Things to Consider Before Buying a Packable Down Jacket
There’s actually a lot that goes into making a down jacket. Especially one that needs to be warm and light like a packable down jacket for backpacking.
When searching for the best packable down jacket, there are some things you ought to consider. Coming up, we’ll discuss some of the advantages of a packable down jackets and the different features to look for when shopping around.
Advantages of Packable Down Jackets
Down is top-of-the-line when it comes to jacket insulation because of its ability to keep you warm.
Out of the insulation options available today, down has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio. Meaning that even a small amount of down will feel much warmer than a comparable amount of synthetic insulation.
This high warmth-to-weight-ratio, when coupled with low density, also makes down incredibly packable, which is great for backpackers and travelers, alike.
Even a down jacket that’s quite puffy can compress down to a tiny size and fit perfectly into that last little bit of space you have in your backpack.
What to look for in a packable down jacket
The best packable down jackets balance the different features you want from an insulating layer without sacrificing one feature too much for the sake of others. Here are some of the things you might want to look for in your next packable down jacket.
How warm does your down jacket need to be
Although warmth is the reason we’re buying a down jacket, it’s actually something that’s quite difficult to measure, since everyone’s body reacts differently to the cold.
Thus, instead of measuring “warmth” as a stand-alone feature, when it comes to down jackets, we have to use a number of proxy measures to get an understanding of how warm a jacket actually is. Some of these indirect measures of warmth include:
- Fill power: This is a way to determine the quality of the down. Fill power in down jackets generally ranges from 550-900 fill, with some super high-end options reaching the 1000 fill mark. Down with a rating of 800 fill means that a single ounce of that down will have 800 cubic inches of loft. The best budget packable down jackets usually use down in the 650-750 fill range as this tends to be more affordable.
- Loft: Loft is a measure of the amount of air that an insulating material, like down, can trap. Insulating materials keep us warm by trapping air near our body and allowing our body heat to get trapped in next to us. Thus, a high-fill down, which has a lot of loft, can trap more body heat next to us and keep us warm when we’re not expending a lot of energy.
Although you may think that a heavier jacket has more insulation and is, thus warmer than a lighter alternative. When it comes to down, which has a high warmth-to-weight ratio, you can actually have a light jacket that keeps them warm.
That being said, should two jackets be equal in fill power, but have different weights, there’s a good chance that the heavier jacket will be warmer. Simply because it has more down insulation.
Down jackets that are designed to be packable are also made with very lightweight materials for the zippers and outer fabric. While those made just for wearing around town are made from stylish, but heavier materials.
Whenever you compare the weight of two down jackets, you need to be sure that you’re comparing apples to apples and looking at jackets made for the same purpose.
At this point, it might seem like down is some sort of miracle insulator that is warm, light, and great for all environments.
However, down’s main downfall is that it loses its insulating prowess when wet. So when wearing a down jacket, you must do all you can to keep it dry.
But what do you that do if it’s cold and raining outside?
Luckily, some companies are addressing this issue by creating something called “hydrophobic down”.
Hydrophobic down is regular down treated with DWR (durable water repellent). A substance usually put onto waterproof jackets to help water droplets bead off.
The thought is that DWR provide the same protection to down and either help the down stay dry or help it dry out quickly after getting wet.
Unfortunately, some budget packable down jackets generally don’t have DWR treatment and need extra care in wet conditions.
The last thing that you want while backpacking is to carry around a massive jacket that doesn’t to fit in your pack. Portability is critical when we’re living out of a backpack, which is why down jackets are great.
Packable down jackets for travel or backpacking often come with a small stuff sack. Or have a pocket that can transform into a pouch for convenient carrying.
What’s more important in the portability department, is that the jacket can compress into a small size.
Since compressibility is an indirect byproduct of the fill power of down. As well as the quality of the outer shell fabric. Even the best budget packable down jackets suffer in this department because they often need to use lower fill power down and bulkier materials.
Thus, if portability is a major concern for you, you might need to invest a bit more to get a less bulky jacket.
How should a down jacket fit
As you might guess, men’s packable down jackets have a different fit than women’s packable down jackets.
Generally speaking, men’s jackets have a boxy cut while women’s tend to be a bit more form fitting.
That being said, when buying a packable down jacket for backpacking, it’s important that you allow enough for your baselayers.
Plus, you should make sure that you can layer a rain jacket on top of your down jacket, just in case the weather turns sour.
Conclusion: What is the Best Packable Down Jacket for You?
After reviewing the five contenders, we’ve narrowed it down to a single winner of this head-to-head matchup.
At the end of the day, if we had to choose just one of these fantastic jackets we’d have to go with the Arc’teryx Cerium LT. For it’s simple, yet functional design, combined with a phenomenal warmth-to-weight ratio.
Although the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is lighter, these weight savings outweighed with a decrease in durability and a non-water resistant shell fabric. Plus, although a super light jacket is nice to have. The 4 oz weight savings won’t make too much of a difference to the vast majority of us. Unless you’re an ultralight backpacker.
We preferred the Cerium LT to the No products found. because it offered more warmth and a better fit than the Down Sweater, despite being lighter. We also like that the Cerium LT has a hood and appreciated the water-resistant fabric, which is nice in drizzles and light rain storms.
The Rab Microlight and the Outdoor Research Aria, while nice jackets, just couldn’t compare with the fantastic warmth-to-weight ratio and packability of the Cerium LT.
This is all because the Cerium LT is made with 850 fill down while the Microlight and Aria are made with 750 and 650 fill down.
Every adventurer needs to decide what’s important to them in a packable down jacket. Whether it’s warmth, portability, fit, weight, or water resistance, the best jacket for you is the one that fits your needs.