Top 10 Best Down Vests For Backpacking

Top 10 Best Down Vests For Backpacking

Top 10 best down vests

Top 10 Best Down Vests For Backpacking

Down Vests, also known as bodywarmers or gilets, are great for backpacking because they have one of the best warmth to weight ratios available and are incredibly packable. The benefit of not having sleeves gives your arms an unhindered range of movements just like wearing a t-shirt. My favorite way to wear an insulated body warmer is over a hoody but you can also use the best down vests as a mid layer underneath other less insulated jackets.

I have been wearing down gilets for years now and they are one of my favorite layers to pack in my bag for day hikes, camping trips, and backpacking ventures. On camping and backpacking trips I use them as a pillow when packed inside a stuff sack and generally take one everywhere I travel to. There is lots of variety out there to choose from so we wanted to find out which are the best down vests for backpacking. Here is a list of quick links to skip down the page or you can carry on reading for our feature guide.

Things to consider when buying a down vest

Fill Power – All down vests and jackets are graded with an FP number which references the volume or a number of cubic inches one ounce of down occupies. The higher the fill power, the more loft the down has meaning it will hold more warmth. Most down gilets will range from 600 FP to 900+ FP and it is very common to have a ratio of 90% down to 10 % feathers.

Fill Weight – The fill weight refers to the actual weight of the insulation inside a down gilet and is always worth checking. You might be buying a 900 FP body warmer but the amount of down inside may be very low. This is not something you should worry about too much but like I said it is worth checking and comparing the weights.

Baffle Design – The baffle design can have a big impact on down vests performance and refers to the chambers in which the down is held. Without these chambers, all the down feathers would fall to the bottom and bunch together. There are two different options here, sewn through which stitches both walls together, or the box baffle design which adds an extra strip of fabric between the layers to create a box which allows maximum loft. Box baffle down vests are the best but more expensive than the sewn through down vests.

Type of Down – Not all down is the same and there is now specially treated down which resists moisture and retains loft when wet. HydroDown is one example of this but there are plenty of others. This water-resistant down is definitely worth the money as if regular down gets wet it loses most of its insulative properties. Another thing to consider is the source of the down – Patagonia, for example, has lead the way by using responsibly sourced down which is traceable back to the farm and ensures the highest levels of animal welfare – This is how you do it!

Materials – The outer and inner materials are more than worthy of great consideration but more so on the outer layer. Having a waterproof or water resistant layer is a huge advantage to help keep you warm in wet weather As mentioned above, down looses most of its heat-retaining abilities when it gets wet so keeping it dry is of paramount importance. Two ways to do this would be to use a waterproof jacket over the top or to not wear it in the rain but having a waterproof down vest means you don’t have to do either of those if you don’t want. A soft fleece lining can be a nice touch but I have never felt like they needed it.

Design – This is also referring to the overall fit but things to consider are how puffed up the body warmer will be at full loft and whether you want something with a lower profile. There is nothing quite as comfy as having a gilet down feather hood but this is, unfortunately, a feature you don’t often see even on the best down vests. You should aim for a reasonably close fit but without sleeves to worry about you can focus on the torso length and the style of neckline.

Compression – All down filled garments compress down small because of the high loft that down possesses but some will obviously pack down smaller than others. With the smallest being about the size of a large orange, you can imagine why they are so popular for backpackers and hikers. The biggest difference to packability is not the down itself but the fabric used for the shell and liner.

Pockets – My personal preference is having two zippable hand pockets on the outside and one large internal chest pocket which is also a storage bag. Packing your down gilet inside its own pocket is another feature that backpackers love as you will never lose the stuff sack and you also get a large inner pocket when you are wearing it.

Down vests Vs. Down Jackets

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my down jackets for dry winter days but it is not something I would ever wear inside the house because the arms are too bulky. A sleeveless down jacket or vest means you don’t suffer from that clumsy feeling you can get with a big down jacket. Gilet’s are also more compact and lighter vs a down jacket which is a big concern for travelers and long-distance hikers. While it can be argued that comparisons are pointless, I think that both have there uses but for most active pursuits or lightweight trips a down vest is best but if you are looking to stay as warm as possible then check out our top 10 down jacket recommendations article.

Top 10 Best Down Vests Review

Now that you have an idea of what to look for when choosing the best down vest for your needs, let’s have a look at the most highly rated down gilets on the market today.


Arc’teryx Cerium LT Vest

Arc'teryx Cerium LT Vest

 

Features: Sewn-through construction, Down Composite Mapping™ strategically places Coreloft™ synthetic insulation in moisture-prone areas, two side pockets, internal security pocket with stuff sack, adjustable hem

Weight: 185 g / 6.5 oz

Fill Power: 850 FP

The Arc’teryx Cerium LT Vest provides excellent core warmth with 850 FP down with the addition of Coreloft synthetic insulation in strategically placed locations. It is very lightweight and packable with a durable shell and minimal features. The fit is perfect to be worn over layers as well as underneath waterproof jackets. The Cerium LT provides ultimate comfort and warmth for everyday use and is our top-rated down vest for reliability and durability. The active fit and baffle design keeps your body warmth trapped inside and distributed along the channels for efficiency. If you are looking for the best down vests and price isn’t an issue then this top will outperform the rest and keep your warm indefinitely.

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Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Vest

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Vest

 

Features: Whisperer 7D x 10D ripstop shell, 100% nylon lining, Q.Shield Down resists moisture and retains loft when wet, low profile quilt pattern to create heat trapping channels, stuffs inside its own pocket with carabiner attachment, RDS certified down

Weight: 142 g / 5 oz

Fill Power: 800 FP

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Vest is supposedly the world’s lightest full-featured bodywarmer which has an average weight of 142 grams. Revered by lightweight packers around the world for its warmth to weight ratio and incredibly compact size when stuffed inside its own pocket/stuff sack. The active slim fit is excellent for layering up or wearing over your favorite hoodie or fleece without feeling bulky. Mountain Hardwear developed the super lightweight Ghost Whisperer fabric for speed alpinists which is so unique there’s only one mill in the world that can weave it. If you want the lightest down vest for hiking and backpacking then you literally get any lighter than this.

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Haglofs Essens III Down Outdoor Gilet

Haglofs Essens III Down Outdoor Gilet

 

Features: Pertex® Quantum, 100% Polyamide, 20D down proof, super light yet durable mini ripstop fabric, DWR treated down to retain loft when wet and dry faster, traceable and bluesign approved RDS certified down, two handwarmer pockets, packs inside its own pocket

Weight: 180 g / 6.3 oz

Fill Power: 800 CUIN FP

The Haglofs Essens III Down Outdoor Gilet is a weatherproof down vest with high-quality down and shell fabric which weighs next to nothing. The 800 FP down is super compressible and can be stored inside its own pocket for portability. Polartec® Powerstretch® fabric is employed across the shoulders as well as having wider baffles towards the top which aids your freedom of movement and is better for wearing a backpack over the top. The articulated fit is cut shorter than some gilets which is great for layering and wearing a hip belt on backpacking backpacks. One of the lightest down vest available today that uses only the best materials to create a top performing, highly impressive gilet.

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Patagonia Down Sweater Vest

Patagonia Down Sweater Vest

 

Features: 100% recycled polyester ripstop with DWR shell, 20-denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop with DWR lining, responsibly sourced traceable down, contoured fit, two handwarmer pockets and one internal chest pocket which doubles as stuff sack

Weight: 278 g / 9.8 oz

Fill Power: 800 FP

The Patagonia Down Sweater Vest is trusted by outdoor people all over the world and has been used on some pretty extreme expeditions in recent years. Sustainable and responsibly sourced materials are a high priority for Patagonia and so too for their loyal customers, setting the industry standard for forward-thinking (in my opinion). The colors look great and the vest performs very well as an overlayer or as extra insulation on freezing cold days. You can adjust the hem using the pull cord in the hand warmer pockets and release it using the toggle on the hem. Because both the shell and the lining has a durable water repellent finish you can be more confident that the down will stay dry from the weather and perspiration. One of the best down vest for backpacking and highly recommended for everyone else.

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Mountain Hardwear Dynotherm Down Vest

Mountain Hardwear Dynotherm Down Vest

 

Features: Q Shield® DOWN repels water and retains loft, 30D nylon face fabric, two hand warmer pockets on the side and one on the chest, RDS Certified Down

Weight: 273 g / 9.6 oz

Fill Power: 650 FP

The Mountain Hardwear Dynotherm Down Vest is a highly versatile gilet you can wear anywhere and anytime. It is ideal for layering under a waterproof jacket or as a stand-alone outer layer on cold days and cool nights. The lightweight materials offer an excellent warmth to weight ratio and compact for easy packing. Q Shield Down is treated to repel water and retain loft when wet which in turn helps keep you warm. I love the style of this bodywarmer which also comes in a range of different colors but the performance is up there with the best of them. If the chance of you getting caught in the rain is high then this would be a great choice as it will keep you warm even when wet, which regular down will not.

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RAB Microlight Down Vest

RAB Microlight Down Vest

 

Features: Pertex® Microlight SHELL, 100% Nylon ripstop inner, European Goose Down (110g/4oz in size L) Rab® fluorocarbon free Hydrophobic Down developed with Nikwax®, Mini stitch-through construction, two hand pockets and one chest pocket which doubles as a storage sack, drawcord hem

Weight: 310 g / 10.9 oz (large)

Fill Power: 750 FP

The RAB Microlight Down Vest is a very popular body warmer, and rightly so. The Pertex Microlight shell is weather resistant to provide warmth in wind and light showers. The Hydrophobic down is treated during processing and helps to absorb less water, dry faster, and retain loft even when wet. All these factors make this one of the best down vests to wear outdoors where you never know if bad weather will roll in. The RAB Microlight Vest is so warm and comfortable you won’t ever want to take it off.

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Outdoor Research Transcendent Vest

Outdoor Research Transcendent Vest

 

Features: 100% polyester 20D ripstop shell, 100% nylon 44D embossed taffeta lining, responsibly sourced goose down,

Weight: 267 g / 9.4 oz (large)

Fill Power: 650 FP

The Outdoor Research Transcendent Vest is a great all-rounder down vest you can wear every day. It works very well as an overlayer on dry but cold days or as an insulation layer underneath a jacket or raincoat. As well as being lightweight, the Transcendent Vest is incredibly packable and compresses down into a small ball which can be stuffed inside the right-hand pocket. There are two side pockets and one chest pocket which all have zips and brushed tricot liner to keep your hands warm. An internal storm flap helps keep the wind out and the soft tricot liner around the neck is really comfortable (even with stubble).

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The North Face Nuptse Vest

The North Face Nuptse Vest

 

Features: 100% recycled polyester with DWR finish shell, RDS certified goose down, two hand pockets and two inner chest pockets, huge range of colors and designs, adjustable hem, taffeta reinforcements

Weight: 500 g / 17.6 oz

Fill Power: 700 FP

The The North Face Nuptse Vest is based on the original 1992 Nuptse jacket which is still popular to this day. It is one of the heavier down vests on this list but also one of the warmest. The water-repellent finish on the shell helps to deflect rain and protect the down insulation which is held in place by sewn-through baffles. The double taffeta layer on the shoulders increases durability and is ideal for wearing a backpack or camping. It stuffs inside its own pocket and retains its loft very well after being compressed for long periods. Seen as somewhat of a fashion statement nowadays, you shouldn’t let that deter you from buying North Face gear, this vest, for example, is very impressive.

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Marmot Zeus Vest

Marmot Zeus Vest

 

Features: 100% Polyester DWR Mini Ripstop down-proof shell, 100% Polyester DWR, 700 FP down with down defender, two hand pockets, elastic drawcord hem, packs into pocket

Weight: 286 g / 10 oz

Fill Power: 700 FP

The Marmot Zeus Vest is one of the best lightweight packable down vests even though it features towards the bottom of this list. The water-resistant shell and DWR treated lining help protect the down insulation from getting wet and means you don’t have to worry too much if you get caught in a rain shower. The down defender makes sure the down feathers don’t work their way through the fabric for long lasting loftiness. Marmot has been using down insulation for a long time now and you can tell this minimalist gilet is very well made. The packable and lightweight design works for people who are limited on space and weight while the overall performance will compete with any other sleeveless down jacket out there.

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Columbia Gold 650 Turbodown Down Vest

Columbia Gold 650 Turbodown Down Vest

 

Features100% nylon 30D micro ripstop shell, 100% polyester Omni-Heat Reflective Microtex DP lining, TurboDown insulation combines Goose 550 fill power down insulation + 100g Omni-Heat insulation

Weight: N/A

Fill Power: 650 FP

The Columbia Gold 650 Turbodown Down Vest is possibly the warmest down vest for backpacking as it features a thermal reflective lining which prevents heat loss. The 30 D ripstop shell is water resistant and the 100 grams of added Omni-Heat insulation means that this down gilet will protect you from the rain and keep you warm even when wet. The elasticated armholes also help to trap all that warm air inside along with the adjustable hem and internal storm flap on the zip. There are very minimal external features with just two hand pockets and no internal pockets. Breathability may be an issue for intensive activities but if you want a down vest to make the most of your body heat then this is the one.

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