-resistant synthetic insulation. Very cosy.
- POCKETS: Three (two hip, one breast); too small for an OS map.
- M/F: Men’s version has a looser fit.
Alpkit Firn down jacket
Few down jackets are available for less than £100. This is nice and light, with a simple, no frills design with no hood. The appearance is slightly boxy in the trunk and tube-like in the arms when new: only prolonged wear will show whether that settles down. Wear a scarf to keep the cold air from creeping down your collar.
- FILLING: Responsible Down Standard-certified, 90% duck down, 10% feather
- WARMTH: 2 (fill power: IDFB 550)
- WEIGHT: 340g (men’s large)
- WATER-RESISTANCE: DWR-coated; shower-proof.
- HOOD: No.
- POCKETS: Three (2 hip, one breast– fits OS map)
- M/F: Women’s version in fitted style.
Product now discontinued
Rab Microlight Alpine jacket
A down-only fill (opposed to a feather/down mix) makes this strikingly warm for its weight. The jacket feels robust and quality is high, with good zips and a windproof, breathable outer fabric (Pertex Quantum). The hood is cosy and has an effective peak; it would benefit from dual (rather than single) adjustment.
- FILLING: Ethically-sourced European Goose Down (RDS approved). 143g of down in size L. Hydrophobic Down, repels damp to continue insulating in moist conditions. 750 fill power.
- WARMTH: 4.5.
- WEIGHT: 470g.
- WATER-RESISTANCE: hydophobic down repeals moisture
- HOOD: adjustable (one adjuster), wired peak.
- POCKETS: three (one breast, 2 hip – fits an OS map)
- M/F: Women’s version cut to come in at the waist.
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Haglofs Essens Down Hood
With a higher ration of down to feather than many other jackets, this is surprisingly warm for its very low weight. It’s close-fitting (in the medium we tried), so despite the Stretchy Polartec Powerstretch fabric in the armpits, which helps you move more freely, it’s best worn with a lean base layer rather than a bulky jumper – or go up a size. Green-minded readers will embrace the facts that the materials are recycled and fluorocarbon-free. Handily, it also stuffs into its own pocket.
- FILLING: traceable, 90% down/10% feather
- WATER-RESISTANT: DWR-treated to resist damp and showers
- WARMTH: 3 (800 CUIN fillpower)
- WEIGHT: 285g (men’s large)
- FABRIC: lightweight Pertex Quantum
- HOOD: Adjustable in two places, snug-fitting, with good stiff peak
- POCKETS: three (two hip, one breast (in men’s medium size, just big enough for an OS map).
- M/F: versions.
VERDICT Good for active people best worn over a baselayer… superlight midlayer… consider ordering a size larger than normal.
Craghoppers Venta Lite Hooded Jacket
Tailored fit hugs close at the waist – the men’s version has a more relaxed fit. Fill is fairly skimpy, so you may need to layer up for warmth. Large inside pockets are handy for OS maps. Good value – especially at the heavily discounted price on offer as I write in mid-December.
- FILLING: 60% down, 40% polyester ball wadding, with large synthetic panels at the side.
- WARMTH: 2
- WEIGHT: 390g.
- FABRIC: Polyamide.
- WATER-RESISTANCE: shower-proof
- HOOD: with a slightly single fit adjuster that tightens the hood around your face.
- POCKETS: 5 (Two hip, two large inner pockets that fit an OS map, plus breast pocket that includes an inner passport pocket with RFID shield – prevents criminals scanning details on your bank cards).
- M/F: Men’s version is has a looser cut.
They are light and seriously warm, making make outdoor adventures that much more appealing in winter. BBC Countryfile Magazine kit editor Joe Pontin tries four contrasting options
Platinum 860 Turbodown Down Jacket
• Selling point: Competitive price
• Goose down & synthetic
• Fill power: 800
• Fabric: Slightly shiny finish; blue, black, orange, grey, red
This fairly slim-fit jacket fits comfortably as a mid layer and looks conventional – until you glimpse the space-age lining, The bright, silvery fabric inside reflects body heat back, helping to trap warmth. That makes it great for low-intensity activities such as dog walking. Once you get moving, and your body naturally puts out more heat, you may need to ventilate to cool off. The use of synthetic insulation to supplement goose down probably explains the reduced price tag. If only there was a breast pocket…! Men’s and women’s versions available.
Rohan Downtown Jacket
• Selling point: Water-repellent; fuller cut
• 80% goosedown, 20% feather
• Fill power: 650
• Fabric: matt finish; indigo
Light and windproof, this is a traditional-looking design with a more generous, less sporty cut. The fabric is rain-proof enough to cope with a shower. It’s easily compressible into its own breast pocket – which is handy for changeable conditions. There’s no hood, which in my book is a drawback, but that might suit you. The women’s version has a longer cut, to mid-thigh, and costs £245.