Ultralight Down Jackets

Posted on: May 2, 2018, by :

Patagonia was the first major brand to announce a100% Traceable Down standard. Within all of their down garments, they use a European goose down that can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed and never live-plucked.

WestcombsChilko Sweateris the only jacket featured in this post thats not made in China. In fact, it was made in Vancouver, Canada. According to Westcomb, the nearby Pacific Coast Mountain Range provides inspiration and context to design, construct, and test their gear.

the cerium is holding up really well. dozens of weekend trips, long day rides, skiing, camping, and a recent trip back east, right into the polar vortex, and it feels just as warm and cozy as the day i bought it. its still in great shape considering how much i pack it around stuffed into a bag, and *knock wood* how many fires ive been around while wearing it coupled with a merino base layer a flannel and a buff, it has kept me toasty in temperatures dipping as low as -25c/-13f before wind chill. add a shell and i feel indestructible. it doesnt have a hood, and the collar is minimal, but it does have hand warmer pockets, and nice long sleeves. it layers up well, and it disappears into even the most overstuffed bag with ease. perfect for a warm layer that youll be carrying as much as wearing. recommended.

Hi, I found your blog doing some research on the mont bell anorak. Im pretty sold by now. I really want know who makes the hat you are wearing in tho photos of that piece. Can ya help a guy out?

Everyone has different requirements and after over researching the OR ticked all my boxes. Jacket is Cathode not cadmium as in original post.

For this gear roundup, weve tested out five jackets that range in weight, warmth, and expense. Youll find our impressions on each jacket, as well as a comparison chart. All of these jackets are in the sweater weight category, meaning they are great for moderately cold temperatures, and temps that dip below freezing when paired with layers. The jackets are ordered by weight, starting with the lightest.

The amount of 800 fill power down used in the UL is unspecified on the website, but overall it feels like a very warm jacket. According to Patagonia, the tight channel pattern paired with the right amount of down creates a jacket that is best used in moderate temperatures. The jacket has three pockets two zippered handwarmers and one zippered chest pocket, which doubles as the jackets stuff sack. One very cool feature is that the jacket can also be stuffed into one of the handwarmers, converting it into a travel pillow.

Synthetic insulation is also hypoallergenic. And because synthetics are not a product of animals, there could also be a significant case for sustainability (relative to animal welfare and the carbon footprint of production).

The Meadenis the heaviest of the jackets we reviewed, which may be attributable to the fact that its a size large (all of the others tested are size medium). The Meaden is also the warmest jacket of the group. Big Agnes claims that the unique vertical baffle construction contours better to your body and results in better heat retention.

Not sure, but its a Buchi Kombucha hat

From top left, clockwise: Montbell Plasma 1000 (in its included stuff sack, but still only compressed at about 50%); Patagonia Nano-Air (compressed to 90% not much more compression possible); Montbell EX Anorack (60% compression); Big Agnes Meaden (about 40% compression could go to the size of the one to the left); Wescomb Chilko (70% compression); Patagonia UL (about 40% compression could go to the size of the Montbell above).

And if youre using the Canadian peso worth about 69 cents in American currency these days you have a look at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) branded down and synthetic jackets like the mens Commix Hoodie womens Spicy Hoodie the Uplink Hoodie in mens or womens versions All great items especially at clearance prices. If youre a real cheapskate like me, try picking up the equivalents on eBay or in Value Village or other thrift stores. I paid all of $15 CDN for a lightweight packable 10.2 oz, presumably 650-fill XL Calvin Klein womens duck down jacket (ie a mens Large) a week ago. I actually found it warmer than the expensive stuff and I didnt find it as clammy/sweaty inside since it didnt use the DWR coated goose down. One womens trash is another mans treasure. 🙂

Worth noting too is Big Agness decision to adopt Downtek across its product range. As we mentioned above, down is great, until it gets wet. BAs answer to this conundrum is through the use of DownTek, down treated with a water repellent that allows it to retain its ability to loft and insulate, even when wet. DownTek also adheres to the Responsible Down Standard which claims to prohibit the live plucking and force-feeding, and several other sustainability points.

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Hi, you said: it is a medium, what is your length?

For the amount of features and warmth this jacket offers, its amazing how lightweight and small it compresses. I love things that serve multiple purposes, and its pretty cool that Patagonia integrated a large self-stuffing pocket thats intended as a travel pillow. Better yet its actually comfortable as a pillow.

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One thing that helps a lot if youre worried about tearing your down jkt is to wear a lightweight windshirt over it, esp. when bushwhacking or doing anything particularly abrasive. I pretty much always have a light windshirt (Patagonia Houdini pullover) with me on any multi-day outdoor trip anyway, since I find it to be so easily packable and one of my most useful outdoor garments.

The Anorak has a nice style, although its fit is not quite as trim as that of the Plasma. However, it does seem like a good balance for any well planned layering system. With over 35% of its weight in down fill, the Anoraks great warmth to weight ratio is a major bonus for the gram conscious bikepacker. In addition, the Anorak has Montbells standard DWR (Durable Water Repellant) treatment.

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For those in Europe, Cumulus are worth taking a look at too, their down gear is excellent (one of my sleeping bags is now on 200+nights of use) and well priced as it comes straight form the factory in Poland. Theyve also moved into synthetic now which is really exciting.

A lot of the ultra-lightweight down layers being offered these daysdofeel really fragile, and some of them actually are. At the same time, there have been big advancements in shell fabrics in the last few years, and you might be surprised at how well some of them hold up, given how thin and fragile they may feel.

Good point! Synthetic hooded puffy jackets pair nicely with down sleeping bags for a 3 season sleep system. The synthetic jacket works as a vapor layer and can also be worn in the rain as you mentioned. Im very pleased with my Montbell Thermawrap Sport Parka and Western Mountaineering Summerlite. 20 ounces total and stuffs into a Viscacha seatbag with room to spare.

How tall/ much does the gentlemen in the pictures weigh? Im 61 and 165lbs. Im in the market for the last jacket mentioned in the article. The synthetic jacket sounds more appealing to me. I was also wondering what sizes were tested, any help with this would be greatly appreciated. Ill still end up trying it on in stores, itd just be nice to know. Thanks for the great content. I seriously love this website!

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cool, I have relatively skinny wrists, and fit fine in their L stuff.

i am a westcomb and not-in-china fan so the chilko is the most appealing to me but i have read that there are cuff fit issues , i.e. the elastic on the cuffs is way too tight. Was it okay on the Medium you tried?

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On the cheap side Costco has a Gerry Mens 650 fill for $40. Medium weighs in at 12.15oz. Seems like a good value with a heavier cover material than some of these lighter and more expensive models. It lacks flash and has a bit of extra belly to appeal to the masses IMHO, but hard to beat the price to performance.

Patagonia describes theirNano-Airs Fullrange Insulation as, An insulation breakthrough [it] is warm, stretchy and so breathable, you can wear it for the entirety of any highly aerobic start-stop mission in the mountains. The range of motion the Nano-Air is one of its most impressive features. The shell fabric itself is not too stretchy, its the insulation and the way the jacket is constructed. The soft, supple feel and full mechanical stretch allows for an athletic fit over baselayers and an uninhibited range of motion.

Hi Marc, thanks! Id say the most full are the Big Agnes and the Patagonia. The others are a little more slim cut. Hope that helps

Ive heard good things about it; thanks!

Down is great, until it gets wet. That is probably its biggest downside. Once it does get wet, it not only loses its insulating properties, but it becomes heavy and can be slow to dry. Cleaning down garments requires special care; most suggest a mild down-specific cleaning product, front-loading washer, and other particulars when it comes time to clean. Lastly, down is expensive. On the flip-side, theres synthetic; its not as cozy, but sometimes practical. For comparison, weve also included a review of one of our favourite synthetic options (at bottom).

I havent, interesting though

The Meaden is one of the few jackets out there that uses the baffle design to give the jacket a unique and athletic look. The Meaden is also extremely warm and the Down Tek seems like a great concept, although I am usually careful not to get it wet. My only concern is the durability of the thin nylon shell. That being said, my partner Gin is very hard on clothing, and her Sunshine, cut from the same material, has taken a beating and is still going strong.

The Nano-Air also features two hand warmer pockets, a chest pocket, and a dual-adjustable drawcord hem to seal in warmth. As you can see in the group photo above, the Nano-Air (second from the left on top) packs to compact parcel, albeit far less compressible than each of the down jackets.

The OR Hooded Filament Jacket seems to fit the bill too. Weighing in at a mere 281 grams with

The Plasma 1000 has a form fitting design which allows additional layers to be combined as the temperature necessitates. One no-compromise feature that was included in its design is a minimal draft tube to prevent a cold air from entering at the zipper. While the jackets wrist cuffs are elastic, the waist is not; cold air is halted at the wrist line, but theres nothing preventing it from slipping up the bottom of the jacket. The Plasma also has a short hem line, which is perfect when layering, but may prove a little drafty if worn on its own. The jacket has a sewn through construction, which according to Montbell, keeps the down where its needed and the jacket as light as possible. In addition, the Plasma has Montbells standard DWR (Durable Water Repellant) treatment.

Which size are you wearing in the Patagonia Nano Air jacket?

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ps the cerium sl weighs in at about 7.5oz in an XL, just for comparisons sake

Ive been basically living in my patty nano air hoodie for the past month. For what it lacks in packing compression, it lets me leave the bulk of extra layers and a hat at home thanks to this things on-bike breathability, well-insulated hood, and holding up to laundromats. Glad you made mention!

I love my Uniqlo Ultra Light Down jacket for touring. Great at camp and under my EE 30 degree quilt when it gets colder. Probably not the best jacket, but definitely the best value.

TheUltralight Down Jacketcombines 800 fill-power with a 15-denier Pertex Quantum shell, which is slightly more burly than that of the 7d fabric use in the Montbell jackets. The UL features alternating sized horizontal baffles with sewn through construction on the back, front, and sleeves. Elastic cuffs and a draw cord at the waist keep out cold air. The overall design of the jacket is rather long, so it may be a good option for the long-waisted amongst us.

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Great comparison. The internet makes purchasing possible but we dont have many of these products in NZ, so sizing is also a bit of a gamble. I recently decided to change to synthetic for a bit of wet weather security and looked around a lot settling on a Outdoor Research Cadmium jacket which used primaloft insulation. I couldnt be happier with my purchase, great features but a little heavier than these at just under 400g I think. It packs a little larger also but that means it makes a better pillow right? For about a hundred of your dollars it was a steal as well. Also it is award winning if it makes any difference. Check it out.

Down is also highly compressible and can be squished into a tight compact forms. However, it retains its loft and is able to bounce back to its original shape.

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800 fill down. theres a non-hooded version too. Its pricey at 340 CDN, but also has a DWR-treated shell of ultralight 10D Pertex® Quantum GL.

The Plasma 1000 is an incredible jacket when packing light or layering during shoulder seasons. Its also one of the best looking of the bunch, with a unique quilt pattern and a flattering cut. By itself, the Plasma 1000 may not be enough for sub-freezing temps, but as an insulating layer, its one of the best and lightest options out there. Logan

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In the bushwalking world the leading contenders in this category are the Marmot Quasar and the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. Both well worth a look.

Have a look at PHD Designs they make some really ace kit, and can do to order as well for specific needs.

1000x yes. Ive been abusing their Inferno Hoodie for a very comfortable year now.

thanks for your great comparison. didnt even realize wescomb made anything other than (awesome) shells. if i had only known

The Patagonia UL that you list at $299? They are at Costco (yeah, you read that right, Costco) for $199 right now. A lot more competitive pricewise with some of the others listed.

The Chilko Sweater provides a unique feature set. For starters, it uses the thickest shell fabric of the group reviewed here, a 20-denier micro-ripstop Pertex Quantum. It also features a hefty YKK 2-way Vislon zipper, which is pretty burly in comparison to some of the other, more minimalist jacket designs. In addition the Chilko has two hand warmer pockets, elasticized cuffs, and a stretchy waist thats backed with a sticky rubber strip that keeps the waistline from working its way up your back. The jacket contains an unspecified amount of 900 fill-power Hudderite white goose down, which is claimed to be responsibly raised.

Great to hear, Christophe! Have a great trip in Nepal!!

The Meaden is packed with useful features such as elasticized cuffs with thumb cutouts, a waist drawcord, and large interior mesh pockets. The Meaden also stuffs into its own zippered interior pocket for storage. Overall the Meaden fits well and the angled baffles on the sides are a nice touch that give it a slender look. The jacket is fairly long in comparison to the other jackets mentioned here, save the Patagonia UL. The Meaden is constructed from a very light and semi-transparent shell fabric. Its thickness is unspecified.

Recommending clothing for bikepacking is a complex endeavor, mined as it is with caveats. Advice rests on conditional elements such as local climate, personal needs, aesthetic preferences, and financial constraints. However, its hard to argue the value of investing in an ultralight, compressible, and insulating jacket. This minimal piece of gear can make the difference between staying home, and extending your adventures well into the colder months keeping you toasty warm in the process.

As with our other comparative posts, every product here was chosen and included for a reason; they are all high quality jackets and serve different niche uses as an essential piece of gear. That said, if there has to be a winner, the Montbell Ex Light Anorak gets our top pick due to its combination of key features, ultra light weight, and incredibly small pack size all of which comes at a great price point. The Westcomb Chilko Sweater and Patagonia UL tie for a close second; the Chilko for its more durable 20-denier shell fabric, great fit, and warmth and the Patagonia for its unique features and Traceable Down standard. The minimalistic Plasma 1000 is a fantastic choice for those looking for a super ultralight option for bikepacking in more moderate climates, but wont keep you as toasty as the Big Agnes Meaden, the warmest of the group.

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Ive had one for a few months and I love it. I dont know if Id use it in freezing weather but for temps in the 40s and above it has been amazingly warm considering how lightweight it is, and of course the fill pockets are sewn-through.

i almost always have a windbreaker too. excellent tip, thanks.

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Great write up as usual, Logan. Do you have any thoughts on the fit of the jackets you tried? Specifically, any strike you as being a fuller cut for a big guy?

Inevitably each jacket has its pros and cons, so consider all the options based on where youll be traveling, whether you intend to layer, your budget, and concern for durability.

This is a choice piece for a minimalist backcountry bikepacker. The hood made a big difference when temps dropped below freezing. It can pair well with a down quilt for sleeping, and it packs up the size of a can of beer. For the key features Montbell was able to keep within a ridiculously lightweight package, the Anorak is hard to beat at 220 bucks.

Have you tried anything from the Uniqlo Ultra Light Down line? A fairly compressible, water proof jacket is $70. It should weigh a bit under 10 ounces, and has 750 fill down.

Thanks for the suggestion. Its always nice to have others picks in the comments for folks who are over-researching believe me, Ive done plenty of it. I will check out the OR, I always like their stuff.

As fall gives way to winter, a packable ultralight down jacket is the secret weapon in a bikepacking gear arsenal. Read on to find out why we love them so much and our impressions of five toasty jackets, ranging from 5 to 12oz (140-350g).

I have heard good things about it, we just didnt have one to test.

i found an arcteryx cerium sl jacket on sale, so i bought it. its super light, but it feels quite fragile; its my first super light down puffer, so its all new and weird to me. on the other hand, its very warm despite being so light and it crams into any crevice easily. ive only done a couple trips with it so far and havent destroyed it yet, so thats good. time will only tell, i tend to ruin gear in short order. but for now, i give it full marks for weight to warmth and packability.

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There are some sustainability and animal welfare concerns (live plucking, for example) surrounding the harvesting of down or manufacturing of down-filled products. If this is a matter of interest to you, pay attention to where companies source their down, and to what standards they adhere. Nau has started a line of jackets that use recycled down, and Patagonia initiated a standard called100% Traceable Down. Other companies note their sources as well. More details on each below.

The quality or effectiveness of down is rated according itsfill power. Fill power is determined by measuring how many cubic inches can be filled with one compressed ounce of down and is expressed as cubic inches per ounce (in³/oz). For example, if one ounce of compressed down lofts to a volume of 800 cubic inches, it is said to have a lofting power of 800. The higher quality the down, the higher its fill power. Since high quality down requires fewer ounces to maintain the same level of warmth, it has a better warmth to weight ratio than that of a lower quality down, and can be used to create garments that are substantially lighter in weight. All of that being said, fill weight still matters.

The classic mantra of packing philosophy goes something like this:If, at some point on the trip, you didnt wear everything you brought, you brought too much.Its a good doctrine, granted it shouldntalwaysbe taken literally. But it does call to mind a valid point about a puff. A down jacket can play a major role in a layered approach, whether its under a hard shell, or as added insulation over a baselayer. Its also a viable means of increasing the temperature rating of your sleeping system. Suffice to say, a puff jacket can be an essential piece of a well thought out kit. If you have one, youre bound to find uses for it on all kinds of trips. Lastly, lets not forget the feel-good factor: down jackets are so cosy its hard not to smile when youre wearing one.

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I had no problem with the cuff whatsoever, but I have skinnier wrists.

Puff jackets with hoods extend the range of light summer bags without a mummy head closure. Big point to consider if buying new to integrate with other lightweight gear.

Synthetic insulation technology is continuously evolving and has become much more sophisticated over the years. There are numerous types of synthetic insulation available, and even though they are mostly heavier and bulkier that down, several come close to in the warmth-to-weight game. Unlike down, synthetic insulation, by the nature of the material, is water-resistant. As a result it will dry faster and still provide some warmth when wet.

The fabric is very light weight. I doubt whether it would be durable under rough wearing conditions, but as long as youre in circumstances that let you baby it a bit, its great. Of all the jackets I have its my first choice now, as long as I know I can keep it dry and free of scrapes.

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ThePlasma 1000is the only jacket we reviewed that uses 1000 fill power down, and it is indeed the featherweight of the group. Its design is minimalistic in the extreme, sporting no hood, no pockets, and no adjustment cords. But, what it does have is a great design and an impressive warmth to weight ratio. This jacket is designed for ultralight backcountry explorers who are seeking a moderately warm, microweight, insulating layer in a very straightforward package.

Montbell again has once again created an artful take on the minimalist jacket. TheEx Light Anorakis the second lightest jacket of those reviewed; it includes a few more bells and whistles that its lighter brother, Plasma 1000. A through kangaroo pocket acts as a great hand warmer, and a drawstring, accessible inside the pocket, allows the waist to be snugged up to prevent draft. The Ex Light Anorak also has a perfectly designed Eskimo style hood that has no drawcord, but a bit of lateral elastic that keeps it cozy while allowing the zipper to provide a just enough adjustment.

The Chilko Sweater is an impressive garment; one of my favorites of the group. It feels substantially less fragile than some of the other down jackets. Its also one of the warmest. It has a nice trim fit and, believe it or not, I really like the orange, AKA Vermillion although it does come in several other colors including a nice Leaf green and earthy Bean brown. Logan

Surprised the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer jacket didnt get mentioned with 800-fill Quix down, and a total weight of7oz,its the most impressive, ultra-packable layer Ive ever owned.

Hey great piece! Very helpful. Is the color of the Montbell anorak called Paprika?

Ounce for ounce, down is the warmest insulation available for clothing and gear. Although synthetic fiber insulation has come a long way, the amount of down it takes to provide adequate insulation is still unmatched.

i had one used for year great jacket and very good value but replaced it with MONTBELL PLASMA 1000 DOWN JACKET NOW THATS A JACKET HAD OVER 6 MONTH AND STILL AS GOOD AS THE DAY I GOT IT..

RAB down jackets in the UK are a good go to jacket

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You definitively need to test Mountain Hardwears Ghost Whisperer jackets if you ever decide to update this list 😉

Great point. Ive noticed a couple of quilt companies selling down hoods separately.

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Although not as light or compact as the down jackets we tested, the Nano-Air is impressive. Its very warm and the wet weather edge combined with the range of motion that this jacket offers, make a good case for Patagonias Fullrange synthetic insulation.

Goose down makes up the fluffy undercoat that provides warmth and increases buoyancy for geese. The structure of down provides insulation by trapping thousands of tiny air pockets within its fine fibers. Down is also breathable, allowing unwanted moisture to be wicked away from the body for evaporation. There are not many other materials that have comparable properties.

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Im on winter two with my BA Meaden. DownTek and other water resistant downs are so superior to non-treated down fills, that I have replaced all my gear with similar products with UltraDry Down, etc. The Meaden is crazy warm, light, and surprisingly durable. Its in my bag right now as I fly to Nepal and the base of Everest. I trust in it.

I also just got the Patagonia Nano Air Light Hoody. This piece is interesting as a riding layer in cold temps. Weve already had -10C here in Ontario and its breathing really well as an active layer over a Craft Windstopper LS shirt. A few hours of pushing pedals and working up some heat and it is bone dry.

It has a slightly elastic waistdont know if that would work in a stiff wind, but I havent been in a stiff wind yet. Cuffs are elastic and fit tightly enough to blocck wind.

1 thought on “Ultralight Down Jackets

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