Gear in Review: Down Jackets

Colder temperatures are settling in across Minnesota. That means just one thing. It’s time to layer up. Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to score a really good deal on three different down jackets. I’d heard for many years a down jacket would be a great addition to my outdoor kit and about the versatility they offer. It’s a jacket style offering warmth, light weight and packability in most cases.

Each has some things I love and a few things I don’t. Have a got a favorite of the three? Well it depends. Let’s get down to each from my perspective.

REI Co-op Down Jacket

My first down jacket was one I managed to score on a deal at REI a few years ago. It’s the basic 650 Down Jacket. Once a year these go on sale at somewhere between 40-50% off. I happened to hit the sale just right. The jacket is a great entry level option and has seen a few minor updates since I originally bought it. While I believe you often get what you pay for, there are brands that surprise me with design features I never knew I needed. This is one of those pieces.

WHAT I LOVE:

The roomy cut allows for some serious layering underneath. The large interior pocket offers a place to stash my coffee filled Kleen Kanteen or water lugging Nalgene to free up my hands. This is especially handy when I’m at camp with Scouts (in the past and hopefully not too distant future).

The ability to pack this gem into its own pocket, creating a travel pillow as a bonus, is another handy feature. When I was traveling in past years, the jacket was always in my carry on to help with chilly planes and a nap (or two).

The warmth of this workhorse of a jacket was surprising to me. Layered properly, including a water and wind proof shell, I can wear this into the low 20s and still be comfortable. It’s temperature sweet spot hits closer to 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit on it’s own. When there is rain or wind, I simply add a hard shell jacket and I’m toasty warm and dry.

WHAT I’M NOT A FAN OF:

I wish the 650 fill had a hooded version. It seems the only way to get a hood is to head into the 800-850 fill range, which can be a bit too much for fall weather or a highly active pursuit that works up a sweat. More color options each year would be nice too.

The first version of this had a leaking feather issue. I lost a favorite black dress to the tiny down feathers making their way out of every seam on my way to and from work one day. I debated about keeping the jacket, trying all kinds of things including wearing a beat up fleece as a liner for several months before I took advantage of REI’s return policy. Thankfully I again hit the timing just right and was able to trade it out for the next version. The lining of the updated jacket has been upgraded to a heftier one and I’ve not had issues with feathers leaking since.

TECH SPECS:

Brand: REI
Model: Down Jacket (2018) – link will take you to the 2.0 version. Key updates are more size options, including extended sizes, updates to materials like bluesign®, certification to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), and a recycled DWR finished exterior.
Retailer Where Purchased: REI
Specs: A recycled DWR finished recycled nylon exterior, bluesign® nylon interior, 650-fill-power RSD down filling, hip-length, weighing in at 10.8 oz. Two exterior zip pockets plus two large, open interior pockets.

Patagonia Down Sweater

Another deal presented itself for me to acquire a gently used Patagonia Down Sweater a little over a year ago. I was curious how this would compare to the REI 650 Down Jacket. Patagonia’s products come with a lifetime warrantee, but the price point was always a barrier for me. Finding the jacket was a fluke so I jumped at the chance to upgrade my down jacket game. What I found was a mix of love and disappointment.

WHAT I LOVE:

This jacket is warm. I’ve worn it with base layers and an outer shell into near single digit temperatures (Fahrenheit) and on windy day with little worry for chill. The exterior of this jacket is a DWR finish that sheds water well, though I’d not wear it without a hard shell in solid rain or snow for long periods. The fitted shape keeps body heat trapped well and the wind out.

The jacket packs into its interior breast pocket and offers two exterior pockets perfect for a few smaller items. Knowing that even though I am not the original owner of the jacket it’s warranted is an added benefit. I also appreciate the efforts that Patagonia has been leading to make sure their products do the least environmental harm. They’ve set the bar high for the rest of the outdoor industry. I have tremendous respect for that.

WHAT I’M NOT A FAN OF:

The price point is a barrier for folks on a budget. Even with the fact Patagonia offers a lifetime warrantee on their products. Much like my first jacket, the lack of hood (my choice because both brands DO offer hooded versions in limited down fill ranges) was something I wish I’d been able to upgrade for. Because of the fitted profile, the pockets are too small for my liking. Not having one big interior pocket to stuff even a small water bottle to keep it from freezing up on those cold camping weekends is disappointing.

TECH SPECS:

Brand: Patagonia
Model: Classic Down Sweater
Retailer Where Purchased: REI
Specs: The jacket shell is a 1.4-oz 20×30-denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish and is filled with 800-fill-power Advanced Global Traceable Down. This hip-length jacket weighs in at 12.2 oz making it heavier than either of the other jackets.

REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0

As I noted about the other two jackets, the missing hood plagued me for quite awhile. Hooded jackets have the ability to provide a quick transition on a windy day to being fully sheltered from the cold. I love having a hood for a quick burst of warmth or for a long haul hike on a cold day. I also appreciate layering instead of counting on one jacket to be all things against the cold. It allows for customizing based on my activity level and the temperatures. This last fall the jacket went on sale at 50% off so after a small debate with myself about whether I needed another down jacket, I sprang for it.

WHAT I LOVE:

This jacket has a more fitted profile than the 650 Down Jacket, more tailored than the REI 650 Down, but not quite as tight as the Patagonia. The adjustable hood brought the added warmth to the jacket I was hoping. I love when I feel a chill that I can pop the hood on and almost immediately feel an extra bit of warmth.

The ability to pack this gem into its own pocket, creating a travel pillow as a bonus, is another handy feature. The warmth of this workhorse of a jacket was surprising to me. Layered properly, including a water and wind proof shell, I can wear this into the low single digets and still be comfortable. It’s temperature sweet spot hits closer to 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit if worn on its own.

I’m a fan of the bigger exterior pockets that are well placed to be worn with a backpack. There are thoughtful design elements for anyone carrying a pack, like the seams which have been rolled off the shoulders and the placement of the three exterior pockets to be accessible even when wearing a pack.

WHAT I’M NOT A FAN OF:

Much like the 650 Down Jacket, I’d love to see more color options each year. I also miss that the jacket doesn’t have one interior pocket. One big drop pocket would make this even better than it already is.

TECH SPECS:

Brand: REI
Model: Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0 (2020) . Key updates include the tough Pertex® mini ripstop shell, goose down boasts a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment, materials that meet the bluesign® criteria, and seams and pockets are positioned to allow easy access around pack straps.
Retailer Where Purchased: REI
Specs: A recycled DWR finished recycled nylon exterior, bluesign® nylon interior, 850-fill-power RSD down filling, hip-length, weighing in at 11.5 oz.

Bottom Line

This might come as a surprise to folks … After a few months of having all three options in my closet, I find that I still head straight for my REI jackets for day-to-day use. I really want to jump on board the big brand train with Patagonia for all the reasons so many love the products – style, fit and the company’s industry leading sustainability efforts. I’m not saying the Patagonia jacket is bad. I believe strongly in the mission to be as sustainable as possible. That said, if budget is an issue, time and again REI is flexing it’s muscle showing that the brand can design solid pieces of gear that fit well for most people, offer a great selection of extended sizes and continue to improve year-over-year.

REI has also made a commitment, just like Patagonia, to push for sustainability all the way through their supply chain. A commitment to the environment is something that I continue to look more closely at every day. Any reduction of the resources products consume help to sustain the very outdoors the products help us enjoy. Let me be clear, REI isn’t paying me to say that. I’m watching them from the inside walk the talk along with many other brands. So if you are in the market for a down jacket, I’d suggest giving all of these jackets a look.


Next Post Preview: Winter adventures can be all kinds of fun. Just be sure to be prepared if something goes wrong.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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