No one knows down insulation like we do. It’s where Rab Carrington began back in 1980’s Sheffield and ever since those early days, Rab® down products have consistently represented the pinnacle of innovation and design.
Whether you’re mounting a polar expedition or just trying to stay warm at the crag, nothing beats the insulative performance of down. Here at Rab®, we utilise down’s unique properties in myriad different ways to suit the activities and environments that our customers find themselves in. So whether you are looking for an everyday winter jacket or a means of staying alive on your next Himalayan conquest, this guide will give you the information you need to pick the right jacket for the job.
What is down?
What is down and why is it such a good insulator? We explain where down comes from, the physics behind its properties and performance and how the introduction of technologies such as hydrophobic down are helping to tackle some of its limitations.
Down fill power
Many jackets are sold off the back of their fill power rating, but the measurement is easily misunderstood. In this section we’ll explain exactly what fill power is and why, here at Rab®, we utilise a wide range of down grades in the manufacture of our products.
A good down jacket is about more than its insulative filling. The countless different activities and environments we design for leads to a wide range of very different products. We’ll run through the features, fabrics and construction methods to look out for when comparing jackets.
If you’re not bothered about the science you can skip straight to our advice on picking a jacket, by clicking here
Down is the layer of feathers that are closest to a bird’s body. These feathers are made of very fine tendrils and fibres that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to provide the lightest and most efficient means of trapping and holding air in position.
This trapped air produces an incredibly efficient thermal barrier, which at the weight and mass of down, is unrivalled by any natural or synthetic equivalent. By using down in the construction of garments and sleeping bags, we can ensure that your body heat stays put, instead of escaping into the atmosphere around you.
The individual down clusters expand, or loft, to fill an area that is vast relative to their size. Because the down consists almost entirely of trapped air, the result is a product that is incredibly light and also very easy to compress. Its down’s ability to pack down small into the pocket of a backpack or stuff sack that makes it the ideal insulation choice for climbers, mountaineers and anyone else who needs lightweight clothing.
Down is naturally breathable, which makes it very comfortable to wear, but this comes with a drawback – it can absorb moisture. This moisture can overload the fibres, or cause them to stick together, stripping the down of its insulative properties.
To mitigate this effect we apply a water repellent “hydrophobic” treatment to the down. This treatment significantly improves the performance of the down by preventing the clusters from absorbing moisture and helping it to retain its loft. In the event that the down does become waterlogged the treatment significantly decreases the time it takes the down to dry and its loft to recover.
It’s worth noting that hydrophobic treatment means that a down jacket will perform better in wet conditions, but it’s not intended to make a garment waterproof. If you’re looking for a down jacket that is also waterproof you’ll want something that combines insulation with a waterproof material, like our Valiance jacket which combines 800FP down with a Pertex® Shield outer fabric.
Down vs. Synthetic insulation
Broadly speaking our garments and sleeping bags use one of two types of insulation – down or synthetic. Although down is, for its weight, always warmer than a synthetic equivalent, there are instances where synthetic insulation may be the preferable choice.
Synthetic insulation is relatively good at dealing with moisture, especially when compared to down that has not been hydrophobically treated. When synthetic insulation is soaked it will offer more warmth than down which makes it a good choice for damp and cold conditions, typical of Scottish winter climbing.
Synthetic insulation is generally easier to clean and care for and is also a less expensive material than down. Ultimately though, there is still no synthetic material that can rival the warmth to weight ratio of duck or goose down. So where weight and packability are a concern there is really no contest.
Duck and Goose down
Rab jackets use either duck down or goose down. Higher grade down (700FP and up) tends to be from geese as the clusters are larger, offering a higher warmth to weight ratio and improved packability.
Although duck down consists of smaller clusters and a reduced warmth to weight ratio, we find that it is still the best choice for everyday jackets. Jackets such as the Axion or Deep cover Parka use Duck down because premium goose down is simply too warm for everyday use. We also use duck down in our Asylum bouldering jacket because here, weight and packability are less of a priority.
Responsible Down Standard
While down products have revolutionised the way we dress for outdoor activities, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the raw material is farmed from animals on a large scale. As the popularity of down garments grows we have an increased responsibility to ensure that our insulation is produced in environments where animal welfare standards are being maintained.
The responsible down standard is an an independent, voluntary global standard that aims to ensure that down is sourced from ducks and geese that have been treated well. This means farming down in environments that allow them to live healthy lives, express innate behaviours and not suffer from fear, pain or distress.
If you want to find out more about the Responsible Down Standard you can visit the website here.
Down fill power
Fill power refers to the quality of down. Fill power does not refer to the amount of down used and it cannot be relied upon to give an idea of a product’s warmth, unless, that is, you are also considering the products 'fill weight' too.
We grade down according to the size of the clusters, that is the amount of air that the down is able to trap relative to its weight. To do this we take 1 gram of fully lofted down and record its volume, the result represents the down’s “Fill power”.
All of our Duck down is 650FP and our Goose down ranges between 750 and 1000FP. The range of down that we use allows us to fine-tune our garments to meet the differing demands of our customers, both in terms of budget and intended use.
We use 850 fill power down in our Expedition jacket, designed for use in extreme cold and polar conditions.
We only use 1000 fill power goose down in one jacket, the Zero-G. The Zero-G combines incredibly high quality down with an ultra-fine 7d Pertex® Quantum outer in the ultimate alpine down jacket. Its warmth-to-weight ratio is unsurpassed and it represents the pinnacle of Rab’s down expertise.
Warmth to weight
How warm your Jacket is will depend on a number of factors, but in the main it comes down to fill power and fill weight. Most lightweight, technically oriented jackets tend to use a very high fill power, however, this doesn’t mean our lightweight jackets are necessarily warmer.
A jacket for everyday use can use a larger quantity of relatively low fill-power down, because weight isn’t a concern and the warmth requirements are modest. In contrast a jacket designed to be carried on climbs in winter conditions must be both light and warm. in this case using a high fill power down lets us put less in the jacket and achieve a higher ratio of warmth to weight.
Down garments are usually constructed using a series of Baffles. Baffles are individual chambers which hold the down in place, ensuring an even distribution of insulation and minimising cold spots. It is these baffles that give many down jackets their distinctive appearance.
We use two types of baffle in the construction of our down jackets, stitch through and box-wall.
In stitch through (or sewn through) garments the baffles are created by stitching the outer fabric directly to the inner fabric. We use stitch through construction in most of our down jackets as it minimizes the amount of outer fabric and stitching required, which provides a significant weight saving. Whilst this is the best construction method for lightweight garments, it does have one drawback. Because the down is pinched at the seams, reducing the space it has to loft, stitch through garments have a less consistent level of insulation than those constructed using box wall baffles.
Box-wall garments are made from distinct box-shaped compartments that run horizontally around the body. Because the box-shaped baffles are not pinched at the edges there is space for the down to fully loft throughout the chamber allowing for an even distribution of down and vastly reducing the likelihood of cold spots. The extra material used to create each box means that these garments are usually heavier and less packable. However, in the most extreme temperatures, they are often the best solution.
Without the array of revolutionary Pertex® fabrics that our designers have at their disposal, creating down garments that meet the very different requirements of our customers would be impossible.
The longstanding relationship between Rab® and Pertex® is key to ensuring that the garments we produce represent the pinnacle of design. Below we outline the Pertex® fabrics that we use in our range.
Pertex® Quantum is a material with a tightly woven structure which is both light and soft. These properties make it an ideal fit for down clothing as it allows down insulation to fully loft. It is also highly windproof, so the warm air inside your jacket stays there even in high winds. Pertex® quantum also has a durable water repellent (DWR) applied which helps to shed light rain and snow, extending the time before your down starts to absorb moisture.
We use Quantum across our range in a variety of different fabric weights, balancing weight and durability.
Pertex® Quantum Pro
Pertex® Quantum Pro uses a water resistant coating to provide increased weather resistance. This makes it ideal for jackets that are going to see year-round mountain use, especially when they also feature hydrophobic down.
Rab uses Pertex Shield across our range of waterproof jackets. For those down jackets that need to be waterproof as well as warm, Pertex Shield is the outer fabric of choice.
What about Microlight?
Pertex® have recently changed the naming of their fabrics to simplify their range for customers.
Pertex® classic, Microlight, Quantum and Quantum GL are now simply known as Pertex® Quantum.
Cuffed waist and wrists
Keeping air trapped around your body is key to the effectiveness of a down jacket. Cuffed waist bands and wrists mean that warm air can’t escape from inside the jacket, so you warm up faster and stay warm for longer.
It’s worth looking for a hood with a wired or polymer peak to help it keep it’s shape in high winds, and consider whether or not you’re likely to wear a helmet underneath. All of our active mountain jackets are designed with helmets in mind.
Big pockets are great for storing winter gloves and stashing other useful supplies. Our Asylum jacket even includes pockets for your rock shoes.
It’s worth checking that the pockets in your jacket are positioned out of the way of your harness and gear if you’re planning to use it while climbing.
Stuff sack (packability)
If you’re not planning to wear your jacket all day it’s worth checking whether it comes with a stuff-sack so that you can attach it to a gear loop or pack it down small enough to fit in your bag. All of our jackets that include a stuff sack have it listed on the product page under specifications.
Explore by use
Rab’s range of down jackets cover a huge number of styles and intended uses, but we know the breadth of our range can be a little overwhelming. With this in mind we’ve grouped our range by the types of use we think they’re most suited for to help you narrow down your options.
These jackets are made to look good and keep you warm in your day-to-day life. They use high-quality duck down and durable outer materials.
These products are designed for climbers and mountaineers who need light-weight clothing that they can take into the mountains.
Technical mountain jackets feature high fill-power goose down and ultra-light outer materials to provide incredible warmth for their weight.
Our expedition products are built to go to high altitudes or on polar expeditions. They're tough, dependable and extremely warm.
Everyday Jackets are made to be your go-to winter coat, whether it's quick bouldering sessions, warming up at the climbing wall or braving a freezing January commute.
By combining the technical knowledge we gain from our more specialist jackets with durable outer fabrics and high quality European duck down, our everyday jackets are the perfect companion for colder weather.
While most of the jackets in our range have a technical fit to allow for layering and fit around harnesses our everyday jackets are built with comfort and style in mind. The Microlight Parka and the Deep Cover Parka, for example, both provide top to bottom protection from the cold making them perfect for wintery commutes and walks.
This category isn’t just for wearing around town, though, and we’ve also included jackets like the Andes Jacket, which is a perfect outer layer for boulderers and our classic Kinder Smock, which gained popularity around the Peak District as a belay jacket but which may be just a tad too heavy for more technical excursions.
A review of the Deep Cover Parka
I have been using this as an everyday jacket in below freezing temperatures! I wanted something practical but I also didnt want to look like I'm wearing a sleeping bag. It hits a couple inches above my knee and it makes me look great and feel great!
A review of the Asylum Jacket
Exactly what I've been waiting for! I wanted a durable and warm jacket. Most jackets I've researched focus on shedding weight and size and come with a hefty price tag. I primarily Boulder and needed a jacket that could keep me warm as hike around Alaskan wilderness to find said boulders. I wasn't sure what to expect. I haven't put it through the wringer yet but fit, warmth and durability seem right on.
Active mountain jackets use high quality European goose down and technical fabrics. They’re light enough to take with you on longer trips and are warm enough to deal with anything short of full winter conditions.
Perhaps our best known product, the Microlight Alpine is a versatile jacket that offers lightweight, weather resistant warmth. It’s great as an outer in chilly conditions, but its low-bulk and uncluttered design also make it an ideal layering piece for alpine climbers.
If you’re looking for something warmer, the Electron Pro jacket uses 190g of 800FP goose down, making it perfect for cold weather climbing and mountain use, however with high levels of comfort and packability, it’s also great for day-to-day winter use.
A review of the Valiance Jacket
The jacket has been able to keep me warm even through the extended cold spell we have had the past few months. I have also used this jacket when it has been rainy, and it has stayed dry and kept the warmth of the down. I have been putting off replacing my old heavy down jacket for years, but this jacket was worth the wait. I didn't think I would find another jacket to replace my old one, but this one is lighter weight and just as warm, which is a true testament to the quality of down and the fill power used without sacrificing anything in it's ability to keep you warm in wet conditions.
A review of the Women's Electron Pro
I love this jacket - it's a great middle weight, being warmer than the really thin micro puffies and less bulky than an arctic explorer! I especially like the elasticated cuffs, which are better than a velcro tab for keeping warm air in, and they don't catch on things... Also the shape is great, with a dipped rear to keep one's posterior warm, and different width baffles to make it less of a michelin man. It's very warm, comfy and practical, and I now wear it both in the great outdoors and in the less great workplace!
These jackets use ultra lightweight materials and very high fill power down to keep you warm in full winter conditions without compromising on weight or packability.
While all these jackets offer exceptional warmth for their weight, there is still variation in the range. Jackets like the Neutrino Pro, Infinity and Positron Pro weigh a little more, and are built from more durable outer materials. They also have the highest fill-weight of down in this category. They are best suited to high altitude mountaineering where guaranteed warmth and durability are an absolute must.
By contrast, the Prosar and Kaon are designed with a focus on maximum warmth to weight ratio. To achieve this they use ultra-light outer materials and high fill-power down, allowing for lower fill weights without compromising warmth. This is what makes them the go to choice for alpinists who are looking to stay warm while saving on weight, allowing them to move as quickly as possible in the mountains.
One product that stands apart in this category is the Zero G – it’s our first 1000FP down jacket, and the culmination of decades of design experience. The Zero G is a specialist piece for those who truly appreciate every gram saved, but still require a jacket that can deal with the harshest of Winter conditions.
A review of the Women's Neutrino Pro
I bought this jacket to head to a 7000m peak expedition and I was not sure if it would do the drill. It was just perfect: great fit, low weight, just getting perfect body temperature both at Base Camp or during activity on the summit day (yet we didn't got extreme cold days).
A review of the Positron Pro
I purchased this jacket for summiting Cascade volcanos such as Glacier Peak or Mt Rainier in my home state of Washington. While I have yet to fully field test it I can say the craftsmanship easily meets or exceeds any of my garments from Arc'teryx, Mammut or Outdoor Research. Some have remarked about the zipper but I have found no issue at all while wearing the jacket to fight the cold humid air coming off Puget Sound. Additionally, the hood with the semi rigid brim is brilliant. Sorry Feathered Friends in Seattle, I'm sold on Rab.
From the rugged ranges of Alaska to the vast expanses of Antarctica these jackets are designed for high-altitude and polar environments. These products have taken people to some of the most extreme locations in the world and back again. All of the jackets below are built to be hard-wearing and warm in even the most hostile conditions.
One of the distinguishing features of jackets in this category is the use of box wall construction to ensure consistent warmth without cold spots. They also use waterproof Pertex® Shield as an outer fabric to keep the weather at bay and have a generous fit to accommodate multiple layers.
Our Resolution jacket is designed for environments where water resistance isn’t going to suffice. It combines 800FP goose down with a fully taped Pertex® Shield outer. The result is an exceptionally warm jacket that is also fully waterproof.
The Batura Jacket is a classic of the Rab range. It’s designed to provide warmth and weather protection in polar and high altitude environments. Redesigned in 2017 it’s now 200g lighter than before without compromising warmth or protection. Waterproof, warm and rugged the Batura offers unrivaled levels of warmth and weather protection.
A review of the Resolution Jacket
I bought this jacket in late November 2016. I'm an ex army officer so am well versed with outdoor extreme conditions. In short the jacket is absolutely superb. Warm and waterproof. There are lighter jackets available but the big difference is the waterproof outer shell. Hood is also superb and keeps the head extremely snug even without a hat. Get caught in some serious sleet and snow earlier this week and this jacket just stuck up 2 fingers. It's long which I personally like. Zips are well made and heavy duty. It feels like they will absorb a high degree of wear and tear. Pockets are deceptively large. I had various items including map, hand torch and iPhone in the right hand pocket and I could have easily have put in 3 times as much and still had room for my hand. Only obvious drawback is it takes up more room than perhaps is desirable in a rucksack. However it is well worth the sacrifice. £400 is perhaps a slightly heftier price tag, but as with most things in life you get what you pay for. Cannot recommend highly enough. 10/10
Once you've got your new jacket, you'll want to make sure it lasts - we've got a few pointers for proper down storage and cleaning.
Rab® down products can be home cleaned, however this is a difficult and time-consuming job as the drying process can take several hours. If you’re in the UK then you can take advantage of our new Rab Wash service, a no fuss, specialist down wash service that ensures that your Rab® jacket or sleeping bag is clean, fully lofted and ready for your next adventure. If you’re outside the UK you can find information on caring for your down products in our help center.
Down should be stored uncompressed and out of direct sunlight in a dry, cool place. If your down product gets damp, air it thoroughly and make sure it is completely dry before putting it back into storage. If the product is still damp after airing, a short cycle in a tumble dryer on a cool setting should help to complete the drying and restore the loft.