Ultimate Guide to the Best Ultralight Down Jackets 2021

Ultra Light Down Jacket Review

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Ultralight Down Jackets are better in 2021 than they have ever been. In this review of all the best lightweight down jackets I note that the quality of the best down jackets are stepping up to the next level.

Many companies are using quality fabrics that repel water and match that with the best quality responsibly sourced hydrophobic down. Here is a review of the best ultralight down jackets for day hiking, backpacking and ultralight thru hiking.

Best Ultralight Down Jackets

How to choose a Down Jacket

Warmth of a Lightweight Down Jacket

The best Ultralight Down Jackets for Thru Hiking or Bikepacking will be a compromise between lightweight and features.

It is unlikely the lightweight down jackets in this review will be used by anyone climbing Mt Everest but they will certainly be seen on thru hiking trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail or Bikepacking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail.

All the ultralight down jackets in this review are compact, lightweight and warm enough for most people in temperatures around freezing. For temperatures significantly below freezing extra layers will be needed, specially if at camp and inactive.

What is Fill Power and why does it important?

All the best high quality ultralight down jackets should have a fill power of 800 or higher. The number 800 refers to its lofting ability. If you take 1 ounce of down it will expand or loft to 800 cubic inches. 850 will loft to 850 cubic inches and so on. Confused? The video below does a great job at explaining everything.

Water Resistance of a Down Jacket

Down does not like getting wet. It has a tendency to clump together and when that happens it looses its ability to keep you warm. To prevent that from happening all the best jackets use a tightly weaved outer fabric to prevent as much water as possible from making contact with the down.

Pertex is considered one of the best outer fabric but many companies use similar materials that protect water from getting into the down as much as possible.

Some jackets use a small amount of synthetic material in the areas with high contact with moisture such as shoulder and arm cuffs.

Down jackets such as Macpac Icefall and ARCTERYX – Cerium SL Hoody use a small amount of synthetic material in the shoulders and cuffs to prevent high moisture areas from wetting out the down.

What is Hydrophobic Down? And why you should use it in a down jacket

In recent years Nikwax has developed a hydrophobic down that resists the vast majority of contact with water, hence is able to stay nicely lofted if in contact with water.

Jackets with hydrophobic down should be considered of higher quality than those without. I have a preference to use a jacket with hydrophobic down but it hasn’t always been that way. It providers a safer option if I am wearing a jacket in bad weather.

If heading out into bad weather like I experienced on the Appalachian Trail and Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, the following jackets would be perfect. The jackets below use hydrophobic down:

  1. North Face Summit L3 Hoody Review
  2. Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket Review
  3. Macpac Icefall

Watch the crazy video below which demonstrates how good hydrophobic down is.

What is a DWR Coating and why do I need it?

Think of the DWR coasting as being like putting a layer of wax on the car. It allows the water to bead and run off the fabric. And like a layer of wax on a car it does not last forever and eventually the DWR coating will wear off and the fabric will wet out.

All of the companies except Outdoor Research use a DWR coating on the outside of the jacket. DWR stands for Durable Water Repellent.

Retreating the outer fabric with Nikwax TX Direct or similar will make the fabric resistant to water again.

How to repair Ultralight Down Jackets

Ultralight Down Jackets are not the most durable of outdoor gear. The use of lightweight fabrics combined with sharp sticks and branches, a spark from a campfire or a fall in rough terrain can easily damage a down jacket.

A small rip or tear in the fabric will occur if used for a prolonged time in the outdoors. There are two ways to repair the out fabric.

The first and easiest way is to cover the hole with some Tenacious Tape. Think of this tape as the superglue of fabric tapes. Cut to size a cover the hole. Tenacious tape on down jackets are a sign of a well used jacket that has spent quality time in the outdoors.

The second way is to sew on a patch over the damaged layer of fabric. I prefer the first method of using Tenacious Tape as it is cheap and it works. I have used it many times of the years to patch small holes.

Best Features in a Lightweight Down Jacket

What features are important on the best lightweight down jacket for backpacking? For most people a hood is super important. The need for a down jacket in the outdoors is to keep warm. A hood is one of the easiest ways to do this. The added weight to the down jacket is worth it.

Pockets are another great feature. Any hiker that has been hit by colder than expected temperatures will appreciate warming their hands in the pockets. Sometimes gloves are not enough. Other times you may have forgotten to bring gloves with you.

A storage sac or the ability to pack the jacket into one of it’s pockets to make them packable when not being worn. All the jackets in this review have some form of storage method.

Cinch cord on the hood and bottom of the jacket are used to restrict the amount of cold air entering the jacket and providing the best fit. Not all jackets have this feature. Some jackets use simple elastic stitched into the jacket to provide a tight fit around the waist or hood. The cinch cord does add a small amount of weight and cost to the jacket but for the most part this is considered well worth it.

Best Value Down Jackets

If the best quality jacket costs so much that you can’t afford to spend time outdoors or are too scared to take the jacket somewhere for the fear of damaging it then we have a problem. Some of the jackets in this review are very well priced and the lack of some features make them worthy of consideration.

A quality down jacket will last many years and if well cared for it is worth spending a little more now for something that will last many years in the great outdoors.

Down Jackets vs Synthetic Jackets

Synthetic jackets are slowly but surely catching up to down jackets with their warmth to weight to packability ratio. Fabrics like Polartec Alpha and Primaloft Gold are some of the best available at the moment but they are still not as a good as down. Down also has a beautiful ability to be compressed and lofted without damaging the down. The same can’t be said for all synthetics just yet. I suspect in the next 10 years a synthetic product will come along that will make down obsolete. Watch this space.

Eventually synthetics will surpass down but the time is not here yet.

Ultralight Down Jackets Review

Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review

Montbell Plasma 100 Down Jacket Review

With a total weight of only 135 grams this is one of the lightest down jackets in the market. For the hiker seeking out the lightest possible jacket with one of the best warmth to weight ratios there is no equal. But the best in class warmth to weight ratio comes at a small cost.

The 1.6 ounces of 1000 loft down is not hydrophobic like many other brands but it does add up to 1600 cubic inches of loft to keep you warm.

The jacket uses a very thin, very light 7 denier fabric which combined with a great DWR coating which does an ok job repelling water. But be careful of this jacket in bad weather and be careful not to get this jacket caught on sharp sticks and branches when hiking. All of this combines to make an incredibly lightweight jacket.

How durable is the 1000 loft down? Most people tend to agree that the sweet spot for the quality vs durable down lies somewhere between 750 and 900 loft. I would expect many long years of use out of this quality jacket if taken care of and washed as needed.

This ultra light jacket has no frills. There is no hood and no pockets. This keeps the overall weight down which is the main reason to consider this ultra lightweight down jacket.

Conclusion – If you are seeking the lightest weight down jacket with the best warmth to weight ratio this is the jacket for you. There is simply no other jacket that can compete. At 4.8 ounces or 135 grams, this is a true ultralight weight jacket for the gram counting ultralight hiker or someone wanting to cover huge miles with all the lightest possible gear. Just be careful, it may not be as durable as the other jackets in this review. Best on the market for weight.

Want something warmer with pockets and a hood? Consider the Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka.

Total Weight – 135g / 4.8oz
Down Fill weight – 45g / 1.6oz
Down – Non responsibly sourced, non hydrophobic 1000 fill ex down
Total Loft – 1600 cubic inches
Outer fabric – 21g/m2 7 denier with DWR coating
Hood – No
Pockets – No
Stuff Sac – Yes
Pros – Ultralight, best warmth to weight ratio of all the jackets mentioned. Did I mention ultralight.
Cons – Not using hydrophobic down, non responsibly sourced down, outer shell not as weather resistant as other jackets but the DWR coating is great. No pockets. No Hood.

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ARCTERYX – Cerium SL Hoody Review

Ultralight down jackets review of Arcterex Cerium SL Hoody

Super lightweight and much warmer than it looks. This is the second lightest jacket in this review, but the addition of a hood and pockets lift the specs a bit higher than Montbell.

Although the down jacket does not use hydrophobic down it does have a water resistant outer with DWR. Some of the high moisture areas use synthetic instead of down. This leads to a good level of water resistance but the lack of hydrophobic down will keep this jacket from being a favourite wet environments.

The outer material of the jacket is some of the lightest of all the jackets in this review, but not as much as Montbell. It is, therefore, a bit more fragile and care is needed to make sure it is not destroyed by sharp sticks on the trail. Overall, this would be close to the perfect ultra light down jacket for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

Conclusion – If this ultra light down jacket used hydrophobic down it would be the best jacket in this review. Despite this it is ultra light and warm enough for thru hiking all but the wettest of trails.

Weight – 215g / 7.6oz
Downfill weight – unknown
Total Loft –  unknown
Down  – Responsibly sourced, non hydrophobic 850 loft
Synthetic Fill – Coreloft synthetic fill in high moisture areas
Outer fabric – Weather resistant Arato 7 fabric with DWR Coating
Hood – Yes
Pockets – Yes
Stuff sac – Yes
Pros – Ultra lightweight. 850 loft down. More fragile material than the other jackets in this review.
Cons – Hydrophobic down would make this the best down jacket in this review.

Compare Prices:
REI | Amazon | Moosejaw.com | Backcountry.com

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Hooded Review

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Hoody Ultralight down jackets review

This is one of the most popular Lightweight Down Jackets among the ultra light thru hikers of the world. A brilliant combination of some of the lightest outer fabrics and no frills designs combine to make this one of the top picks.

The updated jacket does not use hydrophobic down as it had done previously. In my opinion this is a move backwards but it has bought the price down a little which is positive. Despite the lack of hydrophobic down it does have a good DWR coating but overall this jacket does not fare well in damp conditions.

Another thing used to keep the weight down is the elastic on the hood rather than an elastic draw chord. This helps keep the overall weight. Overall the jacket works well and a top pick for the ultra light thru hiker.

Conclusion – The Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer is one of the lightest high quality jackets available. It is also one of the most packable as it stuffs into its own pocket. This jacket is best suited to ultra light hikers such as Thru Hikers who want the lightest possible jacket with a good warmth to weight ratio for those early season starts on the Appalachian Trail or early morning starts in the Sierra while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Overall, I would love to see this jacket return to using hydrophobic down as was the case on the previous model before this update.

Total Weight – 249g / 8.8oz
Down Fill Weight – 85g / 3oz
Down Loft – Responsibly sourced, non hydrophobic 800 loft down
Total Loft – 2400 cubic inches
Synthetic Fill – No
Outer fabric –  10D ripstop fabric 30g/m2 with DWR Coating
Hood – Yes
Pockets – Yes
Stuff sac – No, it stuffs into a pocket.
Pros – Ultralight, very small pack size. Perfect for the ultra light thru hiker.
Cons – No hydrophobic down. No adjustments in the hood.

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REI | Amazon | Moosejaw.com | Backcountry.com


FEATHERED FRIENDS - Eos - Ultralight down jackets review

With the overall weight of only 300g / 10.6oz this jacket offers some of the best warmth to weigh of any jacket in this review. The 105g / 3.7oz of 900 plus fill down makes this one of the best jackets for its warmth to weight ratio. Add to that the quality pertex outer shield with DWR coating to block the wind and bad weather.

The only thing stopping this jacket from being the best in this review is the lack of hydrophobic down which makes this jacket not as weather resistant as others. But warmth provided for cold mornings or night in good weather this jacket makes this jacket a great choice. Perfect as an ultralight thru hiking down jacket on the Continental Divide Trail where hikers need a slightly warmer jacket than on other thru hikes

Conclusion – One of the best ultra lightweight jackets on the market. It feels much warmer than the lightweight would indicate. Perfect as an ultra light down jacket for thru hiking. The use of hydrophobic down would rocket this jacket to the best ultralight down jacket in this review.

Weight – 300g / 10.6oz
Downfill weight – 105g / 3.7oz
Down – Responsibly sourced, non hydrophobic, 900+ loft down
Total Loft – 3330 cubic inches
Synthetic Fill – No
Outer fabric –  Pertex fabric 37g/m2 with DWR Coating
Hood – Yes
Pockets – Yes
Stuff sac – Yes
Pros – Pertex shield outer fabric. High quality 900+ down. Great warmth to weight.
Cons – No Hydrophobic down.

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Feathered Friends Website

Macpac Icefall Review

Macpac Icefall review

The Macpac Icefall is one of the best lightweight down jackets on the market. This well thought out jacket combines everything that anyone could want from a tough lightweight jacket.

The outer shell is quality Pertex Quantum which combines strength, lightweight and a water resistant fabric. The DWR coating assists in making this more water resistance than most of the other jackets in this test.

The addition of Hydrophobic down makes for a jacket well able to withstand the more some of the worst weather. Not only is there hydrophobic down but the areas most likely to get wet such as the shoulders and cuff area are filled with Synthetic Primaloft Gold.

The only negative about this jacket is the lack of slim fit which makes it a bit loose around the stomach area.

Conclusion – Overall, I think the Macpac Icefall is one of the best down jackets on the market. Well thought out with all the best design features possible. One of the top spec Lightweight Down Jackets in this review and a personal favourite.

This Lightweight Down Jackets would be perfectly suited for all but the coldest hiking trips anywhere in the world and perfect for thru hiking in wet places such as the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

The only thing I do not like is the cut of the jacket which is slightly large around the stomach area. My broader shoulders require me to size up giving me way to much room in the middle of the jacket.

Weight – 320g / 11.3oz
Downfill weight – 95g / 3.3oz
Down – Responsibly sourced and traceable hydrophobic down, 800 loft
Total loft – 2640 cubic inches of down fill
Synthetic Fill – Yes, PrimaLoft Gold synthetic insulation in shoulders and cuffs (80 g/m²)
Outer fabric –  Pertex Quantum Ripstop fabric 31g/m2 with DWR Coating
Hood – Yes
Pockets – Yes
Stuff sac – No, stuffs inside one of the pockets
Pros – Most weather resistant jacket in this review. Ultra lightweight weight. Highest quality everything.
Cons – Only available in Australia and New Zealand. Poor fit, maybe a slim fit might be better.

Compare Prices:
Macpac Australia | Macpac New Zealand

Outdoor Research Illuminate Review

Best Ultralight Down Jackets - Outdoor Research Illuminate Review

An ultra light down jacket which is one of the cheapest high quality jackets on the market and worthy of consideration for those on a budget. The lightweight down jacket has a hood with cinch cord, warm pockets for hands and one of the best warranties in the business.

Having used their warranty service in the past I rate them very highly, another very positive reason to consider this jacket.

The weather resistant shell is lacking any DWR coating and the responsibly sourced 800 loft down is not hydrophobic. So this jacket performs poorly in anything other than good weather.

Conclusion – For the budget hiker this is the best option. It has everything a budget ultralight hiker would want minus anything that would add to the overall cost of the jacket. It could be lighter and a little more weather resistant.

Weight – 353g / 12.5oz
Downfill weight – Unknown
Down  – Responsibly sourced, non hydrophobic, 800 loft down
Total Loft – Unknown
Outer fabric – Weather resistant 10D Nylon with No DWR coating
Hood – Yes
Pockets – Yes
Stuff sac – No, Jackets stuffs into a pocket
Pros – Low cost (only just). Great customer service and warranty department.
Cons – Poor weather resistance.

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REI | Amazon | Moosejaw.com | Backcountry.com

Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket Review

Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket Review

The 5 ounces of down creates a massive 3750 cubic inches of down to keep you warm. Although this jacket is slightly heavier than the other jackets in this review it is the warmest.

The Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket uses high quality hydrophobic down, quality DWR coating and one of the best in the business outer fabrics, Pertex Quantum. This is a seriously weather resistant jacket.

If only this jacket was using higher loft down such as 800 plus and was a little bit lighter.

Conclusion – Rab makes some of the best outdoor and this jacket is no exception. For anyone heading off into cold damp areas this jacket will be a great fit.

This jacket has all the best features and all the best materials, if only the loft of the down was higher than 750 it would bring down the overall weight and increase the overall quality to make this the best jacket. Perfect for wet cold trails such as early season starts on any of the Triple Crown Hiking Trails or the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

Weight – 470g / 17oz
Downfill weight – 143g/5oz
Down  – Responsibly sourced, hydrophobic, 750 loft down
Total Loft – 3750 cubic inches
Outer fabric – Weather resistant Pertex Quantum 32g/m2 with DWR coating
Hood – Yes
Pockets – Yes
Stuff sac – Yes
Pros – Very warm. Great weather resistance. Top quality materials.
Cons – Heavy. 750 loft down.

Compare Prices:
 Amazon | Moosejaw.com | Backcountry.com

North Face Summit L3 Hoody Review

North Face Summit L3 Hoody

The Pertex Quantum GL outer fabric is lighter than my favourite Pertex Quantum. Combined with 800 loft hydrophobic down and a quality DWR coating this is one of the best jacket to take outdoors when the weather turns nasty.

The North Face Summit L3 Hoody is slightly heavier than the other jackets in this review but it one of the warmest. Making this better suited to someone who feels the cold or heading into temperatures below freezing.

It packs up slightly larger than the other jackets.

Conclusion – Overall, this is one of the best Lightweight Down Jackets for those heading into bad weather or wanting one of the warmer jackets. Quality everything in this jacket. The added warmth comes at the cost of weight and it is not the most compact of all the jackets. Another jacket that is perfect for wet cold trails or early season starts on any of the Triple Crown Hiking Trails or the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

Weight – 480g / 16.9oz
Downfill weight – unknown
Down  – Responsibly sourced, hydrophobic down, 800 loft
Synthetic Fill – No
Outer fabric –  10D Pertex Quantum GL fabric 25g/m2 with DWR Coating
Hood – Yes
Pockets – Yes
Stuff sac – Yes
Pros – One of the best lightweight weather resistant jacket. Hydrophobic Down, Pertex Quantum GL outer fabric. Very warm.
Cons – Heavier than the other jackets, not very compact.

Compare Prices:
REI | Amazon | Moosejaw.com | Backcountry.com

Best Ultra Light Down Jackets for Thru Hiking

Most thru hikers only wear a down jacket at night or first thing in the morning until the body has warmed up. Hiking in a down jacket is not common unless the weather turns cold and nasty.

The best Ultralight down jackets for thru hikers are the Feathered Friends Eos, Arcterex Cerium, Ghost Whisperer 2, Macpac Icefall and Montbell Plasma.

Each are under 300g and withstand the harsh treatment they will be put through. The Montbell Plasma is far and away the lightest making it great for those who want the lightest jacket and don’t mind the lack of features such as a hood or pockets.

If hiking on wet thru hikes such as the Appalachian Trail or Te Araroa Trail the Macpac Icefall is the stand out choice.

Best Down Jackets for Rainy Weather

With hydrophobic down, quality DWR coatings and the best outer materials it is hard to go past the Macpac Icefall, Northface Summit L3, Rab Microlight Alpine

The Macpac Icefall and Arcteryx Cerium SL add synthetic insulation into the high moisture areas which are likely to get wet such as hoods, cuffs and shoulders, but the lack of hydrophobic down really lets it down in foul weather.

Overall, the Macpac Icefall is the best ultra light down jacket for bad weather, closely followed by the Rab Microlight Alpine and Northface Summit L3 which are both quite a bit heavier but are both warmer jackets.

Best overall Ultralight Down Jackets

Ever single jacket in this review could do something that would make them the standout winner and best choice. As it stands a couple of jacket rise to the top but could be improved.

The Feathered Friends Eos would reach the top spot if it used hydrophobic Down. It is very warm, light, a good fit and great in all but rainy weather. The exact same can be said for the Arcteryx Cerium SL.

The Northface Summit L3 and Rab Microlight Alpine would reach the top spot if they were lighter in weight. Despite being feature rich, weather resistant and warm, they are slightly too heavy.

Montbell is ultralight in weight but lacking in features. This is the best pick for the hiker who doesn’t care about pockets, hood or weather resistance and wants the lightest jacket on the market.

Outdoor Research is the cheapest (only just) and is a good lightweight jacket. Adding more features would add to the price, but would make it a better jacket.

The Macpac Icefall ticks all the boxes for weather resistance, quality, lightweight and warmth. It would take out the top spot if it had a slim fit as it is too bulky around the mid section. It is also difficult to access for non New Zealanders or Australians.

Overall, I like the Macpac Icefall for hiking in bad weather. For a combination of warmth and ultralight weight I like Arcteryx Cerium SL  and Feathered Friends EOS. What do you think and why?

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  1. Since I am currently looking at the Icefall vs the Microlight (good NZ prices at the mo), I indeed thankyou for this review.
    I’m leaning towards the microlight for the max warmth. I’m a photographer and can find myself standing still in cold places.
    Happy adventures!

    1. The Icefall and the Microlight are the two standout down jackets, specially for those across the ditch where the weather can be a bit cold and wet. There is little to separate them except the Microlight is slightly heavier and warmer in comparison to the Icefall. I now own an Icefall and love it but I am also a big fan of the quality of all RAB gear too. If you want the warmer of the two take the Microlight, if you want quality NZ designed gear then go the Macpac.

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