For anything more than a local stroll it’s a good idea for all hillwalkers to carry an insulated jacket in your walking backpack all year round. In summer that’s likely to be something fairly light and packable for those “just in case” scenarios. In autumn and winter it’ll be to augment the warmer coat you’re already wearing.
The first thing to consider is how warm you need your jacket to be. There are some excellent insulated jackets on the market that will keep you warm in the coldest of Alpine conditions, but they’re likely to be overkill on a wet autumn day in the Lake District.
The job of an insulated jacket is to stop your body losing heat, so most insulated jackets are not designed to be waterproof. If it’s raining, you’ll probably need to layer it under a waterproof shell jacket. So make sure you don’t pick up something too warm or bulky if it’s going to spend most of its life under a waterproof.
The big question with insulated jackets is: down or synthetic? Down is the extra fluffy layer of feathers closest to the body of a bird: its light fluffy nature traps air and this prevents heat loss. Down jackets are filled with this, usually from ducks and geese.
A measure you’ll inevitably come across when considering a down jacket is the fill power. The higher the fill power (or “loft”), the better the insulating qualities of the down. It’s calculated by taking a set weight of the down and measuring its volume. If it’s bigger, it’s fluffier, thus it traps more air and is better at keeping you warm. Higher fill also means it’s lighter and more compressible.
The big performance drawback with down is that it doesn’t perform well when wet. Once the down is wet, all those fluffy feathers clump together, lose loft and are no longer able to trap air to keep you warm.
Down is a byproduct of the food industry and most outdoor clothing brands source theirs as ethically as possible, guaranteeing no live plucking or force-fed birds. Check out a brand’s credentials before you buy, and make sure they are signed up to a responsible down sourcing scheme. If you want a jacket that is not made with animal products, then you’ll need a synthetic jacket.
Most synthetic jackets are made from a polyester fill that attempts to mimic the air-trapping quality of down. Man-made fillers are not quite as fluffy as down – although some are getting close – so more synthetic insulation is needed to gain the same warmth, making synthetic jackets heavier and bulkier. On the plus side, synthetic insulation maintains its insulating power even when wet, because the fibres don’t clump like down.
The Best Women’s Insulated And Down Jackets
Merrell Women's Ridgevent Thermo Swing Jacket
This jacket is filled with a blend of 65% ethically sourced goose down and 35% ultra-fine Primaloft synthetic fibres. The jacket also has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) surface treatment making it one of the better performers in damp conditions. Integral to this jacket is BackVent technology, which targets certain areas for extra warmth and breathability, as well letting out heat and moisture while you’re wearing a backpack. It packs a lot of features in for a reasonable price, and comes in three colours and a welcome range of sizes: XS to XXL.
Buy from Merrell | £150
Patagonia Women's Micro Puff Hoody
The Micro Puff is filled with PlumaFill synthetic insulation, a featherlight down alternative unique to Patagonia. The jacket packs small and feels great – it’s light, warm, not bulky, layers up really well under a waterproof shell and has a snug hood to keep you extra cosy. Patagonia can be relied upon to act ethically and this product is Fair Trade Certified sewn. It’s available in three colours, in sizes XS to XL, and there’s a version without a hood too.
Buy from Patagonia | £225
Mountain Equipment Earthrise Hooded Women's Jacket
The feature that sets this jacket apart is its reduced environmental footprint. The Earthrise is filled with reclaimed duck and goose down, and the rest is made from 100% recycled polyester. A PFC-free DWR treatment on the surface provides an eco-friendly degree of water resistance too. Hand warmer pockets and a snug hood both help to keep you warm, although you can also buy it without a hood. It comes in sizes eight to 16 in five attractive colours.
Buy from Mountain Equipment | £180
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Arc’teryx Agrium Anorak Women’s
Sustainable processes and materials such as dope dyes, bio-derived material from castor bean oil and recycled polyester have been used in the manufacture of this lightweight and packable down jacket. Mapped construction provides warmth where it’s most needed and synthetic fill in the areas most likely to get damp. The pullover-style anorak also features a generous front zip and a kangaroo pocket. Sizing goes from XS to XL and the colour choice is black or olive green.
Buy from Arc’teryx | £360
Montane Women’s Fireball Jacket
The Fireball is intended for cold days when you’re moving fast or working hard and want a breathable insulating layer. It’s filled with Montane’s own synthetic insulation, and the construction is designed to regulate core temperature. The outer is breathable and stretchy and has a DWR treatment, as well as articulated sleeves. These features, along with its close-fitting design, make it a great option for running or climbing in. There are three colours to choose from and it comes in sizes eight to 16.
Buy from Montane | £200
The North Face Women’s Summit Series L3 50/50 Hooded Down Jacket
This down jacket from The North Face will take you to the coldest of places in comfort. It’s filled with ProDown, a water-repellent down fill, which retains impressive loft even when wet. The outer of this jacket is highly breathable, allowing heat and moisture to escape, so it comes into its own when you’re working hard. It’s available in an eye-catching red and black colourway, in sizes XS to XL.
Buy from The North Face | £470
Simond Women’s Mountaineering Down Jacket
Filled with responsibly sourced duck down and rated for use down to -10°C, this slim-cut hooded jacket has just enough pockets (one of which acts as the stuff pocket) and a two-way zip. If you’re looking for a great product at a great price and you don’t need fancy features, then this is the jacket for you. It’s available in sizes XS to XL, with a choice of two bright colours.
Buy from Decathlon | £79.99
Rab Women’s Cirrus Insulated Jacket
This jacket is filled with a water-resistant, 100% recycled Primaloft Silver insulation that looks and feels like down, combined with a Pertex Quantum outer. Together these provide warmth, excellent protection from moisture and superb wind resistance. With no hood and simple styling, it’s great for everyday wear and multi-activity use: we’d wear it on a walk, a bike ride, or to go climbing or skiing. It comes in four colours, in sizes eight to 16.
Buy from Rab | £145
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