By Duncan Bell
Let us tell you a secret about down jackets: if you're not going to be using them in genuinely harsh weather, by which we don't mean the Cotswolds in February, you really might as well just buy whatever one you think looks nicest. These are the samiest of all coats.
They all have outer fabric that is rip, water, and windproof to varying degrees, and also able to keep the down that fills them inside to varying degrees. Some are impregnable, some will let slip the odd feather.
Inside there's duck, goose or synthetic down, or a mix. Obviously. As a result, you're well advised to use specialist down-only detergent when cleaning or, if your local Tescos lacks such a product, use about 1/3 the normal amount of detergent.
Designed for the outdoors, from the Alps in a blizzard to a brisk, British country walk, down jackets are now spotted on high streets the world over and are a major fashion item. Why, just look at the fella pictured above, totally at home in his alpine environment. We wager that with his fantastic modelling skills and easy manner, he'll be catching the eye of all the finest ladies at the aprés ski disco hot tub party. And a certain proportion of the gentlemen, to boot, we dare say!
To help you through the primary-coloured minefield of sameiness that is down jacket shopping, we've ranked the following in rough order, starting from 'high street catwalk' and moving up to 'Arctic ready'. They will all keep you warm though, rest assured.
Imagery courtesy Go Outdoors. Coats are listed roughly in order of protectiveness, from light but still warm to full-on Arctic survival gear.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
ThisBlade Runner-flavoured,urban cyberpunk classic is, quite possibly, T3's favourite puffy. With Q.Shield down, it's the world's lightest “full-featured down jacket”, yet is impressively warm nonetheless - easily a match for most British weather.
If you're in colder climes, it's so light and slim, it can even be worn under a bigger jacket or coat. The hooded version does make you look decidedly 'special' if you deploy it, however.
Berghaus Popena Hooded HydroDown Fusion Jacket
This longer-length 'HydroDown Fusion' jacket is one for harsher conditions - the freezer section at Tesco, for instance.
Body-mapped insulation gives you optimal warmth when the weather gets nasty, although it is versatile enough to work in the temperature zone known as 'just a bit brisk'.
Columbia Platinum 860
With the reflective foil of Omni-Heat thermal insulation on the inner lining and TurboDown in the ribs, this is a perfect blend of science and nature - like a goose with a big bionic arm. The result is top-flight outdoor performance at an accessible price, with conversation-starting, foil-like lining to trap in more heat. The price has come waaaay down since its launch, too.
Rab Microlight Alpine
Hydrophobic, 750-fill goose down and weather-resistant Pertex make this deceptively warm for something so light.
For the UK where, let's face it, the weather never gets that nasty, it's nigh-on perfect.
Black Diamond Hot Forge
Quite literally the hottest thing in down jackets in recent years is Primaloft Gold – artificial down that, in this case, is also DWR-treated (durable water-repellent). Also justifying the entry price: a helmet- compatible hood and “stretch gusseted cuffs”.
This is another one whose price has tumbled with a couple of passing years (it was initially £280) although you may have to put up with some rather less subtle colour options as stocks run low.
Montane North Star Lite Jacket
Treated with a Super 100 durable water repellent so it won't fail you during rain storms, this also boasts Pertex Quantum Yarn to keep its hydrophobic goose down firmly inside the jacket.
Recently reduced in price, it's still a premium item. The close-fitting hood can be rolled and stowed when not needed.
Haglöfs LIM Essens
The Darth Vader of down jackets, this is spendy outdoor brand Haglöf's most premium down jacket.
As you can see, it's very black indeed (a Ginko Green option is also available). It also boasts a lot of high-end details, such as the articulated quilting on the sleeves for easier movement, 800-fill 90/10 goose down in box-construction, 7-denier, ripstop outer fabric and a weight of just 180g for the large size.
Fashion note: the LIM Essens should only be worn by attractively toned people, as anyone skinny who dons it will resemble a sparrow, while anyone who's broader of girth will, thanks to the cold-beating, chin-high collar, look a bit Sontaran.
Arc’Teryx Cerium LT
You do slightly run the risk of being mistaken for a wealthy Austrian trustfund kid if you wear this. However, with Down Composite Mapping putting Coreloft insulation in areas where moisture may form, and goose down where you need heat, it does undeniably do the business. Also wons the price for "hardest to pronounce jacket 2014", and holds it to this very day…
Canada Goose Brookvale
The down shit is now getting SERIOUS, with this pricey little number from the cool part of North America, which is one for winter sports enthusiasts of all kinds.
Built for that tricky 0ºC to -15ºC range, the Brookhaven wraps lightweight, breathable and highly flexible Vereflex 15D outer fabric around 750 fill Hutterite white duck down.
Nifty detailing includes a two-way zipper and soft material on the chin guard and collar.
Heading somewhere a tad more brisk? PHD's wares are endorsed by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, no less, and this jacket's good down to -35C. You can customise it to your requirements too, choosing the pocket location, outer fabric and colour and the down quality and quantity.
Yes, it's more expensive than Arc'Teryx and Haglöfs combined, but that's because it's for survival, not skiing.
Having said that, although it's not aimed at the style crowd, if you wear the Denali to a hip-hop gig and stand there with your arms folded, we'll definitely buy you a beer.