How to Choose a Lightweight Packable Down Jacket
This is obviously the most important consideration, and it’s also the most complicated.
There is no surefire way to know how warm a jacket is, so we’re stuck with indirect measurements like the amount of down the jacket contains and the fill power of that down.
Fill power can be a bit difficult for the average person to contemplate, but it is a measure of the quality of goose feathers in a jacket.
The fill power number refers to the amount of space, in cubic inches, that an ounce of feathers would occupy when allowed to expand to their maximum loft.
Higher fill power feathers are fluffier (taking up more space) and can provide more insulation for a given weight, but this comes at a higher price.
Most hikers will say that anything over a fill power of 850 is overkill as the weight difference isn’t that perceptible and they make the jacket too costly.
If you’re less concerned about the weight it’s possible to buy a low fill power jacket that simply contains more down and feels just as warm.
The amount of fill and its power aren’t the only things that make a jacket feel warm either.
To keep all those feathers in place manufacturers sew a quilted pattern into the shell to create pockets, known as baffles, which prevent the insulation from collecting in one spot.
Smaller and more numerous baffles are more effective at containing the down, but they also create more seams that allow wind and water to penetrate the shell.
No ultra-lightweight down jacket will have the type of water resistance you see with hardshell, or even softshell jackets.
However, they’re not completely defenseless against the elements either. Many have thicker shells, over 10-denier, which can block wind and water pretty well.
Jackets designed for more inclement weather also have a better DWR coating and fewer seams that would allow water to penetrate to the down. But these models also weigh a bit more and won’t pack down as well, so it’s still a tradeoff.
Many winter jackets brands are now adding a small amount of synthetic insulation to the down or giving the feathers a waterproof treatment.
While neither will be as warm as a full synthetic jacket in a downpour, they provide an extra layer of protection should the weather turn and your down get a little soggy.
If the weather in your area is somewhat predictable, I’d suggest going with a less weather-resistant jacket that’s lightweight and more packable.
If there are storm clouds on the horizon or the wind is blowing, wear a more water repellent outer shell on top of it.
One of the biggest reasons for choosing a down jacket over a synthetic version is weight.
Warmth to weight ratio varies considerably between down jackets, mostly due to their fill power, but by and large, down weigh less than synthetic insulation for a given warmth.
Some down jackets weigh less than half a pound, which is perfect for ultralight hikers that count every ounce.
If weight and compressibility is a critical factor for you, look for jackets with 800 fill power or higher and the minimum insulation needed to keep you warm.
The jacket’s weight is determined by more than just the filling. The shell and attached zippers are also significant contributors.
If you’re counting ounces, look for a jacket with a 10-denier or lighter shell.
It won’t be as weatherproof or durable, but if weight is your biggest concern, these hardly add any to your pack.
And while you might not think of tiny zippers contributing much weight, they add up, look for jackets with fewer of them and with smaller fittings to keep ultralight
The whole point of having a lightweight packable down jacket is that you can carry it with you for when it’s needed.
If the weather’s warm, it sits in the bottom of your backpack, unused and out of the way.
That’s okay, because it doesn’t weigh much anyway, but you’ll want to make sure that it’s also not decreasing the volume of your backpack.
Most lightweight down jackets come with sort of compression method.
The less expensive ones often fold in on themselves and stuff inside a reversible hand or chest pocket.
While it’s great that the jacket comes with its own container, this isn’t the most durable way to carry a relatively fragile piece of equipment.
The shell can snag on other gear in your pack, you’ll need to be extra careful with these.
An alternative option that comes with some of the more expensive and lighter weight jackets is a stuff sack.
This has the downside of requiring that you don’t lose the stuff sack, at home or on the trail, but provides superior protection for your down investment.
Sacks also have drawstrings and straps that can compress the jacket further, but these will add a little bit of weight too.
can be a difficult category to quantify as different activities need different fits.
More casual jackets have a boxier fit, which has the benefit of feeling roomier, but also can make you look like the Michelin Man when you’ve got several layers going.
If you’re only wearing some basic street clothes underneath, you’ll hardly even notice.
Most jackets come in separate versions for both genders, however, the ultra-lightweight down jackets for women will usually have a slightly less boxy fit.
For those that need to layer up, a slim fit technical jacket might be more appropriate.
These ones fit closer to the body to prevent snags and they’re designed to prevent water from building up in their creases where it might penetrate a seam.
When choosing a jacket, take some time to think about how often you’ll wear it on the trail and how much it’ll get used in town.
Go slimmer if it’s the former, and boxier if it’s the latter.
Final Decision: What Is the Best Lightweight Down Jacket for Men
When selecting a down jacket you’ll want to have a clear image of how it will be used.
Is the snow in your region pretty wet, will it be used as an outer layer?
Weather resistance will be paramount and you’ll need to be more flexible about weight and compressibility; your jacket needs a thicker shell and down that’s more waterproof.
Additionally, how much of an investment are you willing to make with this jacket.
Will it be your everyday coat during the winter or is it something that only comes out on the slopes?
No jacket is perfect for all hiking conditions, but the [amazon link=”B071FBRTWY” title=”Down Sweater” /] from Patagonia probably comes as close to it as possible.
It’s relatively warm, pretty darn durable, and looks good on and off the trail.
It’s not the lightest jacket out there, but it serves its purpose well without being overly specialized.
It’s also priced better than many comparable jackets.
[amazon link=”B013HAWJ4E” title=”Rab’s Microlight Alpine” /] is the heaviest jacket of the jackets reviewed, but it’s also warm enough and waterproof enough to make it one of the best lightweight down jackets for men that don’t need an outer layer.
It’s not particularly light at 17 ounces, so it’s best for users that know that they’ll be wearing it rather than packing it.
Ultralighters with some cash will might still prefer the [amazon link=”B013HAWJ4E” title=”Arc’Teryx’s Cerium” /].
It’s only moderately warm, but it is lightweight enough that you’ll forget you’re even carrying it.