Staff in our stores are often asked which down jacket is our best. Often what people mean is warmest, but even then, this is an extremely subjective question. In this article I will try to lay out the key factors that affect the warmth and functionality of a good quality down jacket to help you in making the right choice.

The first thing in understanding down, is to know that the down in a jacket is not what keeps you warm. The way most insulated clothing works, is by trapping air between the inner and outer layers of fabric. This trapped air is what provides the insulation, by preventing convection and conduction of your body heat to the elements. The outer fabric material also slows the escape of warm air that is trapped within the jackets insulation.

The “warmest” down jacket, will usually be the one that covers most of your body and has the thickest baffles (stitched fabric sections filled with down). However for many people there are better, lighter options for most occasions. We have a wide selection of slimmer or micro baffle down jackets that are warm, compact and flattering enough for more regular wear when travelling or everyday urban living.

Down Quality

The first thing to check when looking for a down jacket is the Down quality. Down quality is measured in “Fill power” which is a measurement of the loft or ‘fluffiness’ of down fill. This rating specifies the volume that down can expand too given a specific weight of down present, therefore the higher the rated number the less down weight is required to ‘puff’ the jacket out, eg an 800 “fill power” jacket results in a lighter warmer and more compressible jacket than a 600 “fill power” jacket of the same construction. Today most down products vary between the entry level 500 “fill power” to the higher end of the spectrum at 950 “fill power”.

Down And Feather Mix

Most down products will have a percentage of feathers mixed in with the down plumes. This seems like the manufacturer is trying to skimp you on the amount of premium quality down you are getting in your awesome new jacket, however feathers are not always a bad thing as the stiffness of feathers add another level of durability to the down mixture helping it loft consistently, they do also remove some of the cost of your jacket as the total percentage of down used is less. The main issue users find with feathers in the fill is they are considerably heavier than down plumes and their stiffness removes some of the compressibility of the fill. In top end products this simply will not do, as every gram adds up.

Down weight

The weight (quantity) of down used is a key factor in how warm a down product will be, as the more weight of down present, the more fill material is there to loft and insulate, this number will help you compare similar ”fill power” garments, as when you are looking at a higher “fill power” option you will need considerably less weight of down for the same level of loft (insulation ability).


Fabrics are a critical factor in any down product, as the fabric is what holds everything in place, it also keeps the down safe from external moisture whilst shielding the tiny trapped pockets of warm air from being blown away by the weather, all the while still remaining breathable enough to not trap perspiration, light-weight enough to conserve energy, down-proof to not lose fill to down leakage and compressible so it doesn’t take up your whole pack leaving no room for tasty trail snacks, water, or even your lunch!

CARE TIP: when a down plume is visibly poking out of a garment, the best method is to pinch the down plume from the inside of the jacket and pull it back into the jacket. This minimises holes in the fabric that will allow more down to escape and also stops you losing that precious plume.

When assessing fabrics, the fabric used will have to be an appropriate balance for you between light-weightness, durability and pack size (how small the jacket will compress when stowed). All decent down jackets will have a chemical water resistant treatment called DWR (durable water repellent) which gives an extremely effective water resistance, by making water bead off the fabric. its worth bearing in mind that these treatments are extremely effective when new, but can wear out through use.

CARE TIP: When your jacket starts ‘soaking out’ retreat your jacket with a bottle of DWR treatment. We recommend a pump spray bottle rather than a wash in style for most jackets as this targets specifically the outer fabric which requires reproofing.

Down Jacket Features

Some common handy features to look out for include:

POCKETS, two hand warmer pockets are a good way to keep your hands glove free, some manufacturers even include a zip up stowing pocket to pack the garment into!
HOODS, great for extra warmth, but not everyone’s cup of tea, some styles will be removable.
DRAWSTRING HEM, to stop those inconvenient, warm air stealing, updrafts.
DROP TAIL, does it cover your lumbar, nothing worse than bending over in a cold climate to find out that your top of the line jacket doesn’t cover your lower back!
CUFF CLOSURES, will they stop drafts? are they low profile, and not likely to get snagged on pack straps or other clothing?

Environmental Concerns

Minimizing the impact on our environment is part of our mission at Paddy Pallin, we ensure that every product we stock in our stores, has been manufactured and sourced with the smallest ecological footprint possible. We make decisions based on our own research and by working with brands that we trust to ensure that their company and manufacturing processes follow our high ethical standards.

A number of the environmental considerations you should be concerned about when buying a down product have been outlined in our article on “Where does my Down come from” which outlines how down is sourced in an ethical manner.

More than likely when you go shopping for a down jacket, you will have a particular application in mind, did you want it light and packable for urban wear and cooler climates, or did you want something to give you ultimate protection in polar exploration or high altitude adventures. whatever you are considering, we recommend discussing it with our staff and sharing your plans, as they will help guide you into making the right choice.

If you’re tossing up the differences between Down & Synthetic have a read of our post on how to choose the best style for you, Down VS Synthetic & how to Choose.

As Paddy himself, used to say “there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

Overland Track, Tasmania. Photo: Lachlan Gardiner

Overland Track, Tasmania. Photo: Lachlan Gardiner

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