A few of the best ultralight down jackets

Ultralight Down Jackets

So if anyone hasn’t told you already, goose down is absolutely the best way to pack a super-warm jacket into a tiny package. It’s the warmest and most compressible  clothing material that humanity seems to have discovered thus far, which is why it makes such a spectacular cold-weather jacket for ultralight backpackers.

Generous Goose
We all owe him. (photo originally by William Warby)

But goose down isn’t just for winter adventures. Sure, you can stuff gobs of goose down into a jacket all day long and you’ll have a glorious Antarctic parka, but if you use just a little goose down, you’ll have a warm jacket, ideal for mild weather in spring or fall…except it’ll weigh practically nothing and stuff down so tiny that it’ll practically disappear.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the ultralight down jacket. Rather than using goose down for snowy winters, several companies have been pushing the ultralight boundaries to make jackets as light as a t-shirt, but as warm as a light fleece, allowing you to pack even lighter and smaller than ever before. For the weight-obsessed minimalists and scrawny weaklings alike, this can be incredibly helpful.

What an ultralight down jacket can do for you

Ironically, ultralight down jackets are at their best when you’re not using them. Since they pack down to nothing when not in use, they’ll be a lot less annoying than heavy jackets you have to haul around the whole time.

This is especially helpful on multi-season trips, multi-elevation trips, or mostly-warm trips that might include that one evening of unusually frigid temperatures that come out of nowhere. It would also be great for warm-weather hiking, where the minimal weight won’t hold you back, and the minimal warmth is all you need.

When not to use one

Keep in mind these items are designed to replace a mid-weight fleece, rather than provide winter warmth, though you could certainly combine them with other layers to provide year-round functionality. They’re also quite thin, so handle with care.

But the real setback is the price. At $200 to $300 each, these aren’t cheap, especially as they’re intended to replace a mid-weight fleece, which you can probably find for about $30. These are really just for the people who need absolute minimalism, and are willing to pay for it. A mountain rescue team, for example.

And I generally try to find the most normal-looking clothing I possibly can, so I can make use of high-tech gear in casual situations, but that’s not what this list is about. I wanted to compile the absolute lightest, for those who needed the very best.

A few of the best ultralight down jackets

Alright, time for the picks. These are the most gravity-defying items I can find, coming in under 10 ounces (or about 300 grams), for those who absolutely need it. Many of these jackets also come in hooded versions and vests, but I’m just comparing the standard jackets in men’s sizes to provide a good side-by-side comparison.

I’ve only included goose down jackets on this list, as they’re the absolute lightest around, but all of these brands have equivalent jackets made of synthetic materials that are definitely worth checking out, as they’re usually cheaper, and can withstand some rain.

Onward we go!

1) Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket

Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket
The Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket. Probably the lightest anywhere to be found.

This is the king of the ultralight world at the moment. If there’s a lighter down jacket out there, it’s probably doll-sized.

Montbell’s down jackets are all pretty light to begin with (and they have quite a few others not listed here that are worth checking out), but here’s where they really push the limit. By using 1000 fill power goose down, and some of the lightest nylon anywhere to be found, they’ve managed to build a down jacket as light as a t-shirt.

It’s sized to provide a slim fit, and has no pockets or other features of any kind. Just a jacket to keep you warm, and not weigh you down…at all.

It’s designed to be a replacement for a mid-layer, such as a fleece jacket, rather than providing outerwear protection, so it would be a good idea to wear another layer on top if it’s raining or you’re hiking through spiky bushes. But if you’re the most weight-obsessed ultralight adventurer on the planet, this is the winner.

  • Weight: 4.8 oz (136 g)
  • Fill weight: 1.6 oz (45 g)
  • Fill power: 1000 fill power goose down
  • Fabric weight: 7 denier
  • Pockets: None
  • Price: $270

Unisex sizes only; get it here.

2) Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket

Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket
The Montbell Ex Light, another feature-free, ultralight down jacket.

This was the king of Montbell’s ultralight lineup until they subsequently developed the Plasma pictured above. But you’d need a scale to figure out which one is heavier.

The Ex Light uses 900 fill power goose down, which is still spectacularly light, to achieve a down jacket that weighs as much as a slightly larger t-shirt. But that extra weight makes it $70 cheaper, which is quite a big deal.

It also comes in a women’s version, whereas the Plasma is unisex, which…well, that just means men.

  • Weight: 5.6 oz (158 g)
  • Fill weight: 1.8 oz (51 g)
  • Fill power: 900 fill power goose down
  • Fabric weight: 7 denier
  • Pockets: None
  • Price: $200

It looks like this one has been discontinued, but you can still get a hooded version of it.

3) Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, featuring water-resistant down.

So this one is just about the lightest I can find that isn’t from Montbell, and it has some extra features to take it beyond basic minimalism. It’s what you might prefer if you want something just slightly more full-featured.

But the real attraction is the water-resistant treatment added to the down, which allows it to keep its loft and warmth, even when wet. This improves on the one and only technical weakness of down, which is its wet weather performance. It’s not a magic bullet that’ll handle a downpour, but it’ll help keep you a little cozier if you get caught in unexpected showers.

Aside from that, it uses ultra-thin fabric, 850 fill power goose down, and has two hand pockets, while still weighing in at some impressively low numbers:

  • Weight: 7.2 oz (205 g)
  • Fill weight: Not listed
  • Fill power: 850 fill power goose down
  • Fabric weight: 7 denier
  • Pockets: 2
  • Price: $300

Get it for men and women.

4) Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket

Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket
The Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket. Still pretty light despite the generous number of pockets.

Wear some Patagonia to stay warm in…Patagonia. And, you know. Elsewhere too.

Though it still manages to keep things incredibly light, it actually uses a slightly lower fill power, and a slightly tougher fabric than some of the others. It also has three pockets, which is nice for those who enjoy such things.

Though not quite as gravity-defying as other options, it still weighs practically nothing, and Patagonia’s ironclad guarantee means it’ll last forever. Besides, this is meant to be a little tougher and more full-featured than simply going for maximal minimalism.

  • Weight: 8.3 oz (235 g)
  • Fill weight: Not listed
  • Fill power: 800 fill power goose down
  • Fabric weight: 10 denier
  • Pockets: 3
  • Price: $300

Get it for men or women.

5) Arcteryx Cerium LT Down Jacket

Arcteryx Cerium LT Down Jacket
The Arcteryx Cerium LT Down Jacket, a mix of down and synthetic for a little extra wet-weather reassurance.

This one has an interesting mix of goose down in the main compartments, and synthetic insulation in the shoulders, collar, and hem, where they’re most likely to encounter some rain. I’m not sure how critical this would be, but the jacket is still plenty light anyway.

Arcteryx generally gets extra points for a casual appearance and decent colors, and this is probably the most normal-looking down jacket on this list (though other companies make other jackets that look nice too; it’s just that the ultralight ones sometimes look a little odd).

But, as with all things Arcteryx, it’s also the most expensive. Check for sales.

  • Weight: 8.6 oz (243 g)
  • Fill weight: Not listed
  • Fill power: 850 fill power goose down (and Coreloft synthetic in some places)
  • Fabric weight: 10 denier (assumed)
  • Pockets: 2
  • Price: $325

Get it for men, or women.

6) Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket

Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket
The Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket: Probably the best deal for a down jacket you can get.

This is the budget pick. It may not have the specs of the gear listed above, but it’s 70% cheaper. I was surprised as well. I’ve been using one of these lately, and it’s surprisingly good, especially for such a tiny a price.

Uniqlo has built up quite a reputation for themselves by offering higher quality at better prices than the vast majority of standard fashion brands, in far more sizes and colors than pretty much anyone else, and their wide selection of down jackets is no exception. Sizes range from XS to XXXL, with plenty of colors, in hooded and regular versions.

The jacket “only” uses 640 fill power down, but it uses the European scale to measure fill power, which gives it a rating more like 700 or higher. The fill is also composed of 10% feathers, rather than consisting purely of down. This means it won’t be as warm or as compressible as some of the super-high-tech options listed above, but the price might make those extra ounces worth it for you.

On a minor note, it uses a left-handed zipper. Just so you know.

  • Weight: Approx. 7 oz (198 g)
  • Fill weight: Not listed
  • Fill power: 640 fill power goose down (using the European scale, comparable to 700+ on American scale)
  • Fabric weight: Not listed
  • Pockets: 2
  • Price: $70

Get it for men, or check out the women’s selection, which has several styles.

Off to some ultralight adventures!

Well, I hope these suggestions will help you stay warm and cozy without requiring any sort of physical exertion of any kind on your part. They’re spectacularly useful in certain very specific situations, though if you go a little heavier (and, really, just a little), you can actually get a full-featured, mid-weight jacket (a few favorites of which I’ve listed here), but this list was just meant to highlight the lightest of the ultralight down jackets to be found. They’re so light you won’t even notice them. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you might need.

Minor update, regarding repairs: So you can obviously tape over any damage to the fabric with a piece of tape, and if you’re going to do that, I’d recommend taking a look at Tenacious Tape Tattoos. This is a permanent repair tape, but cut into fun shapes, like wildlife and other things like that, so a repaired jacket won’t look shabby, but downright adorable. The company sent me a few samples, and I’m looking forward to adding them when the time comes.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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59 Comments on “A few of the best ultralight down jackets”

  1. Hey Eytan! This was a great article. Thanks for doing the legwork. I’d never considered a jacket like this for my northerly travels but it may just do the trick. Thanks!

    AJ

    1. Happy to help. Keep in mind these are super light, so for winter you’d want to look into the slightly warmer versions.

  2. Nice article! Have you had the chance to try the North Face Thermoball jacket? I was wondering if it was worth the consideration.

    1. It certainly looks like a good one, and they claim that their polyester is better than others, though I can’t say I have direct experience with it. On the upside, if you go to an outdoor store with nothing but good products, all you really need to worry about is which color you want. To some degree, anyway. North Face is likely to keep you happy, though the Thermoball Jacket wasn’t quite intended to be as light as some of these.

      1. I just got the Thermoball on sale for $161 after Georgia sales tax and I am loving it! Wearing it in about 32F/0C temperatures and it is keeping me warm. The quality seems very nice and the thing is so darn packable! I believe it was rated at 600?!

        1. I picked up a thermoball at Sports Authority on sale for $104 w/tax, yet returned it. No idea how anyone can say this jacket can keep you warm (if not layered with other jackets). At 45 F, I was cold in the thing… at freezing temps, it was like wearing no jacket at all.

          It’s like a heavy sweatshirt or fleece jacket meant for spring/fall. Nice and thin, but if you own a thick sweatshirt, it’d probably work just as well. I wonder if a lot of reviews regarding the Thermoball is NF marketing or how much is reality. I’ve even seen reviews stating where a thermoball w/tshirt was keeping some fellow toasty at 15 F. Unless he was sitting in front of a campfire, that’s impossible

          1. Yeah, I’ve recently heard some not-so-great things about it from forums here and there, specifically from people working in retail stores that were selling it. But I’ve been reading about Aerogel, which looks pretty promising, though it’s just getting started. Sounds like it’s basically a synthetic alternative to down, but without the puffiness.

          2. Thermoball is legit. I bought 2 off ebay for 50 bucks each, both worked well. If the wrist and waist cords are tightened, it will definitely keep you warm at 32 degrees. We had a cold as winter last year and I tried it down to 10 degrees and was comfortable. They are also very popular here in the NW during winters, everybody wears them. But yeah, I have read complaints online, I honestly don’t know how people are cold in them.

  3. Nice article but I’d like to point out one omission. Eddie Bauer has a pretty good line of down products and my wife and I have their down ‘shirts’ which are extremely light, warm, and warranted for life! We’ve taken them on two, minimalist trips and they served us well in the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia.

    1. I just picked one up last week and I’ll be adding it to the proceedings here shortly. I’m quite happy with it. Managed to get it for $50, too.

  4. Just brougut macpac supernova 800 down at 300 grams and is warm in 4 degrees. Will try when its colder. Alot better than mid fleece or even a think syn parker. I reccommend getting this type.

  5. I have found that I can get by with just a down vest (Montbell UL) if I pair it with a light rain jacket, a merino long sleeve shirt, and a light wool hat in all but the most arctic conditions. Assuming I’m not going to spend hours out in sub-freezing temps, I have found that this set-up works quite well. Also, as I have acclimated to being a little cold at times, I have found I need less in the way of warm clothes.

    Great blog!

    1. Looks good. Personally I’m a fan of full-length zippers, but some people enjoy the halfway zip for just that teensy bit of extra weight savings.

  6. School crossing guard, with minimal activity. Standing in potentially zero weather for 2 hours at a time. What do uou recommend? Appreciate your suggestions. Thanks.

    1. This is a great situation for the world’s warmest jacket; however, it sounds like you’re planning on just wearing it, rather than packing it; this means weight and compressibility probably aren’t so important, which means you can get something a lot cheaper. The ones on this list are the lightest and most packable I’ve ever seen, but you won’t need those qualities if you’re just wearing it.

      In this case I’d actually recommend finding something over ten ounces, to gain yourself some extra warmth. You also don’t need to worry too much about getting 800 fill power down, and can look at some cheaper options in the 500 to 600 range. They’ll be heavier, but that won’t matter in this situation. Good places to go would be LL Bean, Columbia, or Eddie Bauer, all of which will have good budget options. LL Bean has something simply called the “Goose Down Jacket” with 650 fill power down for $100.

      High-end bands such as the ones pictured above are great, but they’re great in a way that you might not need to worry about.

      1. I found a company called Uniqlo which sells a down filled(700 range) for $79.00. Any suggestions on this brand. I could not believe their prices.

        1. I have one of their Ultra Light Down Jackets, and it’s quite good. I’ve found the quality on all of their products to be excellent, particularly at the prices they’re offering, and I’ve gradually accumulated quite a few things from them. The jacket I have is very light, so it’s supposed to be more of a medium-weight sort of layer, but with a wool or fleece sweater underneath, you could use it in winter, particularly if you’re walking around. If you’re standing still in winter, you’d probably want something warmer and tougher (from their page labeled “Down” instead of “Ultra Light Down”). It has a bit of a loose fit, so I’m not sure if I’ll hang on to it (though they seem to have updated the fit since I bought it last year), but I can definitely say that everything that I’ve tried from them has been very well-constructed. I haven’t tried the specific down jacket you’re looking at, but I’ve been consistently pleased with the quality they’re offering. Occasionally I run into sizing issues, but they include a return label right in the shipping box, which makes it effortless to ship things back (though I think they don’t allow returns for really cheap items, like under $10).

          I’m a big fan of their Airism underwear (reviewed here), and their cotton/polyester t-shirts (known as the “Packaged Dry Crew”) which are a great budget option for a quick-drying t-shirt, which feels like it’s using much better materials than other cotton/polyester budget t-shirts that I’m gradually getting rid of, because the Uniqlos are much better. I also have their Heattech long underwear, which is also pretty great. If you’ve found a down jacket of theirs that you like, I’d say go for it.

  7. Great article, thank you. I travel for business and need a packable down outerwear which I can wear over my suit, ideally full length but seems hard to find. Any recommendations? Thank you!

    1. Uniqlo actually has some longer-length options, kind of like a trench coat (not all the way to the knees, though), but still with the ultralight materials. I think they’re seasonal items, so I’d recommend checking them out before things start warming up.

  8. The Uniqlo ultralight down jacket is definitely the budget bargain here (and on sale for $50 at this moment in time: http://www.uniqlo.com/us/men/outerwear/ultra-light-down.html). It’s surprisingly warm and puffy at that price.

    But the production of down — generally in China or Europe — usually involves some pretty awful treatment of ducks and geese. For instance, the down is often plucked painfully off the live bird, which is then later force-fed repeatedly to be slaughtered for fois gras. That’s not a problem for some folks — after all, the bird still ends up dead either way — but those with moral qualms should consider the (generally more expensive) brands like Patagonia, The North Face, and a few others who have moved, or are moving, to more humanely sourced down.

    (See: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2014/10/patagonia_the_north_face_and_cruelty_free_down_industry_standards_for_ethical.html or http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/02/10/patagonia-north-face-ethical-goose-down-jackets for instance.)

    Myself, in addition to the ethical conundrums of down I worry about rain — which of course can kill a down coat dead pretty quickly. So I’m always looking for a good synthetic equivalent that will dry faster and still insulate some when wet. At the moment The North Face’s Thermoball technology seems to be the best thing going. It is giving down a run for its money, at a bit better price point.

    1. I agree. I like the fact that synthetic materials offer a good option for the vegan crowd, as well as some rain resistance. I like everything Patagonia does in terms of environmentalism and ethics, but their prices are out of reach for some people, in which case the synthetics make a good alternative, if you still value animal welfare.

  9. I really appreciate the animal welfare concerns expressed in this page. Its so easy to just ignore the details and go for the cheap option, and the differences in price are really significant.

    thanks to all,
    Jane

    1. I agree. Using animal products has all sorts of complications, and I’d like to see a synthetic option that matches the warmth of goose down, and more ethical sourcing methods, which Patagonia has actively pursued. Or maybe a lab-grown version, from stem cells…hmmm…that’s not a bad idea…

  10. Before reading this page, I had no idea that the ultra-light down jackets were not supposed to replace their heavy weight counterparts! I own a knee-length Patagonia, and it’s been keeping me warm for the past two winters with usually no more than a thin sweater and a t-shirt underneath.

    1. Down is pretty great. Patagonia is also doing quite a bit in regards to animal welfare, as a lot of geese are grown in China without much in the way of oversight. But yes, you could have an ultralight down jacket replace a normal-weight down jacket, as long as the corners you’re cutting aren’t the down. They could make the fabric lighter, for example, but keep the same level of warmth by having just as much down, which barely weighs anything. But some of the really ultralight ones (less than 10 ounces) have only a tiny bit of down, as opposed to those super-puffy Antarctica ones.

    1. As far as I can tell, the only difference is that it has a flap behind the zipper to protect from rain getting inside (which I don’t consider all that important, unless it’s a “real” rain jacket and you need it to stand up to serious rain), and that it has a water-repellant finish…but the one I have (which is not a water defender version) seems to have a water repellant finish anyway, or the material is naturally somewhat water repellant, because it’s nylon. I’ve worn it in the rain here and there and it does fine in light conditions, but I’d be careful about taking it anywhere with heavy rain, or long periods of light rain. They’re selling both versions for the same price, though, so I suppose you might as well get the water repellant version, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much if the other one is on sale or there’s a color you like or something. You can always spray a DWR onto the jacket whenever you want, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much either way.

  11. Nice info. I’ve been looking for an alternative to my light-but-bulky fleece for an annual Asia trip. Occasional warmth is needed, but not enough to haul the fleece around for 3 months (again).

    I just picked up a “32 Degrees Heat Weatherproof” brand ultralight down jacket at Marshall’s for $40. Also apparently available on Amazon (and elsewhere) at various prices, and well reviewed. http://www.amazon.com/32Degrees-Weatherproof-Packable-Puffer-Jacket/dp/B00N5PLOJS

    It’s got:
    650 fill, 90% duck down, 10% feathers
    Full zip, with small wind flap behind.
    Stuff sack, about 8″ long by 4″ diameter.
    My scale says 0.6 pound, but I don’t know if that’s accurate
    2 external zip pockets, which also form 2 vestigial internal pockets.
    Made in China
    “Protects against light precipitation”

    They run slightly large; I’m 5’10” 150 lbs and wound up with a small, which I can layer under a shell. Mine has a hood, which I didn’t really want, but a couple of safety pins turn it into a roll collar sort of thing. Others note quality issues, but mine is just fine. It’s no Montbell, but I won’t cry too much if it gets thrashed.

    Thanks for the article, I’ve gotten much useful info from your site (but still can’t seem to get below three pair of shoes for adventure travel!)

  12. I really like my Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket and you can’t beat the price. It’s a great jacket but I wouldn’t wear it in cold conditions below say 40 degrees Fahrenheit or so. Funny that I never noticed the left-hand zipper. I love this site..keep up the great work.

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely light, so you’d need something else underneath. I like combining two layers in this way; something soft on the inside, like fleece or wool, and something weather-resistant on the outside, like the smooth nylon exterior of a down jacket. But once it gets close to freezing, it’s better to pick one of the midweight options instead of ultralight.

  13. Nice article, even if it’s relative old.

    The ultralight down jackets can be worn as an outershell but only in cool temperatures (~40-60 F) and that’s with wearing a long sleeve shirt and a light-/mid-weight fleece underneath. It won’t be warm under ~40 F and then best worn under a insulated jacket/parka.

    I’ve tried the Uniqlo ultralight hooded down jacket and, while it’s stylish and light, it was too light and wasn’t that warm, at least for cold and windy New England weather.

    I have the Sierra Design Gnar Hoody and it’s relatively warm while wearing appropriate warm winter clothing as mentioned. It does provide good wind protection for the most part but not really against sharp cold winds. Also, it would’ve been better if a DWR coating was used.
    I love the thumbholes at the end of the sleeves and wished that other brands put thumbholes into their winter jacket products.

  14. Hi, I really don’t know why I keep coming back to your sight to read your articles. Probably because I really like them and am trying to, at least, lighten my load. And being a business traveler it has helped me reduce the load quite a bit and I thank you for that.

    I want to bring up in this section a partial discussion of (please don’t wince) reversible jackets. These thing are mostly abhorrent at best with the bad seams and disgusting use of dark color on one side and gawdy bright ugly coloring on the reverse side. Especially the ones with plaid on the one side. Was Herb Tarlek (WKRP) really that inspiring?

    Anyway, for those that are willing, I’ve found 3 jackets that are not too off-putting but are of medium weight. Unfortunately, they are not lightweight as this section is about. But some of us, besides me I hope, are willing to take the hit for some slight dual option look. So I’d like to point to 3 options that I have found to help those who might me interested:

    ZeroXposur Density Reversible Sweater-Fleece Hybrid

    IZOD Men’s Reversible Ripstop Stand-Collar Coat

    GChoic Mens Reversible Detachable Hood Windproof Water-repellent

    If you google these you should have no problem finding them. The color combinations are reasonable and seem to not hurt the eyes so much.

    I apologize if this is incorrect etiquette for this forum…….

    1. That’s no problem. I actually like the idea of reversible jackets, because it requires very little weight to add this extra functionality, but the problem is that one side is usually a lot nicer-looking than the other, so nobody bothers with reversing it anyway. It also makes more sense for sweaters, whereas a jacket that’s weather-resistant only on one side wouldn’t work quite so well.

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