Hunting for a women's down jacket? We can help. We evaluated over 80 of the market's best models and purchased the top 10. Armed to the teeth, we put each contender through a series of head-to-head testing during the coldest months. Our testers traveled as far as Antarctica, putting each model to the ultimate test. We combined overall experiences with specific and exhaustive tests to fully examine the differences between the contenders. We obsessed over performance in heat-trapping ability, how well they repelled wet winter weather and their level of durability. We also scored each competitor according to their relative weight and compressibility. No matter what type of winter you live in or plan to travel to, our comprehensive review helps you ignore the marketing and guides you to the right product for the conditions.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated January 2018
As new as 2018, our review includes 10 of the top competitors on the market. Dethroning the previous Editors' Choice for the first time, the Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody stole the show. Following closely behind, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer remains an impressive 4.5 ounces and wins our Top Pick as an ultralight competitor, which also provides a remarkable amount of warmth. The Rab Microlight Alpine is our top choice for when the going gets tough, while the REI Magma 850 is a steal for $189.
Best Overall Women's Model
Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody is a mind-blowing contender. It was by far the warmest jacket in this review, puffing up to twice the loft of the average competition—but packing down just as small. The ultrawarm collar ensures this is a severe-weather-ready model and makes it feel more like an expedition parka than a lightweight down jacket, without the bulk and weight. This was the only jacket in this review that we could take ice climbing as our only warm jacket—the others were nowhere near warm enough. We loved everything about this jacket—the shape was slim and athletic, and it allowed excellent freedom of movement when we made some climbing moves in it. This is much more expensive than most of the jackets in this review, but as we know, you often get what you pay for. This model will have a happy home in our quiver of insulating layers for many years to come.
Packs a separate but attached stuff sack
Glove-friendly hood and hem adjustments
Lighter weight fabrics can be fragile
Read review: Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody
Top Pick Ultralight Competitor
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded - Women's
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer was finally ousted this year from our Editor's Choice award by the Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody. However, it is still a clear award winner, earning our Top Pick as Best Ultralight model. It is one of the warmest jackets we tested for its incredible light weight. It is made of highly compressible 800-fill down, and impressively durable for rugged outdoor use—we even rock climbed in it when late fall temps dropped in the desert. This is a great stand-alone layer for moderate temps and is easy to layer when you're out midwinter; this makes it hard leave behind on any adventure, urban or outdoors. The jacket is styled for the avid outdoors person and looks sleek and stylish if that's your jam. It stuffs into its hand pocket and has a loop that is easy to clip to a harness. This was our favorite for sunset ascents of desert towers when speed and low weight are critical to getting to the rappels before dark—and you still want to look sharp for those beautiful sunset summit shots. If you're looking to ditch the hood, this hoody is also available in the Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket - Women's.
Warm for its size and weight
Packs into its pocket
No way to cinch the hood
No chest pocket
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded - Women's
Best On a Tight Budget
REI Co-op Magma 850 - Women's
The REI Co-op Magma 850 is a phenomenal jacket, especially for the price. The Magma is a very close competitor for the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, and we suspect that if it came in two options—one with a hood—it may have given the Ghost a run for its money. This jacket is very lightweight and slim, making it easy to layer underneath a hard shell or larger down jacket; because of this, it's a highly versatile jacket. You'll find yourself reaching for it as extra insulating during the harsh winter months, and during midsummer milder adventures when you don't need as much insulation. It's so light, durable, and compact that you'll be stoked to have it with you all year round, and for the price, that makes it a phenomenal value.
High-quality materials and manufacturing
Easy to layer under shell
Harder to dress up
Read review: REI Co-op Magma 850 - Women's
Top Pick for Poor Weather and Rough Use
Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket - Women's
The Rab Microlight Alpine is one of the most durable pieces we've ever reviewed. Now, with a few detail-oriented updates, it's even more comfortable and functional than before. With the new polymer (instead of wire) hood brim, you don't look ridiculous when you forget to bend it into shape. The folks at Rab have also updated the jacket's fit, expanding the chest box and tapering the sides. This makes the jacket a little less boxy, which helps it transition from mountain to town activities. In this year's round of field tests, we noticed a lot of compliments around town, as well as in the mountains. It is sleek and sharp. This jacket is a bit heavier for its size, but it seals out weather so well we think it's worth the few extra ounces. We love the slightly longer arms, and the taper ensures the sleeves stay out of your way, even when rock climbing. The Microlight is light and compressible with 750 fill power hydrophobic down and stands up to light rain and wet snow better than most with its Pertex exterior. We appreciated the new stuff sack, which makes it easy to travel with, but we would have preferred it if it were girth hitched to the pocket so it won't fall out when we open the pocket. As a reliable all-around performer, the Rab jacket earns our Top Pick for Weather Resistance and Durability. This contender will be reliable from town to summit. This great hoody is also available in a jacket! If you're looking to ditch the hood, check out the Women's Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket.
Hand pockets flare out when unzipped
Separate stuff sack is easy to lose
Read review: Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
The deeper in the woods or the mountains you go, the more important the things you carry with you become (and how much those things weigh). Having the appropriate gear and clothing in the mountains is imperative to having a good time, and an insulated jacket can be the difference between summit and surrender, celebrating and suffering. Down jackets range broadly from lightweight and packable to heavy-duty expedition parkas. In this review, we focus on the technical lightweight category. The jackets in this review are typically great stand-alone insulation for milder climates, like spring and fall in the desert or brisk mornings on foggy northern beaches. They may also serve as an insulating layer for light aerobic activities in frigid environments, or to wear under a shell jacket in inclement weather. This review aims to help you find the right jacket for your uses, but also to equip you with the knowledge to evaluate jackets for yourself the next time you're browsing at an outdoor store.
Types of Insulated Jackets
The down versus synthetic question will probably never be an easy one to answer. Even the best synthetic fibers are no match for the warmth-to-weight ratio of natural down feathers. But when down gets wet, it might as well be a pasta meal when you've run out of white gas--it's pretty much useless. We talk more about synthetic, down, and hydrophobic down in our Buying Advice Article. If you're interested in hydrophobic down models, check out the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded and Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket reviews.
After years and months of using these jackets, wearing them across continents and for many different activities, we have come up with an evaluation of which jackets are best at what, and we have awarded some for outstanding performance. Check out the chart above to see where each down competitor in our review ranked in overall performance.
Down is measured by the amount of space taken up by an ounce of down feathers. Because down insulates by trapping air and holding it in place for your body heat to warm up, the more loft you can get, the better. This means a higher numbered fill power is of higher quality. For example, 850 fill power down fills 850 cubic inches for every ounce of down.
This also means that a 550 fill jacket, like The North Face Aconcagua can be just as warm as an 850 fill jacket like the REI Magma-- it'll just be bulkier. But the most common misconception is that a higher number means warmer when in reality a 550 fill jacket can be warmer than a super thin 850 fill ultralight jacket.
The Arc'teryx Cerium SV Hoody ran away with our Editors' Choice award because it has the most loft, and provides very high warmth for the weight. But the slimmer Rab Microlight Alpine.
Most of the jackets in this review are designed to be lightweight, technical insulating layers. Most of them have down in the 750-850 fill power range and provide excellent warmth and loft for the weight. These jackets are optimized for the mountains, which is a challenging balancing act of lightweight, durability, and warmth.
Depending on your top priority, you will likely find a good match among our award winners, and we encourage you to view the ranking chart and each review.
No synthetic fiber has matched down to its incredible warmth-to-weight ratio.
You will probably always remember your first down sleeping bag; did it revolutionize the way you felt about carrying gear on your back? For many, the investment in lightweight down products correlates to increased happiness in the backcountry. If you are looking to shave ounces, the featherweight Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded - Women's is the obvious choice.
Weighing only 4.5 ounces, it's the lightest in our fleet. The Arc'teryx Cerium SV is even more impressive for its warmth to weight ratio. It weighs 10 ounces and is the warmest in the bunch. The REI Magma is also relatively lightweight but not as warm. The same can be said about the REI Co-Op Down.
If you're looking for a good around-town down jacket, the weight may not be a critical factor in your decision. However, since down is one of the best materials for lightweight, warm jackets (and sleeping bags, quilts, booties, etc.), we think this is an important metric for judging the quality of a down jacket. The best jackets were those with the highest quality fill power down (800 and above), which also overlaps with our next rating metric.
The quality of the down factors largely into the compressibility of a jacket. Again, the higher the number of the down fill, the more compressible it will be. This is another very important metric if you're planning to take this jacket into the backcountry—or in general, if you plan to carry it around a lot. The previous metric should be your first priority, but the size of the jacket, when packed, can also be an important consideration. In general, a lightweight jacket is compressible (because it must be using high quality down, such as 800 fill and higher), but some jackets might be made of thicker materials which makes them pack into a larger package. Additionally, the pocket each one packs into defines how big the stowed package will be when you go to clip it to the back of your harness.
The Arc'teryx Cerium SV and the REI Co-op Magma were the most compressible with 850 fill down, followed by the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. Both the Magma and Ghost are thin and light to begin with, and the high quality down allows them to get super small. A small compressed size is ideal for climbing, backpacking, or even bike commuting where pack space is a commodity. If compressibility is not as important to you as some of the other metrics in our test, we'd suggest taking a look at the Rab Microlight Alpine or Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody.
This category is a catch-all for the little things we liked or didn't like about the jackets, from pockets and hoods, to draw cords and well-placed soft fleece patches. In general, we like models with durable plastic zippers that don't bend or kink over time (counter-intuitive, but plastic zippers are much more durable than metal ones). Hem drawcord cinches are key to keeping cold drafts out. A little fleece or creative baffling in the right place goes a long way in promoting freedom of movement.
But a jacket didn't have to have a lot of features to score highly in this category. The Ghost Whisperer has very few features, but Mountain Hardwear kept the ones that count for a high functioning climbing layer. It got high marks for careful selection of key features. In general, we love hoods because they add warmth. We also appreciate chest pockets for ease of access while climbing—and because it helps keep essential items, like snacks or electronics, warm and accessible.
Arc'teryx stole the show again in this category with details such as a separate stuff sack girth hitched into the chest pocket. This feature meant we could carry it on the back of our harness without fear of snagging the jacket's material while chimneying up a long rock route, and when we opened that chest pocket to retrieve our phone or snacks, the stuff sack wouldn't fall out. The Cerium was the highest scorer in the bunch with the Rab Microlight placing second.
The durability of a jacket's material is important when spending over $200. Fabrics are, in general, very durable these days, but there are a few things to pay attention to. Lower denier ratings typically translate to lower weight but less durability, but fabric is not the only durability concern.
In our tests, the lightest fabrics ended up being the most fragile. If it is important to you to have a lightweight jacket, it might be worth sacrificing a little durability. The North Face Aconcagua topped our charts and provided an incredibly durable fabric made of 50D nylon; the Aconcagua is tough. The Canada Goose Perren is another top-notch model that offers rugged material that will hold up to some serious abuse.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is an impressively durable jacket for the weight—the fabric resisted snagging and abrasion while climbing. Alternatively, the Rab Microlight Alpine performed very well and earned our Top Pick award for its durability and reliability in combination with weather resistance. The most durable jackets in this review were not our overall top scoring jackets. This is largely because extremely durable fabrics tend to be heavier. If weight and compressibility are less an issue for you, however, and you want a great around-town jacket that will stand up to years of use, check out the Canada Goose Hybridge Perren, a very stylish urban use down jacket, or the super durable The North Face Aconcagua
In a jacket or sleeping bag, it is not the down itself that does the insulating—it is the tiny air pockets trapped by those down fibers. Unfortunately, once down gets wet all the fibers stick together, so it loses its loft and thus its warmth. If you plan on being in extremely wet conditions, synthetic insulation may be preferable because it does not have this same issue and retains some insulating properties when wet. However, if you do have a down jacket, or value the weight savings of down over synthetic, you will appreciate some degree of water resistance so that in the event you do get a little damp, you don't freeze.
Arc'teryx has introduced their Down Composite Mapping, a technology where they integrate Coreloft synthetic insulation in high-risk areas such as cuffs, shoulders, and hoods. In previous reviews, these jackets stayed wetter longer because the synthetic insulation would absorb water which would then leak into the down and the shell fabric. In this round of testing, however, even dripping ice climbs couldn't manage to get the Cerium's cuffs wet (which is one of the areas most prone to moisture)
Most of the jackets in this review are treated with some DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the exterior fabric to prevent water from soaking through the material and dampening the down, but they are not designed to replace the need for a proper rain or hard shell over your down jacket. The KUHL Spyfire took an interesting approach using DWR coated soft shell over the shoulders, which we found very effective for beading up and shedding light rain. The North Face Aconcagua was a top performer when it came to water resistance. Not batting an eye, it has an oily feel that allows water to bead up and roll right off. We appreciated this when we got caught in storms and the chill started to creep in. The Arc'teryx Cerium earned the same score when it came to water resistance, and did a spectacular job of protecting us from the elements. It was our favorite model to wear when ice climbing or winter backpacking.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this review was the continued opportunity to test out some jackets with treated hydrophobic down: in a practical sense, we still cannot say we notice a big difference in the field. Water repellent fabrics still seem to make the most difference in a down jacket's water resistance. We took all of these jackets ice climbing and ski touring to test the water resistance. Dripping ice climbs offered an excellent real-world opportunity to observe the jackets' water repelling abilities. In the end, most jackets performed to our expectations, with the Marmot Quasar Nova falling behind significantly with how easily the shell material wet out and soaked through to the down.
The jackets in this review use sewn-through baffle construction instead of box-baffles, which are usually reserved for expedition parkas.
The sewn-through design is less expensive to produce, lighter and improves ease of movement. Several companies vary the sizes of its baffles to maximize mobility and insulation. We were very impressed with this solution. Under the arms, they place smaller baffles which eases movement of the arms and torso. Smaller baffles, however, also means more stitches, and therefore reduces its warmth. Since these smaller baffles are only under the arms, the area is often protected from the wind and otherwise covered by the arms themselves.
Overall we felt that the fit and the design of the sewn baffles are the primary components of style. No matter what, puffy down jackets make a woman look, well… puffy. But some look better than others. The shape of the jacket also contributes to Style points. But style cannot trump function, in our reviewers' opinions. In this review, we appreciated the style of the KUHL Spyfire which was an impressive blend of style while remaining adequately "mountain ready" and the casual style of the REI Magma. However, as you know, style is subjective - and if you don't like the look of a particular jacket, you might not be inclined to wear it. So do yourself a favor and peruse the metrics for a model that performs according to your wants and needs, and satisfies your personal taste.
We hope we've been able to help you narrow down your top choices and make a final selection of a jacket for your wintertime activities. Check out the related articles below for more winter inspiration! Properly caring for down jackets is very important. Over time the down will get covered in dirt and oils causing it to lose its loft and therefore lose its warmth. To clean your jacket, we recommend using a specialized cleaner such as ReviveX Down Cleaner or a similar product from Nikwax to safely clean the down and restore its loft.
— Lyra Pierotti
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.