the best lightweight down jacket for hiking and backpacking

Lightweight Down Jacket Comparison Table

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Down Jackets Price ($) Weight (oz) Fill Power (in³/oz) Fill Weight (oz) Down Vol (in3) Down Vol/oz
Zpacks Goose Down 375 6.8  950  3.4 3230 475
Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak 329 7.6 900 3.0 2700 355
Mtn Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL 420 6.7  1000   2.3 2300 343
Feathered Freinds Eos 409 10.8  900   4.0 3600 333
Katabatic Gear Tarn 269 9.3 850 3.6 3060 329
Mtn Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 360 8.8  800  3.0 2400 273
REI Magma 850 Down Hoodie 249 12.3  850  3.5 2975 241
Decathalon Forclaz Mt100 100 10.5  800  3.1 2480 236
REI 650 Down 129 10.9  650  3.2 2080 189

When a garment’s down fill weight was not provided on its product detail page, the information was sourced by contacting the brand’s customer service team.

Best Ultralight Down Jacket

Zpacks Goose Down Jacket

Currently uncontested in a landslide warmth-to-weight sweep of the competition, Zpacks Goose Down Jacket (shop now) is simply much warmer and much lighter than virtually every other sweater weight down insulator. And it’s not even close. Read more in our full length Zpacks Goose Down Jacket Review.

  • Price: $375
  • Weight: 6.8 oz
  • Fabric: 7D Ventum Ripstop Nylon
  • Fill Power: 950 | Fill Weight: 3.4 oz
  • Percent Down Weight: 50%
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 3230 in3
  • Down Volume/Jacket Weight: 475 in3/oz
  • Pros: Ultralight. Highest warmth-to-weight ratio. High total warmth.
  • Cons: Fabric is slightly delicate.

Construction & Features

Measuring the unisex size medium, Zpacks Goose Down weighs 6.8 oz, and is filled with 3.4 oz of 950 fill power hydrophobic (you guessed it) goose down, RDS-certified. That means 50% of this garment’s entire weight is from down plumes, a ratio that is simply unequaled!

Zpacks has designed this ultralight down jacket with a basic feature set, including hood/hem adjustability, chest pocket which converts to stuff sack pillow, and non-zippered hand pockets, which are comfier, lighter, and more user friendly than the zipper alternative..

We find the Ventum ripstop nylon to perform excellently, and just as well as it does in their line of quilts and sleeping bags. It’s DWR treated, tough as 7D fabrics go, and plenty breathable. That said, 7D fabrics are ultralight and should be treated with care. This is not an ideal jacket for those who are prone to frequently damaging their gear.

Verdict

It’s hard to put into words how impressed we are by the 6.8 oz Zpacks Goose Down jacket, and how much better it is than every other down jacket currently being sold. This is the obvious best ultralight down jacket.

Best Ultralight Down Jacket

Katabatic Gear Tarn Down Jacket

Katabatic Gear Tarn Ultralight Down Jacket

The Katabatic Gear Tarn Ultralight Down Jacket is a steal of a deal for $269. We haven’t kept stats on value-to-warmth-t0-weight ratio, but this would likely come out on top.

  • Price: $269
  • Weight: 9.3 oz
  • Fabric: 10D Pertex Quantum Ripstop Nylon
  • Fill Power: 850 | Fill Weight: 3.6 oz
  • Percent Down Weight: 39%
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 3060 in3
  • Down Volume/Jacket Weight: 329 in3/oz
  • Pros: Ultralight. Warm. Affordable.
  • Cons: Trim fit, sizing up is common.

Construction & Features

The Tarn is quite generously filled with 3.6 oz of 850 fill power hydrophobic down in a men’s medium, earning it an award for third warmest in our guide.

Its shell is made with 10d Pertex Quantum Ripstop nylon, the gold standard for lightweight down jackets. A perfect blend of ultralight weight and respectable durability.

Tarn has all of the right features, including two zippered hand pockets, a toothed (not coiled) zipper, bluesign approval/recycled materials, elasticized cuffs, and a chin guard. The only potential missing piece is a chest pocket, but that one’s completely optional.

Verdict

Katabatic’s Tarn is just an exceptional value proposition. At 9.3 oz, it may not be elite level ultralight gear, but it’s still a top-tier performer for a mid-tier price.

Top Pick Ultralight Down Jacket

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Jacket

Building on the success of the Ghost Whisperer legacy, the Ghost Whisperer UL Jacket is 25% lighter than the original, thanks to 1,000 fill power down and 5D nylon ripstop face fabric. And at $420, it’s also $60 more expensive than the base model, but that seems like a reasonable ask for a fairly significant uptick in performance.

  • Price: $420
  • Weight: 6.7 oz
  • Fabric: 5D Ripstop Nylon
  • Fill Power: 1000  | Insulation Weight: 2.3 oz
  • Percent Down Weight: 34%
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 2300 in3
  • Insulation Volume/Jacket Weight: 343 in3/oz
  • Pros: Ultralight. 1000 fill power. Good warmth-to-weight.
  • Cons: Delicate. Less warm than average down sweater.

Construction & Features

For starters, Ghost Whisper UL is pretty dang minimalist. 5D fabric is the thinnest we’ve ever seen in an ultralight down jacket, and we’ve used a lot of ultralight jackets. Treat it well and it will last, but this is not the kind of garment that takes abuse and we don’t recommend it to people who are prone to damaging their gear.

Features are minimal. It has an adjustable hem and hand pockets. The hood and cuffs have elastic, but cannot be manually cinched down.

This is the only jacket in our guide to use 1000 fill power down, and those plumes comprise 33% of the garment’s total weight which is on point, though there are only 2.3 oz of the stuff. As such, Ghost Whisperer UL delivers a pretty solid warmth-to-weight ratio, though it’s slightly underfilled and lacking total warmth. This is one of the least insulative jackets in our guide, and recommended for 2-season use – late spring through early fall.

Verdict

All said and done, we’re glad to see Hardwear innovating, as the standard issue Ghost Whisperer has begun to lag behind the competition in terms of performance. And while it doesn’t perform as well as our top pick, Ghost Whisperer UL is actually a pretty solid ultralight down jacket, and we’re pleased to include it in our guide.

Top Pick Ultralight Down Jacket

Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak

Prior to the advent of Zpacks Goose Down Jacket, which is both warmer and lighter, the Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak was our go-to ultralight down jacket for most three season trips. And while it’s no longer the best of the best, it’s still an incredible lightweight insulator, and a strong second place contender that we have had years of positive experience with.

  • Price: $329
  • Weight: 7.6 oz
  • Fabric: 7D Ripstop Nylon
  • Fill Power: 900  | Fill Weight: 3.0 oz
  • Percent Down Weight: 39%
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 2700
  • Down Volume/Jacket Weight: 355 in3/oz

Construction & Features

For starters, we love the anorak pullover chassis with kangaroo pocket, the best build for keeping your hands warm. At 7.6 oz, it’s very ultralight. 39% of the total mass is plumage, which makes for an exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio.

The central kangaroo pocket is its only storage, but it’s big and all you need. It has an adjustable hood, and hem. The rectangular baffles do a great job of keeping down in place.

On downside is that its not currently available in a women’s version, and a men’s anorak might not work for everyone. This is a big oversight and we hope they launch a women’s specific cut.

Verdict

With the statistically superior Zpacks Goose Down knocking it out of the top slot, it’s tougher to recommend the Ex Light Anorak now than it was. But it’s still a top tier ultralight down jacket, and worth considering if you love a pullover.

Most Popular Ultralight Down Jacket

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Down Jacket

No lightweight down jacket guide is complete without mentioning the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Jacket, now in its second edition made with 100% recycled fabric. This style has been, and remains, the most widely distributed lightweight down jacket on the market for the past decade, and for good reason.

  • Price: $360
  • Weight: 8.8 oz
  • Fabric: 10D Pertex Quantum Ripstop Nylon
  • Fill Power: 800 | Fill Weight: 3.0 oz
  • Percent Down Weight: 34%
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 2400
  • Down Volume/Jacket Weight: 273 in3/oz
  • Pros: Ultralight. Widely available.
  • Cons: Less warm than average 3 season down jacket.

Construction & Features

Compared to 99% of other down sweater weight jackets from mainstream outdoor brands, Ghost Whisperer 2 is lighter weight, and has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio. It’s the “easy-choice” when recommending an lightweight down jacket, and we understand why it’s so popular among other online gear reviewers. However, on our list, when compared to other top ultralight models, one quickly realizes that while it’s still good, it’s no longer best-in-class.

RDS 800 fill power down was once premium, but now is mid-tier. Nonetheless, it is filled with 3 ounces of down, which hits the sweet spot of ⅓ down fill weight.

As features go, Ghost Whisperer has hand pockets, an adjustable hood/hem, but no chest pocket. We like that the last baffle at the cuff and hem are synthetic instead of down, as those areas tend to take the most abuse and get wet first.

Verdict

Ghost Whisperer might have slid down into the 98th percentile, but it is still an excellent lightweight down jacket, and well-worthy of donning on your next backpacking trip.

Best Lightweight Down Jacket

Feather Friends Eos Down Jacket

Seattle-based Feathered Friends always flies a bit under the radar, but their Eos Down Jacket deserves attention and consideration as a warmer-than-average lightweight down jacket.

  • Price: $409
  • Weight: 10.8 oz
  • Fabric: 12D Ripstop Nylon
  • Fill Power: 900 | Fill Weight: 4.0 oz
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 3600 in3
  • Percent Down Weight: 37%
  • Down Volume/Jacket Weight: 333 in3/oz
  • Pros: Warmest down jacket in weight class.
  • Cons: Not ultralight. Expensive.

Construction & Features

With 4.0 ounces of 900 fill power down, it is the warmest sweater-weight insulative jacket in our guide, and 37% of its mass is down. It looks like most other down sweaters, but it’s noticeably warmer when you have it on.

At 10.8 oz, it’s a bit on the heavy side for ultralight tastes, but we’re willing to forgive that because of how cozy it is. We envision this to be the perfect down jacket to use during the warmer half of shoulder season, whereas its even warming sibling, the Helios, is preferable for the colder half of shoulder season and into winter.

As features go, Eos has two zippered hand pockets, and one zippered chest pocket, as well as an adjustable hood and hem. Nothing fancy, but we prefer minimalism anyway.

Verdict

If you run cold or just want a seriously high quality, warmer-than-average lightweight down jacket, then Eos is a safe bet. We’re not surprised to see that 85% of the reviews on the Feathered Friends website gave it 5 stars.

Best Value Down Jacket For Hiking

REI Magma 850 Down Hoodie

The REI Magma 850 Down Hoodie (shop now) exemplifies the notion of premium-basics-done-well. This is a durable workhorse down jacket with good quality, ethically sourced materials for a fair price. Similar models from most mainstream outdoor brands cost $50-100 more. Our hands-on testing indicates that Magma is a bit warmer than average.

  • Price: $249
  • Weight: 12.3 oz
  • Fabric: Recycled Ripstop Nylon (20D estimate)
  • Fill Power: 850| Fill Weight: unlisted, (3.5 oz estimate)
  • Percent Down Weight: 28%
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 2975 in3
  • Down Volume/Jacket Weight: 241 in3/oz
  • Pros: Warm. Lightweight. Full set of pockets. Good value. Adjustable hood. Durable. Sustainable.
  • Cons: Not ultralight. Fill weight not disclosed. Fabric is unnecessarily heavy. Some use of diagonal baffles.

Read more in full length REI Magma 850 Down Hoodie Review.

Construction & Features

The chassis of the REI Magma 850 Down Hoodie is nearly as ordinary as it gets. But that’s okay because the recipe works well; don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Magma is built with mostly horizontal baffles with a flair that transition to diagonal on the upper front chest. This may cause a titch of down drift, but could be a favorable tradeoff for the pleasing aesthetic. The fit is loose and boxy, as it meant to be layered over top of a shirt and a fleece.

Addressing its features, two large hand pockets and one large napoleon chest pocket offer more than adequate storage. Whatever you store in your jacket pockets, these are likely going to be more than large enough. An adjustable shock cord hood and hem are present to seal out wind and lock the hood in to prevent it from blowing off.

We applaud REI for their materials selection. The entire garment is fair trade certified and its face fabric is made from 100% bluesign approved recycled ripstop nylon. If we have one complaint, it’s only that they picked fabric which is a bit overkill in terms of durability (AKA a bit too heavy) for general hiking and backpacking purposes).

The Co-op has stuffed Magma’s baffles with the namesake 850 fill power down. The baffles feel nice and plump, and donning this jacket gives you a warmer than average feel. REI has not provided the fill weight, but we estimate to be around 3.5 based on the size of the baffles and the warmth, which is a bit better than average. In terms of fill quality, 850 fill power down is good-not-great and as much as we’d expect or more in a jacket costing only $250. But we’re very glad to see REI gave it a DWR treatment for light duty dampness resistance.

Verdict

The REI Magma 850 Down Hoodie is more than we deserve in $250 down jacket. It punches above its weight class in terms of materials quality and warmth-to-weight ratio. In this case, the co-op focused on perfecting a basic instead of mad science innovation, and we think it paid dividends. This is a really nice lightweight down jacket overall, warmer than average, and offers lots of bang for your buck. Pick up the Magma 850 and you won’t be disappointed.

Best Budget Lightweight Down Jacket

Decathalon Forclaz MT100 Down Puffer

The Decathalon Forclaz Mt100 Down Puffer is unquestionably the best way to spend $100 on an insulated jacket for hiking. This puffy offers a lightweight package, quality materials, and minimalist design without any major flaws or drawbacks. It may not be the most technologically advanced, but it bats well above its price point in terms of performance, and value shoppers will be over the moon. Shop now.

  • Price: $100
  • Weight: 10.5 oz
  • Fabric: 15D 100% polyamide
  • Fill Power: 800| Fill Weight: 3.1 oz
  • Percent Down Weight: 30%
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 2480 in3
  • Down Volume/Jacket Weight: 236 in3/oz
  • Pros: Unequaled best-in-class value. Affordable. Lightweight. Warm.
  • Cons: Runs small. Not ultralight. Front zipper snags more frequently than usual. Fabric isn’t ripstop.

Construction & Features

Starting with the materials, we were surprised and impressed with the use of 800 fill power down (even if its duck down, not goose down). 800 fill is usually found in jackets costing at least twice this much. And we get 3.1 oz of fill weight for a men’s size large, which is fairly standard for a 3-season puffy costing 2-3x.

Forclaz’s shell is a lightweight 15D polyamide (nylon is a subcategory of polyamide), with a 15d polyester lining. Only downside here is that it is not a ripstop material Features-wise, Decathlon Forclaz MT100 has a cinchable hem and two large zippered hand pockets, the left of which inverts to become the jacket’s own stuff sack. There’s no chest pocket or hood adjuster.

A few more notable points – The front zipper has a storm flap that occasionally snags, but never in a way that harms the jacket, or causes serious jamming. It has elastic cuff closures, with an overhanging baffle. This is generally advantageous as it provides extra warmth to the wrist. However, it slightly decreases dexterity, and will occasionally get in harms way (like while eating a freeze dried meal).

Verdict

We love value, and the Decathalon Forclaz Mt100 Down Puffer is simply unmatched at the $100 price point. This is a legitimately lightweight, warm, effective 3-season puffy jacket without any major flaws, drawbacks, or issues. Forclaz is a huge win for value shoppers, and we applaud Decathalon for helping to make quality hiking gear more affordable.

Best Budget Lightweight Down Jacket At REI

REI 650 Down Jacket

We love to include budget friendly gear in our guides, and the REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket was a no-brainer choice. $129 is just such an incredibly excellent and unbeatable value for a lightweight down jacket that performs surprisingly well.

  • Price: $129
  • Weight: 10.9 oz
  • Fabric: Recycled Ripstop Nylon
  • Fill Power: 650 | Fill Weight: 3.2 oz
  • Percent Down Weight: 29%
  • Uncompressed Down Volume: 2080
  • Down Volume/Jacket Weight: 189 in3/oz
  • Pros: Lightweight. Very affordable. Good value. Sustainable.
  • Cons: Hoodless. Less warm than average sweater weight jacket.

Construction & Features

You do get what you pay for. While it’s still lighter than most down  jackets in the $300 range, it’s the heaviest sweater weight down jacket on this list and it doesn’t even have a hood. It’s also the least warm down jacket we recommend, and has the lowest warmth-to-weight ratio.

There’s nothing fancy going on with the materials (they don’t even bother giving a denier stat), but this warm jacket is kind on the planet. The 650 fill power RDS down is certified responsible and the fabric is 100% recycled and bluesign approved. It gets a DWR treatment to shed light precip. More than you one could have reasonably hoped for in a sub $150 lightweight down jacket.

There’s no chest pocket. A hooded version is also available, but kicks the price up $20 and becomes a bit less of a bargain.

Verdict

The REI Co-op 650 is a lot of warth for a bit over one hundred bucks. This is really really really good value for a lightweight down jacket, and well worth considering if you’d like to save some dollars.

Best Custom Ultralight Down Jacket

ultralight down jacket goosefeet purple

GooseFeet Gear Custom Down Jacket

Every jacket in our guide is a stock model and a high performer when it comes to warmth-to-weight ratio. But a custom jacket can be created with an even higher warmth to ratio if you demand the best ultralight gear conceivable.

While Goosefeet will add as much down into whatever chassis you like, our preferred build is a pullover, weighing 9 oz in total, and loaded with 5.5 oz of 950 fill power down insulation, the GooseFeet Gear Custom Down Jacket is an unbelievable 61% down in total mass.

That’s almost twice as warm as the average down sweater, and superior even to the Zpacks Goose Down Jacket.

However, this is a very expensive, niche garment with a multi-month lead-time between purchase and delivery, as each one is custom made to order. The cost and logistical challenges are why it’s not included as part of the primary jacket assortment.

Pro Tips & Backpacking Down Jacket Buyer Information

Understanding total warmth, and warmth-to-weight using down volume

When comparing down jackets, warmth-to-weight and total weight are the best indicators of performance. An insulative jacket’s primary job is to (1) keep you warm, and (2), not weigh down your pack. Thus the warmth-to-weight ratio is king.

To understand a jacket’s total warmth and warmth-to-weight ratio, you should begin by knowing its total volume of uncompressed down. This can be found by multiplying the fill weight (measured in oz) times the fill power (measured in cubic inches). Our top pick, the Zpacks Goose Down Jacket has 3230 cubic inches of uncompressed down stuffed into its baffles.

Another jacket, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, has only 2400 cubic inches of down crammed inside its baffles. So we know that the Zpacks jacket has about 33% more down and thus is approximately 33% warmer.

We can take that a step further to calculate an approximation of warmth-to-weight by dividing total cubic inches of uncompressed down by the total weight of the garment.

This statistic correlates very closely with warmth-to-weight, but does not give an actual warmth-to-weight since we are not measuring thermal barrier efficiency nor how insulative properties of the fabric factors in. But roughly speaking, the higher the uncompressed down volume per ounce of garment weight, the better the warmth-to-weight ratio should be in theory.

Comparing Zpacks to Ghost Whisperer again, we see that Zpacks has 475 cubic inches of down per ounce of jacket weight, where as Ghost Whisperer only has 274 cubic inches per ounce of jacket weight. Thus we can infer that the Zpacks jacket delivers a whopping 73% higher warmth-to-weight ratio. 

Focus on down insulation over fleece and base layers

For hiking and backpacking in cold weather, down is the most weight-efficient insulator you can carry into the backcountry. As such, we prefer to maximize our use of down and minimize our use of fleece and merino wool (or similar) base layers. A merino base layer and fleece top will weigh almost twice as much an an ultralight down jacket.

For best results in cold weather camping, it’s critical that you have head-to-toe insulated-wear, including a hooded jacket, pants, and booties. Since down does 80% of the insulating, we aren’t very particular about fancy winter base layers or fleece. Even summer-weight base and mid-layers will do the job, so long as you have a good lightweight down jacket.

hiker in down jacket watches sunset

Lightweight down jacket insulation vs moisture

Experienced backpackers basically never allow their down to get soaked. Over the past ten years, we’ve spent hundreds of nights in the backcountry and toughed out some really gnarly weather. Not once has our down apparel or sleeping bag gotten soaked. It has occasionally gotten damp, but it’s a myth that down does not insulate when lightly or moderately wet, or that it’s constantly getting soaked on every hiking trip.

What’s more, basically every down garment now uses hydrophobic plumes which have been coated in DWR to ensure that they don’t clump up or de-loft in wet conditions. In short, we think manufacturers are trying to instill a fear of moisture to help sell their synthetic insulation layers.

While synthetics do perform slightly better than down when wet, it is better to focus on keeping the entire system dry than worrying about what happens if it does get wet. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What’s more, synthetics are definitely no joy to wear when wet either.

Stretchy down jackets and hyper breathable synthetic insulation are overrated

Many brands are now manufacturing insulation layers with stretch and ultra breathable synthetic insulation. While that’s great for mountaineering and specific trips with unusually challenging day-time weather, we feel that those supposed benefits matter very little for the typical backpacker. And in fact they come with a severe cost. Stretchy and super breathable insulation is typically heavier, more expensive, and less warm.

Over the course of an average backpacking season, the typical down jacket will spend about 99% of its time either in your backpack, or worn at camp. Since it’s basically never worn while actually hiking, stretch and breathability are hardly beneficial at all.

What’s more, the nylon fabrics commonly used in down jackets are rather slippery, which means they will move with you, thus mitigating some of the need for stretch. Hyper breathable synthetic insulation layers forfeit some of their warmth-to-weight to allow warm moist air to escape. That’s great when you’re on the go, but like we said, down jackets are mostly not worn on the go in nearly all backpacking scenarios.

Why we prefer a hooded lightweight down jacket

Given our druthers, we will always choose a lightweight down jacket with a hood over one without. This is because we prefer to camp with ultralight hoodless quilts, rather than traditional sleeping bags, and our down jacket hood adds redundancy to the system when additional head insulation is required. 

testing the enlightened equipment torrid jacket in the desert

Conclusion

A lightweight down jacket is a backpacker’s singular best tool for staying warm outside of the tent. Warmth-to-weight ratio is the best way to compare down jackets, and upgrading to an ultralight down jacket is one of the best ways to reduce weight, bulk, and increase comfort. Deck yourself out in down, you won’t regret it. Happy camping!