We’ve all been there. You’re standing in REI, wondering how to choose a down jacket.

As they say in Game of Thrones, winter is coming. Whether we like it or not, summer has flown by. For those of us in southern California, it’s a little hard to believe September is already winding down. But for the rest of you and those who like to go on outdoor adventures, you’re seriously thinking about investing in new cold weather gear. After all, it’s about that time of the year again. In this article, we’re going to run you through everything you need to know about how to choose a down jacket. Believe it or not, there are a lot of variables to consider.

What is a Down Jacket and How is it Different from a Regular One?

how to choose a down jacketLet's take a look at a down jacket vs a regular jacket. Down jackets can come with either natural feathers or synthetic ones for insulation purposes. Natural down is the insulating layer on fowl like ducks and geese. The down layer is found between their skin and the oily layer of outer feathers. This is what gives them their buoyancy and provides a protective waterproof membrane.

Clusters of down contain air pockets, providing what is known as ‘loft.’ The more air that can be trapped between you and the outside layer, the better you will be insulated from the elements. One of the best qualities of down is that it helps with your body’s natural heat retention. Plus, it’s super comfy and soft.

In addition, it is also resistant to the damage typically caused by compression. So, you can stuff your jacket in your bag again and again and you won’t have to worry about compromising your gear. Travelers, you should know that there are so many types of this outerwear on the market. That’s why we are here to help show you how to choose a down jacket.

Common Features of Down Jackets:

  • Down or synthetic down fill
  • Water resistant material
  • Synched hood
  • checkDrawstrings
  • checkElastic hem and sleeve cuffs
  • checkQuilted pattern

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Beginning Your Search:

If you need a starting place, then it will help you to begin by considering a couple of questions. When you’re wondering how to choose a down jacket, here are some questions to ask yourself. They will point you in the right direction. 

How much do you want to spend?

Knowing your budget will be key to finding how to choose a down jacket. Whether you are looking for an inexpensive jacket or are willing to spend a little more, knowing your budget will help narrow down your options. We suggest approaching this with a price limit in mind. That way, you will be able to knock off all the items that are out of your price range much faster and, subsequently, locate your perfect winter wear that much faster as well.

What Season Are You Traveling In?

Most of the jackets on our list are geared towards cold winter weather. We did not include extreme lightweight or bulky jacket on this list. Unless you're hiking in extreme weather conditions or an incredibly difficult trail, you won't need the extra weight. The best down jackets offer great insulation properties, are durable, and lightweight.

How Long Are You Traveling For?

Make sure you have a down jacket that is good quality. If you’re investing your money in this travel item, you want one that will hold up to the tests of time and the elements. Factor in how long you are traveling for and how you will keep your jacket clean while you’re on the go.

What Length Jacket Do You Want?

If you’re traveling somewhere very cold like Europe in say December (oddly specific, we know), consider investing in a long down jacket. Take it from people who have been there and done that. You’re going to appreciate having a long down coat that will cover your butt and a little bit of your legs too (Haven Outerwear has a great one). It gets so cold, we swear you wouldn’t mind looking like the Michelin tire baby if that’s what it takes to be warm. 

The Nitty Gritty on How to Choose a Down Jacket

how to choose a down jacket

Okay, now that you have a general idea of what you should be looking for, we’re going to dive on into the nitty-gritty. When it comes to how to choose a down jacket, there are several specific factors to consider. You’re going to want to decide whether to get synthetic or regular down, what fill power to get, decide on the length, whether you want a hood, and if you want hydrophobic (water resistant) down. Let’s go.

Synthetic or Regular Down?

This is the first thing to consider when you are it comes to how to choose a down jacket. For its weight, natural down is warmer and compresses better. However, when it gets wet, it will lose its loft (its insulation). Synthetic down is heavier than natural down. While it offers just about the same thickness and warmth, it does not compress as well when it comes to packing. However, even a wet synthetic down jacket will retain most of its insulating capabilities. So, even if your synthetic down jacket gets a little wet, you won’t be suffering in the cold.

Moving on to durability, natural down tends to last longer. What do we mean by this? Well, real feathers allow for more breathability. The average synthetic down jacket will lose its insulation factors over five to seven years. However, a natural down jacket will retain its properties up to an astounding ten to twenty years. That is if the wear and tear don’t get to it first.

This brings us to abrasion. Synthetic down jackets are much more durable in this sense of the word. If you get your jacket sleeve caught and snagged, the insulation feathers are not as likely to seep out with synthetic down. With natural down, on the other hand, the filling will leak out like the first-morning snow on Christmas day.

Fill Power

Fill power is one of the most important factors to consider when it comes to how to choose a down jacket. It’s also the most commonly misunderstood. You’ve probably seen those REI tags labeling a jacket as being having a fill power of 650, 700, 800, and so on. These numbers refer to the quality of the down used. This refers to the volume of the down – aka the number of cubic inches that it occupies. 

To put this in perspective, an ounce of down that is 800 count will take up 800 cubic inches when it is compressed. The higher the count, the warmer the jacket, since it has a higher loft. Higher fill power allows for better insulation and thus, more warmth. However, it is not always the defining factor when it comes to how to choose a down jacket. The quality of the down being used is very important.

Hydrophobic Down or Regular Down?

What is hydrophobic down? It has been treated with a DWR coating for water resistance. This is similar to what companies apply to raincoats to make them repel water. This process is done with the hope that the down will retain most of its insulation properties even if the jacket happens to get a little bit wet. Many companies have turned to what is called proprietary hydrophobic down to make a better jacket.

While this might sound great in theory, there is a catch. No one is sure as to exactly how long these water repelling factors last. After all, the DWR coating has to wear off some time. It’s just a treatment. But if you’re looking to go to London for a week and know it’s going to rain, this would be a good bet to invest in. However, we wouldn’t count on it to repel water in the long run – say months or years from the time of purchase.

Wrapping it Up: How to Choose a Down Jacket

We hope that our research has given you a little insight on how to choose a down jacket. As with most pieces of outdoor apparel, the process begins with identifying the elements you’ll be in and the weather you anticipate to face. Other important factors to consider include your budget and how long you are planning to travel for.

When it comes to how to choose a down jacket, work your way through these questions. It is also important to keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Generally speaking, the established brand names will offer the better quality. When it comes to travel gear, you want to make sure you invest in a quality product that is going to hold up. There are plenty of great, fashionable finds out there. While every jacket has its pros and cons, we know you are well on your way to finding your best fit. Happy travels!

Related Article: 11 Best Down Jackets For Women You Need For Your Next Trip