On The Hunt For The Ultimate Down Midlayer

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Ten years ago almost to the day, I moved back to Northern California from Ohio. Within an hour of crossing the California border (an occasion which obviously called for Phantom Planet’s California on repeat), Chris and I stopped into an REI, and I picked up a black Mountain Hardwear down sweater that would become the most-worn item of clothing in my closet for the next decade.

Feels Like A Midlayer, Functions Like A Sweater: The Hunt For The Ultimate Down Jacket

It is the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm without being bulky. Breathable. Packable. (It’s traveled the world with me.) Surprisingly stylish — the down baffling across the chest and shoulders is stitched in an artsy paisley pattern that is way cuter than it sounds. (Pic below for reference.) And it’s fitted without being fitted in the way lightweight down sweaters tend to fit these days.

Bear in mind, this was right when non-puffy puffers were starting to be a thing, and somehow this particular midlayer jacket (or down sweater, as I’ll interchangeably call these garments), got it really, really right. It’s polished enough to wear to happy hour, and I’ve even pulled it on over a dress at a wedding or two. I mean, this is the Bay Area, where down jackets are acceptable attire in most every situation, but the bottom line is: we’re talking about the unicorn of down jackets. And the time has finally come to attempt to…*gulp* replace it. To be clear: it’s still very much wearable, but after 10 years of near daily wear and machine washing/drying, the seams are starting to show wear, and it’s getting low on down. It’s now a bit of a house jacket — the perfect thing to throw on over jammies or post-workout. I’m wearing it, in fact, as we speak.

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

The original “unicorn jacket.”
jeans (I wear mine TTS, or size down for less slouch) | birks (TTS; p.s. apparently my persnickety feet only love birks when they’re shearling-lined?)

7 Midweight Down Jackets, Tried & Reviewed

So. Where does one begin when it comes to replacing a garment that has left some very big shoes (errr, sleeves) to fill? Well, to start, I’m managing my expectations. But I’ve got a few criteria I’d very much like the new kid to meet:

  1. A modern fit. This is ultimately going to be what makes it or breaks it for me here. So many of the jackets that fall into the midweight down or down sweater category are longer cut and more fitted through the waist, no doubt in an attempt to flatter. (And they are more “figure friendly,” to quote my grandma.) The thing is, these end up skewing more toward activewear territory, and since I’m no ski bunny (nor do I need to feel particularly aerodynamic whilst wearing down), I’m eyeing something that mimics the same easy, not-quite-cropped, not-quite-boxy fit of my beloved original. Or maybe something with enough of an architectural edge that it pulls its (admittedly light) weight, stylewise. Speaking of weight…
  2. Midlayer weight. It gets chilly here, to be sure. But it’s not COLD, say, in the way in the way Scotti knows cold. Which is why a midlayer jacket is so clutch. I already have a big, retro puffer when I’m just looking for loft and warmth and a long puffer for when I want to be in full-blown burrito mode, so this piece genuinely needs to function more like a sweater: it should be able to standalone over a tee when it’s cool while also accommodating layers over or under when it’s legitimately cold (or, more commonly here, damp).
  3. Noteworthy style. As in: any little details that make it feel more interesting, and thus more versatile, than a run of the mill down sweater. Without making it look like something you’d mail order from the catalog in a seat-back pocket, you know? It’s a fine line, friends.

So. Criteria in place, hopes…tempered, I ordered a few contenders. Here they are, with notes and prices for each. (Note: prices listed are full retail prices with sale prices noted if applicable.)

1. Mountain Hardwear Women’s Derra Jacket (Black)

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.
We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

jacket (wearing an XS)
blue jeans (I wear mine TTS, or size down for less slouch) | white tank (size up one) | adidas (TTS)
black jeans (TTS) | booties (similar)

I ordered this more or less on a technicality. It’s the closest thing Mountain Hardwear offers to my original jacket in terms of weight and intended use. The fit is close to what I’m after, but it skews perhaps just a little more fitted. (Or, very possibly, it fits exactly the same, but both my original jacket and I have stretched out a bit over the past 10 years.) The weight and its function as a midlayer are spot-on. It packs into its own pocket, too, which is a function of my old jacket that I used more than I ever would have expected. So I would say two out of three boxes checked. As for the element that makes it more interesting than activewear — I’m just not sure. The diamond quilting does make it feel more like a fashion piece, but a lot of down sweaters are going that route these days, so is that really enough to make this crossover from a climbing jacket to an around-town jacket? I should note that it’s pretty dang cute in the olive colorway (with a blush pink zipper!), but knowing how I’ll wear it, I think the black is the strongest contender. Note: 60-gram fill is synthetic insulation, not down. Which is neither here nor there for me, except for the fact that down tends to escape over time, so maybe this is a good thing?

Bottom line: Functionally, a perfect dupe. But it’s missing…something?
Price: $185, which seems fair (if not affordable) for the quality of construction and the price-per-wear. Almost certain I paid close to $100 more for mine 10 years ago.


2. The North Face Holladown Crop Jacket (Black)

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

jacket: Wearing an XS | at Zappos | at Amazon
blue jeans (I wear mine TTS, or size down for less slouch) | white tank (size up one) | black jeans (TTS)

Ok, I like the vibe of this one v much. First of all, it’s described as a “cropped” jacket — and even though I wouldn’t say it’s cropped in the way, ohhh, an American Eagle band tee might be, it is more cropped than most jackets of this style. (It’s about 1″ shorter than the Mountain Hardwear Derra, above.) On me it hits right about at the hip. And it’s cozy! The generously cut funnel neck makes it look modern and cool when it’s fully zipped, too, which definitely makes it feel more fashion forward. The pockets zip closed, which is always a plus when I’m trying to use my jacket in place of a purse. And! This is the only one of the bunch with cozy thumb-holes in the cuffs (which seamlessly stash out of the way if you don’t want to use them). The downside? It’s a bit more lofty, and juuuust a bit snug for layering anything too substantial underneath.

Bottom line: Love the look, feel and technical details. Fashion home run. At 550-fill goose down (Responsible Down Standard — which “ensures that the insulation does not come from birds that have been live-plucked, or force fed, and that their welfare has been protected throughout their life cycle” — pretty cool), this jacket might actually be a little too warm for my intended use.
Price: $199 (but on sale here and in a few sizes here) — which again seems fair and par for the course for this quality of apparel.


3. The North Face Holladown (Asphalt)

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.
We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

jacket: Wearing an XS | at Zappos | at Amazon
blue jeans (I wear mine TTS, or size down for less slouch)
black jeans (TTS) | booties (similar)

Why yes, this is the exact same jacket as seen above, but since I had a hard time tracking down sizes in the black, I thought I’d order the gray (“asphalt”) too, to see how different they really are. Verdict? Not very. The black isn’t a super-saturated black, and the asphalt is a pretty deep gray, so they’re very similar.

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

I snapped a photo of the jackets side-by-side for comparison purposes so you can see the colors — and these colors are actually blown out a bit since the light was super bright on the day I was shooting. In real life, both colors read darker than they look here.

Bottom line: Same takeaway noted above; if I was looking to avoid the head-to-toe black look, the asphalt might win out.
Price: $199 (but on sale here and in a few sizes here) — which again seems fair and par for the course for this quality of apparel.


4. Patagonia Radalie Bomber (Black)

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

jacket: Wearing an XS | save 15% with code THEMOMEDIT at Backcountry
more colors | more sizes
blue jeans (I wear mine TTS, or size down for less slouch) | white tank (size up one) | adidas (TTS)
black jeans (TTS) | graphic tank (TTS) | booties (similar)

Patagonia has long been a favorite brand of mine for their social responsibility practices, but they can be a wee bit hit or miss stylewise. Like the ever lovely Lunar Frost? So cool! But then some of their other pieces hit pretty middle of the road. Which is why I was SO excited to find this bomber-inspired “down” midlayer. The fact that it’s intentionally imitating a piece of apparel that’s not classically activewear? Exactly what I’m after. It’s a bit lighter than even the Mountain Hardwear Derra (40-gram versus 60-gram fill), which means it’d be ideal for layering — and around these parts, it’d probably be substantially warm on its own (well, over a t-shirt or the like) three seasons of the year. Nearly the whole dang thing is made of recycled materials, which is rad. Pockets are zippered, and it’s stylish looking both zipped and unzipped. I even like the chevron baffling down the front. Maybe my biggest concern? I don’t think the black plays up the fit and the cool details as much as some of the other colors (see below…) — so it ends up looking pretty basic, even though it’s not.

Bottom line: Seriously versatile and wearable and I can see myself reaching for it at least as much as my previous piece. Super big fan of the sustainable angle. Despite everything on “paper,” still a little bit boring. Perhaps not cozy enough?
Price: $149. Makes sense considering it’s not quite as densely insulated.


5. Patagonia Radalie Bomber (Umber Brown)

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

jacket: Wearing an XS | save 15% with code THEMOMEDIT at Backcountry
more colors | more sizes
blue jeans (I wear mine TTS, or size down for less slouch) | white tank (size up one) | adidas (TTS)
black jeans (TTS) | graphic tank (TTS) | booties (similar)

Hohoooooo, sleeper hit! I went into this hunt looking, undoubtedly, for a black jacket — or as close an approximation to black as I could find. I just know me: I’ll reach for it more often, wear it more consistently, if it’s black. And in theory, black is always more versatile. Right? But then this little goldenrod gem caught my eye while I was hunting, and I threw it in my cart at the last minute. Something about the Members Only vibe gave it undeniable potential. And shockingly, it delivered. This is the same Radalie Bomber detailed above, so all the specs are the same — but somehow that freaking Umber Brown takes all the cool details that were kinda muted in the black colorway and amps ’em right up. I mean — is it just me, or is it suddenly way more wearable? Even with the black jeans/white booties outfit, which I thought might be a stretch, it functions almost the same as a true satin bomber or even a vegan leather moto might. My fashion brain is thoroughly confused, and I like it.

Bottom line: Not at all what I was looking for, but it surprisingly checks all the right boxes. Still not quite as warm as what I’d hoped, but I might be willing to overlook that given what a refreshing departure it is from the rest of my all-black-everything.
Price: $149. Again, makes sense considering it’s not quite as densely insulated.


6. Basin and Range Cropped Down Puffy Jacket

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.
We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

jacket (wearing an XS)
blue jeans (I wear mine TTS, or size down for less slouch) | white tank (size up one) | adidas (TTS)
black jeans (TTS) | booties (similar)

I’ve had eyes for this thing since Laura posted about it (in the retro-chic Federal Blue color) — it’s undeniably cool, and the asymmetrical zip and cropped fit are just the kind of details that make it feel more fashion than function. Admittedly, this isn’t a true midlayer piece — at 600-fill down, it’s approaching true puffer territory, and I knew that when I scooped it up — so I’m not sure if it quite fits the bill here, but it’s damn cute and super comfortable on. Plus it’s crazy soft. I will note that there was a bit of down peeking out of the seams even when I initially pulled it out of the box, so I’m not sure what that says about the longevity of the piece — but at the sale price of $85 (normally $250), I would scoop it up in a heartbeat if you’re in the market for a cute, cozy puffer that isn’t necessarily super technical. Also in Eggshell, which is super chic (and would better camouflage any of that rogue down).

Bottom line: Not technically what I’m looking for, but it’s cute as heck and would most definitely get a lot of wear. Might like it even better in the blue. Awesome budget buy.
Price: Regularly $250, on sale for under $100. I can’t attest to the long-wearing quality of the construction, but it seems more than worth the risk for the sale price.


7. Mountain Hardwear Super/DS Stretchdown Hybrid Hooded Jacket

We're searching for the ideal midweight down jacket. Warm w/out bulk. Breathable. Packable. Stylish. A review of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear & more.

jacket: wearing an XS | at Mountain Hardwear
distressed jeans (size up one) | sweater (similar; TTS) | adidas (TTS)
black jeans | sweater (similar; TTS) | boots (on sale! same style, different color – size down one full size)
(please pardon the outdoor cushions drying out in our guest room…real life, folks.)

Serendipitously, Mountain Hardwear sent me this jacket to check out right as this post was coming together (thank you!!), and even though I wasn’t originally intending to include items with hoods, it’s worth a mention. (OK, more than a mention — I’m no good at budgeting my words.) Based on the pictures online, I was expecting it to be roomier (maybe even too roomy?), but it’s actually just a hair fitted, in the best way. Still not activewear fitted, but enough to make this feel more like a jacket than a parka, which is how it first reads in the product shots. And as for that hood? While it does fly in the face of making this pass as more of a fashion find, it’s freaking comfy! I’ve long thought puffy hoods are silly, thinking I’d prefer a hood designed for rain, not cold (silly me!) — but I wore this on an exceptionally windy morning on the coast, and I was real stinkin’ glad that hood was there for me. Also worth noting: in said extreme wind, this jacket was toasty warm. Not a single draft, which is probably due to the stitch-free construction — and the 650-fill RSD (that certified-humane situation again) down. It moves surprisingly well, too — and even though the word “stretch” is in the name, I think it speaks more to the fact that it’s not at all constricting (it is designed for climbing, after all) than any noticeable stretchiness in the fabric. Zip pockets.

Bottom line: Not initially what I was looking for, but the quality is stellar, and the fit is exceptionally comfortable — genuine warmth without bulk. I can’t imagine a better pick if you’re seeking a slimmer puffer that delivers on warmth and comfort while still offering a bit more modern fit. Also love the Raw Clay color.
Price: $225. Admittedly on the steeper end, but this is also the most technical of the bunch (and still less than I paid for mine, originally!). Can’t overstate the quality. Super nice.


Shop Women’s Midweight Down Jackets

All of the jackets mentioned in this post, including this one, which isn’t as technical as the rest, but I’m sorely regretting not adding to the mix.


So, friends — where does this all net out? I love the Mountain Hardwear Super/SD Stretchdown, but it’s not what I came for. So I think I’m torn between the North Face Holladown — the oversized collar makes it for me — or the Patagonia in that unexpected Umber Brown.

But then there’s not a damn thing wrong with the first Mountain Hardwear either, other than the fact that it’s just not my beloved original. And of course there are plenty of others I haven’t yet taken the time to try either, like this one (too plain?) or this one (promising! I swear it wasn’t available when I first started this project) — or this affordable option with a removable hood (!!) that somehow missed my radar in the first round.

Bring on the feedback!
xo,
Em

Guys! Follow me on Instagram for more peeks into our life on the Northern California coast. And if you feel so inclined, pop over to my personal food + lifestyle blog, The Pig & Quill, where I share salty scribblings from my kitchen and home life. Byeeeeee!

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Love the jackets, but could you do a post on how to style those ivory booties (particularly in winter in a colder climate)? I just bought them and love them, but am not quite sure how to wear them.

  2. Ha playing Phantom Planet’s ‘California’ on repeat when moving to California is such a thing. I remember blasting it on repeat in my Washington DC apartment after 13(?) years ago after landing my first post-school ‘real job’ in SF. California here we coooooooome….

  3. This is the post my feed was asking for! Thank you. My daughter moved from Chicago to attend college in Georgia and needs exactly this layer of type of jacket to layer and push into a back pack as the day warms up. We wear this inside in the Midwest. 😜

    • Oh so glad! I feel like there’s no bad choice here, but if she’s looking for packability the Mountain Hardwear Derra or the Abercrombie puffer that I sadly didn’t get the chance to review in time for this would be ideal!

  4. Great choices, Emily! I love them all—particularly the Holladown.
    I can speak to that Abercrombie lightweight packable puffer—I’ve had it in black since last winter and LOVE it. I wear it a ton, both on its own and underneath other coats (I live in Chicago). I’ve worn it camping, running, to and from work (pre-COVID), to the playground with my little sons and out for drinks with the girls. It’s warm, cute (I get compliments often) and made well/thoughtfully: somehow it gently follows your curves but you can wear layers underneath no prob. A little detail is that the inside of the collar has some fur-esque thing happening, so it’s nice and soft. I’ve worn it with and without the hood, and it looks and functions great both ways. Pockets are roomy and zip. It packs into its own pocket, which you mentioned you liked about your original—and it’s come in handy for me a number of times too when space is at a premium in my daily backpack. It’s ace!
    Now that I’m thinking about it, it was either you or Laura who sparked me to give Abercrombie another look a couple years ago, and wow am I grateful—I live in their clothes now, from sweaters to jeans to mittens to coats.
    Good luck in your hunt!!

    • Well damn, I am thoroughly convinced!!! Now I can’t not give it a shot. Thank you for the thorough review! Can’t wait to check it out!

  5. The moncler lans jacket. Hear me out on this one. I KNOW it is crazy expensive. But given your love of a fashionable down sweater and the fact that you wore your last one for 10 years non-stop I think it might be a worthwhile investment for you. It hits ALL of the marks you are looking for. Fashionably cropped without being too short, not too fitted but somehow very figure flattering, SO light yet offers a lot of warmth for the weight, very chic looking over jeans or over a dress. If I wear it inside to stay warm I don’t feel like I’m wearing a coat/jacket (even though I am technically). Looks way better on/in person than shows on the models online. I only have one beef with it: top enter snap patch pockets (no handwarmer pockets/no zipper pockets. Seriously though, just try it. I reach for this thing a TON.

  6. I have the Mountain Hardwear Super/SD Stretchdown and I love it! I think it’s the perfect amount of fitted and the hood is a definite plus in my book. With that said, the collar on the North Face is 🙌🏼 and I love the color of the Patagonia umber on you, so yeah, I’m super helpful.

  7. I hesitate to say it’ll be a full-on replacement (due to it not being technical), but it’s VERY well worth a look, especially at that price. And thank you again for your reviews—I love your eye and your style. And I remembered: it was you who reviewed so many great abercrombie pieces last winter (the silk cami bodysuit, the oatmeal cropped cardi, the full-length coat, etc.); I purchased multiple items based on that and really enjoy all of them!

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