Last Updated on 27/08/2023
This guide to the best down vests, also known as bodywarmers or gilets, explains why they are great for backpacking and which brands you can trust. Down vests have one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios available and are incredibly packable, but they also provide other advantages over full sleeve down jackets.
Another benefit of not having sleeves is that you retain an unhindered range of motion with your arms, and if you are climbing or getting your hands dirty, then you don’t have to roll your leaves up. 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 on a night 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 tested over a dozen different options 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.
10 Best Down Vests Reviewed
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
- 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 you warm indefinitely.
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.VIEW ON REI
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 a 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).
- Don’t miss our Patagonia down hoody review
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 handwarmer pockets and release it using the toggle on the hem. Because both the shell and the lining have 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 vests for backpacking and is highly recommended for everyone else.VIEW ON PATAGONIA
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. Read my full Rab Microlight Vest review here.VIEW ON BACKCOUNTRY
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 that 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).VIEW ON OUTDOOR RESEARCH
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.VIEW ON REI
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, which 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.
Columbia Gold 650 Turbodown Down Vest
- FEATURES: 100% 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 that 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.
Mountain Hardwear Dynotherm Down Vest
- FEATURES: Q Shield® DOWN repels water and retains loft, 30D nylon face fabric, two handwarmer 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 are 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 body warmer, 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.
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 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 backpacks. One of the lightest down vests available today that uses only the best materials to create a top-performing, highly impressive gilet.
Things to Consider when Buying a Down Vest
When buying a down vest for backpacking, here are some of the considerations you should make:
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. Gilets 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 their uses 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 down jacket recommendations article.
All down vests and jackets are graded with an FP number which references the volume or number of cubic inches one ounce of down occupies. The higher the fill power, the more loft the down has, which means 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.
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.
The baffle design can have a big impact on a down vest’s 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 that allows maximum loft. Box baffle-down vests are the best but more expensive than 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 leads the way in environmental friendliness 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!
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 loses 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 to. A soft fleece lining can be a nice touch, but I have never felt like they needed it.
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 the neckline.
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 among backpackers and hikers. The biggest difference in packability is not the down itself but the fabric used for the shell and liner.
My personal preference is to have 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Point of A Down Vest?
Down vests are designed to provide core warmth to your torso without restricting your arm movement. They can be worn over other insulation layers as well as a mid-insulation layer to provide a lot of versatility.
Are Down Vests Worth It?
Down vests are expensive but totally worth it for the warmth, comfort, weight saving, and pack size they provide. They are perfect for hiking and backpacking because they keep you warm without overheating and keep your arms free. They also look great and last a long time which is what you want if you are paying good money for them.
What Do You Wear Under a Down Vest?
You can wear nothing but a t-shirt under your down vest as well as long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, and jackets, depending on the weather. So long as the fit isn’t too tight, I highly recommend layering up underneath your down vest for supreme warmth.
Should a Down Vest Be Tight or Loose?
Down vests should have a close fit that is not too tight or too baggy. This will provide the most comfort and warmth as well as give you some leeway when it comes to layering your clothing.
What Is the Warmest Down Vest?
To find the warmest down vests, you need to look for a high fill power of around 800+ and a high fill weight. The Arcteryx Cerium LT down vest is a great option if you have the budget.
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