The best down jackets and puffers can be an extremely wise investment because no one likes being cold. At best, it can ruin an otherwise memorable outdoor adventure, whether you’re tackling a mountain mission or heading out for an inaugural wild camp. At worst, it can be downright dangerous, since prolonged exposure to cold can lead to hypothermia.
As any decent outdoor instructor will tell you, the key to staying warm in the great outdoors is good layering – basically, making sure your clothing keeps you at a comfortable temperature, neither too cold nor too hot (as the latter can cause you to sweat, which in turn chills your core). And a key part of your winter layering system is a decent insulated jacket – what Brits typically call a ‘puffer jacket’, and what Americans often refer to as a ‘puffy’. It's also worth noting that the best down jackets for men differ in terms of features to the best women's down jackets.
Of course, insulated jackets come in many forms, from superlight down midlayers designed for cool, dry conditions, through to chunky synthetic belay jackets intended for the wettest and gnarliest weather. But either way, in terms of warmth for weight, a trusty insulated jacket will be among the warmest layers you’re wearing or carrying, whether you’re out on the hill or hitting the trail. They can provide a welcome boost of warmth to complement your base layer and your outer layer – we've selected some of best waterproof jackets on the market in our expert guide.
We’ve scoured the market and been out on the mountains to bring you this selection of what we consider to be the best down jackets and puffers around. This carefully curated round up includes a number of layers designed for different end uses, and also different weather conditions. Similarly, it includes down and synthetic as well as hybrid options (if you're undecided on which to choose, check out our down vs synthetic insulation comparison), so there ought to be a jacket to suit both your needs and your budget.
The best down jackets
Premium goose down and box-wall construction make this meticulously designed 800FP down jacket a hyper-warm outer layer for the coldest conditions
RRP: £650 (UK) / $790 (US) / €790 (EU) | Fill: 800+ RDS-certified goose-down | Sizes (unisex): XXS- XXL | Weight (men's size M): 800g/28oz | Colours: Blue Sapphire / Deep Sea-Raven / Raven
The Bore 2.0 is a real beast of a jacket, designed for hunkering down in winter weather or to throw on during stop-start activities at high elevations. That makes it ideally suited to climbing and mountaineering, and it works well as a belay jacket for alpine routes. The premium 800+ goose-down fill offers superb warmth for weight and good compressibility (it packs into its own pocket), while the box-wall baffle construction minimises cold spots. To counteract down’s notoriously poor performance in damp weather, the Bore 2.0 has synthetic Primaloft filled reinforcements over the shoulders and arms that make it more resistant to moisture than most of its rivals – though it’s worth noting that the down fill itself is not hydrophobically treated. Klattermusen are also known for their eco-friendly approach to kit design, and this jacket is no exception. The down fill is bluesign approved and certified by the Responsible Down Standard, while the face fabric is made from 100% recycled polyamide, with a fluorocarbon-free durable water-repellent finish.
Competitive warmth for weight and a superb, tailored fit make this 850FP jacket a highly efficient throw-on layer for winter summit trips and chilly wild camps alike
RRP: £295 (UK) / $395 (US) / €335 (EU) | Fill: 850-fill-power water-repellent goose down | Size (men's): S- XL, (women’s): XS-XL | Weight (men's size M): 390g/13.7oz | Colours (men's): Nightshadow / Tarragon / Black / Dark Ink / Aegean Blue / Oat | Colours (women's): Aegean Blue / Dark Ink
Despite the Nordic name, Jöttnar is a British brand that has built a reputation for turning out some of the finest technical apparel in the business, epitomised by the handsome Fenrir. This midweight hooded down jacket uses premium materials, including 850-fill-power water-repellent goose down and a 30-denier ripstop nylon face fabric. It also employs synthetic insulation in moisture-prone areas like the neck, hem and cuffs, which when put together with that hydrophobic down fill, makes this a more versatile and weather-resistant down jacket than most. The Fenrir also offers impressive warmth for weight, reflecting its intended use as a throw-on layer for hiking, hillwalking and general mountain pursuits. Yet despite its light and packable nature it doesn’t sacrifice features. So, you get a full-length zip with an inner baffle, plus twin zipped hand pockets and an internal zipped security pocket. There are anti-snag drawcords at the hem, stretch cuffs that fit easily over gloves and an elastic-bound hood, with a rear cinch cord. The fit is also spot on, and this jacket really comes into its own as an extra layer for winter summit trips or chilly wild camps.
A technically advanced 850FP down jacket that punches way above its weight when it comes to warmth, thanks to its clever body-mapped design combined with innovative fabrics and technologies
RRP: £300 (UK) /€340 (EU) | Fill: 850-fill-power hydrophobic goose down | Sizes: (men’s) XS- XXL, (women’s): n/a | Weights (men's size M): 310g/10.9oz | Colours: Black / Blue
The Ramche Micro is the little brother to Berghaus’ expedition-ready Ramche 2.0 down jacket. However, it still has serious technical pedigree and is a jacket that will appeal to climbers for its streamlined fit, generous coverage, voluminous helmet-compatible hood and highly impressive warmth for weight. The secret to the Ramche Micro’s lightweight warmth is its unique blend of advanced fabric technology, premium fill and clever patterning. It uses an extremely light ripstop nylon face fabric and 850-fill-power hydrophobic goose down, powered by Nikwax. The design is body-mapped, placing more fill at the core for enhanced warmth, and incorporates an internal Reflect mesh, which according to Berghaus can increase overall warmth by up to 10 per cent. That gives the Ramche Micro the ability to deliver a welcome boost of warmth in even the chilliest and most exposed locations.
An innovative hybrid down jacket employing zoned baffles of 800FP down and synthetic Lifaloft fill, with a clever offset construction designed to eliminate cold spots
RRP: £350 (UK) / $400 (US) /€400 (EU) | Fill: mix of 800-fill-power goose down and synthetic Lifaloft insulation | Sizes: (men’s) S–XXL, (women’s) XS–XL | Weight (men's size M): 413g/14.5oz | Colours (men's): Patrol orange / Black | Colours (women's): Black
The Odin Lifaloft Down Hybrid jacket represents a typically innovative approach to guaranteeing winter warmth from Norwegian brand Helly Hansen, meaning it more than earns its place among the best down jackets you can buy. They have attempted to counteract the cold spots that are often a drawback of stitch-through down jackets by placing alternating double baffles at key points on both the inner and outer faces of the jacket. This solution works well without adding too much weight or bulk. The fill itself is similarly inventive. The jacket utilises a mix of 800-fill-power goose down and synthetic Lifaloft insulation, placed in zoned baffles. These are body mapped to deliver core warmth, while combining the best characteristics of down and synthetic fill. So, what you get is a toasty jacket with no cold spots, plus improved performance in areas that are prone to moisture, like the lumbar area – meaning no sweaty back syndrome.
A comfortable and versatile midrange 700FP down jacket with great environmental credentials that is a great choice for use in the damp winter weather
RRP: £195 (UK) /€230 (EU) | Fill: GRS-certified 700-fill-power P.U.R.E recycled hydrophobic down | Sizes: (men’s) XXS–XXL, (women’s): UK 8–18 | Weight (men's size M): 466.5g/16.4oz | Colours (men's): Black / Polar blue / Deep ink / Ascent red / Pine / Firecracker / Beluga | Colours (women's): Black / Polar blue / Deep ink / Ascent red / Pine / Firecracker / Beluga blackcurrant / Atlantis / Steel
As well as being one of the best down jackets you can buy, Rab’s Microlight jacket is one of the most popular around, worn and loved by outdoors types from dirtbag climbers to weekend hill-baggers. Increasingly, it has made the crossover into everyday wear too, and nowadays you’re as likely to see the Rab Microlight being worn by supermarket moms as summit mountaineers. There's a reason for its popularity: it’s a warm, effective and versatile layer. The current version, the Microlight Alpine, also has impressive eco credentials. It boasts a fully recycled 30-denier ripstop nylon shell and a recycled lining, plus GRS-certified, 700-fill-power P.U.R.E recycled hydrophobic down. Additional features include three zipped, sensibly placed pockets, a handy stuff sack and an insulated hood with a stiffened peak. In fact, it’s mightily impressive that Rab have managed to create a single piece that adapts so well to so many different environments. It’s even a decent performer in classic damp British weather, especially compared to many other down jackets, thanks to its DWR-treated face fabric and a moisture-resistant fill.
Superlight, highly packable 850FP down hoody performs as a mid layer or standalone piece
RRP: £300 (UK) / $360 (US) /€340 (EU) | Fill: 850-Fill-Power down | Sizes (men's): S–XXL | Sizes (women's): XS–XL | Weight (men's size M): 215g/7.6oz | Colours (men's): Black / Paradigm / Hyperspace/ Pegasus | Colours (women's): Black / Paradigm / Hyperspace/ Pegasus / Dakini / Astral
The Cerium SL Hoody is the lightest and most packable down layer in the Arc’teryx range, and its commitment to functional minimalism is absolute. The result is a piece that weighs under 250g – the same as most ultralight half-zip down sweaters and pullovers – yet delivers exceptional warmth for weight while including a full zip, two zipped hand pockets plus an adjustable hem and hood, all features that you’d only tend to find on jackets weighing at least half as much again. Those additions give the Cerium SL considerably more versatility, making it suitable for use as an outer layer in milder and calmer weather as well as a superb insulating midlayer when worn beneath a shell. It compresses to such a compact size that you’ll hardly notice its weight or bulk in a pack, yet when used as a standalone for rest breaks, evenings at camp, or even emergency bivvies it still manages to deliver a noticeable and very welcome boost of warmth.
Best synthetic puffy jackets
Warm and protective yet reasonably lightweight and packable too, the versatile Torres Activo works for a multitude of uses, from light belay jacket to cosy camping layer
RRP: £185 (UK) /€240 (EU) | Fill: 60g Nikwax Insulator fill | Sizes: S–XXL | Weight (size M): 469g/16.5oz | Colours (men's): Midnight/Puffin’s Bill | Colours (women's): Midnight/Carmine
The Torres Activo can be regarded as the little brother of Páramo’s oversized Torres Medio jacket, a classic synthetic belay-style jacket that is designed to be thrown on over all your other layers, including a waterproof, providing instant block insulation in tough conditions. The Activo isn’t quite as warm or as heavy, but that makes it slightly more versatile, so it can be employed as a reasonably lightweight and packable extra layer for mountain missions, wild camps or cold days on the trail. The 60g Nikwax Insulator fill has all the classic benefits of synthetic insulation: it is hard-wearing, quick-drying and stays warm when wet. You also get a great ‘halo’ peaked hood with a cutaway profile for improved peripheral vision, zipped side pockets that are placed high up so as to be harness or hipbelt friendly, and long arms with Velcro cuff tabs to really cinch in the sleeves, even over a pair of gloves. The windproof face fabric adds to the general feeling of all-round protection from the elements and is treated with a PFC-free Nikwax DWR to add weather resistance.
A sustainably produced, great value insulated jacket with Primaloft Silver Eco fill, which makes this a light, packable and versatile layer for spring, summer and autumn adventures
RRP: £100 (UK) /€114 (EU) | Fill: 100% recycled 60gm Primaloft Silver Eco | Sizes (unisex): XS–XXL | Weight (size M): 315g/14.2oz | Colours: Tarmac / Fern / Nemo
The Kanyo is a synthetic insulated jacket of deceptively simple design. It’s extremely light and packable, enabling you to take it pretty much anywhere. The fill is Primaloft Silver Eco, a continuous filament 100% recycled 60gm insulation that is both highly compressible and very durable. It’s not the highest performing synthetic fill but is still superior to any fleece, with far less bulk. It’s also easy to look after and will continue to insulate if damp, and even it does get a soaking it dries out quickly. The Kanyo’s face fabric (also made from recycled materials) is fully windproof and water-repellent too, so it blocks breezes effectively whether you’re hillwalking, climbing or camping. Features are relatively simple but functional, and overall the Kanyo is a very good value pick – particularly since the shell and lining are made of hardwearing nylon rather than less durable polyester, and the whole package is impressively eco-friendly to boot.
A lightly insulated synthetic hybrid midlayer built for core warmth, with stretch panels that provide unlimited freedom of movement for snow sports
RRP: £180 (UK) / $186 (US) / €240 (EU) | Fill: 100g Primaloft Eco | Sizes: XS–XXL | Weight (size M): 494g/17.4oz | Colours: Black / Saffron / Lichen Green / Imaginary World / WWF collab
Picture Organic is a French brand with roots in the skate and snowboarding scene, known for its multi-functional apparel and commitment to responsible manufacturing and sustainability-driven eco-design. The Takashima jacket is a case in point: a synthetic midlayer that is most at home on the slopes. It employs a hybrid construction, with Primaloft Eco 100g insulation in the body and arms, combined with side panels made from Polartec Powerstretch polyester fleece. The face fabric is 20-denier recycled polyester, treated with a PFC-free DWR finish for added water resistance. Those stretch fleece panels make for great freedom of movement, and the trim fit means is the ideal layer to wear underneath under a burly ski shell when carving lines in fresh powder. It is very breathable and quick-drying, suiting such high-output activities, yet provides more warmth than a lightweight fleece, with little additional weight.
A great all-day midlayer for winter pursuits that will keep you warm without getting sweaty, thanks to its hybrid construction and versatile insulation
RRP: £220 (UK) /$259 (US) / €250 (EU) | Fill: Coreloft Compact insulation | Sizes (men's): XS–XXXL | Sizes (women's): XS–XXL | Weight (size M): 375g/13.2oz | Colours (men's): Black / Dracaena / Paradox / Rhapsody / Kingfisher / Galactica / Elytron / Dynasty / 24K Black / Squid Ink | Colours (women's): Momentum / Bioprism / Zephyr / Helix / Sundance
Arc’teryx’s Atom LT Hoody has been a staple of the Canadian brand’s product range for multiple seasons. The secret to its enduring popularity is its versatility. It isn’t the warmest synthetic jacket around, but instead balances a general sense of cosiness with surprisingly good breathability. That’s down to its hybrid construction, with zoned panels of Coreloft Compact insulation combined with air-permeable side stretch fleece panels. There’s a soft but durable face fabric with a water repellent treatment too, making it a bit more resistant to external precipitation. But it really comes into its own when used as a midlayer for stop/start activities – which might include anything from winter snow sports to cold-weather mountaineering. In that context, it’s a superlative wear-all-day layer that manages to keep you warm without overheating. The super soft fabrics and accommodating fit also give high levels of comfort and articulation. All in all, it’s a very wearable layer, and we suspect many outdoorsy types would stick this on for more casual use too.
Choosing the best down jacket or puffer for you
As with almost all outdoor kit, the best down jacket or puffer for you will depend on a number of factors – not least, when and where you’ll be wearing it. In addition, though the primary function of a puffer jacket is to provide insulation – ie to keep you warm – this can be balanced with other factors such as weight, bulk, breathability and pack size.
As a rule of thumb, the bigger and heavier the jacket, the warmer it will be. But if you’ll be moving fast or tend to run hot, bear in mind that most insulated jackets will be too warm for active use, unless expressly designed to offer breathability. Jackets usually achieve this by employing a hybrid construction, blending air-permeable and wicking fabrics alongside lightweight fills for warmth.
We've got an in-depth guide explaining how to choose a down jacket or puffy jacket, but here's a breakdown of what you need to look out for
The fill or insulation contained within the jacket is what makes a classic puffer, well… ‘puffy’. This is what provides warmth. This fill can be comprised of natural goose or duck down, synthetic fills (usually polyester), other natural fibres like wool, or a blend of these materials.
Down is the fine plumage that lies beneath the outer feathers of wildfowl like ducks and geese. It is nature’s best insulator, and in terms of warmth for weight, premium down is still superior to even the best man-made synthetic fills. Down is also highly compressible, soft and comfortable. It is, however, expensive to source.
In terms of insulating performance, some synthetic fills are getting closer to matching natural down. The main advantages of synthetic insulation are that it is more resistant to moisture than down, retaining its warmth even when wet. It is also fast drying, easy to care for and relatively cheap.
While the fill weight and type of insulation used is what primarily dictates the warmth of a puffer jacket, factors like construction and overall design also have an impact.
Natural down and synthetic loose fills (sometimes called ‘short staple’ insulation) are made up of tiny individual clusters of fibres. This means that in order to provide effective insulation, they need to be contained in baffles, which are stitched panels into which the fill is blown. The shape, size and arrangement of the baffles all affect the capacity of the fill to loft or trap air, which is how a puffer jacket provides warmth. In addition, how they are constructed is important. The warmest expedition-style down jackets use box-wall construction. Basically, each baffle is a self-contained brick shape. Lighter jackets employ stitch-through construction, where each baffle is a sort of fabric sandwich, trapping the down between stitched seams. This is an easier method of manufacture that saves fabric and therefore weight, but it can also reduce loft and lead to cold spots at the stitching points.
Synthetic sheet insulation (sometimes called ‘continuous filament’ insulation) is a layer of polyester wadding housed between a face fabric and a lining. This is the method that is usually used for traditional belay jackets, which climbers use to stay warm when static, e.g. when belaying a climbing partner from a fixed position. Though some stitching is needed to keep this layer of wadding in place, it can usually be constructed in a much simpler way and is typically more windproof than a stitch-through jacket. It is not very breathable though, and also limits freedom of movement, making it less suitable for active use.
Many modern puffer jackets also now utilise a zoned or hybrid construction. This means that insulated areas are used alongside panels of more breathable or stretchy fabric – typically fleece – to make a puffer jacket more comfortable and provide better articulation for active use. You might find fleece inserts used along the sides or under the arms of a puffer jacket accordingly, with the insulation placed around the core. Hybrid construction can also enhance breathability, making for a more versatile garment that can be worn in a greater range of temperatures or for active as well as static use. Be aware, however, that if your primary need is for outright warmth, hybrid jackets are usually less windproof and less warm overall, since they have less insulation.
The face fabric of a puffer jacket is almost always made from a synthetic fibre, either nylon or polyester. These are both synthetic fabrics that are windproof but breathable. They are also comparatively quick drying and can be made water-resistant by applying a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. Their tight weave is also good at preventing the fine insulating fibres or down clusters of a puffer jacket from escaping. Generally, puffer jackets employ these fabrics in lighter weights than waterproof shells to ensure good packability. This limits their durability and toughness, although modern innovations such as ripstop threads can improve these characteristics. But generally, a puffer jacket is a more delicate layer than most other bits of outdoor clothing, and as a result it should be treated with greater care.
Since your hands and head tend to get cold as well as your core, most of the best down jackets have insulated hoods and handwarmer pockets, which are both useful features. They’re less important if you’re wearing a puffer jacket as a midlayer with a shell over the top, since your shell is likely to have its own hood and pockets will be less accessible anyway. Some users prefer a puffer jacket without a hood, as this can make them easier to wear as part of a layering system, and in any case, most hikers and climbers will carry or wear a warm beanie. But roomy pockets into which you can stuff hats and gloves when you’re not wearing them are worth having – as is a chest pocket, ideally inside the jacket, for keeping valuables or a smartphone safe.
Weight and pack size
Since puffer jackets are often carried as extra layers to throw on when things turn chilly, weight and pack size can be important considerations. A heavy and bulky puffer jacket that takes up almost all the space in your pack and weighs you down is not particularly practical. That’s why warmth for weight and compressibility (or packability) are seen as so important for puffer jackets. The highest-performing fills offer superb warmth for weight ratios and are also very compressible to ensure a small pack size. Most jackets are also provided with a stuff sack or sometimes have an integrated pack pocket so you can stow them away neatly and efficiently.
The thermal efficiency of a puffer jacket is greatly influenced by how it fits. Size it too big, and you’ll have plenty of dead air inside the jacket to try and warm up. Loose fitting cuffs, hems and hoods can also leak vital heat. On the other hand, a jacket that is too tight may not allow the fill to loft effectively, limiting its warmth. This can also have a bellows effect, when the movements of your body effectively push trapped warm air out of the jacket.
Generally, a puffer jacket should allow room for a baselayer and a fleece underneath. If you plan to wear it as a midlayer, it should be trim enough to fit underneath your windproof or waterproof shell. If you plan to wear it as an overlayer, similar to a climbers’ belay jacket, you might want it to be a little more accommodating.
An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.
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