I've decided to go big and invest in a quality down jacket, one that I'm going to wear for the next decade. I may be using it when I'm shoveling snow, snowshoeing in the mountains, or just around town. Which jacket do you recommend?
There are a number of good choices, in a range of prices. Maybe the most useful option isn't a down "jacket" at all, but rather a down sweater. Patagonia's Down Sweater ($200) may have more warmth per ounce than anything on the planet. Perfect for throwing on when out for a walk or for some extra warmth in the mountains, and it layers nicely under hard shells. Weighs 11 ounces, and packs down to the size of an orange.
The Sub-Zero SL
The Sub-Zero SL
In down jackets, a classic example is The North Face's Nuptse Down Jacket ($199). It has excellent 700-fill down, a durable nylon shell that's treated for water-repellency, and a moderately long cut for good coverage without much bulk. Weighs 24 ounces. For a little more heft, try Mountain Hardwear's Sub-Zero SL ($280). It adds a hood, and uses Mountain Hardwear's proprietary Conduit waterproof-breathable laminate, so it's really weatherproof. Marmot's Ignition ($285) is nearly identical in specs to the Mountain Hardwear piece.
But really, probably the best all-around down jacket out there is Feathered Friends' Volant. Just a great piece, with super-fluffy 850-fill down, available with a super-breathable eVent shell, reinforced at shoulders and elbows. I have a 20-year-old Volant that is as good as the day I got it. $399 for the removable-hooded eVent version; $339 with the somewhat lesser Nextec Epic fabric.