With temperatures dropping it’s time to look at ways to keep warm in the saddle over winter. Here, Bryn Davies puts 12 down insulated jackets to test to discover which are worth your hard-earned cash
As we wave goodbye to one of the warmest summers we’ve ever experienced here on the British Isles, it’s time to start getting ready for the cooler temperatures that winter brings.
When the mercury drops, it’s just as important that your motorcycle gear protects you from the elements as well as the tarmac, with good winter kit offering warmth, and wind and water proofing.
A good set of textiles and a waterproof over suit will take care of the wind and rain, but if you’re looking to combat the cold, heated gear aside, an insulated jacket is the best thing for you.
Most textile motorcycle jackets these days come with thermal liners included as standard but, if you’re looking to stay as warm as possible, you’ll be better off ditching this in favour of an aftermarket, higher quality insulated mid-layer.
In my experience, most included thermal liners just don’t cut the mustard for the coldest weather, and they don’t look so good off the bike. Insulated jackets work by using an insulating fill to trap the warm air that’s generated by your body and keeping it close to you.
There are two types of insulating fill that you’ll come across on your search for such a jacket (down, from geese and ducks, and synthetic, which are man-made fibres), though in this group test we’re going to be looking specifically at down insulated jackets.
Down, which is the ‘fluff ’ underneath a bird’s feathers, offers exceptional warmth to weight ratios, meaning that these jackets are usually exceptionally lightweight and can be packed up small, making them ideal for stowing in your panniers or even in your tank bag, ready to be pulled out when the chill bites.
A good down jacket will serve multiple purposes. It can be used as a mid-layer, worn underneath your motorcycle jacket, when on the bike, or as an outer layer when sat at camp or stopping for a warming brew.
Of course, they also look good enough to wear casually around town when there’s no motorcycling involved. To ensure an insulated jacket is as effective as it can be, we like to see decent handwarmer pockets, a nice, high fitting collar (preferably with a soft lining), zips that can be used with a gloved-up hand (without snagging), a protective zip baffle and an adjustable hem.
If a jacket comes with a hood, then it must not be too obstructive to wear under your motorcycle jacket and it must also provide a snug fit for if you decide to wear it under your helmet.
We’ve tested 12 down insulated jackets over the next few pages, and you’ll notice that with the exception of a couple of them, they’re generally expensive. Like most things though, you do get what you pay for and if it keeps you warm and makes your winter riding more enjoyable, it’s a price worth paying.
How we’re judging
We’re going to be rating these jackets on their suitability as a mid-layer for cold weather riding and as an outer layer when you’re sitting at camp or strolling through town in winter temperatures and conditions in the UK and Europe. A jacket’s overall rating will take into account the following criteria: weight and pack size, fit, insulation and value for money.
Fill power is a measure of the quality of the down used in an insulated jacket. This rating, which you’ll find on the swing tag, relates to the down’s ability to resist compression and how well it lofts in use. The higher the fill power, the better the warmth-to-weight ratio on offer.
The fill of a jacket will be composed of both down and feathers (down is the layer under a bird’s feathers) and, generally speaking, the higher the ratio of down, the better the insulation on offer. The combination used will usually be presented as 90/10. This means that the fill is 90% down and 10% feathers. These figures, however, offer no indication of the quality of down used.
Down vs synthetic
As mentioned, an insulated jacket will make use of either down or synthetic man-made fibres (or a combination of both) to keep you warm. Both of these have benefits above the other, but typically speaking down is lighter, has a higher warmth/weight ratio and is more packable.
Where down doesn’t perform so well is in the wet, with the moisture causing the structure to collapse, meaning it can’t trap air any longer.
This is less of a problem with synthetic fills (which also tend to be cheaper), so if you often find yourself riding in the wet, then you may be better off with a synthetic insulated jacket as your mid-layer.
At just a few pennies shy of £80, the Mac in a Sac Polar insulated jacket is the cheapest product in this group test, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that ‘cheap’ means sub-standard. Weighing in at a minuscule 340g for our size XXL, the Polar is the second lightest out of the 12 jackets on review here, coming second only to the Vaude Kabru Light II, which costs over £120 more.
With that in mind, if you’re after a lightweight insulated jacket that’ll pack down to a tiny bundle that’s barely noticeable in your panniers, and you haven’t got the £200+ to spend on the Vaude, then this jacket is well worth considering. In keeping with its lightweight nature, Mac in a Sack has taken a minimalistic approach with the design of the Polar.
It has the basic features you’d expect from an insulated jacket but does away with any luxuries like fleece-lined pockets. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a jacket that’s going to spend much of its life underneath your bike gear, but the lack of a main zip baffle is noticeable when it comes to cold spots. That being said, elsewhere the jacket impresses considering its price.
The Polar is reversible, meaning you can wear it inside out, and both sides come with handwarmer pockets, though they’re only zipped on one side. The collar rises up the neck nicely and comfortably, and the outer has been treated with a water repellent.
In terms of warmth, the jacket makes use of a 600 fill 90/10 duck down, and it’ll keep the chill off on milder winter days. If you’re planning on venturing out when the temperatures really plummet, you may find it lacking.
IN A LINE: Amazing price for such a lightweight and packable jacket.
At £110, the Craghoppers Venta Lite II is the cheapest jacket in this group test, and I found it for half of that price online where, at £55, it represents exceptional value for money.
Although not a 100% down product (60% down, 40% polyester), the Venta Lite II offers a fair amount of insulation and a small pack size, making it ideal for those weekend rides when it gets a bit chilly.
For your money you get two large, zipped handwarmer pockets and a zipped chest pocket that also has an RFID blocker built-in, to help keep your cards safe from accidental use or cloning. Nice.
In terms of warmth provided, the Venta Lite II comes up short compared to most of the other jackets in this review, but that’s hardly surprising given its lightweight, packable nature.
If you’re looking for something that’ll take the edge off the chill on a brisk spring or autumn day, this will do the job, but for real cold weather riding, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.
The main zip also lacks any form of a baffle, consequently leading to a cold spot forming down the length of the torso. The collar is also short, providing little warmth to the neck, and there are no fancy, soft materials here to add to the jacket’s comfort.
Where the Venta Lite II impresses is in its weight and pack size.
At 385g in a size XL, the Venta Lite II is one of the lightest jackets in this group test (even considering the fact it’s a size smaller than the others) and it rolls up into a small bundle that’d fit in most tank bags.
Unfortunately, there’s no included stuff sack for neat storage. If you’re a rider who rarely ventures out on two wheels in the winter, but you’re looking for something to keep the chill off in the warmer months, the Venta Lite II will do the job.
If you can get it for £55 it’s a good buy, though there are warmer and more comfortable alternatives on the market if you’re willing to spend a bit more dough.
IN A LINE: Lightweight, packable and good for spring or autumn.
The Columbia Lake 22 down jacket weighs in at 548g in a size XL and features a number of different technologies to help make it stand out. It has a water-resistant outer (great for the briefest of showers) and it makes use of something Columbia calls Heat Seal Construction.
Instead of having stitching to seal the baffles, the material is fused together, which helps to prevent down leakage, lending itself to a longer life span and consistent warmth. You get two large, zipped handwarmer pockets and two large internal pouches.
The Lake 22 makes use of a 650 fill power down to provide insulation throughout, and this provides a good amount of warmth for cool spring and autumn days when the temperatures hover around 6C or more.
I wouldn’t like to rely on this in the depths of winter, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for those who won’t be riding then anyway.
The Heat Seal Construction does a great job of keeping the down in place, though there are rather large gaps without insulation between the baffles, meaning insulation isn’t quite as effective as it could be.
A baffle runs the length of the main zip which helps keep the cold from penetrating here and, for those who want one, a hood is included and it sits comfortably under a motorcycle jacket when not in use.
At 548g in a size XL, the Lake 22 isn’t exactly the lightest down jacket in this group test, but it’s by no means the heaviest. It also has a relatively small pack size and won’t take up too much room in your panniers.
The jacket isn’t particularly lofty so it sits comfortably under an outer layer.
IN A LINE: A good looking down jacket for the price.
The Hygge is Dane’s entry into this group test and it really is a great piece of kit when the price is taken into consideration.
For just £125 you get a jacket that makes use of 90/10 duck down to provide warmth, though it’s one of the heaviest and bulkiest in this group test, weighing in at 793g for our size 62 (roughly XXL) and packing down to the size of a football.
The jacket comes with two zipped handwarmer pockets that are just about large enough for most uses and a zipped internal pocket. As soon as you put your arms into the sleeves of the Hygge, you’re sold.
The jacket has a lovely, soft liner and the insulating properties of the down are immediately apparent.
Better yet, the main zip features a very effective baffle, and this does a great job of eliminating cold spots down this weak point.
It’s also offset to help prevent it from sitting directly behind the zip of your motorcycle jacket, further reducing the likelihood of cold spots forming. Admittedly, the zip can be a bit of a pain in the backside to operate, and you’ll have to use two hands to make sure it doesn’t snag on the way up.
While the jacket is overall one of the warmest on test, it also features stretch panels with no insulation that run up the side of the torso and under the arms, allowing for a less restricted range of movement and a comfortable fit under a motorcycle jacket.
These panels are in areas that don’t typically need as much insulation, but I did find my inner arms getting a little chilly.
The high rising collar is also a nice touch, and it’s comfortable against the skin. As touched upon, the Hygge isn’t the lightest nor the most packable; it’s not one that you’re going to be able to stuff into your tank bag and it’ll take up quite a bit of room in your panniers.
If you’ve got the room, then you’ll be willing to put up with that inconvenience, though it could be an issue when space is at a real premium.
Mountain Warehouse is a company that prides itself in providing affordable outdoor gear, and with the Henry II, we’ve got a lightweight (590g in a size XXL) down jacket that makes use of a 700 fill power hydro down to keep you warm.
Though the retail price of this jacket is £159.99, a quick search online shows that it can be picked up for under £100 on various websites, and at this price, it offers great value for money.
The most noteworthy feature of the Henry II is the inclusion of Isorepel down, which has been treated to make it more water-resistant than standard untreated down. In practice, this means that the insulating fill will retain its thermal properties (to an extent) when wet, mitigating one of the major downsides to using down as a mid-layer.
Mountain Warehouse also states that the jacket has been thermally tested to -30C, though having worn the Henry II I would say it’s more suited to mild winter days, with it not being the warmest by any means.
The cut of the Henry II is good, and it suits a motorcycling stance well, with there being no pinch points or riding up of the torso.
The main zip is protected by a decently sized baffle, and you get three zippered outer zips (two of which are nicely sized hand warmers) and two large internal pouches.
The hood on the Henry II is rather oversized, and although it’s touted as being adjustable, the adjustment method isn’t effective and is of little use.
That said, the wire stiffened peak offers some shape to the hood, though it isn’t the most comfortable if you wear it under your helmet. When not in use, it sits comfortably under a motorcycle jacket.
IN A LINE: Affordable water-resistant down jacket.
In the Sprayway Obsidian, we have a lightweight (499g in our size XXL) hooded down jacket that makes use of a 700 fill duck down with a 90/10 composition to keep you warm.
The Obsidian has a casual fit which offers a long torso that doesn’t ride up in the saddle, cuffs that can be rolled up if you start to overheat, and a hood that sits comfortably underneath an outer jacket or helmet.
With two large zipped handwarmer pockets and a zipped internal pocket, storage options are good, though if you’re going to be camping in sub-zero temperatures, an inner pouch to store liquids would have been welcome.
That said, this isn’t a jacket you’ll want to be wearing in those conditions as the warmth on offer isn’t particularly impressive. There’s little loft to the jacket, and in places, the down coverage is lacking, making the Obsidian more suitable for autumn and spring rather than winter riding.
The Obsidian does make use of treated down that’s water-resistant, making it more effective at insulating if it gets wet.
This, coupled with the tecshell outer, which is also water-resistant and quick-drying, means that the Obsidian is better equipped than ‘normal’ down jackets for dealing with damp or wet riding conditions.
As well as that, the Obsidian comes with a lightweight and a small pack size, thanks to the included stuff sack, making it fit nicely into panniers with little impact on your space. It also has a nice, casual look that means you’ll probably wear it more off the bike than you do on it.
Rab has been honing and refining its Microlight Alpine jacket since its inception a decade ago, and it’s clear to see that that the improvements have paid off.
At £190, it’s pushing the more expensive end of the scale, but worth an investment when you consider how much time and effort has been spent increasing its warmth and durability.
The ethically sourced 750FP European goose down keeps you nice and toasty, while an included stuff sack ensures you can easily pack it in your panniers on longer trips.
Unlike a lot of down insulated jackets, the Microlight Alpine isn’t too bulky; you’ll hardly notice it underneath your bike jacket. In terms of features, it’s clear that Rab has focused on the essentials, with two large zipped handwarmer pockets, a useful zipped chest pocket and an adjustable hood with a laminated brim.
This jacket was designed with adventurous activities in mind, so you’ll have no worries about getting the hood to fit underneath your helmet in real sub-zero temperatures. Drawcords around the hem and hood along with elasticated cuffs and an insulated zip baffle are all there to help keep the cold out.
The lightweight nature of this jacket makes it ideal as a mid-layer for cold-weather rides, but the warmth and water repellency (the goose down is treated with Nikwax’s fluorocarbon-free water repellent finish to help it retain some insulation properties if it gets wet) ensure it comes in just as handy as an outer layer for camping.
It’s available in a range of colours and is the sort of jacket that looks just as at home in the pub as it does on the bike.
The Berghaus Combust jacket weighs in at a bulky 700g for our size XXL (making it one of the heaviest products in this review), though it features a number of technologies that are designed to increase its effectiveness as an insulated jacket.
Of particular note is the inclusion of Hydro down, which is down that’s been treated with NikWax to help it retain insulating properties when it gets wet (an inherent weakness of down).
This 600 fill duck down does a good job in damp conditions, and you’ll certainly notice its benefit against other untreated down garments, with it retaining some loft (and its ability to insulate) and having a faster drying time if you do get soaked.
Despite its name though, the Combust doesn’t offer the same level of warmth as, say, the Dane Hygge jacket, and you’d need to couple this up with some winter weight base layers throughout the colder months.
The outer of the jacket makes use of Pertex Quantum fabric, which is a durable, windproof material that’ll help keep the wind chill out while also aid in the longevity of the product.
The main zip is also protected by an effective baffle, and this has a lovely soft microfleece lining so it sits comfortably against your chin when done up fully.
The jacket doesn’t have a particularly lofty fill, though this lends itself to the Combust fitting snugly under an outer layer, and the stretch hood will sit comfortably under your bike jacket as well.
On the subject of the hood, in use, it’s a bit of a pain, with there being no adjustment cords at all. You get two zipped handwarmer pockets, which are of a decent size, and one smaller zipped internal pocket.
Finally, a note on the sizing of the Combust – it’s worth trying on before you buy as our size XXL felt more like an XXXL, with the arms, pits and gut area being particularly baggy.
IN A LINE: Well featured, but worth trying on before you buy.
The Helly Hansen Vanir Glacier jacket is perhaps the most comfortable down jacket in this group test.
The jacket has a high loft and a lovely, soft inner that just makes it an absolute delight to slide into, and when that’s paired with very good insulating properties, it starts to look like a very attractive proposition.
At £200, it’s on the expensive side, but this feature-packed jacket is proof that you get what you pay for.
Insulation is provided by a 700 fill power goose down and there’s great coverage throughout the jacket, offering high levels of warmth that’ll be more than welcome in the colder winter months.
The jacket has a high loft, though it still fits nicely under a motorcycle jacket, and despite its excellent warmth levels, it has an acceptable weight (624g for size XXL) and a great pack size (a compression sack is included).
Throughout, it’s clear to see that the design of the Vanir Glacier has been well thought out.
The large, zipped handwarmer pockets feature a delightfully soft microfleece lining, as does the collar of the jacket, and along with a zipped internal chest pocket, you also get a huge internal mesh pocket.
The main zip of the jacket is protected by an effective baffle, eliminating cold spots, and the hood features effective volume adjusters to get a good fit (and it sits snugly under a motorcycle jacket).
The long fit of the torso means that jacket is ideal for those cold, winter campsites and walks around town, though I often found it to be longer than my motorcycle jacket (I used it with more than one), and it would hang out of the bottom.
This isn’t much of an issue as tucking it into your trousers is an easy fix, but it’s something to be aware of.
If you’re looking for a lightweight but warm jacket that you can just throw in your panniers or tank bag, then the Kabru Light II has to be on your shortlist. This minimalist down jacket offers fantastic warmth at an incredibly low weight, while still retaining comfort.
It fits almost unnoticed under a motorcycle jacket, and has a mix of down and synthetic insulation that makes it more suitable than standard down products in damp conditions. It has a retail price of £215, though it can be picked up for half of that online if you look around.
Without a doubt, the main selling point of the Kabru Light II is its exceptionally lightweight and small pack size.
At a featherweight 308g, the Kabru Light II is the lightest jacket in this review, and when it packs down to a bundle only slightly bigger than a bag of crisps (using one of the handwarmer pockets as a stuff sack), it’s ideal for throwing in your panniers or even tank bag on cold days.
Amazingly, even with this lightweight and small pack size, the Kabru Light II can offer a great amount of warmth, and that’s down to the inclusion of 800 fill power down with an impressive 95/05 down to feather ratio.
This is partnered with Prima Loft insulation on areas that are more likely to get moist (cuff s and the side of torso) to help the Kabru Light II retain its high performance in adverse conditions.
With the jacket having a clear focus on minimalism, the only storage you get is in the form of two zipped handwarmer pockets, though these are large in size.
The zip is also protected by a baffle to prevent cold spots, and the collar rises nicely up the neck. If you’re thinking of buying (and you should be), it’s worth trying on before you buy, as our XXL was very small for its size.
IN A LINE: Exceptional warmth for such a light and packable jacket.
Coming in at £240, the Haglöfs Essens jacket is the second most expensive in this group test, though as soon as you get your hands on it it’s easy to see why.
The Essens has a quality feel to it that can only be obtained with a high price tag and the list of features and technologies that it makes use of is impressive.
It’s also the second lightest jacket in this review, coming behind the featherweight Vaude Kabru Light II, though it offers a level of warmth that belies its weight.
The Essens jacket has a luxurious, soft feel to it that does two things: it makes it a delight to wear, but it also makes it feel fragile.
It’s a good job then, that the outer material is both tear and wind-resistant Pertex Quantum, a remarkable material that offers fantastic durability for its weight.
On the inside, the lofty 800 fill Hyper Dry down has been treated to make it water-resistant and quicker drying, and it offers exceptional warmth considering its weight.
A protective baffle runs the length of the main zip, and this does a good job of preventing cold spots.
Two handwarmer pockets, which are of a decent size, are complemented by a chest pocket that also doubles up as a stuff sack, and these all feature micro zippers, which make them unnoticeable when zipped up.
The Essens fits nicely under a motorcycle jacket, and the hood (which has great volume adjusters) isn’t restrictive or cumbersome. Interestingly, the Essens features Polartec Powerstrech (fleece) inserts under the armpits.
Presumably, this is to aid breathability and offer a less restricted range of movement in an area that would benefit from it – it does both of those, but it also allows cold to seep in when the jacket’s worn as an outer and the wind’s blowing.
IN A LINE: This jacket’s warmth belies its incredible lightweight.
At £270 the Arc’teryx Thorium AR Hoody is the most expensive product in this review, and if you’re looking for a jacket that will help you fight off the cold in the dead of winter then it is ideally suited.
It might be a bit bulky when worn, thanks to the loft y 750 fill goose down insulation, but with great loft comes exceptional warmth above any of the other jackets in this review.
The large baffles provide great coverage of insulation, and the high rising collar does a great job of insulating high up the neck.
While the down hasn’t been treated to make it water-resistant, the outer of the jacket features a durable water repellent that will go some way to help keep moisture at bay.
The high rising nature of the collar, coupled with the large hood, can be a hindrance when worn under a motorcycle jacket though, as it makes the neck area very bulky.
With this in mind, I wore the jacket slightly unzipped to mitigate this or, when it was really cold, I had the hood up which also aided in comfort.
Despite the jacket’s bulky appearance, the Thorium demonstrates just why down is so highly regarded. At 627g (size XXL) it sits in the middle of this review’s weight range, but it packs down surprisingly small (roughly the size of a loaf of bread) considering the warmth that’s on offer.
You get two large handwarmer pockets and an internal chest pocket, all of which are zippered, and a stuff sack is included as standard.
If you’re looking for a jacket that will look good on the high street while performing well in the saddle in the coldest of winter temperatures, the Thorium is a good choice.
The high collar and hood can feel a little restrictive under a motorcycle jacket, but for the warmth that’s on offer, it was an inconvenience I was willing to overlook. Of course, the Arc’teryx branding adds a premium to the Thorium’s price tag as well.
IN A LINE: It’s expensive, but it’s warm.
ABR Rating – 8/10