Guide to Lightweight Down Jackets and Pants for Backpacking

Forget synthetics! Down rocks. A lightweight down jacket is the most weight and cost effective way to stay warm. Lightweight down jackets are less expensive than synthetics,* they weigh less, but most importantly they are so much warmer! It is true that down jackets may be one of the most expensive items in your kit. BUT, if you want to stay warm and happy, nothing else comes close.

Debunking a Few Myths About Down Jackets

  • Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t do a good job of keeping me warm. New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve your odds.
  • And make no mistake, a wet synthetic jacket is no joy! Keeping your jacket (down or synthetic) dry in the first place, is a better strategy. (See more on this below)
  • *Down is the better long term value for staying warm. The only advantage to synthetics is the price. From there it’s downhill. I find synthetics usually lose loft after less than a season of use. This makes them a poor long term value. A good down jacket can easily last you 5 to 10 years.

Go for Down – Skip the extra shirts, pants, and base-layers

If you really want to be warm, Lightweight Down Jackets are where it’s at. That is, your money and gear weight is better spent investing in a warmer down jacket—or even down pants, down hat and down booties. All are far warmer per ounce than extra shirts, pants, and base-layers. You’ll be warmer, pack lighter and save money in the long run.

What’s in this Guide

I own, or have extensively field tested the vast majority of the jackets (and pants) below.

Lightweight Down Jackets

Sometimes you need down and lots of it. Like jacket, pants, and booties. Author on a winter backcountry trip in Montana and Wyoming’s Bearthooth Plateau.

Lightweight Down Jackets in this Guide

* NOTE: “down volume in liters” is a rough approximation of jacket warmth. See more on this below.

The table above gives you a lot of ways to look at down jackets and their specifications since different aspects are important to different people. E.g. someone may be interested in getting the best value down jacket, while another is looking to get an ultra warm jacket for a cold trip.

  • What’s the lightest?
  • * What’s the warmest? Use “down volume in liters” as a measure of warmth. While “down volume in liters” is the most significant factor, there are other factors that contribute to warmth. A such, down volume is only a crude approximation/starting point for warmth. [Down volume in liters = 0z-down x fill-power-of the-down x 0.016 liter/in3]
  • What’s the warmest for its weight? Take a look at “% down” and “down vol. to weight”
  • What’s a good value? Take a look at “price,” when compared to “down volume in liters.” And finally, look at “down vol. to price,” which is a crude approximation of the warmth per dollar.
  • How durable is it? All of these jackets are fine for use around camp and for rest stops. But note that jackets with 10D or below “shell fabric” should be treated with extreme care. These might not be good candidates for bushwhacking.

Introducing the Lightweight Down Jackets


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Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket – $290

This is Feathered Friends’ lightest weight down jacket, but don’t let that fool you. Though this clocks in at only 10.6 oz, it has 3.7 oz of 900+ fill goose down. That’s more than 30% more down fill than the popular, but more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. More down fill means more warmth! With a hood, and sinchable waist, this jacket can tighten down to keep all your precious heat in if things get cooler than expected, but the jacket is light enough to take with you on any 3-season outing. There are Men’s and Women’s versions, and as with all Feathered Friends’ goods, it’s made in Seattle, USA.


Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers - Expensive

Montbell EX Light Down Anorak – $220

At only 6 oz, this is about as light and as WARM as it gets!  The Ex Light Down Anorak is 2 oz lighter than the highly regarded and more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.  It achieves this low weight in part by not using a full zipper. Instead, you get a hood and a kangaroo pouch pocket! These great pockets let you really keep your hands warm by putting them in the same space against your abdomen. Truly lightweight warmth, this is a perfect puffy layer to bring on high alpine adventures like the South Sierra High Route, or Wind River High Route. The only downside is that there isn’t a Women’s version yet.


Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Hooded  – $350

Mountain Hardwear touts the 7.7 oz Ghost Whisperer as “the world’s lightest full-featured down jacket.” For 1.2 oz more than the Montbell EX Light Down Anorak you get a full front zipper and pockets. MH uses a unique “Whisperer 7D x 10D Ripstop” fabric that is light, tough, down proof, and fairly water resistant. Oh, and the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer has won a ton of awards.

 


Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers

Montbell Mirage Parka – $320

Weighing less than 14 oz, this is the lightest fully-baffled (a warmer but more expensive construction method) jacket we know of. Montbell has pulled this feat off by using 900-fill down and a very thin 7-denier ballistic nylon shell. Down accounts for over 40% of the garment weight—an incredible feat of design engineering! If you like to bushwhack through dense evergreens, this might not be durable enough for you, but for most backpackers, this will allow pushing shoulder season or even through winters in much of the country (although you may need more in the deep north, see the Helios below). Unfortunately, this jacket doesn’t come in a Women’s version.


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Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket – $340

If you need ultra warmth, this is the jacket for you! The Helios jacket is insane puffy and warm with 3x the down (warmth) of the lightest jackets here.

The Helios packs 2 oz. of high-fill down over the Mirage, and uses a more durable outer fabric. (It also weighs 4 oz more.) It’s made in the USA, and is purpose built with mountaineering in mind, so you know it’s warm! Feathered Friends is known for their high quality down and weight-conscious products.



My Trail Co – Men’s Down Light Hooded Jacket – $125

This is probably the best value in a warm, fully featured, durable, all-around use jacket. At 13 oz it’s light, and very warm with a generous 3.5 oz of 800-fill-power down. But best of all, it costs significantly less than jackets of similar warmth. It comes in Men’s and Women’s (but not hooded) versions. Non hooded versions are $99.

Pedigree:  This jacket was designed by Demetri Coupounas (Coup) founder/owner of GoLite. The GoLite Bitterroot down jacket (almost same weight) sported 5.3 oz of 850 fill power down. Until the closing of GoLite it was the best value on the market! I am hoping that My Trail resurrects this jacket in the near future.


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 REI Co-Op Down Jacket – $99

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a down jacket, REI has you covered. Their Co-Op Down Jacket weighs in at only 10.2 oz (in a non-hooded version). And while the jacket sets no records for warmth to weight ratios with 650 fill power down, it likely has enough warmth for most 3-season purposes. It comes in Men’s, Women’s, and children’s cuts. If you have an extra $20 to spend, we recommend the hooded version, because all jackets are substantially warmer with one!


Tip – Keeping your Lightweight Down Jacket Dry

The best way to keep your gear dry is not to get it wet in the first place. This means keeping the gear in your pack dry (especially your down sleeping bag, and down jacket).

  • Pack contents dry: A trash compactor bag inside your pack is lighter and works considerably better than a pack rain-cover. Inside that, put your down bag and down jacket in their own waterproof or highly-water-resistant stuff sacks or more expensive but drier Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. I like a stuff sack of around 6-9L for my down jacket and 20L or larger one for my down sleeping bag/quilt.
  • Waterproof backpack: Even better but a lot more expensive, get a Cuben fiber backpack, with a roll top closure and sealed seams along with stowing your sleeping bag/quilt and down jacket in Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. This is a great way to keep your gear truly dry and is less complicated and time consuming than pack rain-covers or liners.

Montbell Superior Down Parka – $169

8.5 oz, 2.5 oz 800+ fill power down

At under 9 ounces this is another great value in an ultralight, fully featured jacket. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.” While not the warmest jacket in the group, it should be more than sufficient for 3-season use.



Patagonia UL Down Jacket or Hoody – $349 at REI

This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years. My wife and I both own one. It’s not the cheapest jacket but it’s light, and uses a generous 3.5 oz of 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions for a little more money. The hooded version is hands-down our favorite!


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Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket – $230 at REI

At $100 less than their UL jacket, this is a great warm layer for backpacking or any outdoor activity, really. It’s reasonably light (2.8 oz, non-hooded), and uses 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions, for a little more money. Of course, there are adorable kids versions as well! Patagonia’s quality, warranty, and customer service  are legendary, ensuring you’ll keep this jacket for a long, long time.


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Sierra Designs Elite DriDown Hoody Jacket – $250

Sierra Designs has made some great products lately. This jacket in particular gives a lot of performance for a low price. The 850-fill DriDown water resistant down fills this 12.5 oz jacket which is built to be worn on the trails as well as at camp, and will help keep you warm on unexpectedly cold nights under the quilt with its amply insulated hood. The shell is more water resistant than most competition, using both a DWR and Polyurethane coating to keep you from testing the water resistance of the down itself! Men’s and Women’s sizes come in a variety of colors.


Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash Jacket – $350

Western Mountaineering has been making some of the finest and lightest down products since forever. And they are legendary for their immaculate construction and their long term durability. This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years! Made in the USA.


Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash XR Jacket – $425

This is a warmer version (3.5 oz of down) of the Flash Jacket with a highly water-resistant shell. This jacket was my choice for a climbing trip to the Andes in Peru. I summited a couple of 20,000+ foot peaks in this jacket. And yes, that’s a steep price tag but it’s made in the USA.


Lightweight Down Pants and Down Booties


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Feathered Friends Helios Down Pants – $240

13 oz, 4.4 oz 850+ fill power down

These pants are the real deal. Made with Feathered Friends’ legendary high quality down, these pants offer 4.4 oz of fluffy down, and weigh in at 13 oz. These pants are great for backpacking, but are meant for even more serious high mountain endeavors and offer full-length zips so you can put them on and off over crampons… or, if you’re just too lazy to take off your boots.


Montbell Superior Down Pants – $145

8.4 oz, 1.9 oz 800+ fill power down

These are one of the best values in insulated pants on the market. They are warmer and more windproof than fleece pants. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.”


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Western Mountaineering Flash Pants – $250

6.5 oz, 2.0 oz 850+ fill power down

These are probably the lightest insulated pants on the market. Weighing only 6.5 oz, these are packed with 850-fill down and are built with Western Mountaineering’s standard-setting quality. Don’t get cold, and cranky in camp. Put on your Flash Pants and hang out – enjoy the outdoors, deep into the fourth season.


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Feathered Friends Down Booties – $99

9.3 oz, 4.0 oz 800+ fill power down

These booties are the industry standard. With waterproof removable shells, you can take these with you as camp shoes, then remove the shells keeping the warm down socks on to keep  your toes warm all night! These are a toasty-toe delight that will help keep you comfortable deeper into the shoulder seasons and make winter camping much more manageable!


By | 2017-06-11T01:08:31+00:00 November 23rd, 2016|Clothing, Recommended Gear, Uncategorized|12 Comments

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12 Comments

  1. Mike November 26, 2016 at 12:40 am - Reply

    These are great suggestions Alan. What do you use for hiking shoes or boots in winter/snow conditions?

    • Alan Dixon November 26, 2016 at 4:39 pm - Reply

      Most of our winter hiking is done in the Mid Atlantic and North East like NH. For hiking and snowshoeing, our MO is to use light hiking boots like Inov-8 GTX and keep moving to keep circulation going in our feet and therefore keep them warm. And then if we stop for more than a a bit it’s quickly into dry socks and down booties. When skiing we use fairly light ski boots (none or only moderate insulation) and use the same keep moving technique to keep our feet warm. And in milder conditions (only light snow on the trail) we might just use the same lightweight trail runners we use in the summer, only GTX versions with a gaiter. Hope this helps, -alan

  2. Mike November 26, 2016 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    This is very helpful. Would you also wear a water proof/resistant sock such as Gore-Tex? Your 9-lb gear list is a wonderful tool for 3 season hiking and backpacking. How about one for the 4th season?

  3. Alan Dixon November 30, 2016 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Mike, the WP GTX barrier is far more effective on the shell of the shoe vs. in a sock. As such, I don’t use GTX socks. And yes a 4-season list is a good idea. I have more than a few good ones of my own. But 4-season list is more technical, depends more on technique, and has higher risk. That makes it much harder to write up for a general audience with unknown winter backpacking skills. Best, -alan

    • Mike December 2, 2016 at 1:55 am - Reply

      Alan, good point on the difficulties of a 4-season list. I’m facing some of those difficulties now trying to transition from a 3-season backpacker to the 4th season. Instead of a single 4-season list how about some more “How to” posts related to 4-season specific skills? Such as sleep system (bag, tent, etc.) and campsite selection in the snow. For example I use a quilt, air mattress and a cuben fibre single wall tent. What if anything should I be concerned about in addressing temperature, condensation and other issues and what are the best gear choices and options? Your Gear Lists, How To posts, Gear reviews, Navigation and Camera posts are great and have been very helpful to me as I’ve gone from day hiking to multi-day backpacking trips (up to one week so far) over the last two years. Thanks and happy holidays!

  4. Matt Schroeder February 1, 2017 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    Alan – curious if you have any experience with the Eddie Bauer down stuff? When it’s on sale it’s cheaper than many options on the list. Might not be quite as light as many of the options you’ve listed, however.

    • Alan Dixon February 1, 2017 at 6:37 pm - Reply

      Matt there are a number of inexpensive light down options and EB may be one of them. You can use the calculation method in this article to see how the EB stuff does compared to lighter options. Also take a look at Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear. Some of the 32 Degree Stuff at Costo and Amazon is pretty durn nice and light for the price. Alison wears her $10 vest all the time. Best, -a

  5. murph0969 February 10, 2017 at 9:49 am - Reply

    Luke’s Ultralite makes some pretty fantastic stuff with a lot of custom options, including 900FP Hyper-dry down quantity, hood, full zip or half zip, stealth pockets or kangaroo pouch, even exterior material (7d Robic vs 10d Argon). My medium Robic 7 with hood, kangaroo pouch, and 4.6 oz of down jacket weighs 7.9 oz without the included stuff sack.

  6. John February 22, 2017 at 6:18 am - Reply

    I scored a Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody on a deep sale. But, upon inspection, I’m not sure what I’d use it for. Seems to be about as warm as a heavyweight fleece. Obviously much lighter and compressible. But for the money, I’m not seeing it as a game changer in my layering quiver. And, being here in the Pacific Northwest, and the down being so thin, feels like it it could lose loft quick in the inevitable dampness.

    Feels like I’d either want something warmer, or just go with fleece…

    How do you use yours?

    • Alan Dixon February 22, 2017 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      John, I think you’ll find that the jacket is warmer that it appears–weight of down is really the key factor to warmth. We use a light down jacket for cold rest stops, in camp morning and night, and to supplement our down quilt on very cold nights. But yes, for active movement and mild temperatures a light fleece shirt North Face TKA 100 Glacier 1/4-Zip is a wonderful supplementary piece of gear that goes on almost every trip. The combo of the two is almost perfect for most trips. Take a look at the clothing section my the clothing section on my “9 Pound Full Comfort Gear List.”

      Finally, if you use your jacket properly and with care it will keep you warm…
      “Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t do a good job of keeping me warm. New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve your odds.” All the best, -alan

  7. peter July 7, 2017 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Hi,

    would you still recommend down over synthetic as a mid layer, under a hard shell. If I sweat and that makes down wet, I can easily loose its performance(?) I purchased a down jacket, for lighter weight, moore comfort, but now am a bit confused, wether to exchange it, or not. Btw it is a North Face Trevail with 700 fill, which looks, feels good, but read a lot of bad reviews that it is leaking fethers like crazy. Have few more days to think about it, would appreciate your input. They say Thermoball syn. equals to 600 down fill.

    Big thanks

    • Alan Dixon July 7, 2017 at 3:28 pm - Reply

      Good Q Peter. I am in the field so a quick A. For me a down or synthetic puff jacket is not an active garment. As such, sweating out is not a concern. For more see my article on layering clothing http://www.adventurealan.com/top-mistakes-using-layering-system-stay-warmer-drier/ . So the real challenge to keeping it dry is wearing it at rest stops and in camp when it’s raining. With a bit of paying attention and using a rain shell it should not be difficult to keep it dry. Also see my article on UL backpacking technique http://www.adventurealan.com/why-you-wont-freeze-or-starve-ultralight-backpacking/ .

      As to the TNF jacket I haven’t used one so can’t comment on it’s performance vs. the jackets on this list that I do have familiarity with.

      Finally if you really aren’t confident keeping a down jacket dry when at rest you might want to get a good synthetic jacket to start off with. Then you can use it for a few years and see if you get it wet. Not the end of the world in terms of the extra weight and bulk. I will note that synthetic lose their loft much faster than down.

      Happy warm and dry trekking. Best -a

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