If I asked you to name a wintertime staple of your outdoor kit, my guess is, the down jacket would be within the top 3 on your list. Everyone and their mother has a favorite puffy: it's one of the unifiers in the wide-ranging world of outdoor recreation.
But, with a laundry list of similar features and a host of semi-opaque, brand-specific acronyms and materials, picking the puffy that will work best for you can feel more complex and challenging than the activity you're planning on wearing it.
To cut down on confusion and simplify your shopping, we took two of the most popular picks from our down jackets guide and put them to the test: wearing them on chilly hikes, in the evening around the campfire and during adventures near and far.
The Specs, at a Glance
Mountain Hardwear Stretchdown Hoody
- Weight: 17.7 ounces
- Sustainability: RDS-certified down
- Best Use Case: Rock Climbing, Backpacking / Hiking, Casual / Travel, Camping
Arc'teryx Cerium Hoody
- Weight: 11 ounces
- Sustainability: bluesign-certified shell material; RDS-certified down
- Best Use Case: Rock Climbing, Backpacking / Hiking, Casual / Travel, Camping; best worn in cold, dry environments
First Up: Mountain Hardwear's Stretchdown Hoody
What I liked about this hoody
When it comes to Mountain Hardwear's Stretchdown Hoody, it's all in the name: the brand integrated a single, stretchy 20-denier double-weave face fabric into the design, providing greater articulation than many down jackets available today. Pockets of 700fp down insulation are woven into the jacket, resulting in the non-traditional square baffling of the hoodie.
Overall it's a comfortable and easy to wear jacket, and although it's quite a bit heavier than the Arc'teryx, if I didn't wear them back to back, I would still highlight just how lightweight MH's hoody feels when on-body. At just under 18 ounces, it was easy to stuff into my pack when things got too warm.
The look is more boxy, and less fitted than more technical down jackets, and that's what I liked about it: it's a casual, everyday down option that mixes warmth, lightness and style into one relatively affordable package. I wore mine on winter desert trips, hikes to hot springs in the Sierra Nevada and on climbing trips in Sedona and Joshua Tree, and it went seamlessly between activities.
What I didn't like about MH's Stretchdown Hoody
Like many other down jackets, the Strechdown Hoody is noisy — every time I moved my arms or turned my torso, that classic, semi-scratchy noise down jacket noise would come from the jacket. This was most annoying when I was trying to put it on in our GoFast camper: I didn't want to wake my sleeping partner, but I wanted to be warm as I headed outside.
Although the down hoodie is lightweight and easy to wear for lots of activities, I personally think it lacks the streamlined, almost tailored look of premium brands (like our next contestant below). Although I would definitely wear Mountain Hardwear's hoodie on more potentially abrasive activities like bouldering or hiking through brambles — since I wouldn't care as much if it got ripped or scratched — the sizing does run a little large, when ends up letting more air flow through openings the Arc'teryx just doesn't have.
The Stretchdown Hoodie doesn't pack down as small as other jackets I've tried, and I had to make adjustments in my packing routine for it, knowing it would take up more real estate in my pack than more packable options. While it's reliable for everyday casual use, I would probably opt for another pick for more technical or extreme activities and environments.
Onto the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody
What I liked about Arc'teryx's hoody
There's a lot to love about the Cerium LT Hoody — it's hyper-lightweight at 11 ounces, but doesn't sacrifice warmth for its feather-light feel. Arc'teryx made this down hoodie with the intention of providing a streamlined, minimalist option to adventurers looking for the best quality gear available, with arguably the best look (style is subjective, after all).
Since getting the Cerium LT, I haven't wanted to take it off — its 850fp down stays lofty no matter what I put it through, and the fit is like a glove; air stays trapped and warm, without me having to add bulky midlayers underneath. The Cerium LT makes use of both traditional down and synthetic insulation: Arc'teryx body-mapped the jacket and added Coreloft synthetic insulation in moisture prone areas. The nylon face fabric is also quieter than Mountain Hardwear's, which I appreciated during peaceful moments at camp.
I found myself reaching for the Cerium LT Hoody for almost every activity that I participate in: I wore it under a shell snowboarding, put it on for twilight hikes in the alpine, for any and all of my cold-weather trips, and even around town on chillier days. It's soft, comfortable and looks damn good.
What I didn't like about the Cerium LT Hoody
The Cerium LT's $379 price tag can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if you're buying jackets for the rest of the family this winter on top of your own. I know quality over quantity is the way to go with most products, but shelling out almost four hundred bucks for one puffy can take the wind out of your sails pretty quickly.
Because it's so pricey, and the face fabric feels a little less durable than the Stretchdown Hoody, I did find myself hesitating putting on Arc'teryx's puffy for activities where scratching or ripping it seemed more likely; it's almost as if the higher price tag made me want to baby it more, although I know in the back of my mind that this jacket is made for intense activities.
Which Puffy Jacket Is Best for You? The Verdict
Best Everyday / Casual Down Hoodie: Mountain Hardwear Stretchdown Hoody
Deciding which of these jackets is the "better" pick was a tough call — both have unique attributes that the other doesn't, but also have a plethora of similar features... After testing each for the better part of a year, I landed on what makes each of these picks shine. Mountain Hardwear's down hoodie is the everyday option I would grab if I knew I was going to get into some potentially dirty/ rip-and-tear prone activities like climbing or hiking; it's more casual, less expensive and the face fabric has an almost abrasive quality of its own that, at least mentally, I think is better for environments that could potentially tear it up.
Best Upgrade / Splurge Down Hoodie: Arc'teryx Cerium Hoody
On the other end of the spectrum, (and probably no surprise to anyone that has experienced Arc'teryx's commitment to quality and fit), is the Cerium LT Hoody, which I think is the best splurge down hoodie you're going to find on the market today. Don't get me wrong, there are loftier and more expensive picks out there — but none mix the feather-light, tailored look and feel of the Arc'teryx with is performance attributes. If you have the extra bones, I would absolutely recommend shelling out a little more for the Arc'teryx. It's streamlined, subtle and can stand up to abuse: after wearing mine for over a year straight, it still looks as good as the day I got it.