Skip to main content

Best down jackets and puffers: keep cozy in the wild this winter

best down jacket: man hiking with down jacket
Cold, crisp winter days call for a robust down jacket (Image credit: Getty)

The best down jackets and synthetic puffers have become a permanent fixture on ski slopes, national park trails, mountain ridges and even the high street. Whether you're braving freezing conditions in some far flung wilderness or simply popping to the shops, the comfort and warmth provided by a down jacket is second to none.

A down jacket can be at once desirable and essential, depending on your point of view. Serious alpine adventurers consider having the best down jacket key to their gear arsenal. Nothing short of a fully featured premium goose or duck down jacket will do if heading for those freezing peaks. However, casual day hikers may be put off by the eye-watering price tags these products come with.

best down jackets: Montane Janhukot down jacket action shot

Cozy and warm in the Montane Janhukot down jacket (Image credit: Montane)

A cheaper alternative is a synthetic puffer jacket, which will perform a similar job and is more than adequate for the majority of adventure styles. Our guide rounds up the best down jackets and the best synthetic jackets, allowing you to consider the benefits of both options. It's also worth noting that the best down jackets for men differ to the best women's down jackets.

So whether you're looking for a chunky belay jacket to cope with the gnarliest conditions or a thinner mid layer to slot beneath your best waterproof jacket, there's a down jacket here for you.

The best down jackets

best down jackets: Helly Hansen Verglas Glacier Jacket

(Image credit: Getty)
A versatile hybrid puffy that make a great winter all-rounder

Specifications

RRP: $340 (US) / £260 (UK)
Fill: 700FP 850/15 Allied Down RDS-certified and bluesign-approved European goose down with PrimaLoft Silver (133gsm) synthetic fill in hood, shoulder and chest panel, underarm and sleeve ends
Sizes: Men’s: XS / S / M / L / XL / XXL; Women’s: XS / S / M / L / XL
Weight (men's size M): 561g / 1lb 3.8oz
Colors: Sparrow grey / Bright orange / Black

Reasons to buy

+
Zoned down and synthetic fill for improved moisture resistance
+
Excellent hood (though not climbing helmet-compatible)
+
Plenty of practical pockets
+
Packable

Reasons to avoid

-
Mid-range fill power down
-
Down fill not hydrophobic
-
Slightly baggy cuffs

Designed for hiking, camping and other non-technical winter adventures, this super-soft and cozy puffer jacket combines 700FP down with synthetic Primaloft fill to improve performance in damp conditions. This is a stylish but functional-looking down puffy, with a sculpted fit that still allows plenty of room for layers. The midi baffles allow for good mobility and give a fairly trim silhouette, whilst still providing plenty of space for the 700 fill power down to loft, delivering welcome warmth.

The jacket is intelligently constructed for damp conditions too. Though the down fill itself has no hydrophobic treatment to improve resistance to moisture, the fill is zoned, so that areas such as the hood, shoulders, chest panel, armpits and sleeve ends all use Primaloft Silver synthetic fill, in a 133gsm weight. These are all areas that are prone to getting damp, ensuring continued insulating performance in poor conditions.

It’s well-specced when it comes to features. The well-designed, close-fitting hood has three-point adjustment to ensure a close, snug fit. It’s well-insulated with that Primaloft fill and the chin zips up almost to the nose for excellent face protection. Admittedly, the low-profile hood design is not helmet-compatible, but then this is an all-rounder of a jacket, not a dedicated climbing/mountaineering piece for technical use.

best down jacket: Montane Janhukot down jacket

(Image credit: Montane)

Montane Janhukot down jacket

A warm and chunky puffy to see you through the winter

Specifications

RRP: $290 (US) / £220 (UK)
Fill: 650+ FP RDS-certified, traceable HyperDRY goose down (80:20 down-to-feather ratio)
Sizes: S / M / L / XL / XXL; Women’s: XS / S / M / L / XL
Weight (men's size M): 800g / 28.2oz
Colors: Astro Blue / Kelp green / Black

Reasons to buy

+
Warm
+
Microfleece-lined hand pockets
+
Moisture-resistant down fill
+
Hard-wearing nylon shell
+
Great hood
+
Supplied with dry bag stuff sack

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the lightest
-
Entry level fill power down
-
No scooped tail for added rear protection
-
No women’s version (closest alternative is the Montane Cloudmaker)

Boasting superior wet-weather performance compared to most delicate down jackets, thanks to a water-resistant shell and hydrophobic fill, this chunky puffer is well-equipped to deal with wet and cold winters. 

Stuffed with 650+ FP down (certified by the Responsible Down Standard but at the upper end of what we’d class as ‘entry-level’ in terms of fill power) the Janhukot tips the scales at 800g, so it’s no lightweight. It’s also pretty chunky, with large baffles and a fairly boxy silhouette. You’d struggle to wear it under a shell, so this is certainly not intended to work as a midlayer. Instead, it’s designed as a standalone barrier against the cold. And in that regard, it does a very good job. Indeed, its sheer heft makes it feel extremely cosy. 

The design has plenty of well-thought-out features. You get half-elasticated and Velcro-adjustable cuffs, which provide an effective seal but also fit easily over bulky winter gloves.

The main zip is fitted with a chunky zip pull and backed with a full-length baffle. It is a two-way design, so you can open the jacket from the bottom if required (ideal for wearing with a climbing harness or if you need to access layers underneath the jacket quickly).

The face fabric of the jacket is an extremely tough 40 Denier Pertex Quantum Pro micro ripstop nylon, with a highly water-resistant finish. It’s worth noting here that the down fill inside the jacket is also water-repellent, thanks to a PFC-free treatment. All of which means that this jacket is far better equipped to withstand damp conditions than most down puffers.

best down jacket: Columbia Infinity Summit Double Wall Down Hooded Jacket

(Image credit: Columbia)

Columbia Infinity Summit Double Wall Down Hooded Jacket

An innovative puffer that performs well in cold and windy weather

Specifications

RRP: $240 (US) / £225 (UK)
Fill: 800 FP RDS-certified goose down
Sizes: Men’s: S / S / M / L / XXL; Women’s: XS / S / M / L / XL / XXL
Weight (men's size M): 510g / 18oz
Colors: Red Quartz / Black / Bright indigo / Cirrus grey / Plum

Reasons to buy

+
Premium down fill
+
No cold spots thanks to double wall construction 
+
Omni-heat inner reflects body heat to increase warmth

Reasons to avoid

-
Down fill not moisture-resistant
-
Slightly baggy cuffs
-
No hood adjustment
-
Boxy fit
-
No inner pockets

When it comes to warmth for weight, there’s no faulting this jacket’s premium 800 fill power down. We’re also fans of the innovative double wall construction, which blocks wind and locks in heat superbly. But other features and the boxy fit mean that this jacket is a mixed bag overall.   

US brand Columbia isn’t a company to turn out the same old stuff season after season. They’ve produced some of the most interesting and unusual outdoor kit we’ve encountered in recent years, across a number of categories – their OutDry waterproof jackets being a case in point. 

Now they’ve turned their attention to insulated layers, and the Infinity Summit Double Wall Down Jacket is just as innovative. The inner face of the jacket employs the latest iteration of Columbia’s Omni-Heat technology – a thermal reflective layer comprised of shiny metallic elements. In this jacket, it’s dubbed Omni-Heat Infinity, consisting of a new pattern of gold dots for even better heat retention. 

More remarkable, however, is the face fabric of the jacket, which Columbia calls ‘double wall’ construction. At first glance, this looks like a standard baffled puffer, but pull the fabric taut and you can see that there are no stitch lines at all. They’re hidden behind an additional layer of face fabric, designed to block wind and eliminate cold spots by trapping even more warm air inside the jacket. The fill itself is premium 800FP RDS-certified goose down, while the shell and lining are both made from nylon ripstop fabric.

best down jacket: Patagonia Fitz Roy hoody

(Image credit: Patagonia)

Patagonia Fitz Roy hoody

Big, warm and built for intense cold

Specifications

RRP: $399 (US) / £380 (UK)
Fill: 800FP 90/10 Advanced Global Traceable Down (certified by NSF International)
Sizes: Men’s: XS / S / M / L / XL / XXL; Women’s: XS / S / M / L / XL
Weight (men's size M): 485g / 17oz
Colors: Smoulder blue / Dark borealis green / Hot ember / Superior blue / Abalone blue / Alpine blue / Dark ruby / Black

Reasons to buy

+
Premium down fill
+
Seriously warm
+
Light and packable for a full-on winter belay jacket

Reasons to avoid

-
Down fill not moisture-resistant
-
Boxy fit
-
Expensive

Designed for technical mountain use, this is a premium 800 fill power down jacket for seriously cold weather conditions. For its class, it’s also lighter and more packable than most rivals – but its Achilles heel is relatively poor performance in damp conditions.  

The Fitz Roy’s boxy silhouette promises plenty of warmth, but clearly shows this is a jacket designed as a standalone outer layer, built for exposed belays and technical mountain use. It is certainly no lightweight, micro-baffled layering piece, and shouldn’t be compared with those styles of puffers. Nor is it designed to be worn during high-output activity – it’s a jacket for hunkering down in when static.

It’s not quite expedition-level warm, as it uses a stitch-through construction rather than box-wall baffling, but the premium 800 fill power down still delivers exceptional warmth for its weight. This is a jacket primarily intended for Alpine-style climbing and mountaineering, but one that works well for any extremely cold day above the snowline. 

The jacket also employs a 100% recycled ripstop nylon Pertex Quantum shell, with a DWR finish – combining durability and toughness with commendable eco-conscious credentials, something we’ve come to expect from Patagonia.

Klattermusen Bore 2.0

(Image credit: Klattermusen)
Premium goose down and box-wall construction make this meticulously designed 800FP down jacket a hyper-warm outer layer for the coldest conditions

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Super-warm box wall construction and premium 800FP down
+
Great eco credentials
+
Hybrid construction for improved moisture-resistance

Reasons to avoid

-
Down fill not hydrophobic 
-
No dedicated women’s version
-
Expensive

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.

Jöttnar Fenrir

(Image credit: Jöttnar)
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

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Superb patterning and all-round fit
+
Synthetic panels and hydrophobic 850FP down offer improved moisture resistance
+
Competitive warmth for weight
+
Light and packable

Reasons to avoid

-
Stitch-through construction can cause cold spots
-
Hood not compatible with a climbing helmet
-
Only a one-way main zip

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.

Berghaus Ramche Micro Reflect

(Image credit: Berghaus)
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

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Very impressive warmth for weight
+
Hydrophobic 850FP down offers improved moisture resistance
+
Reflect mesh lining boosts effective warmth 
+
Scooped hem and big hood offer generous coverage

Reasons to avoid

-
Hood works best with a climbing helmet, not so good without one
-
Mesh-lined hand pockets can leak heat
-
Only a one-way main zip
-
No pack pocket or stuff sack
-
No women’s version

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.

Rab Microlight Alpine

(Image credit: Rab)
A comfortable and versatile midrange 700FP down jacket with great environmental credentials that is a great choice for use in the damp winter weather

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Hydrophobic 700FP down fill and DWR-treated face fabric offers improved moisture resistance 
+
Warm enough for most outdoor users
+
Good value

Reasons to avoid

-
Seems slightly prone to down/feather loss over time

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.

Best synthetic puffy jackets

best down jackets: Highlander Lewis synthetic jacket

(Image credit: Highlander)
A great value insulating layer for hiking, camping and general outdoor use

Specifications

RRP: £100 (UK)
Fill: Tecloft synthetic fill (100% polyester)
Sizes: Men’s: XS / S / M / L / XL / 2XL; Women’s: XS / S / M / L / XL
Weight (men's size M): 350g/12oz
Colors: Grey / Forest green / Maroon

Reasons to buy

+
Great fit
+
Microfleece-lined hand pockets
+
Synthetic fill for improved moisture-resistance
+
Hard-wearing nylon shell
+
Good value 

Reasons to avoid

-
No hem drawcord
-
Hood design not the best
-
Main zip not fully insulated

Simple but effective, the great fit of this versatile jacket means it works pretty well as a standalone puffy or a midlayer, with synthetic fill for good moisture-resistance and a hard-wearing nylon shell for added durability. With a price tag that isn’t too scary, plus a decent warmth-to-weight ratio and a good set of features, it makes a useful standalone insulating layer for chilly days, and an equally practical midlayer when worn underneath a shell for wet and cold mountain adventures.  

This isn’t the most high-performing jacket around, but the Tecloft synthetic fill – a continuous filament insulation made from 100% polyester – still provides a welcome boost of warmth whenever the mercury plunges. 

The stitch-through design gives this jacket a classic ‘puffer’ look, without feeling too boxy or restrictive. It’s a slight shame that there is no hem drawcord, though the trim fit ensures minimal heat loss from the bottom of the jacket. We particularly like the microfleece-lined hand pockets, which feel nice and cosy. They’re placed behind the fill too, so hands benefit from that toasty synthetic fill. Up top, the jacket is fitted with a roomy hood, which will fit over a climbing helmet. 

All the zips are a reverse coil design for added water-resistance, with chunky zip pulls that are easy to grab with a gloved hand. The main zip only has a half baffle at the top of the jacket though. This ensures no chin irritation, but if it ran all the way to the bottom of the zip, you’d get better protection from draughts and moisture. Lastly, the face fabric of the jacket is made from high-tenacity nylon, so in terms of resistance to abrasion, it should outperform cheaper polyester alternatives.

Alpkit Kanyo

(Image credit: Alpkit)
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

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Simple and effective synthetic layer
+
Quick-drying, compressible fill that provides warmth even when wet
+
Eco-friendly recycled fabrics and fill
+
Extremely lightweight and packable

Reasons to avoid

-
Lots of stitching
-
No hood
-
Primaloft Silver fill isn’t the warmest synthetic insulation around

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.

Best down jackets comparison table
Down jacketPriceWeightStyleBest use
Helly Hansen Verglas Glacier Jacket$340 (US) / £260 (UK)MediumHigh performance down jacketWinter and shoulder seasons: winter hiking and backpacking
Montane Janhukot down jacket$290 (US) / £220 (UK)HeavyHigh performance down jacketWinter and shoulder seasons: hiking, backpacking, climbing, winter and alpine mountaineering
Columbia Infinity Summit Double Wall Down Hooded Jacket$240 (US) / £225 (UK)MediumHigh performance goose down jacketWinter and shoulder seasons: hiking, backpacking, climbing, winter and alpine mountaineering
Patagonia Fitz Roy Hoody$399 (US) / £380 (UK)MediumHigh performance down jacektWinter and shoulder seasons: hiking, backpacking, climbing, winter and alpine mountaineering
Klättermusen Bore 2.0$790 (US) / £650 (UK)HeavyHigh performance goose down jacketExtreme winter conditions: winter and alpine mountaineering, high altitude climbing, polar expeditions
Jöttnar Fenrir$395 (US) / £295 (UK) / €335 (EU)LightHigh performance goose down jacketWinter and shoulder seasons: hiking, backpacking, climbing, winter and alpine mountaineering
Berghaus Ramche Mirco Reflect£300 (UK) / €340 (EU)LightHigh performance goose down jacketWinter and shoulder seasons: hiking, backpacking, climbing, winter and alpine mountaineering
Rab Microlight Alpine£195 (UK) / €230 (EU)MediumHigh performance recycled, hydrophobic down jacketWinter and shoulder seasons: hiking, backpacking, climbing winter and alpine mountaineering
Highlander Lewis synthetic jacket£100 (UK)LightSynthetic insulated jacketAll year round: hiking, backpacking, hut-to-hut trekking, winter walking, climbing
Alpkit Kanyo£100 (UK) / €114 (EU)LightSynthetic insulated jacketAll year round: hiking, backpacking, hut-to-hut trekking, winter walking, climbing

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

Fill

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.

best down jacket: Columbia Infinity Summit Double Wall Down Hooded Jacket promo shot

The Columbia Infinity Summit Double Wall Down Hooded Jacket features premium 800FP RDS-certified goos down (Image credit: Columbia)

Design

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.

best down jacket: man hiking

Many modern puffer jackets also now utilise a zoned or hybrid construction (Image credit: Getty)

Fabrics

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.

Features

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.

best down jacket: another Columbia Infinity Summit Double Wall Down Hooded Jacket

The Columbia Infinity Summit Double Wall Down Hooded Jacket's 'double wall' construction is designed to block wind and eliminate cold spots (Image credit: Columbia)

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.

Fit

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.