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Want to get out over the autumn and winter but missing the all important down jacket? Steph digs into what to look for and her favourite products for 2021.
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Steph C

For great warmth without weight, you just can’t beat a down jacket. Scrunch them up, squash them into the bottom of your pack, generally throw a little abuse at them and they’re still there for you, just like a good friend, keeping you warm and dry.

A decent down jacket is an essential piece of kit for anyone who loves getting outside and active in summer and winter. But with so much choice out there, how do you choose which is the best fit for you? Choose well and your investment will last you for years. Luckily we’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to. Read on and we’ll help you choose one of the best women’s down jackets for you.

In a rush? Here's a Quick Look at Our Top 12 Best Women's Down Jackets

Best for: extreme cold weather conditions and expeditions - Rab Neutrino Pro Down Jacket
Best for: comfort - Patagonia Down Sweater
Best for: backpacking and long distance hikes - Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody Women's Down Jacket
Best for: climbing and scrambling - Mammut Broad Peak Hooded Jacket
Best for: multi-sports - Mountain Hardwear Stretchdown DS Jacket
Best for: winter hiking - North Face Women's Trevail Jacket
Best for: hiking in damp conditions -  Haglofs Roc Women's Down Jacket
Best for: those on a budget - Alpkit Women's Talini Jacket
Best for: fast packers and bike packers - Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hoody
Best for: mountain hikes in cold conditions - Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket
Best for: high-altitude hiking and camping - Mountain Equipment Sigma Down Jacket
Best for: best general all-rounder - Dark Peak Women's NESSH Down Jacket
Best women's down jackets

Best Women's Down Jackets: Buying Guide

Synthetic or down insulation?

The argument for natural down

Basically there are two types of insulation used in down jackets; synthetic down and natural down. Natural down from geese and ducks is most commonly used. It’s the soft, fluffy stuff under the feathers. Down has great insulation properties as it naturally forms air pockets that trap the warm air produced by your body to retain heat. It’s also light and because of its superior warmth-to-weight ratio it packs down easily.

Goose down is the most popular natural down insulation as it’s more lightweight and warmer but tends to be expensive. Duck down is also used as it’s cheaper but it’s not as effective. Ideally down feathers should be sourced from animals who haven’t been exposed to unnecessary cruelty like live-plucking and force feeding. Look for companies who’ve signed up to a certification like the Responsible Down Standard (RDS).

The disadvantage of down is that it does lose a lot of its insulating power when it gets wet and can take an age to dry out. Water may run off a duck’s back, but if these natural water repellent oils are left in, down will eventually rot and smell bad.

Stripping these oils out keeps the down fresh but also robs it of its water shedding abilities. Some companies get round this by treating their down with hydrophobic (water repellent) chemicals, making it absorb less water and dry out faster. Paired up with a water-repellent outer shell, hydrophobic down jackets can keep you pretty darn dry when it’s showery.

The disadvantage of hydrophobic treatments is that they don’t usually last long. Chances are they’ll have worn out long before your jacket. Generally the more environmentally friendly they are, the less they’ll last.  

But what about synthetic?

Synthetic insulation can get round the downsides of down. It can mimic its properties and give great insulation even when wet. It's generally more water repellent and dries a lot faster than natural down. It’s also naturally hypoallergenic and easier on the wallet. Synthetic insulation is a great choice if you’re allergic to natural down or you’d prefer not to use animal products.

The downside (no pun intended!) of synthetic insulation is that no matter how good it is, it won’t match up to the warmth retaining properties of natural down. Due to a less effective warmth-to-weight ratio, jackets made with synthetics tend to be heavier and bulkier.

Best down jackets for women

What’s Down Fill Power?

Fill power measures the effectiveness of the down by how many cubic ounces an ounce of down can fill. Not all natural down is created equal. The best down comes from more mature geese and because it’s finer, less is needed to provide the same amount of warmth. The higher the fill power the lighter and more compressible the jacket will be, but you’ll also pay more.  

The best down jackets for outdoor use will have between 600 and 800 fill power. Anything over 800 fill tends to be pretty technical and expensive.

Fit

Jackets for women tend to be a narrower cut than men's jackets although they are roomier around the hip area. A longer cut jacket helps keep cold air from circulating around your nether regions.  

Ideally the down jacket should be neither too fitted or too loose. If it’s too loose then cold air can get in but allow for adding layers underneath. Make sure it’s not restricting your movement, especially around the arms.

Remember that you might need to wear a waterproof jacket over the top if conditions are really gnarly out there, so you don’t want anything too bulky.

Construction

Down jackets are constructed using either sewn through or box wall baffle techniques. Baffled? We’ll explain.

Sewn Through

Baffles are the little pockets of space constructed to hold the down or insulation between two fabric layers. This insulation traps your body heat, making a layer or warm air. With sewn through construction, the outer fabric is literally sewn through to the inner lining to create small chambers that are stuffed with insulation.

As no extra fabric is used the jacket is lightweight and more compact, and costs less to make. However, the down is pinched at the seams, which reduces its ability to ‘loft’ (fluff up) at these points, creating potential cold spots.

Sewn through jackets are intended for general hiking and camping rather than winter mountaineering.

Box Wall

Box wall jackets are created by making small chambers for the down, each one separated by a wall of fabric. The advantage is that this removes any pinch points, allowing the insulation to loft more and retain warmth. As extra fabric is used and they’re more complex to make, box wall jackets tend to be heavier and more expensive.

Box wall construction is usually found in high-end jackets for expeditions and the more serious stuff, where a good warmth to weight ratio is key. Unless you’re into winter mountaineering and extreme cold you probably won’t need it.

Best down jackets for women fill power

Durability vs Weight

Using a thin, lightweight material for the outer layer creates an ultra-light weight jacket. The thinner the shell, the less hard wearing it is, and it’s more likely to get ripped or torn. A heavier shell adds more weight but it’s tougher and stands up to more abuse.

If you want a jacket for occasional use or general travelling you could get away with a lightweight shell, but if you want a jacket that’ll accompany you on your mountain hikes and scrambles for years to come, you’ll need something more robust.

Outer shells are often treated to protect against light rain or snow showers without the insulation getting wet.

Other Features

A hood helps keep your head warm but also adds weight and bulk. If you tend to wear your down jacket as a mid-layer underneath a waterproof jacket, consider ditching the hood. If you’re a climber or a cyclist you’ll need a hood that’ll fit a helmet underneath.

The best down jackets have at least two handwarmer pockets and many also have a chest pocket for valuables. Zippered pockets keep things secure but make sure they’re easy to open and close if you’re wearing gloves. One of the pockets often also function as a stuff sack for the jacket.

If you’re backpacking or climbing check you can access the pockets when wearing a rucksack or harness. If you have to take these off every time you need the pockets it’ll get old pretty fast, believe us.

Ideally hems and wrists should be elasticated or cuffed to retain the heat. Some jackets let you to adjust the waist using a draw cord, which keeps out drafts.

Jacket for women hoody style

Best Down Jackets for Women: FAQs

How do I look after my down jacket?

It’s fine to keep your down jacket compressed in the bottom of your rucksack for the duration of a trip; take it out and hang it up when you get home and it’s good to go again in a few hours. However your jacket shouldn’t be stored in its compression sack as it’ll take a long time to re-loft and insulate when you eventually take it out.

If you’ve noticed your jacket doesn’t seem to re-loft like it used to, a quick few minutes in a tumble drier on a low heat can make all the difference.

Even the best down jackets shed feathers, especially when new. The trick is to resist the temptation to pull them out, instead try to push them back in.

Try not to let your jacket get too wet or the down will break down and start to smell. Who wants a whiffy jacket?

What if I spill something on it?

It’s best to try to avoid washing the whole jacket if you can. Washing it too often will shorten its lifespan. Try to spot treat the area if possible.

What if it rips?

We hear you. You’re pushing your way through an overgrown, brambly path when rip, your beloved down jacket suddenly has a tear… luckily it’s not the end of the road for your puffy. You can buy repair patches for down jackets and some companies such as RAB even offer a baffle repair service.

If you need to carry out a temporary repair job in the field, use tape to cover the tear. Ideally this should be a less sticky tape such as micropore but if all you have to hand is duct tape then that’ll do, but be careful when removing it as it can pull the fabric and make the tear worse.

How often should I wash my down jacket?

If you only use the jacket at weekends and for the odd longer trip then once or twice a year should be fine. If you tend to live in yours, you may need to wash it more often.

How do I wash it ?

Washing a down jacket can be a little nerve-wracking due to the prospect of ruining an expensive piece of kit, but as long as you’re careful you’ll be good.

Use a cleaner designed specially for washing down products, like NikWax’s Down Wash or similar. Check the care label on your jacket; it’s generally best to use a gentle cycle at 30 degrees. Don’t use any detergents.

Before you wash, brush off any loose dirt, close all flaps, compress the hood and do up the zips. Once the wash cycle’s ended, run extra spin cycles to remove as much excess water as possible.

Once washed, you may need to reproof the DWR coating on the outer shell of the jacket. Some of the best down jackets are DWR treated to make them water resistant but this wears off over time. We recommend using something like Nikwax Down Proof. Put your jacket through another wash cycle using the Down Proof and run the extra spin cycles as above.

You’ll need to have the patience to let your jacket dry out thoroughly. Natural down jackets will need a lot more drying time than synthetics. If you have a tumble drier, pop the jacket in on a low heat using drying balls (okay, tennis balls will do). Get it out and give it a shake every so often to stop the down clumping.

If you don’t have a tumble drier, hang it outside to dry or hang it next to a heat source such as a radiator, no wringing though! You’ll still need to shake it out every so often though so it doesn’t clump. Once the jacket’s dry, you’ll need to give it a good old vigorous shake to help the loft return.

Jacket for women recycled polyester

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