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Ultralight down pants are highly compressible, super warm, and can be a game-changer for shoulder season and winter bikepacking, as well as other outdoor pursuits. Logan and Virginia recently discovered this and have some thoughts on the subject. Learn more in this roundup as we review the lightest and best down pants on the market…
If you hate suffering in the cold, love going outdoors in the colder months, and have a penchant for packing light and tight, down pants should probably be in your gear list. Perhaps one of the best uses for down pants is in a bikepacking kit. Lael Wilcox has sung their praises for years, forgoing a sleeping bag in some cases in exchange for a modular down suit with pants and a jacket. But there are more reasons to consider down pants than simply trying to minimize and modularize your kit for ultra-endurance pursuits. Virginia and I have been using them for the last year and have become fervent converts.
Similar to jackets of the same genre, down pants are a worthy investment in our opinion. Most folks already know all the numerous benefits of carrying a puffy jacket, and many people won’t leave home without one in the winter or shoulder season. The insulation proficiency by volume of material is unmatched. So, why not extend that strategy to the lower half of your body? Here are a couple of points you might consider if you’re thinking about adding ultralight down pants to your bikepacking kit.
Relatively minimal bikepackers love gear that can be used for one thing and double as another. It allows you to save packing space and weight by eliminating an item or downsizing another, making your gear more efficient and useful. Down pants and jackets are two of those magical items. In short, they’re not only great for keeping you warm around camp, but they can also increase the efficiency and insulation of your sleep system. It’s hard to precisely quantify the numbers, but I recently slept in my Timmermade down pants using an old 40°F quilt in sub-freezing temps and stayed toasty all night. I even got a little too hot at one point.
Warmth x Weight x Size
Ounce for ounce, down is the warmest insulation available for clothing and gear. Although synthetic fiber insulation has come a long way, the amount of down required to provide adequate insulation remains unmatched. That means there’s less material to carry. Down is also highly compressible and can be squished into compact spaces, such as a seat pack. Once unpacked, it retains its loft and is able to bounce back to its original shape. Similar to many great ultralight down jackets, down pants can weigh as little as 130 grams and pack down to the size of an orange. For a useful packlist add-on, you can’t ask for more (or less, rather).
We rounded up three of the best down pants we could find that are ultralight, pack small, and offer an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. Find mini reviews of each after we put them to the test, plus a list of a half-dozen more ultralight down pants that we found during our research.
Timmermade Down Pants
Made in NY, USA / 158 grams / $250 at Timmermade
Inspired by the needs and wants of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, Dan Timmerman began crafting his own gear to fill in a missing puzzle piece he saw in the outdoor apparel industry. After making dozens of wool garments, as well as down sleeping bags and jackets, Timmermade (the company) was organically born. Dan and company have since developed a series of SUL (super ultralight) garments that are purpose-built to minimize weight and pack size as much as possible without compromising function. The SUL 1.1 Down Pants are one of the newest additions to this line.
Like the SUL knit sweater that we reviewed a couple of years ago, the SUL 1.1 Down Pants don’t have pockets, zippers, or additional features, and they’re stripped down to offer the most optimized weight-to-warmth ratio possible. The SUL 1.1 Down Pants are made of a lightweight ripstop nylon and insulated with Hyperdry 900 fill power goose down. This is a Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified down that’s treated with a fluorocarbon-free water-repellent coating to help keep you warm when it’s wet. The SUL 1.1 has 5″ wide baffle spacing and 1.1″ calculated loft, offering a unique Michelin Man design that minimizes cold spots by increasing the baffle size and reducing the number of sewn-through seams.
The interior and exterior shells are made from Argon 67, a 10-denier ripstop nylon fabric. It’s specced as the same thickness as most of the other options reviewed here, but it’s a very lightweight material and feels a little lighter than others. Unfortunately, I managed to get a small burn hole in them on the first night I wore them while sitting near a campfire. Frustrating, but that’s the reality with ultralight down garments.
All that said, the SUL down pants are the warmest pants out of the three we reviewed, likely due to the higher fill count and large baffles. They’re also the lightest and pack the smallest out of the options in this list. They’re great for sleeping in or hanging around camp, but I wouldn’t recommend wearing them while riding through brushy areas, bushwhacking, or tending a fire. All in all, the SUL down pants are an incredibly good value and offer a best-in-class warmth-to-weight ratio.
The SUL 1.1 Down Pants are available in 10 colors, and you can specify custom sizing details to ensure a perfect fit, a bespoke option that’s available for most of Timmermade’s products for a $20 upcharge and something that sets the small brand apart.
Extremely light (lightest on this list) with the highest fill power down
Highly compressible and pack smaller than the other two we reviewed
Come in a variety of colors with custom fit options at a reasonable price
A little bulky, so not the best option for cycling in or hiking
Fragile, as are most ultralight down garments
The quality or effectiveness of down is rated according to its fill power. Fill power is determined by measuring how many cubic inches can be filled with one compressed ounce of down, and it’s expressed as cubic inches per ounce (in³/oz). For example, if one ounce of compressed down lofts to a volume of 800 cubic inches, it is said to have a lofting power of 800. The higher quality the down, the higher its fill power. Since high-quality down requires fewer ounces to maintain the same level of warmth, it has a better warmth-to-weight ratio than that of a lower-quality down and can be used to create garments that are substantially lighter in weight. All of that being said, fill weight still matters.
Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Down Pants
Available in both men’s and women’s cuts, the Ghost Whisperer down pants by Mountain Hardware are the most mainstream option of the group, coming from a relatively recognizable and widely available brand. They’re also the most streamlined and bedecked of the three, oddly enough. While those two characteristics might seem in opposition, Mountain Hardwear did a good job of marrying a nice feature set with a sleek fit and still maintained a relatively lightweight and packable form factor.
The Ghost Whisperers contain 800 fill RDS-certified down insulation and have several features that the Montbell and Timmermade pants lack, including a zippered fly, a button closure, hand pockets, and ankle zips with a snap closure. They also have a reinforced elastic waistband and a thicker exterior fabric. The other two options use 10-denier shells, whereas the Ghost Whisperers have a 15D ripstop nylon shell and a 10D interior fabric. That’s a nice addition if you plan on doing anything other than sleeping or sitting around in your down pants at camp.
The ankle zips are another nice feature as you can—at least in theory—put on and take off the pants without removing your shoes. Note that this works with smaller shoes, but it’s a no-go with the large Five Ten winter boots shown in these photos.
All in all, the Ghost Whisperers are very comfortable down pants that differ from the other two options reviewed here. They’re full-featured and still relatively light, but they’re also a little more pant-like than the others and not quite as warm as a result. Part of this might have to do with the increased number of baffles, making them a little more trim feeling. They’re hands-down the best option here for use in more active pursuits due to their fit, reinforced waist, and zippered ankles. That being said, with the number of baffles and what seems like less down fill, I think they’re not quite as warm as the other two for the more sedentary camp life.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down pants are available in men’s sizes (S-XXL) in black or Surplus Green (as shown). They also come in three inseam lengths (29.5, 31.5, and 33.5). The women’s are available in Glacial or Black in sizes small-XL in Short, Regular, or Long inseams.
More useful features than others we tested, such as a zipper and pockets
Ankle zips make it possible to get on and off with (some) shoes on
Slim form factor works well for riding and off-bike activities
Available in men’s and women’s sizes
Heavier and slightly bulkier than other options
Not quite as warm as other options
More expensive than other down pants reviewed here
Down is great until it gets wet. That’s probably its biggest downside. Once it does get wet, it not only loses its insulating properties, but it becomes heavy and can be slow to dry. Cleaning down garments requires special care; most suggest a mild down-specific cleaning product, front-loading washer, and other particulars when it comes time to clean. Lastly, down is expensive.
Another thing to consider is that there are some sustainability and animal welfare concerns (live plucking, for example) surrounding the harvesting of down or manufacturing of down-filled products. If this is a concern to you, pay attention to where companies source their down and to what standards they adhere. As an example, Patagonia has a standard called 100% Traceable Down. Some other companies note their sources as well. Each of the three down pants we tested are specced with a traceable down standard. On the flip-side, there’s synthetic; it’s not as cozy, but sometimes practical. Note that we’ve also included a synthetic option in the list below.
Montbell Ultralight Down Pants
By Virginia KrabillMontbell’s down pants offer incredible warmth in an amazingly lightweight and compact package. Diamond-shaped baffles keep the 80 grams of 800 fill power down in place, but other than that subtle aesthetic element, the pants are minimalist in design. They have a drawcord waist and thin elastic cuffs at the ankles. They don’t have any pockets, but that’s a great choice in my opinion. Their absence helps keep the silhouette of the pants slim, versus the Michelin Man appearance that down clothing often has. Looking good is one thing, but the lack of bulk also makes the pants fit really well. While I often feel constricted when wearing multiple layers—or even a singular bulky one—these pants don’t make me feel that way at all. I can bend, squat, and pedal freely in them.
While I won’t be riding through brambles or cactus fields in these plants, the 10-denier ripstop nylon fabric seems like it offers a little bit of protection from abrasion. They also have a DWR coating to help shed precipitation. The pants come with a small stuff sack for safekeeping. Their packed size is approximately the size of a medium grapefruit, but they weigh next to nothing. In fact, their weight and size are smaller than that of the base layer I use in more moderate temperatures.
Montbell’s light down pants aren’t cheap, but I think they’re worth the investment for folks like me who often find themselves heading off to the warmth and comfort of their tent when they’d really rather be sitting around the campsite with friends. The Montbell Light Down Pants come in both men’s (S-XXL) and women’s (S-XL) sizes and are only available in black.
Relatively slim fit and non-bulky silhouette
Diamond baffle design is aesthetically pleasing and effective for warmth
Comes in men’s and women’s fits
Only available in black
10D shell is relatively delicate
More Ultralight Down Pants
Here are a half-dozen more ultralight down pants that we found during our research. Note that all of these options fell under 400 grams (14 ounces), and some are more ultralight than others. They’re listed in order of weight.
Goosefeet Gear Down Pants
Georgia-based Goosefeet Gear is best known for their Down Socks, but they also offer ultralight down pants. Goosefeet Down Pants are not only one of the lightest options available, they’re also fully customizable and come in a variety of color combinations. Perhaps most interesting, the Goosefeet Down Pants are available with a thicker 20d exterior shell.
Made in GA, USA / ~175 grams / $185 at Goosefeet Gear
Western Mountaineering Flash Pants
Western Mountaineering’s take on ultralight down pants are made in the USA using lightweight ripstop nylon with water repellent finish with 850+ fill power goose down. They feature reinforced fabric in the seat area, an adjustable waist belt, and elastic ankle cuffs. The Flash Pants come in sizes XS-XL in black.
Made in CA, USA / 180 grams / $290 at Western Mountaineering
Mountain Hardwear Stretchdown Pants
Mountain Hardwear has another pair of relatively ultralight down pants in their catalog. The Stretchdown Pants have most of the features as their Ghost Whisperer—save the ankle zips—but have a 88% nylon/12% elastane shell to allow better movement, and are stuffed with a 700-fill-power RDS down.
Kuiu Super Down ULTRA Pant
Made with hunting in mind, Kuiu’s ultralight down pants feature a 12D TORAY Stunner Stretch shell, 850+ fill-power water resistant down, 30D reinforced seat and knee panels, full-length side zips, and hook-and-loop adjustable waist tabs. Considering all that, we’re not sure how they keep to their claimed weight. Super Down ULTRA Pants come in several colors in sizes S-XXXL.
Made in TBD / 227 grams / $260 at Kuiu
Patagonia Das Light Pants
Patagonia’s DAS Light Pants are made from PlumaFill, the only option on the list made from synthetic insulation. They promise a packable, ultralight design that’s built to move and remain warm even when wet. Das Light pants feature a recycled nylon shell with a weatherproof PU coating and full side zips. Like other Patagonia garments, they’re also Fair Trade Certified sewn.
RAB Argon Down Pants
RAB’s take on ultralight down pants, the Argon Down Pants, appear to be a little more robust than others. They feature a water-resistant 20D Pertex Microlight shell, RDS-certified 800 fill-power Fluorocarbon-free hydrophobic down, an elasticized hem with a removable belt, zippered fly, and a stuff sack.
Made in TBD / 375 grams / €200 at Backcountry
Chances are, we missed some good options that are available in the marketplace. If you have a pair of ultralight down pants that you’d recommend, please drop us a note in the conversation below. Likewise, if you have experience with any of these, please let us know how you’re getting along with them.
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