ou will never regret having a good folding knife, a multitool, a first aid kit and a Bic lighter with you, whether you’re venturing to a campsite or Kathmandu. A good down jacket also makes the gotta-have list, so if you don’t already have one already, we recommend you pick one up.
Why a Down Jacket?
Sure, being cold can be a life-threatening condition, but also, it just sucks being cold.
We’re headquartered in Arizona and we know how draining and uncomfortable the heat is, but nothing makes you want to zip your sleeping bag higher, praying for the sun to shine than a cold morning. And sometimes it even snows here!
Everything is more difficult and miserable when you’re cold, so if you could buy a warm, comfy jacket that packs down to the size of a can of Coke, why wouldn’t you always have it in your kit?
Down is warm, packs small and light, and is breathable. It’s terrible when it’s wet because it’ll clump, lose insulating power and take forever to dry. So also pack a rain shell. (Some down jackets are treated to repel water or even be waterproof, but they’re crazy expensive and we’d rather layer anyway.)
Which Down Jacket Should I Get?
It depends. We know, we know, what a weasely recommendation. But there are so many good jacket manufacturers and it really does depend on how much you want to spend vs. how much weight and size you’re willing to carry.
What is fill power?
Down used in jackets and sleeping bags are the clusters just under the feathers of very unlucky geese and ducks. You’ll see jackets sold based on their fill power, which measures the jacket’s ability to loft and trap heat.
It’s a bit of an abstract measurement of the cubic inches that one ounce of down can fill a test container. For example, a 500-fill down means one ounce of that down will fill 500 cubic inches of space.
So just measure the cubic inches of your body and...just kidding! You can’t really translate it to exact real-world practicalities. It’s more useful for comparing two or more jackets against each other.
Basically, a higher fill-power number requires less down to fill the space and hit a desired temp rating. The higher the number, the warmer it is for the weight, which is the other factor that is difficult to compare since most companies don’t tell you exactly how much down is included. They’ll tell you the weight of the jacket, but that won’t help thanks to zippers, hoodies and other features that add weight. And 8 ounces of down spread throughout an XXXL hoodie is going to be thinner than in a petite no-hoodie jacket, regardless of fill power.
How to pick a jacket?
Since it is so difficult to compare fill ratings, the safest move is to go with a brand you trust and if you’re looking for the lightest and most compressible jacket, buy the highest fill power you can afford.
It’s a bit unsatisfying, but it is what it is. We have down jackets from Arc’teryx, The North Face and others and have been pleased with them all. They’re expensive, but down jackets will last a very long time and if you don’t care about colors, keep an eye on Steep & Cheap or other closeout sites and save a few bucks.