Whether used as a layering piece on extremely cold ski days or worn solo, kids love down and down-alternative jackets. Down doesn’t weigh kids down as they run, ski, sled, and climb, but it keeps them warm enough to stay outdoors all morning or afternoon.
For travel days, down jackets win with parents too: they pack down small, don’t weigh much, and are easy to stash in a day pack.
We tested ten jackets during the course of seven months here in Oregon, with one willing eleven-year-old as our primary test subject. He wore down jackets on ski days, to school, on field trips (you know, the kind that are actually still in the field), to Europe in mid-winter with his parents, on a cruise in Alaska, on camping trips in the Sierra Nevada and on the chilly Oregon coast, and even under a Halloween costume.
We have a lot of laundry to do, but have finally gear tested these jackets enough to give our pics for best down jackets for kids.
Note: We only considered jackets designed specifically for youth (no women or men’s models) and made with trackable, sourceable down. If we couldn’t find out where the down came from, the jacket didn’t make our list. Extreme cold-weather down jackets, and jackets with a retail price of over $250, were also not considered for the purpose of this round-up.
Top Down Jacket Pick: Big Agnes Icehouse
- Lightweight nylon rip-stop shell is wind and water resistant.
- 700 fill power DownTekTM water repellent down insulation.
- Insotect FlowTM vertical baffles contour to your body to provide a more comfortable fit and keep you warmer.
- Flow GatesTM eliminate down shifting to keep uniform insulation coverage.
- Adjustable drawcord hood closure keeps the weather out.
Why it’s great: From the makers of some of our favorite sleeping bags, the Icehouse packs 700 fill power into a jacket that felt lighter and more flexible to our tester than any other in the round up.
The outside is wind and water resistant ripstop nylon, and the down fill comes from DownTek, the down source I trust most. The vertical baffles contour to the body, which not only looks slimmer, but much more important in a youth jacket, it keeps you warmer. Pick up the Icehouse for just $65 while it’s on sale.
What we’d change: Nothing! It comes in two jewel-tone colors that will appeal to boys and girls, and the Icehouse is even on sale right now!
Runner up: Patagonia Down Sweater
Why it’s great: The Patagonia down sweater sports a classic look, making it the pick if your kids want to have a jacket that looks just like mom and dad’s. The 600 fill is quilted in, which helps it keep its shape.
Kids get a stand-up collar, and we love the spandex cuff which keeps the cold out. Pick it up for $119 in several understated colors.
What we’d change: The lack of a hood can be a pro or a con, depending on use. When worn as a layering piece, we didn’t miss the hood, but when worn stand-alone during hikes and windy days, it was missed.
Budget pick: REI Co-op down
Why it’s great: The Co-Op is everything the Patagonia down sweater is, for about half the price. We loved the option of five bright colors, and the 650 fill power did the job.
The Co-Op also packed down smaller than any jacket tested, which makes it our number one choice during travel days. Pick it up for just $79.
What we’d change: It lacks a hood, so use it as a layering piece or your go-to hiking/backpacking jacket.
Best Down-Alternative Pick: White Sierra Zephyr
Why it’s great: We were already familiar with the Zyphyr, as my teens love the adult men’s version. The kids’ Zephyr is built with the same care to detail: a contrast zipper for a snazzy look, lycra at the hems and cuffs to keep out the cold, and 100% nylon microfiber throughout.
If you want to avoid down, this is the way to go. The Zephyr packs down incredibly small, making it a natural choice for backpacking and carry-on travel. Pick it up in several fun colors for boys and girls for about $50.
What we’d change: The Zephyr could be warmer…this is not your stand-alone jacket on extreme weather days!
Runner up: Columbia Kids Powder Lite
- 100% Polyester.
- Machine Wash.
- Water resistant fabric.
- Faux down insulation.
- Attached, adjustable storm hood.
The price is right for the Powder Lite (pick it up for under $35), but it simply didn’t pack down small enough for our taste.
Kids choice award: Stio Hometown
Why it’s great: The Hometown features 650-fill, HyperDry down, which is water-repellent. The hood is helmet-compatible. It can easily serve as a one-piece ski jacket in almost all weather. It’s $149, which is on the reasonable side.
As a parent, I’m not sure what magical ‘it’ factor the Hometown has sewn into it, but my son reaches for it every time. He likes the roomy fit, and ample hood, and the fun, bright colors.
What we’d change: I wish the Hometown packed down smaller. It’s bulkier than the Patagonia sweater and the REI Co-Op.
Additional jackets considered: Marmot Ajax, Hanna Andersson Superlight, Northface Andes, and REI Stratocloud.