Down jackets are incredible. Whether you’re a hip city dweller, a mile-crushing backcountry hiker, or just an adventurous backpacker, a good down jacket is your key to staying warm and looking stylish where ever your active life takes you.
In fact, having an awesome down jacket is crucial for every type of backpacker.
But not all down jackets are created equal. In fact, some of them can be complete rip offs….Which is exactly why I have assembled this ultimate guide to the top down jackets of 2019.
This review of the best down jackets is the culmination of years of experience using different down jackets in a variety of settings and scenarios. Down jackets are very activity specific and you’ll need to find the right one to suit your purposes.
Let’s jump right into it!
Quick Answers – The Best Jackets for Backpackers
- Best Overall Down Jacket: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie
- Best Women’s Down Jacket: Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket
- Best Ultralight Down Jacket: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded
- Best Winter Down Jacket: Rab Neutrino Endurance
- Best Cheap Down Jacket: Outdoor ResearchTranscendent Hoody
- Best Waterproof Down Jacket: REI Co-op Stormhenge 850
Jacket Performance Breakdown
This definitive guide covers a wide range of down jackets. I have organized each of my top down jacket picks into different categories, to make finding the perfect down jacket a straightforward affair.
My review will examine factors like warmth, weight, material composition, shell fabrics, best-intended use, price, fit, attractiveness, and everything else that goes into to making a great down jacket.
This list features tried and true veterans of the down jacket world in addition to the top newcomers on the scene.
Here is are my top picks for 2019:
|Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie
||Check on REICheck on Amazon|
|Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
||Check on REICheck on Arcteryx|
|Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket
||Check on Amazon|
|Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
||Check on REICheck on Amazon|
|Rab Neutrino Endurance
||Check on Amazon|
|Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
||Check on REICheck on Amazon|
|REI Magma 850
||Check on REI|
|REI Stormhenge 850
||Check on REI|
Best Overall Jacket: Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie
When it comes to down jackets, Patagonia is known the world over for producing some of the warmest and most stylish jackets around. From the hipster bars of San Fransico to the Himalayas of Pakistan you will find people rocking this jacket in just about every circumstance.
Why? Because it’s a freaking awesome jacket.
The Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie features ethically sourced Traceable Down (third-party-verified, non-live-plucked, non-force-fed). The 800-fill-power goose down is stabilized with quilted construction for targeted warmth where you need it most. Patagonia goes above and beyond in the realm of environmental stewardship and animal welfare. They are certainly an industry leader in that regard.
This jacket features a durable windproof shell made of 100% recycled ripstop polyester with a water repellent finish.
I am a big fan of the two zippered handwarmer pockets. The pockets make for a toasty refuge for your hands and fingers. Also, you can secure important things like your phone or passport in them stress-free.
The interior of the jacket also features a zippered pocket. If you want to pack the jacket down, the interior pocket also doubles as a stuff sack.
The Down Sweater Hoodie is an excellent everyday jacket, that will keep you warm and looking good throughout the year.
For all around top quality and performance, the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie is a sure bet.
Check out the women’s Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie.
- A bit of a boxy fit
- Down doesn’t do well in wet conditions
Best Overall Jacket #2: Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
I am a big fan of Arc’teryx gear. They lead the pack in many gear categories and generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with a down jacket made by them.
The Cerium LT Hoody is my favorite down jacket Arc’teryx makes, and has earned it 2nd place on this list of down jackets.
The Cerium LT Hoody features an ultra-sleek design and powerful warmth in an ultralight package. 850-fill-power down is the amazing formula that keeps you cozy in cold weather. Weighing only 10.9 ounces, the Cerium LT Hoody packs down to next to nothing.
An interesting new feature is that Arc’teryx added Coreloft synthetic insulation in the areas likely to become damp and wet. This means the previously vulnerable down has been replaced with a synthetic that holds up much better against moisture.
The use of synthetic down material in the Arc’teryx Cerium LT means it can hold up better in wet conditions than most of the other jackets on my list.
The Arc’teryx Cerium LT wins big on attractiveness too. From city to sea to summit you’ll be flush with style points. Bear in mind that most Arc’teryx products tend to have a slim fit. If not for the Patagonia Down Sweater, the Arc’teryx Cerium LT would certainly be at the top of my list.
Check out the women’s Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoodie.
- Some people have experienced the seams leaking feathers, which makes me question the durability.
Best Women’s Down Jacket: Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket
The Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket is an all-around high-performance down jacket. It is supremely comfortable, lightweight, and packable. For you Americans unfamiliar with Rab, they are a UK-based company well-known for producing high-quality down products.
The Microlight Alpine down Jacket features 750-fill power European Hydrophobic goose down, which holds up well in a light rain. Most down jackets fail immediately as soon as they get wet. Hydrophobic down is certainly very helpful in combatting moisture. Well, in theory anyway.
The Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket for women wins big in the style department as well. It offers up a slim fit with tapered arms, three zippered exterior pockets and a down-filled helmet-compatible hood.
There are lighter down jacket’s for women out there, but few can match the comfort and warmth of the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket. If you are looking for a jacket that packs down small for your various international backpacking adventures the Microlight Alpine jacket boasts excellent packability.
Likewise if staying warm and packing light/small are your primary interests, the Rab Microlight Alpine down jacket is certainly for you.
Check out the men’s Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket.
- Not as lightweight as competitors.
- Narrower baffles compress down.
Best Women’s Down Jacket #2: Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody
For a strictly outdoor performance piece, the Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody is one of the top down jackets for women in that regard. If you are a woman who does heaps of climbing, trekking, or other mountain sports, you’re going to love this down jacket.
I’ll admit, the Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody has flown under the radar for a while. Some down jackets don’t receive as much attention as their competitors. The Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody is a good example of that.
Weighing in at a staggering 7 ounces, the Quasar Nova will never slow you down. As far as warmth it can stand up next to the likes of the Patagonia Down Sweater. I like the three zippered exterior pockets as well. You always have plenty of space to store your bits and pieces.
Keep in mind that the Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody is a no-frills jacket. It can be compressed to next to nothing and is very much an ultralight down jacket. That said, it is not a great jacket during rainy conditions. It pretty much looses all of its value when it gets wet.
But that’s why you should invest in an awesome rain jacket! Down jackets were never intended to combat rain.
I wouldn’t say that the Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody is the best overall performing down jacket of all time.
Though, if you are looking for one of the best jackets for women in the ultralight category, the Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody is great value.
Check out the men’s Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody.
- Weird, ill-fitting hood design.
- Absolutely not water resistant.
Best Ultralight Down Jacket: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded
Looking for the ultimate ultralight down jacket? Enter the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded down jacket. For the maximum amount of warmth compressed into a tiny package, the Ghost Whisperer stands tall from the rest of its competition.
Mountain Hardware has been making this down jacket for years now, and it’s still kicking ass.
Just because it basically weight nothing doesn’t mean you loose cool features. You still get a hood, zippered pockets, and drawcords at the sides so you can hone in the fit.
With any ultralight down jacket, what you save in weight, you lose in toughness. Ultralight jackets don’t have the same ability to survive a few hard scratches or scuffs.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer simply can’t take the punishment other down jackets can. That’s not to say that it is poor quality though. If you don’t do lots of climbing or bush-bashing anyway, this shouldn’t be an issue for you.
You will just have to be more mindful not to snag it when you are out trekking or chilling out at camp.
Check out the women’s Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.
- Lacks toughness.
- Zippers are poor quality.
Best Ultralight/Synthetic Down Jacket #2: Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie
Patagonia has arrived on my list again, this time for its legendary Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie.
Synthetic down certainly has its perks. For one, it can get pretty wet and still function. After a good soaking, normal down clumps and stays wet (and non-insulating) for ages.
The Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie features 60-g PrimaLoft Gold Eco Insulation made from 55% post-consumer recycled content. As I said the insulation is water-repellent, highly compressible, and crucially, it maintains warmth when wet. It feels very light on your body yet keeps you exceptionally warm even in freezing temperatures.
For hand and trinket storage the two zippered hand warmer pockets have cleanly finished zipper garages that keep you sorted. The zippered internal chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack with a reinforced carabiner clip-in loop.
- Some people have complained about poor stitching quality.
- Not as lightweight as other down jackets.
Best Winter Down Jacket: Rab Neutrino Endurance
The Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket is my top pick for the best winter down jacket. Why? Well, in short because it is warm as hell.
Chalked full of the best quality 800-fill European hydrophobic goose down, the Neutrino Endurance was built to do battle in the mountains.
It features high-quality zippers on the two exterior pockets that help defend against moisture penetration. Also, the cuffs and hem are equipped with water-resistant material, which is great.
The interior zippered pocket is super convenient and great for sorting things you want to keep safe.
The Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket is specifically a technical down jacket intended for alpine conditions in the mountains. That said, it is a great jacket to wear in the city too. It’s attractive, warm, sleek, and functional. For a down jacket at this price point ($375) I need to see more than just one single application for use.
The Neutrino Endurance down jacket delivers well in that regard. If you are going to invest in a quality winter down jacket that will keep you toasty in the mountains and on chilly winter mornings in the city, look no further.
Finally, it makes for an excellent travel jacket if you are planning to visit cold countries. The Neutrino Endurance is as tough as down jackets can be and certainly is built to last.
Check out the women’s Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket.
- Not suited for mild conditions.
Best Cheap Down Jacket: Outdoor ResearchTranscendent Hoody
Down Jackets can be expensive. Well, they are expensive. If you don’t want to (or can’t) spend the money on a high-end performance down jacket, I understand.
With a price drop, you will certainly see a lower level of quality. There is no getting around that. Outdoor Research is not a company that makes top quality gear. That said, they do provide some decent mid-level options that help you avoid buying a totally shit product.
The Transcendent Hoody down jacket will serve you well in mild wintery conditions or as just a casual travel down jacket. The zippered hand warmer pockets offer a cozy spot to warm up chilled fingers. A handy zippered chest pocket is perfect for securing small valuables and cash.
For a mid-level, practical down jacket minus the high-end specs and warmth offerings, the Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody is one of the best cheap down jackets available.
Look on Amazon, as they sometimes sell these down jackets ridiculously cheap.
Check out the women’s Outdoor Research Transcendent down jacket.
- Lacking overall quality
- Not ideal for below freezing temperatures
Best Cheap Down Jacket #2: REI Down Jacket Magma 850
REI is usually a solid bet for quality budget-friendly outdoor gear. Their REI Down Jacket Magma 850 is a good reflection that reputation. It is now the best REI down jacket available.
REI has made improvements to the performance of its down jackets over the years. The Magma 850 is warmer, more packable, and generally better constructed to be a more versatile down jacket.
Now to the facts: the goose down boasts durable water repellent (DWR) treatment to help keep you dry and warm in misty conditions. Some tight fitting down jackets can make you feel like you’re in a straight jacket.
The Magma 850 features tightly quilted underarm gussets, reducing bulk and improving range of motion. This feature also contributes to combatting the jacket riding up whilst you are hiking.
The Magma 850 is without a doubt one of the best cheap down jackets out there.
That said, you get what you pay for. There is no denying that the performance of the Magma 850 simply can’t stand up to the quality and fit of other high-end options. If you are buying a down jacket for the first time, the Magma 850 REI down jacket is an excellent way to go.
Check out the women’s REI Down Jacket Magma 850.
- Lacking in overall long-term quality.
- Not as warm as other jackets of the same weight.
Best Waterproof Down Jacket: REI Co-op Stormhenge 850
Always wanted your favorite down jacket to be waterproof? Meet the REI Co-op Stormhenge 850! This jacket packs everything I love about down jacket comfort inside of a waterproof shell. It’s 2-layer waterproof nylon shell with fully sealed seams provides dependable weather protection.
Like some other top down jackets (like the Cerium LT), the Stormhenge 850 features mapped insulation, providing warmth where it’s needed and reduces bulk where it’s not. This down jacket also has pit-zips to allow for heat to escape. You won’t find many other down jackets with pit-zips FYI. I find they certainly make a difference when you are active.
Adjustable cuffs seal out the elements when the rain gets heavy. For storage, the Stormhenge offers two zippered pockets for warming your hands and stashing valuables.
The Stormhenge 850 is the heaviest jacket on my list. You simply can’t have a waterproof down jacket without bulking it out. That said, it is freaking awesome to have a waterproof shell built into your down jacket. To top it off the price is reasonable ($249) for what you get.
Good job REI!
Check out the women’s REI Co-op Stormhenge 850.
- Heavy, bulky.
- The hood is massive.
|Jacket||Weight||FIll Power||Insulation Type||Hood?||Packable||Price|
|Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie||15.1 oz.||800||Down||Yes||Chest pocket||$279.00|
|Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody||10.9 oz.||850||Down Blend||Yes||Stuff Sack||$379.00|
|Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket (Women's)||12.3 oz.||750||Down||Yes||Stuff Sack||$275.00|
|Marmot Quasar Nova Hoody (Women's)||7 oz.||800||Down||Yes||Hand Pocket||$275.00|
|Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded||8 oz.||800||Down||Yes||Hand pocket||$350.00|
|Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie||12.8 oz.||n/a||Synthetic||Yes||Chest Pocket||$249.00|
|Rab Neutrino Endurance||22.3 oz.||800||Down||Yes||Stuff Sack||$375.00|
|Outdoor ResearchTranscendent Hoody||16 oz.||650||Down||Yes||Hand Pocket||$109-225.00|
|REI co-op Magma 850||10.8 oz.||850||Down||No||Hand Pocket||$189|
|REI Co-op Stormhenge 850||1 lb. 11 oz.||850||Down||Yes||n/a||$249.00|
Choosing the Best Down Jackets
There are many factors that go into the important decision of buying a down jacket. Next, I break down all the important aspects that you should consider before choosing a down jacket to fulfill your own needs.
As should know by now, each type of down jacket is designed for a specific purpose. Let’s start off by looking at some of the common down jacket categories.
Ultralight Down Jackets
These days ultralight down jackets are more popular than ever. What is an ultralight down jacket good for? Basically, if you intend to do any kind of sport while wearing your down jacket, you might want to consider choosing a jacket from the ultralight category.
Climbers, long-distance hikers, skiers, snowboarders, and athletes of every shade have embraced ultralight down jackets. The reason is obvious: they weigh next to nothing and they are supremely comfortable and conducive to movement.
Ultralight down jackets are awesome if you are looking for a barebones jacket to keep warm. Since they pack down to almost nothing as well, they are excellent for long-term travelers as well. But, like anything there is a downside.
Ultralight down jackets will almost certainly not be as tough or durable as a mid/heavy weight down jacket. By design, ultralight down jackets are constructed from material that sacrifices toughness for the sake of saving weight.
If you spend a lot of time being active in the mountains or in the city, or just want a lightweight down jacket to take traveling, an ultralight down jacket could be the way to go.
I am a big fan of the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded down jacket. It’s really warm and the weight is hardly noticed in your backpack.
Down sweater jackets tend to be tougher and heavier than ultralight down jackets. Often, down sweaters are the kind of thing that you can wear day in and day out without missing a beat.
They are the kind of versatile down jackets that many travelers and outdoor enthusiasts find attractive. The performance can vary widely in terms of warmth and technical specs, but generally speaking down sweaters are great for temperatures above freezing levels.
I find many down sweater options to be offered up at reasonable price points as well.
If you are interested in a down jacket that will serve your daily needs, add some style into your life, not break your bank, and keep you plenty warm, going with a down sweater like the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie is an excellent choice.
My last major down jacket purchase was a Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie.
I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it on a recent 12-day hike in the Alps. It certainly isn’t the lightest option for a long hike. That said, I didn’t find it to be overly heavy and it kept me very warm when crossing mountain passes. It’s a truly fantastic down jacket. Now you see why it’s my top pick.
Mid/Heavy Weight Down Jackets
The mid/heavy weight down jackets own an important slot in the down jacket hierarchy indeed.
They represent a great deal more warmth and comfort for extreme cold and activities like high altitude mountaineering. They are packed with sometimes double the amount of down fill as an ultralight down jacket. The result is a much heavier, much warmer jacket.
Because they contain more down they are way puffier too. That means that you will notice their presence in your backpack. Because of this the mid/heavy weight down jackets are only intended to be used when very cold weather requires them.
Planning a trip to the Himalayas, the Rockies, or the Alps during the cold months? A mid/heavy weight down jacket could be the perfect piece of gear for you then. If you only plan on buying one down jacket to suit all of your needs in life, a heavy weight jacket is not the way to go.
That said, you need one when you need one. Simply no other type of down jacket will do the job when temperatures drop below freezing and you are high up on a mountain making an ascent.
Down Jacket Fit
You want your down jacket to feel amazing. After all, you are going to spend heaps of money on the thing and you want it to be the most comfortable piece of clothing you own. Every down jacket company designs their jackets in different ways. The result is that no two down jackets from different companies fit the same.
Some down jackets tend to be square-like or boxy. Others run huge and for some, the opposite is true. Further still, some down jackets tend to be geared towards slim body types and kind of fit the way skinny jeans do (not exactly).
An ideal fit for your down jacket is simple. What feels comfortable to you?
In the down jacket breakdowns above, I tried to point out when any given jacket tended to lean towards a specific fit.
More over less though, down jackets from all the companies listed above tend to fit most people very well.
I personally really enjoy the slim look and feel of the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody I am 5’10, 170 lbs and the medium fits me perfectly.
Down Jacket Weight
As you gathered from the down jacket categories section above, weight is ultimately dependent on how much down any given jacket is packing.
For those counting ounces, go with an ultralight down jacket. Weight not really a huge concern? Down sweaters are only a few ounces more and arguably have more warmth power. Going on an expedition and have no choice but to bring a very warm down jacket? Head straight to the heavy weight category.
Point being, you should always always buy a down jacket based on what you intend on using it for most. For me personally, going with a high-performance jacket (like the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie) is more important than saving weight, but everyone has different needs.
Once you determine what you’ll be doing with the jacket and what sort of weight you can tolerate, you’ll be just about ready to buy your next down jacket.
Shell Fabric of Down Jackets
If you have been looking at the specs of various down jackets you have probably noticed the word “denier” or the letter “D” followed by a number. The denier is the weight measurement of the thread used in manufacturing down jackets.
The lower the number, the less thread was used to make the down jacket. Ultralight down jackets have very low D ratings because they simply contain less thread. The lower the denier rating the lighter the jacket. Easy, right?
Denier ratings are directly linked to a down jacket’s durability. Down jackets with low D ratings tend to be much more susceptible to tearing, seam splitting, and prone to faster general burnout.
The more burly a down jacket is, the higher the D rating will be.
If you are concerned about durability (you should be) I recommend going for a jacket that has a D rating somewhere between 20 and 30 Denier.
Obviously, if your down jacket meets a jagged piece of metal, a deadly branch, or a knife (hopefully not from a person) than it will suffer the consequences regardless of the D rating.
If you go with a slightly tougher D rating (like the Rab Neutrino Endurance, D rating: 30D), odds are the jacket shell will survive a few snag encounters.
Down Jacket Compressibility and Packability
One of the main reasons down jackets kick so much as is that a majority of them pack down to little convenient, packable balls of warmth. I often forget my down jacket is even inside my backpack.
Depending on the model you can usually pack the jacket into itself. Normally you can pack it into either the chest pocket or the hand pocket. Some of the mid/heavy weight jackets like the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody come with stuff sacks.
I can’t tell you how many times my compressed down jacket has served as a pillow during my travels. On countless buses, trains, airplane, and cars, I have gotten comfortable sleep because my head was buried in feathery goodness. It’s a great multi-use tool of the backpacker trade!
Many people use their compressed down jacket as a pillow while camping the the backcountry as well.
An important thing to note is the higher the fill count is the smaller it will be to pack it down small. It is truly amazing how damn small you can get a down jacket compressed!
One word of advice: try not to store your down jacket in a compressed ball long term. Doing that isn’t good for the loft of the jacket. Try to hang it up in the closet when not in use.
Hydrophobic Down: Your Down Jacket vs the Weather
No down jacket minus an outer waterproof shell will ever been truly waterproof. Ever.
The reality is that the down feathers inside your jacket turn to shit when they get wet. The clump, stick together, and complete stop doing their job of insulating you. You’ll notice this when you pull your down jacket out of the washing machine. You’ll probably observe that the jacket smells a bit birdy as well when it get wet. Makes sense!
Manufactures of down jackets are now offering up whats been deemed hydrophobic down. Basically, they treat the down feathers with a polymer, in order to make it more water-resistant. But don’t kid yourself. This doesn’t do too much in the way of water-proofing the jacket.
Let me be even more clear: down jackets are meant to keep you warm, not dry. For that you’ll need an awesome rain jacket.
Down jackets are awesome pieces of gear. They keep you wonderfully cozy in harsh conditions. They do not have super powers. Just as the geese that the feathers came from don’t have magic water stopping ability.
Love your jacket, just don’t count on it to preform when it gets wet. For that, you’ll need to investigate a synthetic down jacket.
Synthetic Down Jackets
I have owned several synthetic down jackets and they have served me well.
Whilst regular down jackets fold under wet conditions, synthetics tend to be much higher performing in that regard. A synthetic down jacket can take a little bit of rain and still keep you warm.
That said, they are absolutely not %100 waterproof by any stretch of the imagination. Synthetic down jackets will also never keep you as warm as down. Down is just the king when it comes to warmth vs weight.
There are some excellent synthetic down jackets out there, the Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie being one of them.
Another benefit to going with a synthetic down jacket is that they are cheaper.
One final thought to add: an additional benefit for the synthetic down jacket is when you get a slight tear in the shell the seams don’t explode feathers all over your house. The synthetic material doesn’t come rushing out at the tear site when it is exposed. If you’ve experienced a down jacket feather explosion than you know what I’m talking about.
Down Jacket Hoods
For me, the hood really makes the jacket. I find that without a hood you are less warm. The hood really has a way of locking heat in. Also when the wind blows your head and ears get cold when they are exposed.
Hoods are really a preference thing. Some backpackers hate them because they get in the way if you are wearing a rain jacket over your down jacket.
Two obvious benefits of going without a hood: non-hooded down jackets weigh less and they are cheaper.
Most down jacket models feature hooded and non-hooded versions, so you have the choice. A great cheap non-hooded down jacket is the REI Down Jacket Magma 850.
If you are a die hard ultralighter, you don’t need me to tell you to forget the hood.
Well guys, that’s all I got. You have made it to the end of my ultimate review of down jackets for backpackers.
The world of down jackets is a vast ocean of different choices. After reading this review of the best jackets on the market, you are now prepared to make the informed decision based on your own needs and preferences.
Making an informed choice is only hard when you’re uninformed!
Looking for the top down jacket for women? I recommend going with the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket.
Want to save every possible ounce of weight that you can? The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded down jacket is the best ultralight down jacket I found.
Having an awesome down jacket that you trust and love in is crucial to staying warm and safe on any backpacking adventure.
Pick up your favorite down jacket today and settle into the brilliant feathery bliss down jackets inevitably bring.
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