A down jacket is a wonderful insulating piece: It’s light, packable, and offers premium warmth that you simply can’t find in a synthetic equivalent. In choosing your perfect puffy, one of the forks in the road is whether to go with a hood or without. Nearly every down jacket on the market is offered in both forms, and there’s a reason for that—both have very valid applications. So which version should you choose? Below we offer our considerations on hooded and non-hooded jackets, including warmth, intended use, weight and cost, and more.

Extra Insulation and Heating Efficiency 

Let’s start by looking at what you’re getting with the hood: extra insulation. And not only is a hood warmer than a hat, it has wonderful heating efficiency. By covering not only your head but also your neck, there are far fewer places for cold to sneak through than what you’d experience with a beanie or other dome-insulating combination. The weight difference between the various options is negligible, but the down hood will pack down smaller, and you don’t have to worry about losing the extra piece of clothing. If ultimate warmth and convenience are what you’re after, the hooded down jacket is an excellent choice.  

Down jacket (Feathered Friends Eos)
A hood provides extra insulation even when you're not wearing it

It’s easy to assume that a hood also will help protect from rain and snow, but wet weather is not where a down hood excels. Whereas rain jackets and hardshells are made with waterproof materials, down jackets are not waterproof (and even worse, they lose their ability to insulate when wet). Light precipitation can be okay, especially in the form of dry snow, and many down jackets feature a durable water repellent (DWR) coating that helps to slough off moisture. But it’s important to remember that prolonged periods of rain or heavy snow hitting the jacket directly will end up soaking through rather quickly. For this reason, we consider a down jacket’s hood to be ideal for staying warm but not a good line of defense in wet weather.

Casual Use vs. Performance Use 

The decision often is a little more complicated than warmth and comes down to intended use. Hoods are extremely popular for backcountry endeavors like backpacking and rock climbing, and you’ll see them being used more often than not, particularly in frigid temperatures or during downtimes on the trail or at the crag. It’s easy to pull the hood up over your head for extra warmth and wind resistance while belaying, and they rarely get in your way in terms of movement (and only have a small impact on peripheral vision). Hoods are extremely cozy when you’re high on a summit or standing around the campfire at night after a long day on the trail. Even day hikers will appreciate the warmth of a hooded down jacket when stopping for lunch or crossing a high mountain pass. One of our go-to hooded down jacket for these uses is the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody, which hits that just-right balance of warmth, comfort, and performance (for a full list of our favorites, see our article on the best down jackets). 

Wearing down jacket and hood in camp (Arc'teryx Cerium LT)
Wearing the Arc'teryx Cerium LT at camp

As a midlayer for skiing and other winter sports—with the down jacket worn underneath a ski jacket or shell—the answer most often is to avoid the hood. Wearing a weather-resistant piece over your down jacket means primary head protection is assigned to the outermost jacket, and a hooded midlayer will be left bunched up behind your neck. True, you can double up the hoods, but that’s only really needed in extremely cold and wet environments. You can also roll up or fold the hood, but the extra bulk is still lurking along the back of your neck.  

If your preferred down jacket use is casual—mostly around town with the occasional hike—the choice comes down to style and comfort. We see performance-oriented down jackets with hoods around our hometowns of Bend and Boulder all the time, but some people opt for more straightforward and cheaper pieces that aren’t as technical and don’t have the hood. The popular non-hooded version of the Patagonia Down Sweater is great for casual use and light adventuring, and you can save even more cash with REI Co-op's 650 Down Jacket ($100). 

Does Your Down Jacket Need a Hood (Patagonia Down Sweater)
Zipping up the Patagonia Down Sweater 

Hood Weight and Cost 

In addition to the factors above, there are weight and cost differences to consider. Below is a quick comparison among the 2022-2023 versions of three top-selling down jackets with their manufacturer-provided specs: 

Patagonia Down Sweater 
Hooded: $329 and 14.8 oz.  
Non-hooded: $279 and 13 oz. 

Arc'teryx Cerium LT
Hooded: $379 and 11 oz.  
Non-hooded: $349 and 9.8 oz. 

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2
Hooded: $350 and 8.8 oz. 
Non-hooded: $325 and 8.3 oz.  

Based on these three popular down jackets, the price difference between hooded and non-hooded versions range from $30 to $50, and the weight difference is a couple of ounces at the maximum but usually less. If you opt for a non-hooded jacket, you will need to buy a beanie (or already have made that investment), and the hat itself will weigh a handful of ounces. For example, one of our favorite hats for hiking and backpacking is the Smartwool Merino 250 Beanie, which costs $30 and weighs 2.1 ounces. We touch on comfort differences below—we far prefer down jacket hoods to hats—but the Merino 250 weighs more than the hood on most ultralight down jackets and is similar in price. Given the very noticeable jump in warmth and comfort, we prefer a hood for most uses. 

Does Your Down Jacket Need a Hood (Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2)
We prefer a hooded down jacket for most performance uses

Are All Hoods the Same? 

If you wind up deciding on a hooded down jacket, don’t make the mistake of assuming that all hoods are the same. To start, a number of climbing and mountaineering companies like Patagonia and Arc’teryx make helmet-compatible hoods that are larger and—you guessed it—fit over most helmets. These are great if you plan on actually wearing a helmet with your down jacket, but the size and extra material is unnecessary and slightly heavier than non-helmet-compatible hoods.

In addition, some hoods have rear cinches with drawcords to tighten, while others utilize elastic around the hood opening to fit snugly against your forehead. Lacking adjustability, these hoods are most often found on super light performance jackets and can be hit or miss depending on your head size. They also have a distinct, scuba-like look that sits tightly against your head and neck, which makes them a little polarizing for casual use. Unless you’re trying to trim every last ounce from your jacket, we typically suggest choosing a hood with a rear cinch. 

Does Your Down Jacket Need a Hood (Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody)
A hood adjustment helps ensure good fit and visibility

Hoods vs. Hats 

If you’re backpacking, climbing, or even using your down jacket casually, some head coverage likely will be necessary. For years, we brought a beanie along on our hiking trips and broke it out at the end of the day and for sleeping at night. The benefits are simple: It’s a relatively cheap way to keep warm that is super durable, and the low-profile fit doesn’t obstruct field of vision. As mentioned above, however, a hat is not as warm as a down jacket hood and doesn’t offer the neck coverage, nor is it as comfortable.  

While backpacking on a chilly night that stretched the limits of our sleeping bag, we slept in the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Hoody, and the hood was warm and cozy all night. With a beanie, you tend to feel slightly more pressure around your head and ears, the wool or synthetic construction can get itchy, and you sometimes need to make adjustments through the night. In other words, for just about everything but skiing and use as a midlayer, we prefer a hooded down jacket.  
Back to Does Your Down Jacket Need A Hood?  See Our List of Best Down Jackets

Powered by Drupal

Best Down Jackets of 2024

It's tough to beat a great down jacket, whether it’s for casual use or tearing around the backcountry. This cozy insulation type offers the best warmth-to-weight ratio on the market and packs down smaller than synthetics for easy storage. Below are the...

Down vs. Synthetic Insulation

As the weather cools down each year, the great down-versus-synthetic insulation debate heats up. Goose and duck down fill are among the premier insulators on earth, trapping air and creating pockets of warmth around your body with very little weight...

Best Cheap Down Jacket: REI Co-op 650 2.0

Here at Switchback Travel, we’re passionate about our down jackets. We’ve tested a huge range of models over the years, from entry-level options from Outdoor Research and Columbia to premium alternatives from Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and Montbell. While...

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Hoody Review

Ultralight without feeling ultra-compromised, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 is one of the lightest fully featured down jackets on the market. Despite hitting a sub-9-ounce weight (for the men’s hoody model), Mountain Hardwear managed to...

Best All-Mountain Skis of 2024

If you're searching for that elusive one-ski quiver, this is the category to find it. The definition of “all-mountain” varies by manufacturer and retailer but typically includes skis from 80 to 105...

Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets of 2024

If you’re looking for a jacket that offers solid warmth at a good value, synthetic insulation is the way to go. You don’t get quite as high of a warmth-to-weight ratio as down, but synthetic jackets resist moisture, can breathe better, and are more...

A Guide to Peru's Ausangate Trek

Peru’s Ausangate Trek is epic, and we aren’t throwing that term around lightly. The region is loaded with glacier-capped peaks that reach over 20,000 feet in elevation, yet despite good infrastructure...

Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket Review

Feathered Friends is a boutique down specialist birthed out of Seattle’s climbing scene in the 1970s, and they still lead the pack in down outerwear construction and design. The company is known for...