If you are in the market for a new down jacket, most likely you are already overwhelmed by the number of options out there.  How do you know which jacket would be best for your activity and climate, and what does down fill power really mean? 550 … 800, 120g … 500g… What do all these “fill power” numbers mean to me? We’ll get to that, but first, it pays to learn a little bit about how down and synthetic down insulation works.

The Benefits of Down Insulation

Despite the release of new, high-tech insulation technologies just about every season, good ol’ goose down is still one of the warmest, lightest and most-compressible insulation materials available. Considering the first commercially available down jacket was produced in 1936, that’s an impressive run. Outdoorspeople everywhere still stuff down jackets into backpacks before a trip mainly for these three reasons: they keep you warm, they’re lightweight and they pack down to a very small size.

How Does Down Insulation Work?

Down and synthetic down jackets like the Coldfront Collection, Helium Down Collection, Shadow Insulated Collection, and SuperStrand LT Collection keep you warm the same way goose down keeps geese warm—which is also the same way the newer synthetic insulation materials keep you warm. By trapping pockets of warm air close to the skin, keeping the warm air in and the cold air out. 

But while synthetic insulation may outperform down in wet weather, down still comes in first in cold, dry environments. Also, down jackets almost always weigh less and compress more than their synthetic counterparts, providing the same amount of warmth at a fraction of the weight.

Best Down and Synthetic Insulation:

Best for All Season Warmth: SuperStrand LT Collection

Best for Versatility and Stretch: Shadow Insulated Collection

Best All-Around Warmth: Coldfront Down Collection

Best for Durability and Warmth: Helium Down Collection

Best for Urban Warmth: Stormcraft Down Parka and Women's Coze Parka

What Do Down Fill Ratings Mean?

A higher down fill rating doesn’t necessarily mean one jacket will be warmer than another. The down fill rating number is a measurement of down quality, meaning the cubic inches of loft one ounce of the specific down produces. A higher rating means less down fill is required to capture the same amount of heat.

But that doesn’t automatically mean a 900 fill down jacket is warmer than a 650 fill down jacket. What you also need to take into consideration is the amount of down used in the jacket. For example, it’s possible to make a warmer jacket with a lower quality down simply by filling the jacket with more down. That’s where the down weight numbers—like 120g, 300g, etc.—come in to play. Jackets stuffed with lower-quality down are often less expensive than those filled with a higher-quality down, but they’re also heavier and less compressible.

Fill Power vs. Weight

Down jackets with a high fill power are usually lighter, less bulky and more compressible than jackets with a low fill power that are equally warm. But again, much depends on the fill weight. A 650 down fill jacket with 330g of down may be as warm as an 800 down fill jacket with only 120g, but the 650 fill jacket will be bigger, heavier and take up more room when stuffed in your pack.

The warmest down jackets, like the 800+ fill Women's Helium Down Hoodie and Men's Helium Down Hoodie, are built with a high fill power down and a heavier down weight. But depending on where you’re headed and what you’re doing, you may not need all that warmth. For instance, if you’re planning to do a little twilight bouldering in your neighborhood park, you might need a lightweight down jacket to ward off the chills while you’re spotting your buddy, like the SuperStrand LT. But you probably don’t need a down parka that could keep you toasty while establishing a new route in the Himalayas.

Keeping It Responsible

Whatever your down insulation needs, Outdoor Research makes the down jacket for you. (All Outdoor Research down jackets have been certified by The Responsible Down Standard (RDS), ensuring that the down and feathers come from animals that have not been subjected to any unnecessary harm. Visit responsibledown.org to learn more about the RDS.) 

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