Buyer’s Guide: Things to Consider Before Buying a Down Jacket
If you walked into an outdoor gear store today and walked over to the jackets section, you’d probably get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to you.
To make things easier, we’ll run you through the most important things to look for in a puffy jacket in our buyer’s guide to the best hiking down jackets for men.
What’s the Difference Between Down and Synthetic Insulated Jackets?
First things first, let’s talk about the difference between down and synthetic insulated jackets.
To the regular person, it might be hard to tell a synthetic and down puffy jacket apart, but they’re actually quite different.
Down jackets are made with down feathers, which are the insulating feathers found in birds.
These feathers trap heat thanks to their high “loft” capabilities, which helps keep us warm with minimal weight and bulk.
Down compresses superbly, making it great for use in backpacking down jackets and sleeping bags.
That being said, when down gets wet, it offers zero insulating value and can actually make you colder than when you started.
Plus, all that great insulating value of down comes at a cost, namely a high price tag.
Synthetic insulated jackets, on the other hand, are made with a type of spun nylon fiber, which is similar to down insofar as it traps heat near your body to keep you warm.
Unlike down, though, synthetic insulation can keep you warm when wet and is generally much more affordable.
However, synthetically insulated jackets tend to be much heavier than their down counterparts because they have a lower warmth-to-weight ratio, which means you need
more synthetic insulation to get the same amount of warmth as a given quantity of down.
Plus, synthetic insulation is usually bulkier than down, so it doesn’t compress nearly as much.
The video below describes the difference between natural goose down and synthetic insulation. The information in this video not only applies to sleeping bags, but also to all products that are insulated with down or synthetic material.
Now that you understand the difference between down and synthetic insulation, let’s take a look at some of the most important features of a down jacket.
Most Important Features of a Down Jacket
Down Fill Power Rating
The first thing that many people notice when learning more about down jackets is something called a “fill power rating.”
Every packable down jacket that’s worth buying will list the fill rating of its down insulation.
It’s important to note that this is different from synthetic insulated jackets, which express their insulation levels in terms of grams per square meter.
What is a down fill power rating, you ask?
Simply put, fill power is the volume, in cubic inches, that a single ounce of down occupies.
Since there are different qualities of down available, the fill power is basically an indirect measure of how good your down is.
Down’s insulative properties come wholly from its ability to trap heat, which requires a lot of loft. Thus, the higher the fill power of the down, or in other words, the more body heat the down can trap, the better it is.
You’ll spend a pretty penny on higher fill power down, but you won’t regret how warm it’ll keep you.
When you wear a down jacket for hiking, you don’t want to sweat. Not only is sweating in a backpacking down jacket uncomfortable, but your sweat can also moisten the down and reduce its insulating properties.
When we look for the best puffy jacket, we want to make sure it’s breathable.
Often, much of this breathability comes from the thickness of the nylon shell that’s used to make the jacket.
If this nylon shell is really thick, it will limit your jacket’s ability to breath, making you sweatier as you hike. Ew!
Since lightweight down jackets don’t perform well when wet, it’s ideal to get a quality down jacket that’s also weather resistant.
While waterproof down jackets do exist, often, what you’ll get is a down jacket with a shell fabric that’s treated with a DWR finish.
DWR stands for “durable water repellant,” which is a great feature to have on any puffy jacket.
DWR treatments basically help water bead off of the nylon shell fabric of your lightweight down jacket.
While your packable down jacket won’t be as waterproof as a rain jacket, if it has a DWR treatment and a high-quality nylon shell fabric, you’ll probably be okay in a light drizzle.
No one likes to carry around heavy gear when they’re out and about, so a lightweight down jacket is a great option.
However, while ultralight down jackets certainly exist, you can expect to pay top dollar for such high quality down.
Additionally, ultralight down jackets tend to be less durable than their heavier counterparts, keep that in mind when you’re shopping around.
Since compressibility is one of the best features of down insulation, you’ll want to look specifically for highly packable down jackets during your search.
Often, the most packable down jackets will come with a small stuff sack or will have a pocket that converts into a stuff sack for easy packing.
That’s pretty awesome.
The Verdict: What Is the Best Hiking Down Jacket for Men
At the end of the day, you’re probably only going to wear one down jacket at a time.
If we had to choose just one of these puffy jackets to win our award as the best down jacket for men, we’d have to go with the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody.
Thanks to some super high-quality materials, including 850-fill power down and the super-strong weather-resistant Arato nylon shell, the Cerium LT is designed to keep you warm and comfortable in cold weather by trapping in body heat.
Plus, the Cerium LT’s lightweight design is highly breathable and stylish, too. What’s not to love?