Down jackets provide, without doubt, the ultimate performance in lightweight warmth. Humans remain unable to devise a more efficient insulator for use in outdoor clothing than quality duck or goose down. It is not only warmer but also more compressible, so for demanding, weight-sensitive activities in cold conditions, a quality down jacket is often the ideal garment.
Here at Webtogs we’ve got a fantastic range of down jackets on offer, from top brands including The North Face, Rab and Mountain Equipment. From lightweight micro-baffle designs, to heavy-duty Himalayan protection, you’ll find it all in the Webtogs range. On this page is a guide to the features of down jackets and some tips on how you can tell one from another, including an explanation of the all-important ‘fill power’ rating system. Alternatively you can just follow the link at the bottom of the page to skip all that and head straight to the products!
Explaining Down Fill Ratings
The universal measure for rating down by performance is known as ‘fill power’. This is not the easiest measure to understand at first, but once you know how to interpret it, choosing a down jacket appropriate to your needs becomes a great deal easier!
Fill power is listed in the form of a number, often displayed on the sleeve of down jackets. The down jackets we sell at Webtogs for example, range in fill power from 550 to 900. That number represents the number of cubic centimetres that a single gram of down would fill at maximum loft (i.e. when fully expanded). High quality down takes up more space per gram of weight because its finer, more numerous filaments trap a greater amount of air than lesser quality down, and therefore insulate more effectively. In short, the higher the fill power in a down jacket, the warmer it will be for its weight. A term often used in reference to down jackets is therefore ‘warmth-to-weight ratio’. The higher the fill power of a down jacket, the higher its warmth-to-weight ratio will be.
Just to confuse matters, a higher fill power will not necessarily result in a warmer jacket: a high quantity of lower fill power down (e.g. 300grams of 550 fill down) would be just as warm, or warmer, than a smaller quantity of high fill power down (e.g. 150grams of 800 fill down). However, it would weigh a great deal more and be far less compressible, meaning that it will be too heavy, bulky and cumbersome to use for high intensity activities like climbing, skiing or hiking. It is in these highly active pursuits that high fill power comes into its own. High fill power down jackets give the wearer all the warmth they need, whilst giving them freedom of movement, little weight to carry, and the option of packing them down small in a backpack should conditions change.
If you’re looking for a down jacket to keep you warm around town or resort, lower fill-power down will do you just fine, as warmth-to-weight ratio will be less important than sheer warmth. For climbing, hiking or other active pursuits you’ll want the highest warmth-to-weight ratio possible, so go for a higher fill power. Higher fills are typically more expensive than low fills due to their rarity, as each duck or goose will only yield a small quantity of the finest down clusters. It’s well worth the investment though if you frequently engage in high-octane activities in winter conditions!
Down: Feather Ratio
The down to feather ratio is the amount of down clusters (the good stuff), compared to the amount of feathers (the rubbish). High quality down jackets should contain at least 80% down to 20% feather, or an 80:20 ratio, because down clusters trap more air than feathers and also weigh less, giving greater loft and higher performance. Most of our manufacturers actually use 90:10 down: feather ratio fills in their down jacket manufacture. These include The North Face, Rab and Mountain Equipment: so regardless of fill power, you know their down products are the real deal in terms of quality!
Down Jacket Features – Things to Consider
Down jackets are usually constructed in baffles; stitched compartments which improve the evenness of the spread of the down. Larger baffles can allow the down to bunch more, leaving you with colder and warmer patches, but are necessary in jackets with high quantities of down fill (i.e. for very cold climates). Micro-baffle designs are a recent phenomenon, containing lots of narrow baffles, which result in excellent down distribution in lightweight down jackets. This reduces the likelihood of a jacket developing cold-spots. It also gives a sleek profile, ideal for use in mid layer down wear, and for light, active outerwear.
Down jacket baffles are usually constructed in one of two ways: stitched-through, or box-walled. Stitched-through baffles are enclosed by a single seam of stitching, which goes through both layers of fabric enclosing the down and holds it in place. This is most commonly used on light and mid-weight jackets. Box-walled baffles have distinct fabric ‘walls’, resulting in a square cross-section. This means that baffles can hold a greater volume of fully lofted down, and results in an even layer of down throughout the jacket. This method of construction is normally used only on very warm down jacket designs, and virtually eliminates heat loss through baffle seams.
Another aspect of the construction to consider is the cut. Some down jackets have an active cut, meaning that they fit more closely, have a scooped rear to prevent them riding up too high when raising the arms, and sufficient sleeve length for climbing. These are also ideal for use as mid-layers, as they fit seamlessly under a waterproof jacket for all-weather protection.
Many other styles have a larger, boxier fit, in line with the classic ‘belay jacket’ style. These are more suitable for throwing on over the top of other layers when inactive, to retain as much body heat as possible at rest, and are normally warmer, bulkier styles.
Some down jackets feature a hood, and some don’t. There is no best option, as it depends on precisely what you want to use the jacket for, as well as personal preference. As most down jackets are not waterproof, a hood many not be necessary, or a hat may be preferable. For climbers or snowsports aficionados in helmets, there are helmet-compatible hoods on some mid and heavyweight designs, or under-helmet hoods on lightweight down jackets. Alternately, hoodless versions may be preferable! A visor helps to adjust the hood and retain usability in high winds. These can be wire-rimmed, again to aid adjustability.
Frontal zips are obviously a key area from which heat can be lost from the jacket. Overlapping panels can help prevent this, and these can be down-filled for maximum efficiency. For improved access and heat regulation when necessary, a two-way zip may also be useful.
Down jackets can feature both external and internal pockets. External pockets usually come in either ‘handwarmer’, or ‘napoleon’ styles. The purpose of the first is pretty obvious – to warm the hands, whereas both are useful for easily accessible storage. For down jackets designed for mountaineering in mind, pockets are usually located so as to be accessible whilst wearing a climbing harness. These will be referred to as harness-compatible, or high pockets.
Zipped or secure internal pockets are ideal for commuting and backpacking, whilst larger internal pouch pockets can be used to store water bottles (to prevent freezing) in extreme cold temperatures. A final pocket type is the stow pocket: this can be used as an inbuilt stuff sack into which the down jacket can be compressed to reduce space in the backpack.
The outer shells of down jackets are generally water-resistant thanks to the application of a Durable Water Repellent Finish (DWR), and highly windproof. However, the degree to which depends on the type of fabric used. Common choices amongst manufacturers are the Pertex brand fabrics, including Quantum, Microlight and Endurance. They have varying properties, but all offer high tensile strength, light weight, and excellent wind-resistance. Importantly, Pertex and similar synthetic fabrics offer excellent resistance to down and fine feathers, keeping them from escaping their baffles through the fabric.
In addition to abrasion-resistant fabric choices, many down jacket designs feature reinforced panels on the outer shell of the jacket, to help resist wear and tear; particularly important on the shoulders and/or waist if a rucksack will be carried for extensive periods.
Hems and Draw Chords
Adjustable hems are a useful feature, as they allow the wearer to regulate the temperature more easily. Velcro, draw cords and/or elasticized cuffs feature on most jackets. A lined collar is a really nice feature if the jacket will be worn for prolonged periods or expeditions, and is invaluable for men with facial hair that would otherwise catch painfully in the zip!
After all that reading, you’re probably eager to look at some down jackets for yourself!