It’s that time of year again where you step outside and realize that your trusted sweater and jacket combo isn’t cutting it. And sure, you promised yourself you’d get a real winter coat last year but there are so many options, so many styles, who has the time?
Good news: I have the time, and I’m going to teach you how to be warm as hell this season.
I’m going to focus on down jackets: their warmth-to-price and warmth-to-weight ratio just can’t be beaten. For the uninitiated, a down jacket is your typical puff coat. They’re unapologetically ugly, they don’t really go with anything, but if you’re cold and absolutely over it, get yourself a nice down jacket and leave that life behind.
What is down — down is the insulation inside the puff coat, and it’s made from the soft, fluffy feathers that keep birds warm. The down in most garments is typically made from goose feathers. The sections you see in down coats that hold the down are called baffles.
What is fill power — fill power is the number you’ll often see in jacket listings and it describes the amount of loft, or fluffiness, of the down used in the garment. More loft means more insulating power. Typically you’ll see fill power numbers anywhere from 500 to 900 where 500 is just standard down and 900 is at the very top in terms of fill power.
What is fill weight — fill weight is just the amount of down in a given garment. Maybe you have your eye on a fancy ultralight 900 fill power jacket, but it might not end up being that warm because, after all, it’s an ultralight jacket that doesn’t contain very much down. At the end of the day, if you’re trying to stave off the coldest, windiest weather in northern latitudes, you need a coat with a hefty fill weight.
Recommendations — if you’re looking for a big puffy coat that you can throw over a t-shirt and be good to go, check out our picks in the Big Warmth section below. These are jackets are big, round, and impervious to chills. If you’re looking for something with a more flattering profile, or something that you could scale a mountain in, check out the Ultralight section. These are technical garments that weigh almost nothing and are quite warm for their weight, but on very cold days you’ll probably need to combine them with a fleece or sweater.
REI sells a wide variety of outdoor gear, but they also make their own stuff and it’s usually a great deal. Take the REI Stormhenge for example, it weighs just a few grams more than the Nuptse (below) but uses 850 fill power down, which means it’s going to be even warmer. The Stormhenge is waterproof and costs a very reasonable $249.00.
It’s hard to make a puffy coat look good, but The North Face’s retro look and wide selection of color choices make the Nuptse jacket a great pick for more style conscious buyers. It’s full of 700 fill power down, which is actually pretty good for a larger coat, and a lot of it to boot, so you’ll be nice and toasty. It costs $249.
The Rab Asylum packs 650 fill power down, but it weighs 279 grams more than the Stormhenge and 296 grams more than the Nuptse, so we’re talking a lot down here. The Asylum isn’t the most stylish jacket out there, but it isn’t the ugliest either, and at $249.95 it’s right in line with our other top picks.
The Rab Microlight Alpine jacket hits the sweet spot for a light down jacket. It uses 750 fill power down, weighs 482 grams, and combines a Pertex water-resistant shell and hydrophobic down to keep you warm even in a bit of rain. The thin baffles and variety of color options make it a stylish choice, and at $279 it’s a fair bit cheaper than a North Face like the Summit L3 hoodie that weighs about the same and costs $375.
Yet again REI delivers a down jacket with undeniable value. The Magma 850 weighs in at 389 grams, making it very light and packable, and the 850 fill power down will keep you warm as long as you’re active or wearing a mid layer. The $219.00 price tag is very competitive in this category.
Vollback makes some really cool and really expensive outerwear, and the Indestructible Puffer is no exception. The shell is made of Dyneema Black, an apparently super-strong fiber used in bulletproof cockpit doors and is possibly knife proof if a video on the company’s site is to be believed. It’s all black, looks mean as hell, and costs $995.
Sometimes I think about what I would wear if I were visiting Antarctica, or Minnesota, and the Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero is at the top of the list. It uses premium 800 fill down and weighs in at a whopping 1,281 grams. This coat is huge and I’m absolutely living for it. It costs $799.95.
I’ve never seen a leather puff coat before, and frankly the notion disturbs and offends me. Triple F.A.T. Goose’s Berkshire jacket is made out of lambskin and uses 12oz of goose down insulation. It actually looks pretty good and would be perfect for a traveling dignitary diving between black cars on the streets of New York. Live your best life you fashionable psychopath. It costs $800.