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We may be leaving the British winter behind us, but the country’s compact summer and the often extreme conditions of its Munros, Wainwrights and 3000s mean that a puffer jacket is required for all four seasons.
Given their high cost and indispensability, hikers, campers and baggers should give more consideration to this piece of equipment than most kit items.
What to look for in a down jacket?
Other than warmth and weight, buyers should study the product breathability and packability, along with its performance in wet conditions.
If plotting a hike in changeable conditions you may be constantly peeling off and re-adding layers. This is where packability is important - ideally you should be able to fold the jacket down to a size small enough to fit in your rucksack with ease, without completely sacrificing its warming properties.
Outdoorsy types should also consider how active they are going to be. Those planning to be constantly on the move might want to opt for a zoned-fill jacket with synthetic panels to ensure greater breathability. Campers who may be sitting outdoors in cold conditions, however will want to prioritise warmth, opting for a weightier jacket with higher fill power should be a top priority.
You should also consider whether your jacket needs to be water repellent. If using your jacket as a mid-layer under a waterproof jacket this would be less of a priority. On the other hand if you’re looking to utilise the jacket as an outer-layer you might want to opt for a jacket with water-resistant, synthetic down that can protect itself during a light rain shower.
How much will it cost me?
Sadly, there’s no getting round the fact that a jacket up to the task will set you back a few quid due to the premium cost of down..
Decathlon offers admirable efforts for under £50, but for a quality jacket you are looking at between £150 and £200, with premium coats designed for freezing conditions costing closer to £500.
Black Diamond Access Down Hoody
Insulation: Animal down; Weight: 441g; Size range: S-XL; Colour options: 4
Living up to its billing of a “do-it-all” down jacket, this midweight item would be suitable for a trip to the shops or the slopes.
We tested this puffer out when Scotland was experiencing freezing conditions caused by winds from Siberia and Scandinavia and were never at risk of catching a cold due to the 700-fill goose down insulation.
The jacket’s water-resistance was a surprise plus, the DWR (durable waterproof repellent) treated down holding up well in snowy and sleety conditions.
Despite being one of the heavier jackets we trialled, the Access Down hoody’s compressibility made it an easy fit for our small backpack. This convenience paired with its ability in all weathers make the Black Diamond a superb option for lightweight days in the hills.
Arcteryx Cerium SV Hoody
Insulation: Animal and synthetic down; Weight: 415g; Size range: S-XXL; Colour options: 3
We feel cosy just thinking about this jacket.
When removed from its lunchbox-sized pack the Cerium SV Hoody practically bursts into life due to its quality 850-fill goose down. This filling provides a high warmth to weight ratio and would be well-suited to a number of activities whether it be winter camping, hiking or mountaineering.
The jacket’s DWR treatment paired with the strategic use of Coreloft™ synthetic insulation in areas prone to moisture meant that the jacket held up well when tested in light precipitation, while the snug hood and collar kept out unwanted chilly breezes.
The price will put off some, but we believe that the Cerium SV Hoody is worth the outlay.
Columbia Alpine Crux Down Jacket
Insulation: Animal down; Weight: 282g; Size range: S-XXL; Colour options: 2
This lightweight option packs a punch thanks to clever use of heat-retaining technologies.
The Alpine Crux’s Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective Technology retains body heat which meant that we stayed warm for the duration of our trek in freezing conditions. The stitchless baffling means there’s minimal risk of the tightly packed 800 fill-down insulation leaking and causing cold spots. The water resistant fabric meant that light rain was no issue
We’d recommend using this jacket as an outer layer while hiking in spring, summer and autumn.
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
Insulation: Primaloft; Weight: 337g; Size range: XS-XXL; Colour options: 7
The Nano Puff’s adaptability has made it a perennial favourite with hikers, cyclists and travellers.
The lightweight Primaloft insulation and no-frills approach to features means this jacket can be folded up into an internal chest pocket and stuffed into most side pockets for travel.
Due to the synthetic down and DWR the jacket kept our reviewer well-insulated during a downpour. We’d say the Nano Puff is ideal as an outer layer for three seasons, while in winter it can be used as a mid-layer.
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
Insulation: Plumafill; Weight: 264g; Size range: XS-XXL; Colour options: 4
Weighing in at just 264g the Micro Puff is the featherweight champion of the down jacket.
The Pertex Quantum GL shell paired with the synthetic Plumafill down provides protection in cool conditions (as a midlayer) whilst keeping weight to the absolute - and we mean absolute - minimum. As with the Nano Puff, the synthetic fill meant that we were insulated in wet conditions.
We loved utilising the Micro Puff’s under-the-helmet hood construction on a breezy bike ride, the jacket’s elasticised cuffs also protecting us from a nasty headwind.
North Face Retro Himalayan Jacket
Insulation: Animal down; Weight:1490 g; Size range: XXS-XXL; Colour options: 4
At the other end of the weight scale is the mammoth North Face Retro Himalayan jacket.
When winter returns or when holidays in alpine conditions are back on the cards we highly recommend this great looking coat from North Face.
Retaining the look of the brand’s heritage jackets, the ultra-puffy Retro jacket remained remarkably breathable and kept us comfortably warm when temperatures dipped well below freezing.
The jacket needn’t gather dust for the rest of the year - it can be utilised on urban strolls during cold snaps, or used as a stylish option on the campsite when night falls.
Robust and well made this is a jacket that will last you for several winters.