Better than down – warm jackets that come cruelty-free

Down is warm and light, so makes a perfect insulator for autumn and winter jackets. The big downside, though, is that it comes from ducks and geese. 

Fortunately, there are now puffa and padded jackets without feathers that have all the benefits as well as being better than down in wet weather.

Latest update: November 2019

Why not feathers and down?

The cheaper your jacket, the more likely it is that cruelty was involved in its making.

 

Even companies that claim their down is responsibly sourced can’t ever be certain feathers haven’t been painfully plucked. In the worst cases, feathers are ripped out, leaving birds bleeding and in agony.

Some of the very best companies say they use only down that has been naturally shed. It’s gathered and the birds are left with a synthetic replacement to line their nests. You can imagine how expensive that makes a jacket.

Very few of us absolutely need the light weight of real down, and there are now plenty of alternatives that offer similar insulation, pack down small and have the advantage of being easier to clean and dry. Down is a bit rubbish when wet and can even lose its qualities in damp or sweaty conditions.

Synthetic ‘down’ – easier to care for too

The most widely used materials are Thinsulate, FullRange, PolarTec Alpha and PrimaLoft. Of these, PrimaLoft is a great, water-resistant insulator developed for the US army. It comes in three levels of performance – black, silver and gold. You’ll find it in jackets made by companies such as Montane, Vaude, Patagonia, Helly Hansen, The North Face and many more.

Our top choices for down jacket alternatives

Most manufacturers make the same jacket in a men’s and a women’s fit. We didn’t try anything costing more than £120, and tried to get a good cross-section of price and brand. We didn’t find a completely waterproof version but most models are water-resistant and they dry much faster than down. Here’s what we found, with our favourites highlighted.

Also have a look at our article on down-free sleeping bag choices.

Craghoppers insulated jackets

For the cheapest option, Craghoppers has a BIG range, including the Compresslite jackets for men and women.

They’re windproof and water resistant and pretty lightweight for non-down. There’s a wide range of different styles, including gilets, jackets with hoods and more coat-like options, for both men and women.

They’re not the bee’s knees on the style front, but great for affordable, packable warmth. From around £35.

Regatta padded jackets

An amazingly wide range of insulated jackets in lots of choices of weight and colour. Surprisingly, given how stylish some of these are, the prices are some of the lowest we’ve found.

Down Touch – women only

Two styles and an array of colours in this range of lightweight non-down padded jackets. Fantastic value at under £40 (though this was a sale price at the time of writing).

Metallia jackets – women only

Not a technical jacket. More for short walks and festivals, but the Metallia is rather cool. Again, lots of colours and under £40 (at the time of writing).

Nevado heavyweight jackets – men and women

The emphasis here is on warmth. These are thick, boxy-styled jackets with a slightly longer length. Super-thick insulation and and between £30 and £60 across the range.

Azuma jackets – men and women

You’ll either love or hate these padded jackets. The colour gradient is certainly like no other. In fact, they’re also very affordable and very warm (especially the heavyweight models from the range).

Choose from hoods or not and from eight amazing colours!

Halton jackets – men and women

Perhaps our favourites from Regatta, though they all have their qualities (not least price). This range features jackets of different weights and bodywarmers. Some also have wool or alpaca insulation.

Colombia insulated jackets

Powder Lite – men and women

 

The Powder Lite jackets for men and women are quite brilliant – very warm, a lovely fit and light to wear. Plus you can choose from hooded and hoodless versions and a longer length jackets.

Lots of good colourways too. Only niggle – the zip is on the wrong side! Or am I going mad?

Inside is a reflective lining that keeps body heat in without making you sweaty (I use mine to insulate my homemade yoghurt too!). Warm-lined pockets and a drawstring in the hem. Hooded and non-hooded options. Price from around £50.

Horizon Explorer – men only

 
Another one with the thermal lining to keep heat in. This jacket has a drawstring hem, an inside pocket and is water resistant

Price from around £60.

Icepeak insulated jackets

Not a well-known brand, but very affordable.

Icepeak Layan – women

We liked the scooped hem and adjustable hood. Plus there’s a lot of warmth for your money here. From around £55.

 

 

Icepeak Leal– for men

Adjustable hem and warm hood, plus enough waterproofing to keep you dry in a drizzle at least. Around £55.

Jack Wolfskin insulated jackets

 
The Argon range has hooded and hoodless jackets for men, women and children. All are warm, water resistant and PFC-free. From around £100

Berghaus insulated jackets

Seral for men

Higher insulation with light advanced polyball insulation. A choice of colours, a hood and around £95.

Vaskye for men

A very nice-looking jacket with high-loft insulation and PFC-free water repellent finish. Around £105.

Nula for women

Freedom of movement and warmth, the Nula looks smart and it’s both lightweight and warm. Around £110..

Rab insulated jackets

Rab jackets tend to come up a bit small in the men’s sizes, so you might need a size up if you want to layer T-shirts and jumpers underneath. Women’s can be a bit loose.

Rab Cirrus Flex – men and women

The Cirrus Flex Jacket is lightly filled with Cirrus 3M™ Featherless insulation, which balances and regulates temperature so you don’t overheat while you’re moving or get cold when you stop.

Designed for movement, the Thermic™ stretch fleece panelling offers excellent flexibility and improved breathability.

Rip-stop outer and lining fabric, which sheds water and is fast drying. The left pocket doubles as integrated stuff sack so it packs away neatly when you’re on the move.

Available with and without a hood. From around £95.

Rab Nimbus – men and women

Last year’s model but still available. It’s warm, has an elasticated hood (can’t be adjusted, sadly) and heat-retaining collar, good pockets and nice touches, such as the zip guard and the soft lining inside the zip.

The outer material is quite thin, which makes it lighter, but you’ll want to be cautious around thorns and the like. Some people find the hood annoying as it stays where it is when you move your head!

Around £95 – £110.

Prism – for men and women

 

The Prism jacket isn’t new, but they’re still easy to find and cheaper. They don’t have the typical baffles of a puffa-style jacket, but do have a layer of silver Primaloft inside to keep you warm.

We liked the sleekness and the articulated arms for ease of movement, plus the long back. Water repellent too. From around £50

Icarus or Phoenix – men or women

 

The Icarus/Phoenix are slightly heavier and have the stitched baffles. Really stylish and the only let-down is the non-adjustable hood. Very toasty.

Vaude insulated jackets

You’ve got to love Vaude for their eco credentials and their commitment to fair labour, which is why we’ve chosen a couple of theirs despite the higher price. They’re our top pick for environmentally-friendly fleeces, by the way.

Sesvenna – men and women


The Sesvenna jacket is a stretchy ski jacket that looks rather cool (and fairly warm). It has elasticated inserts, but is still water resistant. A thin and light option for those who want to wave their arms around. Great colours.

From around £6o, but a lot more for the latest options.

Freney – men and women

This jacket gets an update each year. We’re now on Freney IV, but older models are great and much cheaper. Lightweight and very stylish.

From around £100 to £160.

Sprayway insulated jackets

Just two styles from Sprayway – the Uska for women and the Agan for men (both the same spec).
 
Very warm thanks to a blown insulated filling that gives a down-like lightness. and with a good (though not adjustable) hood. Around £100.
 
 
 

Our tester really liked the SJ6 jacket and thought it would be both warm enough and stylish enough.

Snugpak insulated jackets

Snugpak uses its Softie® insulation in the jacket range. It’s the same insulation as you’ll find in their sleeping bags. It’s bulkier and heavier than some of the other alternatives, but you gain in warmth.

There are no women’s-fit versions – just smaller men’s –  which means shape is a bit lacking.

The SJ series jackets each come with a different number – 3, 6, 9 or 12 – with 12 the warmest. Our tester liked the boxy shape and slightly longer back, and found the SJ6 very toasty indeed. Zip a bit tricky at first and a basic hood, but an excellent all-round jacket. 

From around £85.

If you have a favourite synthetic insulated jacket that works well for you, do tell us a bit about it. If you really do need to have a down-filled jacket, then have a look at the welfare credentials of the company. If they stick to standards, they’ll trumpet it on their labels, but it’s worth just double-checking what the promises actually mean. Meanwhile, here’s more info on down production.

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