We’ve spent months wearing and testing a huge range of down jackets from entry-level models from the likes of Outdoor Research and Columbia to premium options from Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and Montbell. We thoroughly enjoyed the task, but the consistently high prices of these pieces brought to mind an important question: is there a budget option that can compete? From there, we set out on a mission to find the best cheap down jacket.
Launched in 2014 and quickly selling out of their entire stock, the REI Co-op Down Jacket is the clear winner. It’s $99.50, which is unheard of in this product category (many “affordable” down jackets are $150 to $200). It offers an unparalleled combination of quality down—and enough of it to be sufficiently warm—along with a surprisingly high quality construction and soft feel. All in all, it’s a no-nonsense jacket that gets all the basics just right. This may not be your high-performance backcountry piece, but we’ve concluded that the REI Co-op Down Jacket is far and away the best budget down jacket on the market today.
For comparison sake, we pitted the REI Co-op against the Outdoor Research Transcendent Sweater, our second choice for a cheaper down jacket that often can be found on sale in the $120 to $150 price range, and the Patagonia Down Sweater, which is more expensive but the top selling lightweight down jacket on the market. If you'd like to see how the Co-op stacks up with the rest of our favorites, check out our article on the best down jackets.
Down Jacket Comparison Table
|Jacket||Price||Weight||Fill Power||Fill Weight||Denier||Packable|
|REI Co-op Down Jacket||$99.50||10.2 oz.||650-fill down||3 oz.||Unavailable*||Hand Pocket|
|OR Transcendent Sweater||$199||12.9 oz.||650-fill down||3.5 oz.||20D||Hand Pocket|
|Patagonia Down Sweater||$229||12.8 oz.||800-fill down||3 oz.||20Dx30D||Chest Pocket|
* We reached out to REI and they weren't able to provide a denier specfication for the jacket.
Is the REI Co-op Warm Enough?
You purchase a lightweight down jacket for its impressive warmth-to-weight ratio, and the REI Co-op fits the bill. At 10.2 ounces on our scale in a medium size, it’s feathery light and only a couple ounces off some high-end performance pieces. The warmth a down jacket provides is a combination of factors: the quality of the down (fill-power), the amount of that down, as well as the lining and shell fabric. Down gets its warmth from loft and the puffier it is, the more warm air it traps against your body. Higher fill-power down is loftier at a given weight than lower quality, hence the value in a quality down coat. Better down equals more warmth at a lower weight.
For the Co-op Down Jacket, REI uses 650-fill power down, which falls at the top end of the mid-range in terms of quality. Some high-end jackets use 800+ fill power down but they cost $300 to $400. Fill weight is where some brands cut costs in making a budget down jacket, touting the quality of the down but avoiding the fact that there just isn’t that much of it. Thankfully, REI didn’t really skimp here as the jacket has 3 ounces (84 grams) of total fill, which puts it right about average for a down sweater.
Taken together, the Co-op has the same amount of fill but a lower fill quality than the Patagonia Down Sweater, and logically, in our use, it does feel marginally less warm. It’s the same story with the Outdoor Research Transcendent Sweater, which has the same quality down, just more of it. Keep in mind, both of these jackets retail for double (or more) the sub-$100 price of the REI Co-op. This also isn’t to say it isn’t a warm piece either. We’ve been comfortable wearing the REI as our outer layer in temperatures down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit with only a thin baselayer underneath. It’s plenty of jacket to wear as a midlayer for resort skiing as well—just make sure to keep it dry (we cover water resistance in the features section below).
How Well is the Jacket Built?
Our initial impressions of the jacket were strong: no excess thread that needed to be clipped and all of the stitching appears straight and consistent. The YKK zippers are a standard coil design and completely functional. Their lightweight build doesn’t have the confidence-inspiring feel of a zipper with larger teeth, but the slim design is not out of place in this category and we’ve experienced no performance issues.
Hand feel is another strong suit of the REI Co-op Down Jacket, and in an eyes closed test of the shell and lining, there wasn’t a discernable difference between the Co-op and the Patagonia Down Sweater (other than the liner of the pockets, which isn’t as smooth feeling in the Co-op). This is high praise for a jacket that costs less than half of the Patagonia legend. And in our opinion, the jacket feels of higher quality than many of the other $200 options, including the OR Transcendent and Rab Microlight.
One place where the jacket might fall short is tear resistance. The thin shell doesn’t appear to have the ripstop construction like some of those performance shells (the lining does have a ripstop fabric, however), and it also doesn’t benefit from higher-end tech like Pertex fabrics that are super strong for the weight. Once again, we haven’t ripped a hole in it (something we have done in a Down Sweater while backpacking), but we find ourselves consistently checking to see if we’ve sliced a hole in it after sliding through rocks or branches.
Features: What Are You Giving Up By Only Spending $100?
The Co-op brand aims for a no-frills design strategy, and their down jacket lives out that promise. You get a simple design that has two hand pockets and a full-length center zip and that’s it. Those that prefer a napoleon chest pocket will have to look elsewhere, but if you’re like us, it’s not a big loss. The hem adjustment—or lack thereof—is one place of contention for us, and we cover that below in our fit section.
The jacket has a DWR coating, which is pretty standard fare for a down jacket but notable on a $100 model. In our use, the Down Jacket has easily shed light rainfall with the rain beading up and rolling off. The experience should be the same in snow. We definitely do not recommend wearing the Co-op Down in sustained heavy rain—and this same recommendation goes for nearly every down jacket out there (synthetic jackets have the clear edge in wet conditions). With prolonged exposure moisture will soak through and compress the feathers into mush.
Lightweight down jackets are compressible and easy to slide into a backpack, suitcase, or bag, and the Co-op is a winner in this case. And we commend REI for deciding to make the left hand pocket a stuff pocket. We’ve found separate stuff sacks to be annoying because you almost always lose them over time. Turning the pocket inside out and stuffing it in is a quick and easy process that also helps protect the shell from tears while in a pack.
Fit and Sizing
As we mentioned above, no hem adjustment makes the jacket slightly limiting. The fit is relatively trim around the waist—those with a slim build shouldn’t have any issues but no hem adjustment means the fit isn’t as universal as we would prefer. Accordingly, some may have to size up or down. Overall, however, we really like the fit. It’s not excessively bulky under the arms and around the shoulders—both the Outdoor Research Transcendent and Patagonia Down Sweater struggle with these issues—and the jacket fits long enough to sit well below the waist on both of our testers (5’10 and 6’1 in the medium size). In fact, the fit is not unlike some of the performance jackets we’ve been wearing and feels less boxy than some of the popular Patagonia down jackets.
We haven’t yet found any real limitations for the REI Co-op Down Jacket. It would work great for casual use and light adventuring, particularly in the shoulder seasons when the conditions aren’t freezing (you likely will want step up to a warmer down jacket for the dead of winter). It would make a nice midlayer for resort skiing, particularly given that an outer layer would help to avoid any tearing of the shell. More, the jacket is now offered as a Down Vest for casual use and Down Hoodie for backpackers and climbers looking for more warmth. The hooded version shares the wide range of color and size options with the standard jacket and is a solid value at $119.
Our mission of finding a budget down jacket turned out to be a rather easy one. REI is one of the leading outdoors brands, particularly for beginners and intermediates, and their Co-op Down Jacket is a perfect representation of that. You get value, quality, and all the performance the average hiker, backpacker, and skier needs. And we love the look of it. It doesn’t have a blaring logo stuck to the chest, replaced with a small REI Co-op tab along the bottom hem. More, the jacket is offered in a ton of colors (8 for both men and women at the time of publishing). REI’s Co-op brand is young—this was their first offering and the line still only includes a handful of items—but we really like the direction they’re headed. This jacket beats out some the more expensive competition, and with the $99.50 price tag, it’s a no brainer.
See the Men's REI Co-op Down Jacket See the Women's REI Co-op Down Jacket