Growing awareness of the way geese are treated to make down coats has many of us shopping for alternatives. Here are our top picks for down alternative coats to keep you toasty warm this winter.
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What happens if you want a down coat without the horror of actual down? Happily (for us and the geese), there are some great down alternative coats available, as well as some made with recycled down. Here are the best I’ve found so far, along with a quick discussion of why I’m not down with down jackets, standard synthetics, and PFC coatings.
Before we jump in, though, here are a few key things to consider and questions to ask when choosing a new winter jacket:
- Type of insulation – How well does the fill material retain warmth? Can it handle wet conditions (including sweating!)? How small does it pack?
- Special features – If you need any of the following, does the jacket have them: Hood, vents, extra/different sizes of pockets, a powder skirt, double layer?
- Shell material – Does the shell offer rain protection? Snow protection? Is it breathable, flexible, durable, and wind resistant? Is it made from recycled/recyclable materials?
Many down alternative puffer type jackets are made using ethical and sustainable practices (including some that use recycled down), and many companies making them are generally eco-friendly and give back to the community, both local and global.
Why I’m Not Down with Down Jackets
Down is the soft, fine feathery layer closest to the skin on the breast of a duck or goose. It grows to form a quill (what we typically think of when we envision feathers). Down traps air to prevent loss of body heat, making it a fantastic thermal vest for the birds who grow down and an attractive material for humans wanting to make cozy winter jackets, duvets and pillows.
Unfortunately, ducks and geese don’t willingly give up their thermal vest, so humans forcibly restrain the birds and either kill them and then pluck them or pluck them while the bird is still alive. Sounds painful, right?
Down that is certified responsible comes from birds that were bred to be eaten, so the down is considered a slightly more ethical by-product. In both sets of circumstances, however, the birds involved tend to live short, unhappy lives and die before their time. The Responsible Down Standard does offer some assurance that birds aren’t mistreated, but that still depends on how you view the use of animals for our own purposes.
There was a time when few good alternatives to down existed, given its incredible ability to insulate while taking up very little space and weighing barely anything. Now, thankfully, there is both a lot of existing down in the world that can be reused and some fantastic advances in fiber technology that mean we can make a synthetic version of down insulation from recycled plastic.
All in all, there’s no need for new down. If you still need convincing, bear in mind that down is terrible in wet conditions, while the recycled synthetics are water resistant and great in rain and snow. The synthetics also last longer and maintain their loft or fluffiness, so you don’t end up with patchy cold coverage.
The best down alternative brands and coats
Nau is a Portland-based company making stylish, eco-friendly clothing from responsibly sourced materials. This includes some recycled materials, organic natural fibers, and eco-friendly non-PFC water resistant coatings. The company was founded in 2010 and claims to be the first sustainable performance wear brand. While Nau is still relatively young, they’ve already done a lot to push for higher ethical standards in fashion.
For instance, Nau were among the first to launch collections of winter coats made with recycled down and other outerwear made with waxed organic cotton. And they were so displeased with PFCs in outerwear that in 2014 they invented their own DWR with reduced PFCs. In 2017, they went a step further and began using a totally PFC-free treatment made with bio-based and hydrocarbon polymers with low environmental impact. This coating screened by third party organizations including bluesign®, OEKO-TEX, and ZDHC, and the Restricted Substances List for safety for workers, customers, and the environment. They don’t explicitly say which coating they’re using, but it sounds very similar to that used by HoodLamb, namely Zelan™ R3, a renewably sourced, non-fluorinated durable water-repellent finish.
Nau is also focused on making clothes that last. This way, garments stay useful for longer and stay out of landfill, in addition to reducing overall resource consumption. The company also donates 2% of sales revenue to grassroots environmental causes.
Highlights: A longer, stylish PFC-free trench coat made with recycled down and recycled polyester with a unique subtly scalloped hem. Nau is a Portland based company with a strong track record of “walking the walk” by producing ethical active wear that puts the environment first.
The Splendor trench coat from Nau is very warm and elegantly tailored, with a detachable recycled down filled hood, tall recycled down filled collar, internal wind flap, and a soft, knit waterproof exterior. It is breathable, PFC-free DWR coated for wind and water resistance and has a covered two-way reverse coil center front zip with snap closure.
The Splendor also boasts two covered hand pockets with zips and single snap, and one media pocket, perfect for winter walks with music or chats with friends. Measuring 39 inches at the center back, the Splendor has a subtly scalloped hem and a regular fit, so you’re not drowning under a giant cloud of coat.
Highlights: A unique PFC-free stole design for when you really want to show off your handwarmers. Made with recycled down and recycled polyester.
Nau’s Down Stole is a unique winter coat that’s part poncho, part jacket, and all class. It is filled with premium 700-fill recycled down and has a recycled polyester shell with PFC-free DWR coating to make it water-resistant and snow-resistant.
Perfect for showing off at the ski chalet, or about town, the deliberately oversized stole has a hood and snap closure, a covered front zipper and an internal wind flap to keep you cozy. There are two drop-in hand pockets and one small hidden stash pocket with zipper. The stole measures 28.5 inches at the back and has a relaxed fit, so you easily layer under as needed.
Highlights: Beautifully cut winter wool trench coat with PFC-free DWR coating.
An alternative to down winter jackets and to the more synthetic options too, the Nau Boiled Wool Trench Coat is knee-length, naturally textured, and weather resistant. It’s a great choice for urban winter wear with two front hand pockets and one front security zip pocket, an attached hood, seven front snaps, and a regular fit.
The trench coat measures 34.5 inches at the center back and has Nau’s signature PFC-free DWR coating. It should be hand washed with cold water and laid flat to dry. Nau only use merino wool and alpaca wool that is sustainably sourced and certified.
Highlights: Super stylish urban aesthetic shirt-style jacket that boasts recycled down and organic cotton with a PFC-free DWR coating. Recycled down and polyester plus organic cotton means you can’t go wrong.
Looking for a down jacket with a more masculine aesthetic? Check out Nau’s Utility Down Shirt Jacket. Vintage-inspired but timeless, this jacked offers stylish structure and exceptional warmth thanks to its 700-fill-power recycled down insulation. The rest of the jacket is made with organic cotton and recycled polyester with PFC-free DWR coating for wind and water resistance.
The Utility has internal bound seams for rugged durability, a rib knit collar with snap closure, eight front snaps, two front snap hand pockets with webbing, and two chest pockets with snap flaps and webbing. There are also snap sleeve plackets and cuffs with webbing and a shirt tail hem. The jacket measures 28.5 inches at the center back and has a regular fit.
If you’re looking for an eco-friendly version of a more traditional looking puffer jacket, Patagonia is where it’s at. This California-based company has long led the way (since the 1950s!) in corporate social responsibility and environmental initiatives and continues to push boundaries and improve their sustainable product range. Not only have they helped move the outerwear and technical wear industry towards higher environmental standards, Patagonia even helped push business across the US to close their doors on Election Day to support engagement in democracy.
Whether you need a winter jacket, a rain jacket, or a warm mid-layer for chilly nights, Patagonia has you covered. Many of their coats are FairTrade Certified™ and Patagonia were a founding member of 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of annual sales to nonprofit partners supporting environmental solutions.
The one downside of Patagonia is that they still rely on PFC coatings for their outerwear. They have repeatedly addressed this, however, and have taken steps to use more readily biodegradable and arguably less problematic chemicals. They’ve also invested millions of dollars in trying to figure out a high-performance alternative but have so far come up short. They’re still working on it, and in the meantime they’re still one of the most environmentally committed companies around.
Highlights: Lightweight, non-bulky, super durable and high-performance jacked made with 100% recycled fill and shell fabric.
Patagonia’s Nano Puff® Water-Repellent Jacket is one of my favorite pieces by this inspiring company as it helps keep you warm and dry, is lightweight and non-bulky, and is super durable. Made with bluesign® approved fabric, made with tested and sustainably produced components, this jacket compresses down well and weighs just 11.9 ounces, making it a great choice for camping and other adventures.
The Nano Puff® Jacket is available in S, X, M, L, XL, and XXL sizes and features a 100% recycled shell and liner and recycled materials in its PrimaLoft® Gold Eco insulation. There’s a two-way front zip closure and a stand collar and elastic cuffs to keep out the chill, and side zip-welt pockets and an interior zip pocket to keep your valuables safe.
This jacket features 60 g/m2 of PrimaLoft Gold Eco Insulation covered with a 22-denier rip-stop shell. It can be machine washed and dried, and measures around 35 inches long.
Highlights: Fantastic long coat for cozy city adventures, with plenty of space to stow your stuff, and a detachable hood for clear, bright winter days.
Available in Sage Khaki and Smolder Blue, the Patagonia City Storm Parka is a more stylish recycled down coat than the other options and sports a down-filled detachable hood, storm cuffs, and deep pockets, so your phone, gloves, scarf, and even dog toys can stay safely stowed.
The City Storm Parka also has a DH2No® Performance Standard 35% recycled nylon shell with DWR coating and a 15-denier recycled nylon ripstop lining with DWR coating. The 700-fill-power down is 100% reclaimed certified responsible down but isn’t treated to be hydrophobic, unlike the Rab Horizon down, so you won’t want to get this one super soaked.
The City Storm has a two-way drawcord for the hood, so you can keep out chill breezes, has a two-way zipper with wind flap, and sports two zippered handwarmer pockets, two welted pockets, lined with brushed microjersey, and a roomy zippered interior chest pocket.
There’s a waist cinch too, accessible through the front pocket, so you can prevent wayward gusts getting under the jacket. The elastic storm cuffs also help keep out cold rain, wind, and snow, and this coat is super long at 38 inches in back.
Highlights: Recycled polyester and down-filled jacket with two-layer waterproof-breathable shell for casual adventuring and full-on winter extravaganzas.
The Patagonia Tres 3-in-1 Parka may be the last jacket you ever buy, which is pretty darned eco-friendly in itself. This jacket has a two-layer waterproof-breathable shell, fully welded seams, and a DWR finish and is insulated with reclaimed certified responsible 700-fill-power duck down. The zip-out jacket attaches to the parka with center-front zippers and snapped loops at the cuffs and back neck.
This zip-out jacket offers super coziness as a mid-layer or all by itself on non-rainy days. It has two zippered handwarmer pockets lined with brushed tricot, a secure outer pocket, and a zippered interior pocket.
The H2No® performance outer shell is rain and wind resistant, and the horizontal quilting helps insulation stay in place. There are two chest pockets with snaps, two lower pockets with watertight, coated suppers, and a zippered interior chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack.
There’s an adjustable and removable hood for added awesomeness and the jacket is hip length.
The downside? This 3-in-1 jacket weighs a stonking 45 ounces (or 1.3 kg). That doesn’t feel all that weighty while you’re wearing it, but you’re not going to want to pack the whole thing in your backpack and lug it around just in case.
More brands to consider
Highlights: 100% recycled materials and a straightforward high-performance, slim design that’s ideal for soggy camping trips, hikes, and other outdoor adventures.
Made with a post-consumer recycled-nylon shell and high-tech ThermoBall insulation this popular North Face puffer jacket is excellent for cold, wet hikes, walking the dog, and soggy camping trips in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. It also packs up into the hand pocket for convenient carrying, looks and feels like a lightweight puffer but costs a lot less and is a great performer even when wet (unlike down jackets).
The ThermoBall Eco is basically the same as the original ThermoBall, just with the standard nylon shell and polyester fill switched for 100% recycled materials. It’s also quite a bit slimmer even though the weight is about the same, at 15.2 ounces.
This jacket has a front zip closure, stand collar, elastic-bound cuffs, front zip-welt pockets, and a chest zip-welt pocket. There’s a cinch-cord hem and the jacket can be machine washed and dried. It’s also a good choice for a mid-layer if you’re going skiing, and it’s available in XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL.
A little heavier than the Patagonia Nano Puff®, this North Face jacket has 118 g/m2 of PrimaLoft ThermoBall Eco insulation. The shell is made with 20-denier 38 g/m² recycled nylon with durable water-repellent (DWR) finish.
The downsides? North Face don’t reveal exactly what kind of DWR coating they use, so it may well contain PFCs. The jacket also measures just over 25 inches long, which is a tad short for my liking.
There’s also a Men’s ThermoBall Eco Hoodie and other men’s styles using ThermoBall Eco recycled fill.
Highlights: The best heavy jacket around, made with up to 80% recycled fill and designed by mountaineering guides who know their business.
Bight Gear (formerly MtnLogic) make one of the best heavy jackets around, designed to keep you super-warm on its own or as a mid-layer in extreme exposure conditions. The company uses a team-based design approach, with more than 60 guides working at Rainier Mountaineering Inc. offering their expertise from spending six months a year in the mountains.
This design approach means the Swelter has a bunch of cool features lacking in less outdoorsy puffer jackets. These include a slightly longer length to avoid the cold gap between layers, and a stretch panel on the cuffs, so you can get the jacket on fast without needing to remove your gloves.
The Swelter is insulated with Polartec Power Fill, made up of 80% recycled post-consumer materials. At 18.07 ounces, this thing ain’t light, but it will keep you as cozy as can be. It has a 20-denier rip-stop nylon shell and a DWR finish.
Highlights: Made with recycled nylon and recycled down, with a snug design ideal for urban and outdoor adventuring.
If you like your jackets to feel a bit more like a super cozy hoody, the Rab Horizon Down Hoody is ideal. Made with recycled nylon and filled with recycled certified responsible down, the Horizon is snug and warm and a great mid-layer for mountain adventures or general jacket for walking the dog in winter.
The Horizon has a zippered key pocket, a spacious kangaroo pocket at the front and boasts 650 fill power Nikwax® hydrophobic down, so it doesn’t matter if you get a bit soggy through precipitation or exertion. The down also makes this pretty compressible, and the Horizon weighs about 16.22 ounces, so isn’t a terrible choice for packing light.
Finally, the shell fabric is made from Pertex® Quantum Eco, which is wind resistant, ultralight, and has a DWR coating. The hood is also insulated and low profile (it won’t go over a helmet), and has a snap closure up to the chin, so is a great design for windy cities or exposed slopes. The jacket also features elastic cuffs and hood trim and a drawcord hem to further keep out the chill.
Highlights: I’m not a big fan of Everlane’s recent labor issues, but this jacket is one of the most eco-friendly puffer jackets around and is made with 60 recycled plastic bottles and recycled down from duvets and pillows.
Everlane’s ReNew Long Puffer Coat is a recycling dream as it proudly boasts recycled down insulation and a recycled shell made from 60 recycled plastic bottles per jacket, helping to keep them out of landfill. Everlane are, typically, one of the better companies for having a transparent and ethical supply chain, but rumblings emerged last year about some attempts at union-busting and more recently the company laid off most of its remote working customer service team (who were pretty badly treated anyway).
So, if Everlane steps up their game in terms of working conditions for US employees, or if you can put those things aside, this winter coat is a great choice!
The ReNew Long Puffer Coat is available in XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, and has a front zip closure with snap storm placket, a drawstring hood, and hidden drawstring waist. It is water resistant, machine washable and can be tumble dried.
The ReNew isn’t a down alternative jacket, but it dodges the ethics issues by using reclaimed fill from down comforters and pillows. The fabric is bluesign®-approved, made with tested and sustainably produced components.
Again, I’ll be staying away from Everlane until they get their house in order in terms of labor practices, but in general this company is one of the more eco-friendly options.
Highlights: Beautiful coat from a thoughtful company made with recycled wool and viscose, ideal for staying warm on your way to and from the office or social occasion.
Available in Saffron Yellow and a dark blue, the Cecily Recycled Wool Coat from Thought is a beautiful alternative to down jackets. Stylish enough for the office and warm enough for a winter walk, the Cecily is designed to have a relaxed oversize fit, so you easily layer underneath, or choose a size down for a more fitted silhouette. This wool coat measures 75 cm long (29.5 inches), making it just long enough for comfortable sitting on a park bench to take in the winter sun.
The Cecily has relaxed dropped shoulders, wide lapels, turned up cuffs, spacious pockets, and is made with a cozy wool blend comprising 40% recycled wool and 60% viscose (made from bamboo or beech, so not totally eco-friendly, alas). It is lined with 100% organic cotton jersey and is machine washable at 30 degrees on a gentle cycle (do not tumble dry or dry clean).
Thought was founded in 1995 and is a fantastically eco-minded company, with a robust Environmental Policy, Code of Conduct for suppliers, and a commitment to giving back to the community. Thought’s zero plastics policy means they use recycled paper for labelling and packaging, and garment bags are made from compostable cornstarch.
Thought adhere to standards laid out by the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a leading alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the globe. They deliberately source natural, sustainable yarns that use less water, fewer pesticides, and create less CO2, and they upcycle leftover fabric at source to reduce waste and create new products. Their cotton is GOTS certified, they use vegan-friendly glue, and they even ship mostly by ship (sea freight).
Thought also support Smart Works, a charity providing interview and work clothing to women in need. They are partners with Trees for Cities and The Woodland Trust and on their Thoughtful Fridays they donate half of the days’ sales to charity. They also have a sock donation program and have donated over 50,000 socks since 2015.
Thought are also one of 20 founding partners of the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) which was established in 2006, and are founding members of Common Objective, with both organizations aiming to transform social and environmental standards in the fashion industry.
Highlights: A great choice for urban dog walkers, and chic camping trips, but hard to layer under. Has a nylon outer shell and fill made from recycled plastic bottles.
If you’re looking for a fantastic urban puffer jacket in which to look chic while walking your dog, meet (Saint?) Bernardo. The EcoPlume Packable Puffer Jacket is very shapely thanks to channel quilting and smocked side panels, making it a terrible choice for layering under but a great choice when you just need to grab your coat and head out into the cold.
The Packable Puffer has one front zip, a high funnel-neck with zip-out drawstring hood, and is lightweight and packs down well, making it a good choice for camping trips too. It also has inset elastic cuffs and front zip-welt pockets to keep your valuables safe.
Available in Petal Pink, Black, or Opal Grey, this jacket is true to size and comes in XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL. It is insulated with lightweight EcoPlume fill made from recycled plastic bottles, and the fill is bluesign® approved as made with sustainably produced components. The Puffer can be machine washed and dried as the rest of the jacket is made with polyester and nylon.
The downsides? That polyester and nylon isn’t recycled. Also, at 29 inches long, it’ll feel a little short for some and may leave a bit of a gap in your layers for cold to get through. That said, it’s actually longer than the North Face ThermoBall Eco, which is just over 25 inches long.
Other Considerations when Buying an Eco-Friendly Winter Coat
Most winter coats and jackets, whether stuffed with down or not, feature a polyester outer shell treated with a waterproof or water resistant coating. Polyester is made from non-renewable petrochemicals, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and those coatings usually involve perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
Recycled polyester is a much better choice than new polyester and many companies are switching their lines to this material. This polyester typically originates from recycled plastic bottles, fishing nets, and other plastic materials that would otherwise choke landfills, waterways, and oceans.
Other materials used in sustainable outerwear include wool, which is naturally water resistant and keeps you cozy, but is very heavy, and organic hemp and cotton, which are typically treated with wax or other durable water resistant (DWR) coating.
Speaking of coatings, those PFCs are man-made chemicals commonly found in non-stick pan coatings as well as in some carpets and soft-furnishings. PFCs have been around for a while, and so have concerns about their toxicity. Sure, they’re great for water-resistance and stopping your eggs sticking to the pan, but once they get into the environment they break down very slowly and can stick around for years to come.
PFCs have adverse effects on the health of those wearing these garments (or using certain non-stick cookware), and also impact wildlife downstream. PFCs have been seen to cause harm to reproductive health and to promote tumor growth and are on the globally-recognized Restricted Substances Lists. Find out more about PFCs here.
Down Alternative Coats to Avoid (for now)
A quick online search for down alternative coats will present you with lots of vegan-friendly options, but barely any of these made the LeafScore cut as eco-friendly. This is because most of these jackets replace down with polyester or other synthetic materials. So, sure, they may be ‘cruelty-free’ in the sense that no ducks or geese are mistreated directly, but their larger impact on the environment, including on waterfowl, is still unacceptable.
I don’t understand why these companies don’t take steps to replace their synthetics with recycled polyester, nor why they continue to use conventionally grown cotton instead of organic. Some of the companies I’d call on to step up their practices include:
- Alpine North
- Save the Duck