When it comes to keeping warm in winter and down insulation is best. It doesn’t mean you can’t get a terrific synthetic alternative, it just means in very cold weather down will keep you the warmest. But how do you go about buying the best down jacket when you’re a woman?
For high-altitude mountaineering using down as an outer layer is practically obligatory. For everything else, a puffer down jacket may still be best but there are plenty of cozy vegan jacket options.
Buying a down jacket can be confusing, so this guide will help you cut through the technology to find a suitable jacket.
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The Best Down Jackets For Women – Top Picks
These tops for women’s down jackets have been tried and tested by myself or my friends or come strongly recommended by people I trust from my days as a buyer for a large outdoor store.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Jacket – Womens’s
I just love this jacket. It’s rarely off my back in cold winter months. A versatile jacket for about town and cooler temperatures.
Rab Neutrino Pro – Women’s
This jacket is a classic and has kept me warm on numerous cold belays.
The North Face Flare Down Jacket – Women’s
You can’t have a list of the best women’s down jackets without including The North Face. They may make a lot of fashion clothing these days but they still have a solid reputation for down jackets. This one is for the budget-conscious and good for low-level outdoor adventures.
Arc’teryx Cerium Hoody – Women’s
I adore this jacket for its quality and attention to detail. It’s not as warm as the Rab Neutrino Pro but also it’s not as bulky. It will never be as packable as the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. Instead, it sits somewhere in-between – warm enough for most situations and doesn’t take up too much space in your backpack.
Outdoor Research Helium Down Hoodie – Women’s
This microlight jacket rates highly for water resistance. It’s the perfect choice for winter sports where you need more water-proof protection than your typical down jacket.
Down Jacket Buying Guide
There are a few things you need to know first about buying the best women’s down jackets or even choosing a warm winter coat. Not all are the same.
Now I adore my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Jacket. In my view, it’s the best women’s down jacket and an essential piece of winter gear. There’s rarely a day in winter when I don’t have it on, but it’s a microlight jacket.
Just because it uses 800-fill goose down, pretty much the best you can buy, doesn’t make it a super warm jacket. Why? Because the jacket’s warmth factor also depends on the amount of fill.
Down Fill Power Rating
The down-fill power rating is the universal rating system for duck and goose down. Generally, for jackets, this ranges from 550 to 900 but you can even get a 1000-fill down jacket! Goose Down has a higher fill rating with bigger and stronger feathers.
The number represents the volume in cubic centimeters of a single gram of down, when fully lofted, (fluffed up). The higher the number the better. High loft down traps more air within the down jacket keeping you warmer.
Yet high fill power doesn’t take into account the total amount of down. A jacket with lots of lower-quality fill can still be warmer than lightweight down jackets like my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. You have to compare the fill weight of the down and the quality of the fill.
Down Jacket Baffle Construction
It’s not just the fill that makes a difference to warmth, the construction of the down jacket is key. Most jackets use stitch-through construction where the outer fabric is stitched directly onto the inner lining, separating the down into baffles. This distributes the down evenly around the jacket but the down is pinched at the seams.
Performance jackets for really cold conditions normally use box wall construction. Fabric compartments are created to distribute the down around the jacket. This type of construction is very bulky but eliminates any cold spots for really cold conditions. I have a Rab expedition standard jacket constructed this way. It’s an earlier version of the Rab Infinity Jacket. I only ever use it in high mountains.
Down Jacket Features
It’s not just fill power and construction you need to think about when choosing a down jacket. There are other features that contribute to keeping you cozy.
When you’re up a mountain, a hooded jacket is more than just a fashion feature. It can make a huge difference to warmth if you’re walking into a gale.
Hoods may get in the way if you’re climbing with a helmet or not look as smart if you’re wearing your jacket about town. Yet when you’re looking for warmth, I always opt for the hoody version.
Some jackets, such as the Rab mountain jackets, have an oversized helmet-compatible hood. The hood fits over your helmet. A hooded jacket with a wired or polymer peak keeps its shape better in strong winds.
Often overlooked, your down jacket needs a chin protector, also known as a chin guard…fabric that forms a barrier between your skin and the zip. Without this, you’ll discover just how cold your zip gets in freezing temperatures.
Top brands will always include this feature and often add a cozy backing of microfleece in the chin area for extra comfort.
Deep Hand Warmer Pockets
The best jackets always have good pockets. You’re pulling on your jacket for instant warmth. It makes complete sense to be able to thrust icy hands into deep pockets to get some life back into them.
If you’re using your jacket for hiking or climbing make sure you can still access your pockets when wearing a backpack with a waist belt or a harness. Jackets for mountaineering normally have pockets positioned above the waist.
Hem Drawcord And Cuffs
For ultimate warmth, you want to trap air around your body. Wrist cuffs and a hem drawcord will stop warm air from escaping.
Choosing the length of your jacket very much depends on its use. For a jacket used about town, it just depends on preference. Some people like jackets long to keep your bum warm, others like a cropped sporty look.
In the mountains, a long jacket will get in the way of climbing technical routes but on cold snowy plods, I always like the extra warmth of a longer-length jacket.
Use Of Your Down Jacket
It’s always worth having a good think about what are you going to use your jacket for before you rush out and buy a new one. Is it for a specific outdoor activity or do you need a jacket that’s going to work in lots of different situations?
I love to climb, run, backpack, ski, and sometimes go mountaineering. It’s almost impossible to have one down jacket that covers all these different activities.
An ultralight down jacket is excellent for backpacking in reasonable weather but for winter camping there’s not enough warmth. For fastpacking, I always go for a really lightweight high performance jacket with at least an 800+ fill rating.
For winter excursions I normally need something warmer. I might take an ultralight down jacket along as a just-in-case garment on a trail run. But if I’m going to be standing around at all I take a medium-weight jacket. I hate being cold!
For heading into high mountains, even in summer, my top choice is one of Rab’s heavy-weight performance jackets – something to keep me warm in all conditions.
The advantage of a performance down jacket is its compressibility. A high loft jacket takes up far less room than a synthetic jacket or a jacket with 600-fill or less.
If you’re backpacking, a jacket that compresses into a small stuff sack is ideal. Saving on space as well as weight.
Cleaning Your Down Jacket
If you already have a down jacket that just needs a good clean, there are specialist cleaners who can take care of it for you. For jackets in good condition, I prefer to send them to a specialist who knows what they’re doing.
For my older jackets, I’ll wash them at home. I stick them in the bathtub with Nikwax Down Wash Direct. They need a lot of rinsing so a big tub helps! Rinse thoroughly until the water is completely clear.
You then need to find someone with a tumbler dryer and dry on a very low heat setting for a couple of hours. Keep checking and remove it every 20-30 minutes to give it a good shake and break down any clumps. It needs to be completely dry.