These are the best down vests to wear hiking or outdoors. When the heat begins to dissipate, the air becomes crisp, and you find yourself in that perfect middle ground weather, you know it’s down vest season. Every spring and fall, we love to pull out a comfy vest for either technical or casual occasions.
This great mid-layer piece of clothing gives you the core warmth needed on a brisk morning without overpowering you with heat when the sun starts to shine. Down vests are stylish, practical, and versatile, with the ability to go from the city streets to the country trails. Furthermore, when it comes to travel or time outdoors down vests pack down small of less room in your bag. Oh, and they’re cheaper than buying a down jacket if you aren’t going to brave cold temperatures.
If you are looking to add a down vest to your wardrobe or backpacking list, here are a few great options to look at, along with a few things to consider before you buy.
Patagonia makes our favorite packable down jacket, so it’s no wonder they make one of the best down vests. The down vest uses 800 fill down and their new recycled polyester for the shell. The result is a down vest that will keep you warm and do a decent job at fighting moisture. We also find Patagonia’s nylon material to be extraordinarily comfortable without that obnoxious crinkly/swishy sounds cheaper down items make.
With its wide range of colors and appealing brand name, the down vest feels at home in the mountains, the beach, or in the city streets. The only drawback to the garment is a high price tag that comes with Patagonia vests. It’s also not the warmest down vest on this list, but by doing so, it remains slim fit and attractive.
This vest is a close second for the best down vest; even if it is not technically a down vest. United By Blue is a company that has pledged to remove a pound of plastic from the ocean for every item sold. Given the popularity of saving our oceans, their product line continues to grow, and the Bison Puffer Vest is one of our favorite additions. Instead of trying to find “ethical down,” they sought out different natural products and landed on bison hair.
Bison hair is considered a waste product by the ranching industry, and it has excellent natural properties such as water resistance and warmth, bison do live in pretty harsh places. It also uses recycled polyester and features a two-layer shell fabric for exterior waterproofing. The vest is extraordinarily comfortable, and it’s the most stylish one on this list with a rugged retro look.
The REI Co-op down vest is perfect in its simplicity. With a down fill of 650, it’s warm enough for crisp temperatures and frosty mornings. This down vest doesn’t bombard you with fancy features or hefty price tags.
It’s stylish without being overbearing, and has all the essentials that make a good down vest, such as hand warming pockets and soft-to-the-touch nylon shell fabric. While it may not be perfect for extreme outdoor sports, it has everything you need for simple trail hiking or tooling around town in the spring or fall months.
The Northface 1996 Retro Nuptse is a throwback to the original outdoorsman’s down vest. It is large and puffy with bigger baffles, quality 700-fill down, and zippered handwarmer pockets – all of which make it perfect for any outdoor activity you choose to do.
The shell fabric is made from durable ripstop nylon, which will prevent harsh winds seeping through, as well as protecting against rips and tears with everyday use. Overall, this is a reliable and stylish down vest that will keep you warm on the slopes of Aspen or looking fashionable on the streets of Toronto.
If you’re looking for a down vest at the highest end of the market, look no further than the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Vest. This down vest screams quality with its 850-fill goose down, Coreloft synthetic insulation (to prevent dampness in sweat prone areas), and ridiculously soft shell fabric and internal lining.
This vest also includes a chin box collar that prevents cold winds from hitting the back of your neck, along with a durable, water-repellent finish that will keep you and the down filling dry in light rain and dew. While other vests may have more features, none can compare to the quality of the Arc’teryx Cerium. It’s the best down vest on this list, but like most Arc’teryx products they come at a premium hence it taking the number six spot.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer was one of the first of its kind to perfectly deliver a warmth-to-weight ratio that many have mimicked since. This ultralight down vest weighs in at approximately five ounces and compresses into its own pocket for maximum portability and space reservation.
While the shell fabric is fairly thin, they did not skimp on overall quality. The 800-fill down features Q.Shield technology that resists moisture and maintains loft. It also features a toggled hem which blocks out drafts, as well as a quilt pattern with heat-trapping channels. With the immense amount of quality and features supplied by this down vest, it’s easy to see why it is a crowd favorite among backpackers and hikers.
If warmth is more important to you than weight, you may want to think about the Feathered Friends Helios Vest. This hardcore down vest feature 4.8 ounces of 850-fill down, Lycra armholes and hem, as well as an insulated draft tube behind the zipper. This means that frigid air has no chance of making it through this beast of a vest.
While it may not be best for climates with a light chill, it is perfect for the extreme cold when you still want the mobility of a vest over a jacket. It is slightly heavier than most down vests, weighing in at approximately 11 ounces, but when arctic weather hits, you will be more than pleased with your investment, and willing to carry the few extra ounces!
The Montbell Plasma 1000 is one of the most popular vests in the climbing community. Why? Because this vest weighs in at only 3.1 ounces; that’s less than a standard deck of cards! However, just because it is extremely lightweight doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice on warmth.
This vest comes with 1000-fill down, which is the highest fill you can currently get. It’s important to note that the weight sacrifices had to come from somewhere, so the shell fabric is not as durable as most, with only a 7d rating.
It would be a shame to talk about down vests without mentioning at least one that is made from goose down feathers. While duck down is more abundant in the marketplace, goose down has an inherent advantage; the feathers are larger, which gives them more lift and the ability to trap and redistribute more air.
This gives goose down vests a much higher loft than those made of duck down. The Kuhl Spyfire is one of the leaders when it comes to backing goose down vests. You can expect the same standard bells and whistles, such as DWR-treated outer fabric, elastic armholes, and zippered hand and chest pockets, with the added warmth of the 800-fill goose down internal stuffing.
If you are traveling to areas with high moisture and are set on bringing along a down vest, the Outdoor Research Ascendant is probably one of your best options. The blended ripstop nylon and polyester outer shell allow for water to naturally bead off, protecting the fragile down inside. We’ve used Outdoor Research Products extensively in wet mountains and have never been let down. One of my go-to items for exposure is the Ascendant Hoodie that is a mountaineering staple.
The vest may not be your traditional down, but if you’re seeking a lightweight piece. It may not be down, but its lightweight nature, versatility, and water repellant abilities are fantastic. The Polartec lining also does an exceptional job at retaining body heat, and it’s super comfy. This awesome down vest is a mid layer for any season, including cold summer nights. It’s great for when you’re active in cool temperatures.
Another great intermediate down vest is the Amazon Essentials Vest. This fantastic little vest is also simplistic in design, with puffy nylon. For optimal portability, it packs into its own front pocket and can be tucked away in your backpack. It is designed well enough that it never looks cheap, and the nylon external shell fabric will protect it against rips, tears, and abrasions.
It has a quilted pattern to maximize heat distribution and is categorized as medium weight in the realm of ounce-counters. All in all, it’s a cheap “down” vest for those that don’t need extreme protection from the elements or don’t want to spend much. I suggest you spend the extra $40 and get the REI Down Vest for a much higher value. REI is a well-run company with excellent company standards and a goal to be climate neutral in the next year, Amazon isn’t even in the same realm.
Eddie Bauer is a popular clothing manufacturer well-known in the industry for the comfort and style of its pieces. Naturally, this has carried over to their down vest. However, outside of these considerable attributes, they have also added a few key features to set them apart from the pack.
The audio port in the internal chest pocket is a big one. It’s the perfect spot to house and protect your music player whether you are climbing, hiking, or heading to the grocery store. It also comes with many of the sought-after features of a down vest, such as a durable polyester shell, a DWR (durable water-resistant) finish, and 800-fill insulation with a universal fit. Honestly, what more do you really need out of a down vest?
The down fill power refers to the measure of loft in a down product. This can be broken down, with the fill number representing the number of cubic inches one ounce of down occupies. The higher the fill number, the less down is needed for the same warmth index. In the same stroke, the higher the fill number, the warmer you’ll be.
You will likely see down vests’ fill range from 600-900. Anything below 600 is generally too little for the intended purposes, and anything above 850-900 is a bit of an overkill. That doesn’t mean that a 600-fill vest is automatically less warm than an 800-fill; rather, that it takes more down to achieve the same warmth, making it much heavier.
The shell fabrics of a down vest simply refer to the external fabric that protects the internal down. This is so important because if you have a shell fabric that doesn’t protect against moisture or rips, it won’t be long before your down vest is rendered useless. Standard go-to shell fabric is ripstop nylon with a waterproof treatment. This fabric is lightweight, fairly durable, and extremely easy to find. The added waterproof treatment adds another layer of protection to prevent your down from losing its loft – and therefore its heat-trapping abilities in a moisture-rich environment.
Whether you’re stuffing your down vest into your suitcase or adding it to your backpacking gear list, portability/compressibility is vital. When traveling overseas, you don’t want a bulky down vest taking up half your carry-on. Similarly, if you are backpacking, you don’t want something that takes up the tiny bit of valuable space you have left. A down vest with maximum portability will be one that compresses down into its own pocket to the size of a softball. This will give you the maximum amount of space possible while keeping the vest out of your way until needed.
These days, all outdoor garments come with an immense amount of features that can seem overwhelming and frankly, sometimes just plain unnecessary. So, let’s boil it down and look at some of the essential features that you should be considering when buying a down vest.
These may seem like they should come standard issue on a down vest, but you would be surprised how many don’t include them. The best down vests not only have pockets at the hip to help warm your hands when you are just not ready to bust out the gloves, but also at the chest to carry additional items like your phone, keys, wallet, or GPS. They can also serve as a compression sack – as we discussed previously.
This may seem unnecessary until a stiff breeze hits you and that air creeps in through these points of weakness. The whole purpose of a down vest is to keep your core nice and toasty, which it can’t do if cold air can enter and heat has a chance to escape. The waistband does not have to be elastic, however. Some other options you may see are a drawstring or toggled hem, which are just as useful.
All this means is that synthetic insulation is strategically placed throughout the vest in the areas that are prone to being exposed to moisture, such as the armpits and the back of the neck. This prevents the down from getting wet and losing loft, keeping you dry and warm when you are enjoying the great outdoors.
Water is the Achilles’ heel of any down vest. That’s because once the feathers become saturated, they lose their loft, and therefore the heat-trapping capabilities. Also, once wet, down never fully gets back to its original capabilities. That’s why some form of water-resistant treatment is necessary on all down vests. The Durable Water Repellant treatment (or DWR) is among the most common used.
It’s rare that you’ll find a down vest without a baffled or quilted sewing pattern, but if you do, stay away from it. The baffled design creates heat channels to further capture and distribute the warmth over the entirety of the vest. Outside of this, the baffles also prevent you from losing all your down if one section of the vest become ripped. Imagine trying to gather a million dandelion puffs and stuff them back into your vest; that’s what it would be like without the baffled design.