Get the low down on down jackets

Get the low down – Insulated jacket buying guide

While writing this, cars sliding uncontrollably on the road outside and the mercury has dropped to a bone chilling -6 degrees Celsius at the days’ peak. Winter has come especially early this year making some parts of the UK freeze to a bone chilling -20C. Even though our transport networks might not be up to the job of keeping up with our freakish Siberean style winter this year, this is no reason why we should shiver is silence. After all, there is no such thing as rubbish weather, just rubbish clothing choices. To help you through the long winter months, here is a short guide on what to look for when buying that all important winter purchase; a down jacket.

The power of down:

This fill power is the warmth to fill ratio the loft filling will provide, keeping in consideration weight and volume. Typically, the higher the fill power, the better the down will be at trapping cold air from the outside to keep you warm. As a rule a fill rating of 500-550 is good, 550-700 very good, 700 + is excellent for the more extreme conditions. To make sure that you are getting the best out of your down jacket, make sure it is at least 80% down.

Down Vs. Synthetic:

Yes, it is true that pure down is warmer than a synthetic one, but as a rule the warmer the jacket, the heavier. In recent years many outdoor brands have developed lighter,synthetic fibres such as Primaloft. Fill material like Primaloft are hollow poly-fibres which not only are lighter that down, but provide insulation even when wet. However unlike natural down, jackets filled with synthetic down does not pack down as easily. In an attempt to combat this, Rab has recently brough the Infinity jacket to the market, which is well worth checking out.


Down jackets are usually constructed in ‘baffles’. This way of design prevents down from bunching up and gives a more even spread of the down without leaving large mixed clumps of warm and cold areas.

Another thing to think about when looking at the design of a down jacket is what discipline it may have been designed for. Some may have more of an ‘active’ cut with a high front and a low back, to prevent heat loss and easy use with a harness.

The Hood:

Not all down jackets sport a hood as it depends souly on what you want to use the jacket for. Most down jackets are only water repellent, so the use of the hood is almost redundant unless you are going to be using it in more extreme conditions. For use around the city, The North Face Nuptse Jacket has proved to be quite popular to those who do not have alpine adventures in their sights and don’t want to upset their wallets. (It also makes a very welcomed Christmas pressie!)

If you are however planning to engage in some winter activities which require a helmet, do make sure that the down jacket you choose has plenty of space to fit a helmet. A good visor is also a good feature to consider as it will help the hood retain usability in strong winds.


Around the frontal zip area is obviously the worst place for heat loss. Overlap panels can help prevent this. Reverse zips can also help prevent snagging.

Outer shell fabric:

Some down jackets like the Rab Neutrino for example, have panels of hard shell to prevent abrasion over the shoulders and when carrying a rucksack and elbows, for the climbers among us.

To some degree most down jackets have a certain degree of water repellence and wind resistance. This depends mostly on what type of fabric that is used. Most manufacturers have specially developed the outer layers which increase the jackets water resistance, whilst maintaining durability and light weight. Pertex is an extremely light weight, but durable meterial which manufacturers have recently latched on to. Again the Rab Infinity boasts this, but word of warning; just because it is a more durable material than usual does not mean you can treat it badly!

The Pockets:

Believe me when I say, there can never be too many pockets. However, consider how many are necessary for your needs, as it is usually the pocket features which are most important. For example, hand warmer pockets are useful for camping and long periods of immobility. Stowaway pockets are ideal to keep the jacket packed down for infrequent trips and Zipped/secure internal pockets are ideal for city use or backpacking. Hems and drawcords Adjustable hems are really useful, as they allow the wearer to regulate the temperature more easily. Velcro, drawcords and/or elasticated cuffs feature on most jackets. A lined collar is a really nice feature if the jacket will be worn for prolonged periods or expeditions but tends to only feature on pricier models.


When storing all types of down jackets, keep them fully hung where the fill is allowed to expand. Compressing the insulation for long periods of time eventually weakens the loft of the jacket and reduces its insulation qualities. When washing down jackets, use a mild detergent such as Nikwax for down materials. Always follow label instructions.

Down top tip:

I’ve had a few folk ask what to do when their down jacket gets wet. A tip I have picked up along the way is to put the jacket in to the tumble dryer on a low cycle instead of waiting for the jacket to air dry. This will help prevent bunching up and will ‘revive’ the down as well as aid the drying process.

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