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Recommendations for a packable down jacket

I’m planning a trip to Chicago in late fall, and am wondering if there’s a decently priced down jacket that can be compressed into a carryon without taking up too much space.

I’m traveling from Arizona and don’t really want to wear the thing on the plane if possible. And I don’t need a coat that would protect me in the Arctic, just a medium weight jacket that will provide some insulation from the notoriously fickle weather in Chicago. I’ve seen a few on Amazon, but am looking for some reviews from the experienced “traveling light” folks here.

I’ve had some success using compression bags to save space with heavy coats, but they still take up a lot of room. And as this is going to be a pretty short trip, I’d prefer not to check a bag because of one heavy item.

Any thoughts?

Posted by
3303 posts

Don't worry about this too much. I bought the cheapest compressible down jacket I could find on Amazon before our 2015 trip to Alsace, Munich and Vienna. By the time we got to Vienna, it was November and COLD! But the jacket worked great. One of the dogs chewed up the little bag that came with the jacket - but I could scrunch it down to fit into a quart-size Ziploc bag.

Posted by
1080 posts

I have Patagonia Ultralight down jacket that weighs nothing and is warm and packs into a small size and is high quality. I know Patagonia isn’t cheap but they are on sale on the website and they last many years.

Posted by
5837 posts

A Patagonia Micro Puff is on my want list. The one case where micro is smaller than nano.
http://www.patagonia.com/micro-puff.html

I should note that the Micro Puff is synthetic, not down.

Revolutionary PlumaFill insulation replicates the structure of down in
a continuous synthetic insulation material, offering the warmth,
packability and feel of down but with the warm-when-wet performance of
synthetic insulation

Not cheap but you get what you pay for. Biggest drawback of Patagonia stuff finding an excuse for upgrading when your Patagonia stuff is still working.

Posted by
1221 posts

I got one of these as a Christmas gift and can say it's comfortable for my cold-blooded self down to 30F or so. And yes, it does compact down into its own packet, and if you're going between indoor and outdoor, it will either fit inside a day bag or you can finagle a way of clipping it to the outside of the bag.

https://www.rei.com/product/878094/rei-co-op-down-jacket-womens

Also works well when we get cool overnights and mornings for Florida winters.

Uniqlo also has a lot of compactable down options that are good quality for the price:

https://www.uniqlo.com/us/en/women/ultra-light-down-collection

(Both companies also have men's version of the above if that applies)

Posted by
884 posts

32 Degrees. Not the quality of Patagonia, but 1/5 the price.

Posted by
413 posts

I bought an ultra light travel one from Uniqlo for Italy and it worked great. Cheaper than most and kept me warm. It won't last forever but in AZ, it'll probably be good for a few years. I stuck mine inside a pillowcase and used it as a pillow on the plane.

Posted by
1194 posts

I prefer the primaloft jackets such as the Patagonia nano puff or the North Face Thermoball.
Unlike down, primaloft maintains some of its insulation powers when wet.
Unlike down, primaloft is machine washable. That’s important for a travel jacket as it is more likely to get dirty.
Primaloft also breathes.

Jacket Dunk Test

If you absolutely must go cheap then the 32 degrees and the Uniqlo down jackets aren’t bad.

Posted by
1194 posts

Biggest drawback of Patagonia stuff finding an excuse for upgrading when your Patagonia stuff is still working.

(Sigh). Some of my 20 year old Fleece Patagonia jackets are still going. You definitely get what you pay for.

Posted by
94 posts

Here’s another vote for Uniqlo. I have used their packable down jackets last winter in Sweden and in the Czech Republic. Had some days of drizzling freezing rain and a few days of decent snow and I stayed warm and dry. Trick as always is to wear layers. The jacket would probably not keep you dry in a heavy downpour but works just fine for light rain and snow and packs down to fit easily into your day bag. I just bought another color on sale for $29 yesterday that I will take with me to Chicago this weekend. They also have great lightweight down vests that layer nicely under a jacket or over a light sweater.

Posted by
375 posts

You could also consider a packable down vest as one of your layers. Paired with a jacket, you have 3 options for that fickle Chicago weather: just the vest, just the jacket, or both. I bought one for our May Alpine tour and now I practically don't leave home for most trips without it. (Plus makes a great travel pillow in its sack)

Posted by
3551 posts

I am sold on Uniglo down vesta and coats. Used them in Patagonia and Iceland and worked beautifuly.
Ck it out.

Posted by
4574 posts

Consider the hooded version unless you plan to have a hat or two. I also second something for layering. If not a down vest, then merino wool sweater.

Posted by
2565 posts

I live in Florida and have family in Chicago. I bought a packable down jacket from Land's End a few years ago that fits into its own pocket. It doesn't take up much room. I bought a tall even though I am 5 foot 6 inches to get a little more length to it which works perfecty.

I really like it. It is not extremely warm though. However, if I wear a sweater under it, I am fine in weather in the 20s.

Beth

Posted by
2529 posts

Patagonia Nano Puff is my jacket...no real signs of wear after many hours of use in all sorts of weather. Down's great, but not so when wet and the drying time is MUCH greater.

Posted by
3961 posts

Another vote for the REI co-op down jacket. Should be fine for late Fall in Chicago. Compact, warm and nice looking. Still on sale. It was perfect in 30 degree weather this past Winter. Add a light base layer like Smartwool for added comfort.

Posted by
1194 posts

I just want to point out a sub thread that is popping up. Many people are saying the jackets aren’t warm enough without layers underneath. This seems to come from people in warm regions.

I just want to point out that you can’t wear a t-shirt under a jacket and be warm when it is cold out. People who grew up in the cold know that you need to wear a sweater or some other layer under a jacket when it is cold.

You need underlayers AND overlayers when it gets really cold.

Posted by
1057 posts

I just purchased this packable synthetic jacket on sale from Lands End. I intend to use it for travel. It’s very comfortable and packable though slightly heavier than down. But a lot cheaper.

Posted by
39 posts

I live part time in Arizona and needed a light weight jacket for our trip to Italy. I got a 32 degree packable jacket at Stein Mart for $50. I love it so much that we ordered my husband one from Amazon. He paid less than I did and also loves the jacket.

Posted by
3428 posts

It certainly is not inexpensive, but my husband just bought a lovely down jacket from Tumi. It folds up into it's own pocket and makes a shape like the neck pillows some people like on planes. Could certainly double as one on a flight. He also just ordered their new windbreaker, which is very light and folds into it's own pocket like a sack. Tumi has a great reputation for quality and durability.

Posted by
12 posts

Uniqlo is the best cheap option.

I spent several happy hours exploring the Eddie Bauer clearance pages, as they often have coupons.
I found a Cirruslight women's down parka that was long, hooded, lightweight and packable for around $50. It worked great with a few layers underneath and a lightweight Columbia raincoat of similar length on top. I was comfortable at 32oF with wind in London last month.

Posted by
5837 posts

"Best" is not usually "cheapest". Beyond the synthetic vs down question is the kind and quality of down - duck vs goose and 650 vs 800 fill. And if down, treated for water repellency or not.

https://www.switchbacktravel.com/down-fill-insulation-explained

Accordingly, many down products these days use a DWR (Durable Water
Repellent) treatment on the shell fabric and even treat the down
itself to help it resist water (more on that below).

...geese generally are larger than ducks and more mature when taken
for food, so the down has a higher average fill power. You can find
low-grade goose down and high-grade duck down, but on average goose
down clusters are larger and loftier.

...fill weight—the total amount of down stuffed into a jacket or
sleeping bag—is just as important. This is the weight of insulation in
the jacket, measured in ounces, and will give you a good indication of
how much warmth it will provide.

Fill power measures the quality and loft of down. The higher the
number (800 fill, 700 fill, 600 fill, etc.), the better the down and
the more loft and warmth it will provide. Fill power is calculated by
how much space 1 ounce of down clusters takes up in a cylindrical tube
(1 ounce of 800-fill power down will loft to 800 cubic inches, 1 ounce
of 700-fill power down will loft to 700 cubic inches, etc.). Loftier
down gets the highest ratings, and it’s the warmest, lightest, and
most compressible.

Posted by
553 posts

I like the 32 degree jackets, sometimes available at Costco. Have found them to be totally adequate.

Posted by
27 posts

Uniqlo is a winner. There is a uniqlo store right across the street from Water Tower Place on Michigan Ave. If you can wait to purchase, you can shop right in the store & get the size right. You'd also know what to expect for the weather. Late Oct can be a crapshoot. Sunny & 70 or cold & 30, or rain.... Have fun. Chicago is great!

Posted by
537 posts

If you're looking for value and cost is the principal consideration, Uniqlo or, 32 Degrees works. Keep in mind, that those brands while attractive in price and colors, do not fill the baffles of their jackets all the way. The baffles have empty space where there's no down clusters, thus, no insulation.

If you're looking for quality that you can use many years later, but willing to pay a bit more upfront, consider Marmot, The North Face or, Western Mountaineering. While lots of people like Patagonia, I've found they don't use enough down but, more importantly their fabrics allow too much wind to cut through which ends up defeating the whole purpose.

Keep in mind, fill power measures the quality of the down...basically the higher the number the more compressible it can be. 800-fill power is premium, 700-fill is very good, 600-is good and 500-is basic. Duck and Goose down are measured the same thus, there's very little differences when it comes to keeping you warm. The differences are esoteric for the lay consumer. Baffles are the hollow chambers that are filled with down plumes, most jacket designs are horizontal. Some jackets, particularly women's will have some visual interest in their baffle designs which can be flattering, Marmot's Ama Dablam jkt has been very popular because of this. Some down jackets can be stuffed into a side pocket, however this shouldn't be a sole reason for purchase as down jackets by their nature are highly compressible. $180-220 is about the range for a good 700-800 fill power down jacket

Posted by
5837 posts

...Patagonia, I've found they don't use enough down but, more importantly their fabrics allow too much wind to cut through which ends up defeating the whole purpose.

Down jackets/sweaters are typically used as an insulating mid-layer covered by a wind/rain shell. Down's insulating qualities are grossly diminished when wet and a tighter weave fabric adds weight and reduces compressibility of the insulating layer.
https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/layering-basics.html

Posted by
1194 posts

While lots of people like Patagonia, I've found they don't use enough down but, more importantly their fabrics allow too much wind to cut through which ends up defeating the whole purpose.

Are we talking past each other? Most of the Patagonia recommendations are for their Primaloft products, not their down ones.

One reason people like the Primaloft is because of its breathability for aerobic activities. You’ll need a slightly permeable covering for that, unless you used the much heavier Gor-Tex. At that point you lose packability.

As Edgar stated, most of us wear the puff jackets under a rain shell for standing activities. And it is better to have this configuration for travel. Wear the shell alone for warmer weather, puff jacket alone for cool to cold weather, and puff jacket plus shell for really cold weather. This allows you to accommodate wide ranges in weather during your travels.

If you were going to a cold-only place then a heavier down jacket is a great choice. But OP is going to Chicago, in the autumn. I know (having grown up in the Midwest) that the weather can be anything from 75 degrees to 20 degrees. You can get glorious weather to sleet to snow and maybe even a tornado. This type of weather demands the dual jacket combo named above.

Posted by
1806 posts

Having lived in Chicago, yes the weather can certainly be fickle and run the gamut at that time of year, but focus on layering (long sleeve tee, a fleece or sweater) and start off with the lightest and least bulky jacket you can find - and if you find that the weather changes significantly while you are out there, then you're in luck because you are in a major metropolitan area that has lots of retail stores both in the city and the suburbs.

I've got the Land's End Lightweight Primaloft Jacket which packs down small to fit in a carry-on and doesn't weigh much yet keeps me perfectly warm in temps ranging from 30F to 55F depending how I'm layered up underneath the jacket. Under 30 degrees and I am wanting my wool peacoat.

Posted by
537 posts

Cindy and Edgar, air permeability is a double-edged sword for insulated garments. You want the air to pass through so that you're able to remain comfortable while also warming up the trapped air inside the insulated baffled. Too much air permeability and you loose that warm layer inside the baffles to the blowing wind or, cold air drawing it out. In the case of Patagonia, their face fabrics for both their Down Seater and Nano Puff styles are more on the highly air-permeable side of the equation. I've come across more people who like their Nano Puff for it's appearances but, complain of it's low insulation and warmth retention. It is after the all the most popular insulated vest right now.

Yes, down sweaters and light insulated jackets are designed to be worn as mid-layers, however they've become quite popular as stand alone outerwear pieces and more people are apt to wear them as such. Experienced travelers, like backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts are well versed in the layering concept and everyone would be well off sticking to such.

Posted by
2529 posts

“i’ve come across more people who like their Nano Puff for it's appearances but, complain of it's low insulation and warmth retention.” This person loves his Patagonia Nano Puff and field testing the past few days easily confirmed it managed significantly windy and sub-freezing conditions for hours with flying colors. Also, it packs neatly into a zippered pocket.

Posted by
5837 posts

"Air permeability" or "breathability" is an important characteristic for active outdoor clothing. This would especially be true for down insulation layers because wet down loses its loft (insulation capacity). Layering with a wind/precipitation barrier outer layer over your insulation mid-layer is the usual strategy.

I've had older Norwegian ski guides who consider Gore-tex lined outer layers dangerous because they don't "breath" as well as tightly woven fabric. Of course these older guides predate the global warming crisis and winters were colder than they are today. They joked that if you wore Gore-tex you would need to turn them inside out during rest breaks to shake out the ice from moisture freezing on the inside of the jacket.

With Patagonia's outdoor heritage I'm not surprised that their insulation layer clothing is highly permeable. Form should follow function but if it looks nice so much the better. And better to keep your down dry.

I'll add that I have a pre-Nano Patagonia down vest. But I usually use my Patagonia R3 fleece jacket under my Patagonia 2.5 layer shell because the down vest is too warm. And the R3 fleece usually stays in the pack and only comes out during rest stops.

Posted by
1194 posts

I've come across more people who like their Nano Puff for it's appearances but, complain of it's low insulation and warmth retention. It is after the all the most popular insulated vest right now.

So I noticed the San Francisco address. Are these people from warmer areas? Because I’ve noticed that a lot of Californians (and other warm weather dwellers) are utterly clueless on how to dress for cold weather.

I’ve seen people in short sleeve t shirts complain that the down coat doesn’t work. I’ve seen people complain about cold feet and noticed that they were in sneakers. These people need to take a class in Layering 101. Or maybe they need to spend a year in a cold place to learn how to deal with cold.

I’ve been plenty warm in my nano Puff layered under a rain coat. If it gets colder I add in an extra base layer. It isn’t designed to be a stand alone jacket for negative temperatures. But combined with other clothing? It does just fine.

Remember that the OP is going to a place with wildly variable weather. They need something that can handle a wide range. The best solution is going to be different than for a place of constant cold.

FYI, I grew up in a place that went to -20F in the winter.

Posted by
1194 posts

I want to mention that sale time is coming up. All the puff jackets will be 30-50% off. Look from now through May.

Check
Sierra Trading post
LL Bean (their Primaloft version)
North Face
Patagonia
Columbia

Posted by
156 posts

From the OP:
Thanks to all for the good advice. I ordered a 32 Degrees from Amazon, which fit nicely. Only one problem. It came with a dime sized hole in the chest. Sent it back for a refund.

After reading all the opinions here, and since I’m in no huge rush (this trip is in the fall), I’m going to wait and check out sales from the higher end retailers. I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a jacket I’ll only use once or twice, and believe it or not living in Phoenix I have a pretty decent amount of outerwear. We spend a good amount of time in northern climes in the winter, and I have a nice parka and bomber jacket along with some other coats.

As the “packability” and the ability to compress to as small a size as possible is the key here, I’ll shop at the brick and mortar stores like REI and Eddie Bauer to check their stuff out in person. But at this point I think you Uniqlo recommenders won the debate for the price/quality issue for an online purchase. Thanks again to all!

Posted by
537 posts

Cindy and Edgar, I think in many ways we're talking past each other and if in person, we'd likey have a very extensive, lengthy and convivial conversation about each of our experiences with technical outdoor clothing. My only point was, if the OP was looking for a stand-alone garment, the quoted Patagonia styles may not suffice due to the short-comings I spoke of. That said, we're all in agreement and understanding that layering is key, and as Cindy pointed-out, Chicago has big weather variations in the Fall, ergo, stand-by, brings layers and shorts.

Edgar, hopefully your Norwegien guide understands that not all Gore-Tex is the same. As somebody who's climbed all over the west, including Alaska and Canada, I've limited my Gore-Tex garments to the 3-ply Pro construction variety only. The standard 2-ply construction is very limiting and has many, many short-comings, chief amongst, is it's poor breathability compared to Pro and other PU-based laminates.