Hiking at high altitudes or in the height of winter can be an absolute pleasure but only if you are dressed appropriately for the low temperatures. A down jacket is the perfect option for hiking in icy cold weather as it provides the most warmth in relation to its weight compared with other insulation materials such as polyester fleece and synthetic fill. To learn more about insulation and understand how down jackets compare to for example fleece jackets, please read our article on mid-layer materials. A down jacket can be used on its own as long as the weather stays relatively dry; otherwise you will need to layer it with a rain jacket since down loses its heat-retaining properties when wet.
All products included in this review use either RDS-certified (Responsible Down Standard by Down Union) down or the brand has its own animal rights policy (Patagonia and Marmot) to ensure that the down only comes from animals which have never been force-fed or live-plucked.
1. Buying a Down Jacket for Hiking – What is important?
The feeling of being warmly dressed under various conditions is ultimately a subjective feeling, so there is no universal scale for the warmth clothes can provide. Nevertheless, when it comes to down jackets there is an indicator called the down fill power which specifies how much warmth the respective type of down provides for its weight. One kilo of down with a down fill power of 800 thus retains more heat than an identical quantity of down with a down fill power of 600. Naturally the actual warmth provided by a down jacket depends on the amount of down used, so also pay attention to the weight of the jacket. As hiking clothes shouldn’t be too heavy in general, we chose only jackets with a down fill power of 650 and above.
Type of Down:
Regular down loses its heat-retaining properties when wet, but this can be mitigated by treating the down with a durable water repellent (DWR), so it can resist water longer and dry faster once wet. Therefore, DWR-treated down is often called hydrophobic down.
Some mountaineers only use a down jacket for the rest phases depending on the temperature and weather conditions, and thus it is practical if the jacket can be compressed easily into its own pocket or a stuff sack to save space in the backpack. However, do not store any down jacket stuffed down for extended periods of time as it will compromise the down’s loft and longevity.
When deciding for a down jacket with or without a hood, you need to consider how much you would actually use it. Down jackets without a hood usually have a high, relatively tight-fitting collar which traps heat superbly while down jackets with hoods are designed to mainly trap the heat around your neck when the hood is up and in use. This means that more heat escapes when the hood is down, so be sure to use that hood if you have it. Most of the down jackets reviewed below are available both with and without a hood. A hood will naturally increase the weight of the garment slightly, but not terribly so.
Unlike down jackets and parkas for everyday use, a down jacket for hiking should not run much lower than to your hip as it will otherwise impede your strides and slow you down.
Every jacket for winter use should have hand pockets so you can warm your hands, but it is also an advantage if it has internal pockets so you can safely store valuables there instead of the hand pockets.
All the products can be machine-washed on cold cycles and tumble-dried at low temperatures.
We only list top-tier products. Read how our selections of best hiking products differ from others here.
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2. The Best Down Jackets for Women Review
The Best Down Jackets for Women – List
- Mountain Hardwear Micro Ratio
- Patagonia Down Sweater
- Marmot Quasar Nova
- Outdoor Research Aria Down Jacket
- The North Face Nuptse II Down Jacket
|Feature/Product||Mountain Hardwear Micro Ratio||Patagonia Down Sweater||Marmot Quasar Nova||Outdoor Research Aria||North Face Nuptse II|
|Shell material||30D Nylon Plain Weave||DWR-treated|
100% recycled polyester 20x30D Ripstop
|100% Nylon 20D ripstop||100% polyester 20D ripstop||100% recycled polyester 65D Ripstop|
|Average Weight||11 oz. (hooded model)||13 oz. (hooded model)||15 oz. (hooded model)||10 oz. (hooded model)||1 lb. 6 oz.|
|Average Weight (Metric)||300 g (hooded model)||371 g (hooded model)||284 g (hooded model)||284 g (hooded model)||634 g|
|Back Length||26 in. (66 cm)||26 in. (66 cm)||24 in. (62 cm)||26 in. (66 cm)||26 in. (66 cm)|
1. Mountain Hardwear Micro Ratio
The great advantage of the Mountain Hardwear Micro Ratio down jacket is that it uses down treated with their Q.Shield technology to resist moisture and to retain maximum loft even when wet. The outer shell is made of light and durable 30D nylon. The slanted design of the baffles gives the down jacket a more flattering and feminine look in spite of its regular fit. The Mountain Hardwear Micro Ratio down jacket features two zippered hand warmer pockets in the front, dual hem drawcords and full elastic cuffs to seal in heat. The jacket is available both with and without a hood in several stylish colors. If you love Mountain Hardwear, but are looking for something warmer than this light-weight down jacket with 650 fill-power down, check out the brand’s Stretch Down jacket (weight 482 g, fill-power 750).
- Hydrophobic down
- Flattering baffle pattern
Where to buy?
2. Patagonia Down Sweater
The Patagonia Down Sweater is a great down jacket due to its traceable 800 fill-power down and its 20D Ripstop shell which is treated with a DWR-finish. In spite of the durable shell material and finish, the whole jacket has a nice feel to it, but it is of course a plus that the top part of the zipper is covered with fleece, so it feels extra soft on your neck and face when it is all zipped up. Besides the two hand warmer pockets with Vislon zipper, the jacket has an internal zippered chest pocket which conveniently converts into a stuff sack with a carabineer clip-in loop so that you easily pack and store the jacket when you don’t need it. When you do need it, you can wear it as an outer layer or exploit its compressibility by using it as a mid-layer with a shell layer on top. The Patagonia Down Sweater comes both with and without a hood as well as a sleeveless vest.
3. Marmot Quasar Nova
The Marmot Quasar Nova is the lightest down jacket on this list (only 10 oz./284 g), but you should still feel warm and snug wearing it as it is insulated with 800 fill-power down. Furthermore the Marmot jacket features woven baffles, rather than stitched or welded, which means that the down is better kept in place thus eliminating cold spots. The welded baffles are also more durable than the traditional stitched baffles. The back length of the Marmot Quasar Nova is slightly shorter than the other down jackets on this list which might be an advantage depending on your height and preferred length of jacket. The jacket includes Marmot’s Angel-Wing Movement design which is a unique underarm design that allows you to stretch and reach without the jacket riding up. As it is so light-weight, it is perfect to combine with other layers depending on the conditions you’re facing – such as a water-proof hard shell for heavy rain. The Marmot Quasar Nova comes in numerous rich colors and both with and without a hood.
- 800 fill-power down
- 20 Denier Woven Baffle Construction
- 3 zippered pockets
- Packs into Pocket
- Down is not hydrophobic
Where to buy?
4. Outdoor Research Aria Down Jacket
The Outdoor Research Aria down jacket is the brand’s most popular women’s apparel piece and for good reason as it is a light and warm garment that works well both as an outer layer and a mid-layer. The Aria down jacket is super compressible and comes with a stuff sack, which makes it even easier to pack the jacket when you are not using it. While the shell and lining are made of 100% polyester 20D Ripstop, insulation is provided by responsibly sourced down with a fill-power of 650. For the Aria down jacket, Outdoor Research chose to do something different than the usual rectangular baffles by creating a unique pattern of perforated arcs. The Aria down jacket comes both with and without a hood as well as a vest and a knee-length parka. If you are looking for something even warmer, the well-designed Outdoor Research Placid model (684 g, fill-power 700) with a removable hood might be something for you.
- Unique baffle design
- Internal front stormflap
- Two internal Shove-It pockets besides the external hand pockets
- Comes with stuff sack
- Regular down loses insulation faster than DWR-treated down in wet conditions
Where to buy?
5. The North Face Nuptse II Down Jacket
You can say what you want about the North Face, but they sure do know how to make some good-looking clothes – and their down jackets are no exception. However, the vast majority of their models only include down with a fill power of 550 which is fine for city-use, but provides too little warmth for its weight when it comes to hiking. The North Face Nuptse II down jacket made it to this list as it uses ample 700-fill goose down inside a shell made of very durable 65D recycled polyester. The thicker and more durable shell fabric is also part of the reason why the Nuptse II is almost twice as heavy as the down jackets above which only use 20D materials for the shell. If you are looking for lighter but still warm jacket from the North Face, you might want to check out the Tonnerro jacket – but it is not as good-looking as the Nuptse II which indeed is a redesigned and more streamlined version of the original Nuptse down jacket.
- Very durable shell material (65D 100% recycled polyester)
- Streamlined silhouette
- Zip-in compatible with complementing garments from the North Face
- Internal chest pocket
- Regular down loses insulation faster than hydrophobic down in wet conditions
- Not available with a hood
Where to buy?