Test of the best: down jackets under £200 reviewed

CHINGUARD
In cold weather, a soft panel of material at the top of the jacket zip to protect the chin is a really welcomed feature. Some jackets have a very wide panel of soft material, others a small strip of soft material and others have none.

INSULATION
All the jackets featured here incorporate down insulation, which is more efficient than synthetic insulation. The warmth of down is measured by its fill power. Fill power is a measure of the loft or ‘fluffiness’ of the down; for example, 800 fill power down is more fluffy and traps more air, and therefore you need less of it for the same insulation than a 600 fill power down. A lower fill power down will be heavier and more bulky to achieve the same level of insulation as a higher fill power. However there are other factors such as jacket construction and fit that effect how warm

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DRAUGHT EXCLUSION
To stay warm you need to trap warm air inside the jacket. But this is difficult if air can escape through the hem or around the cuffs or even blow through the front zip. So look for a baffle behind the main zip, drawcords at the hem and elasticated or ideally adjustable cuffs to trap warm air inside the jacket.

HOODS
To stay warm in cold weather you also need to protect your head from heat loss. Surprisingly it is often the hood design that divides the best jackets from the runners up, so it pays to try before you buy. Look for a hood that can be adjusted to fit without obscuring your vision and ideally this should move with your head when you turn to look around. A wired or stiffened peak is a welcome bonus to allow easy vision in the wind or spindrift.

WATER RESISTANCE
Down insulation loses some of its insulating ability when wet. To overcome this, down insulated jackets sometimes feature enhanced water-resistant outers or more recently the down itself is being treated to make it more water resistant, or hydrophobic (waterhating). As seams will leak, only a waterproof jacket with taped seams is guaranteed to keep the insulation dry, so you may need to wear a waterproof jacket over your down insulated jacket in


Sprayway Kimo/Nuna £130

  • Men’s S-XXL (Kimo)
  • Women’s 8-18 (Nuna)
  • Weight 379g (size L)
  • Packed volume 1.8 litres
  • Insulation 700 fill power duck down

IT'S GOOD As down jackets lower in price many become less warm, but this one manages to maintain a better level of insulation than most, so you could use it in a tent or bothy or for a quick brew stop on the hill. It’s a good weight at just 379g (size L) and packs down small so you can easily stash it in a rucksack. Unlike many budget jackets you get a hem drawcord and an internal flap behind the front zip to lock out the wind. There is even a small patch of soft material at the top of the zip to protect the chin, which is very welcome in cold weather. The two pockets are also zipped.

HOWEVER There is no hood so you need a good hat to wear with this. Also while it is warmer than most lightweight and low-price jackets if you pay a little more and can tolerate more weight and packed size then you get a really warm jacket that would be even better for colder nights in a tent, or a bivvy or during a Scottish Munro summit brew. The shell is made of polyester so it’s not as durable as nylon. Also some higher-priced jackets feature down that maintains better performance if damp and some have even higher spec down for lower weight. So there are drawbacks but for many walkers this is probably all you need.

VERDICT A relatively warm jacket for its price and weight. It does not have a hood, but it is still a good general-purpose jacket.

  • Features 3/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 5/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%
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Jack Wolfskin Neon/Selenium £150

  • Men’s S-XXXL (Neon)
  • Women’s XS-XXL (Selinium)
  • Weight 559g (size L)
  • Packed volume 2.1 litres
  • Insulation 700 fill power duck down

IT'S GOOD A great combination of features here make this ideal for many hillgoers. Firstly the price is great, but you also get a good amount of down insulation so this is a little warmer than many of the lighter jackets. The hood has synthetic insulation, rather than down, as well as a rear volume adjuster. Hem drawcords lock draughts out and there are two main zipped pockets plus a third chest pocket. Get it on and it feels warm enough for a brew on a summit or sitting in a tent. The hood fits closely and even moves with the head a little. This all makes this good for general hill use.

HOWEVER There are drawbacks as this is a little heavier than others and slightly bigger when packed down than the smallest, but it does offer a good middle ground as it is not too big or too heavy to take on the hill. The cuffs don’t get any adjustment other than elastication and on me they did not fit very closely, so this area is chilly. The hood is not quite as warm as the heavier jackets, but it is okay for general conditions. For really extreme conditions, such as winter camping on the hill, I would want a little more warmth and some better details but for valley camping and summit brews this is great.

VERDICT A good all-round general-purpose hillgoers insulated jacket. It is not the lightest, nor the warmest, but it does offer a good overall package of benefits.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%
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Alpkit Filo £160

  • Men’s S-XL
  • Women’s 8-16
  • Weight 629g (size L)
  • Packed volume 2.6 litres
  • Insulation 650 fill power Nikwax hydrophobic down

IT'S GOOD This offers much more warmth than lighter jackets making it far more suitable for staying cosy when camping in winter or lingering a little longer on a winter summit. It also benefits from hydrophobic down so it should maintain performance a little better if it gets slightly damp. The hood is removable and benefits from a wired peak and face drawcords and it is also very well insulated. You get two very deep zip pockets, a hem drawcord and elasticated cuffs. Get it on and there is a little more length to the body than some and the hood fits well. Overall this is very cosy and great for colder conditions particularly when camping, bivvying or sitting on summits.

HOWEVER This is heavier than other jackets and has a large packed volume, so it will take up more space in your rucksack. The outer is made of polyester rather than more durable nylon used on other jackets, so it needs treating a little more carefully to maintain performance. The down is just 650 fill power, rather than 750+ and that is in part why this is more bulky and heavier than others, but also why it has a lower price for so much more warmth. A slight niggle is there is no volume adjustment on the hood and also the hood does not turn with the head as well as higher priced designs.

VERDICT A good price for a very warm jacket that is ideal for tent use, but it is heavier and more bulky than others.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 88%
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Mammut Whitehorn IN £165

  • Men’s S-XXXL
  • Women’s XS-XL
  • Weight 680g (size L)
  • Packed volume 2.2 litres
  • Insulation 650+ fill power duck down

IT'S GOOD There is really only one big benefit to this jacket and that is how warm it is. It is warmer than others featured here and that makes it great for throwing on in a tent or during a summit brew or when visiting a bothy. It is also designed to be reversible so you can choose to have a different colour on display if that is important to you. Apart from that benefit, though, there are few other features to talk about. You get a front zip and a well-insulated collar. The hem and cuffs are both elasticated. It is also a good price for the level≈of insulation it provides.

HOWEVER There are lots of reasons to think twice about investing your hard-earned cash in this jacket. It is relatively heavy and bulky and does not include a hood, so you need a good insulated hat to wear with it. Also, annoyingly, there is no hem drawcord to lock out draughts and you don’t even get a baffle behind the zip to block out the wind; there is no soft brushed area at the chin, either. The outer shell is made from polyester, which won’t be as durable as a nylon option. So there’s a lot to question here for sure, but that level of warmth it offers may just outweigh the drawbacks it presents.

VERDICT A well-priced, very warm jacket that is great in a tent or bothy but it has no hood, it’s relatively heavy and bulky and lacks some finer details..

  • Features 3/5
  • Fit 4/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%
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Montane Featherlite Down £180

  • Men’s S-XXL (Kimo)
  • Women’s 8-16 (Nuna)
  • Weight 467g (size L)
  • Packed volume 2.0 litres
  • Insulation 750+ fill power HyperDry Eco down

IT'S GOOD This is packed with goodies, starting with a price, weight and packed volume that are competitive and then adding down insulation that benefits from a little more water resistance than standard options. You get plenty of great details too such as a hem drawcord, three front zipped pockets and a hood that has a stiffened peak, along with face and rear volume drawcords. The shell is Pertex Quantum like other quality jackets. Get it on and the fit is close and the hood fits well, and while not quite the warmest it’s pretty good for short summit breaks or bothy use. The down is also certified as being responsibly produced and you even get a soft chinguard area.

HOWEVER It is not quite the warmest, although it is warmer than the jackets that are lighter. But for camping in winter or snowholing I’d want something warmer. Like most jackets here you don’t get cuff adjustment apart from elastication, but you’d have to spend quite a lot more to get that feature. The fit is slightly too close for me compared to other jackets of the same size, particularly under the arms which I found caused the sleeve cuffs or hem to ride up a little too easily. So you may want to consider trying a size up from normal just in case it’s a little too snug.

VERDICT Good level of insulation for summit and bothy use and a great hood and general set of features, but sizing is a little snug compared to others.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%
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Criterion Activity Ultralight Down £185

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s none
  • Weight 344g (size L)
  • Packed volume 1.8 litres
  • Insulation 850 fill power goose down

IT'S GOOD A very light jacket that uses a high quality 850+ fill power down which you don’t generally find in other jackets at its price. That adds up to less weight and less bulk. A win-win. You also get a Pertex Quantum shell, which again is very light and something more often restricted to higher priced products. The hood gets a drawcord at the rear while the face is elasticated and there are two zipped pockets. To keep wind out you get an internal baffle behind that front zip, which is a feature not all lower-priced items have. So for throwing in a pack and wearing on the hill for short stops during a summit brew this is great.

HOWEVER This is not the warmest jacket available, so for chillier weather or long spells of use, you may need something warmer. There is no womens’ option and you don’t get a hem drawcord or cuff adjustment. Some higher-priced jackets also have a face drawcord and a soft chinguard at the top of the zip to increase comfort. Finally some jackets may be heavier but benefit from a shell that is tougher and perhaps is more resistant to water. You can also get more water-resistant down. Of course, all those little details would add cost, weight and bulk so they are not necessarily essential at all.

VERDICT Exceptional weight and performance for this price and ideal for stowing in a pack and throwing on for short breaks, but it’s not the warmest option.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 4/5
  • Comfort 3/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%
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Rab Microlight Alpine £190

  • Men’s XS-XXL
  • Women’s 8-16
  • Weight 416g (size L)
  • Packed volume 2.0 litres
  • Insulation 750 fill power hydrophobic goose down

IT'S GOOD Weight and packed size are good here and you get a hydrophobic down, so it is less affected by moisture than standard down. If that was not enough you get Pertex Quantum shell material, with its low weight benefit. So on paper this looks great. Get it on and it is not quite as warm as heavier or bulkier jackets, but you do get a hem drawcord and a hood with face drawcords and it’s fine for carrying in a pack and throwing on during a summit or bothy break. There is also a small patch of soft material at the top of the zip for more comfort at the chin, plus there is an additional chest pocket. 

HOWEVER The hood is a little disappointing as while it has face drawcords and a stiffened peak, which are big ticks in theory, it does not have a rear volume adjuster and I found it did not fit or move with the head as well as others. This jacket is not the warmest as mentioned, so for camping or bivvy nights I’d go for something warmer in winter, but its fine for milder situations, of course. You don’t get cuff adjustment other than elastication either. You can get lighter options and lower-priced jackets, but if you find the hood fits your head this is then a very good general jacket for hillgoers.

VERDICT Weight, packed size and price are all competitive and you even get hydrophobic down but the hood and insulation level will not suit all.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%
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Mountain Equipment Skyline / Lightline £200

  • Men’s S-XXL (Skyline)
  • Women’s 8-18 (Lightline)
  • Weight 474g (size L)
  • Packed volume 2.5 litres
  • Insulation 700 fill power duck down

IT'S GOOD There is more warmth here compared to many lower-priced jackets and this is instantly noticeable. It also uses a Drilite Loft 20 denier outer, which has a little more water resistance and a little more durability than some lighter options. The down is audited for animal welfare via the brand’s Down Codex programme. Nice touches include the hood that has a rear cord volume adjustment and the hem also has a cord adjuster. There are two pockets with zips and the cuffs are elasticated. A good baffle behind the front zip blocks draughts. All that for 474g is great. The nearest women’s option is the Lightline which is slightly warmer as it has more down insulation.

HOWEVER The price is not the lowest and also it is not the lightest or most compact option, so you need to decide if those benefits are really needed. There are not many drawbacks here, though. However you can get jackets with a higher fill power which would make it lighter and more compact for the same level of insulation, but that would increase the cost. Also you can get even more water resistance. A soft chinguard would be nice too as would adjustable cuffs – to get all these features you may have to pay more though.

VERDICT A great general winter down jacket with a good level of insulation for camping or summit use at a reasonable price and weight.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 5/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 88%
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Patagonia Down Sweaty Hoody £200

  • Men’s XS-XXL
  • Women’s XS-XL
  • Weight 454g (size L)
  • Packed volume 2.1 litres
  • Insulation 800 fill power goose down

IT'S GOOD There is a good combination of features here that sets this apart from some others. So you get 800 fill power down and this is produced to limit animal welfare concerns. You get a hood with a rear drawcord that extends around the forehead and this did fit and move with my head exceptionally well. I also like that you get a large soft chinguard at the top of the zip for more comfort. There is a hem drawcord too. The cuffs are elasticated and the pockets zipped like others. So, overall, this is ideal for general winter use I would say, being small and light enough to stash in a pack but also reasonably warm.

HOWEVER There are still drawbacks here as this is not quite as warm as some others, so for longer periods in colder conditions more warmth will be needed. It is okay for short cold snaps though. Also you still don’t get adjustment at the cuffs, which comes on higher-priced jackets. If you pay more you also can get more water resistance from either the shell material or the down itself. Annoyingly, the baffle behind the front zip is quite small, and while this is not a major issue it could allow a little more wind through here than a more substantial design. The main drawback is that this is not the warmest option which limits its use a little.

VERDICT A good down jacket for carrying in a rucksack onto the hill, but its not the warmest and so not ideal for longer periods of use in colder weather.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Helly Hansen Icefall (2017)

Features

The Helly Hansen Icefall uses 700 fill down, with water-resistant synthetic Primaloft Silver insulation on the shoulders. The outer is a soft Pertex that is not too rustly. The hood gets volume adjustment at the back plus face drawcords, and the cuffs have Velcro tab adjustment. It’s slightly heavier than some at 619g, and others have hydrophobic down or more water-resistant outers; but this still offers good features. 3/5

Fit

This jacket comes in a huge range of sizes: men’s XS-XXXXL and women’s XS-XXXXL. The L fitted me very well. The hood drawcords enabled the hood to sit neatly and move well with my head. The cuffs tended to ride up a little, but this is a minor niggle. The body was a good length. Basically good for sitting and standing around in the cold. 4/5

Comfort

The Helly Hansen Icefall feels very cosy as it is packed full of down, and the soft Pertex shell really hugs the body. You get some soft brushed polyester around the chin to soften this area too. The hood cords do not cut into the face. This is warmer than some lighter jackets too, making it better for colder conditions. The pockets also have a soft fleece lining. 5/5

In use

The Helly Hansen Icefall is warm and practical in many ways, but it is slightly heavier and bulkier than some as it is lacks the higher fill power down. The synthetic insulation on the shoulders means this area stays warmer, as the insulation is less impacted by moisture or compression, but this makes it heavier and bulkier. The down and shell are less water-resistant too. 3/5

Value

Well-priced in terms of how warm it is and its general features, but higher-priced jackets are lighter or have additional benefits. 4/5

Verdict

The Helly Hansen Icefall is a very well-priced warm jacket for colder conditions, but it is slightly heavy and has less water resistance than some. 3.8/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine February 2017