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: September 2020 

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.

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

Decathlon padded jackets

Great value and a decent choice of weights to give you a balance of warmth against bulkiness. Affordable too. Prices start at £20 and nothing over £30!

 

There are Trek 100 padded jackets for men and women, hooded and not and a choice of temperature ratings. Filling is 70% recycled.

Craghoppers insulated jackets

For one of the more affordable ranges, Craghoppers is a goodie. 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.

Compresslite (Comlite) jackets – for men and women

They’re windproof and water resistant and pretty lightweight for non-down. 

Prices are excellent – from £40 and often reduced. Craghoppers seems to bring out a new version each year. We’re now on III, but you’ll find older (and virtually identical) choices more cheaply.

Expolite insulated jackets – for men and women

Great colours for men, less so for women, but a sleek jackets with a hood and good insulation. From around £65. Have a look on OutdoorGear too for a few bargains on these.

Our choice for prices

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 – men and women

Two styles and an array of colours in this range of lightweight non-down padded jackets. Fantastic value at under £40.

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).

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! From £25.

Freezeway – for men and women

Insulating, moisture-shedding and highly compressible, the Freezeway Baffle Jacket uses down-touch Warmloft fill packaged in a soft-touch shell. From £25.

Colombia insulated jackets

My personal

Windgates – women only

A real beauty in a good range of colours and super-warm thanks to the reflective lining. Love this one to bits! From around £75.

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.

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.

 Jack Wolfskin insulated jackets

Super-stylish range, but it’s not always clear which are down and which are synthetic. Mid-priced and some of the smartest we’ve found.

Most jackets

Routeburn range – for men and women

Lovely, aren’t they? Plus this range of vests and jackets is Bluesign certified for its environmental credentials. Flex areas for active walks and very packable.

From around £85.

Argon range – for men and women

Hooded and hoodless jackets for men, women and children. All are warm, water resistant and PFC-free. From around £100

 

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 £100.

Berghaus insulated jackets

Seral for men

Higher insulation with light advanced polyball insulation. A choice of colours, a hood and around £85.

Nula for women

Freedom of movement and warmth, the Nula looks smart and it’s both lightweight and warm. Around £75..

Vaskye for men

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

Montane insulated jackets

Prism – for men and women

 

The Prism jackets 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 £70

Icarus for men and Phoenix for women

 

The Icarus and Phoenix are slightly heavier and have stitched baffles. Really stylish and the only let-down is the non-adjustable hood. Very toasty. From around £95.

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 £8o, but a lot more for the latest options.

Sprayway insulated jackets

Just one style from Sprayway – the Agan for men.
Very warm thanks to a blown insulated filling that gives a down-like lightness. and with a good (though not adjustable) hood. Around £100.
 
 
 

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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