After more than 40 hours' research and testing 21 comforters, we’ve found L.L.Bean’s Baffle-Box Stitch Down Comforter to be the best of the bunch. Pricing starts at $209 for a twin and runs up to $359 for a king and includes a lifelong warranty. Any comforter will keep you warm so long as it’s thick enough. What sets the L.L.Bean apart is that it can do so while remaining super breathable and lightweight, unlike others, which left us sweaty in the middle of the night. That means you’ll stay toasty in the covers without waking up in a puddle of sweat. Our main testers in San Francisco and New York City independently decided that this is the one they’d keep on their own beds.
Of course, not everyone wants down—maybe you’re allergic or you don’t use animal products. For a synthetic step-down pick, we like the Carpenter Company’s Beyond Down Gel Fiber Comforter, which costs about $110. And if you have allergies but would still like your comforter to be made of natural materials, we recommend the Australian Wool-filled Sateen Cotton Comforter, also $110 and available at Overstock. Neither of these are as breathable and lightweight as the L.L.Bean, but they’ll still keep you warm.
How we picked
There’s a ton of existing editorial research out there that promises to find you the best comforter. Good Housekeeping has a guide which covers down and down alternative. Sleep Like the Dead has a (short) section on comforters. And Real Simple also has a roundup, albeit one that focuses primarily on the high-end.
To narrow the field to our final contenders, we first looked at the editorial links mentioned above, later reading reviews of highly-rated comforters on blogs and sites like Amazon, Overstock, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Ultimately, we settled on 21 comforters, covering the four most common filler materials: down feathers, down alternative, wool, and silk.
We also eliminated comforters which were advertised as “oversized” (since that really just meant they wouldn’t fit in traditional duvets) and those that had a down/feather mix. Generally, feathers are more likely to poke through the cotton cover and just don’t do as good of a job at keeping you warm as down does. We’ve found through researching this story and others that feathers tend to be a cheap filler companies use to fluff up down products to belie their eventual flattening—this article at The Pillow Bar focuses (of course) on pillows, but it’s a good summary of why you really don’t want feathers: “Feathers are cheap filler for lower quality pillows.”
We had two testers, one in New York City and one in San Francisco, evaluate the differences in climate, humidity, and temperature. Each of our testers spent at least a night sleeping with each comforter, testing them for warmth, breathability, comfort, and our overall quality of sleep. Ones that showed promise were given more time; ones that were clearly subpar were sent back. After narrowing the field down to our seven favorites, we used a water bottle to evaluate how much heat loss each comforter caused—only to find that, in terms of pure heat retention, most top comforters were the same. That meant we made our final determinations based almost exclusively on our perceptions of each comforter’s breathability and comfort. Luckily, our testers were in complete agreement: when it came down to it, one was clearly and noticeably better than the rest.
The L.L.Bean is lightweight without feeling insubstantial, thanks to its high fill power and baffle-box stitching. It’s incredibly breathable, doing an excellent job maintaining warmth without overheating. And it’s very comfortable. It kept me and our other tester, located in San Francisco, warm during the polar vortices of 2014 and cool when my landlady (and her heating system) overreacted to said polar vortices. You can keep it on the bed year-round without having to worry about adding more weight in the winter or overheating in the summer.
The Baffle-Box Stitch Down Comforter is filled with high-loft 600-fill-power down and features, well, baffle-box construction. In plain English, this means that they took an already fluffy material and put it in a design made to promote fluffiness. This way, less filling provides the same level of warmth as other competitors. But of course, there’s a more detailed explanation.
Let’s start by explaining fill power. According to the Down & Feather Company, fill power “represents quality, loft and how warm a down comforter will sleep.” Essentially, a higher fill power means the comforter will be both fluffier and warmer. 600 is at the higher end of the middle range: you’ll find luxury comforters as high as 900 fill power, but they have a hard time justifying the extra cost with any measurable increases in warmth or comfort. And honestly, a lot of that extra fill power goes towards making your comforter look super lush and fluffy. That’s great, but it’s all appearances. Most people will find that 600 fill power does a fantastic job keeping them warm without making them sweaty.
Baffle-box stitching is superior to box-stitch construction if you’re concerned about warmth. Instead of simply sewing the top and the bottom of the comforter together, baffle-box stitching adds fabric in between, which acts as a wall and allows the box to expand and down to settle equally around all of its edges. That means fewer cold spots—especially since, with box stitching, the sheet is just stitched to itself around the edges. Overstock recommends baffle-box: “Baffled comforters are more desirable than sewn-through comforters, which have a similar appearance and simply consist of surface stitching. Sewn-through comforters can be high in quality, but they don’t allow the loft to expand to its fullest potential.” Part of this is just appearance—a lofty comforter is not necessarily a warm comforter—but baffle-box stitching tends to have fewer cold spots because there are no uninsulated seams. Fewer cold spots make for a warmer comforter; in testing we found the L.L.Bean to have almost no cold spots.
But warmth isn’t everything when it comes to comforters—breathability is just as important when it comes to keeping you comfortable in warmer temperatures. The L.L.Bean was the best we tested in this regard. Indeed, you’ll find other comforters with 600 fill power and baffle-box stitching, but the L.L.Bean’s breathability will set it apart. For example, we tested the Alberta Down Comforter from the Company Store, and despite costing about $70 more, it just wasn’t as breathable.
Reviewers like it, too: on L.L.Bean’s site, it has 4.6 stars over 80 reviews. Good Housekeeping gave it an A-, praising its breathability and accurate down content, with its only negatives being the strength of its 280-thread-count cotton shell, which they claim “could tear if snagged.” We don’t think that’s a huge negative, since you should be keeping comforters in a duvet to preserve their longevity, anyway (although if anything does happen, L.L. Bean’s lifetime warranty means they’ll replace it, free of charge, anytime).
What if it’s out of stock?
A down-alternative step down
Good Housekeeping gave the Beyond Down an A-, and it tied for their favorite down alternative comforter with the Cuddledown Damask Stripe Synthetic, which costs nearly $90 more (when it isn’t on sale). About the Beyond Down, Good Housekeeping said, “It performed almost as well as the down comforters and proved a quality product, especially for the price.” We totally agree.
A lot of its success is likely attributable to its microdenier gel fiber filling, a departure from traditional polyfill you’ll find in most synthetic comforters. Microdenier fibers are, as acrylic manufacturer Birlacril explains, smaller than 0.9 denier—very small, allowing for improved breathability. And gel is known for its cooling properties, which explains the Beyond Down’s crisp, cool feeling.
If you’re in search of a heavier comforter, this is also a great pick. It has much more weight than the L.L.Bean, feeling warm and snuggly around the body. Good Housekeeping agreed on its weight, calling its heft a net negative. If you don’t like feeling confined in your sleep, this might not be the right pick for you, but don’t be fooled into thinking its weight makes it less breathable—it’s still a very comfortable comforter.
But what about other natural fibers?
Buf if you insist on a natural alternative to down, we did find that wool outperformed silk in terms of warmth, comfort, and breathability—in addition to being significantly less expensive. We like the Australian Wool-filled Sateen 233-thread Count Cotton Comforter, which costs $110 at Overstock for both the full/queen and king sizes (please note that it’s not made in a twin size). Wool is less fluffy than down or down alternative, but in our tests it came the closest to replicating the performance of the L.L.Bean Baffle-Box, keeping all our testers warm but not sweaty.
It’s great if you’ve got general allergies, as well. Mercia Tapping at Allergy Consumer Review recommends wool comforters, saying, “The lanolin in the wool discourages the dust mites as well as the dry environment of a wool comforter.” Granted, a wool comforter looks and feels very different from a traditional, fluffy down or down alternative comforter: The Australian Wool is much flatter, and has none of the loft you’ll find elsewhere. It’s also relatively heavy, like the Beyond Down, which also was a touch more breathable. But if you prefer your comforter be made from natural fibers, but have down allergies or just plain don’t like the feel of down, this is a good choice.
Pacific Coast Classic Down Comforter - Our testers found this comforter to be insubstantive and rather noisy. It did a decent job of providing both warmth and breathability, but ultimately, it just didn’t compare to the L.L.Bean or Cuddledown.
Pinzon Pyrenees Hypoallergenic White Down Comforter - We weren’t impressed with the warmth of this comforter. It’s a little cheaper than the L.L.Bean, but we found the L.L.Bean to be more than worth the price increase.
Alberta Baffled Goose Down Comforter - Ultimately, the Alberta was less warm than the L.L.Bean and significantly more expensive. Also, considering it’s listed on clearance at the Company Store’s website, we’re concerned it’s on its way out.
Cuddledown’s Damask Stripe Synthetic - The Cuddledown down alternative was certainly comfortable, but it just didn’t provide $100 worth of benefit over the Beyond Down. If you can find this one on super-sale, it’s certainly not a bad deal, but the Beyond Down is just a better all-around pick.
The Company Store Legends Geneva Primaloft Comforter - This was very warm, but no better than the Beyond Down and more than $100 extra.
Natural Comfort Soft and Luxurious - Our testers found this light and chilly but breathable. It might be a great warm-weather comforter, but it isn’t great for winter.
Pinzon Primaloft Hypoallergenic Down Alternative Comforter - This comforter was warm, but not terribly breathable, leaving our testers sweaty and uncomfortable.
Chezmoi Collection White Goose Down Alternative Comforter - Despite the numerous glowing reviews, when put in competition with, well, anything else, this comforter just felt cheap. As one of our testers said, it was “Sweaty without doing a great job of keeping heat out.”
All Season Down Alternative - This had the same problems as the Chezmoi Collection—it just felt cheap and crappy.
All Season Premier Microfiber Down Alternative Comforter - This is very likely the same comforter as the other All Season one—they feel and look identical—and it suffered from all the same problems.
Natural Home Australian Wool King Comforter - Although it felt very similar to the our favorite Australian Wool comforter, availability issues and a slight cost increase make it a pass.
Natural Comfort Ultra Deluxe Silk Comforter - This was our favorite silk comforter—but it still didn’t live up to the L.L.Bean or (much cheaper) wool alternative. Add that to stock issues, and it’s just not a good pick.
Mulberry Silk All Season Weight Comforter: We had high hopes for silk, but this didn’t meet them. At $270 for a full-size comforter, it’s far, far too expensive to give anything but sterling results, which it didn’t.
Silk-filled Damask Stripe 260-thread-count Comforter - The low cost of this comforter ($80) is almost too suspicious, considering it claims to be filled with authentic silk. According to one of our testers, “I was sweaty a lot, and I was too hot.”
What makes a good comforter?
Most comforters are filled with one of four materials: down, or the feathers and fluff that is plucked from either geese or ducks; down alternative, which is polyester (or sometimes another man-made material) arranged in down-like “clumps” to best mimic the feel and warmth of down; wool; and silk. From our testing, we found the best natural material to be down, which excelled at providing warmth without sacrificing breathability. You’ll find comforters in a wide range of fill powers, but around 500-700 seems to be the sweet spot for a well-built midrange comforter: too much more, and you’re paying for appearance, loft, and fluff—all qualities that are really unnecessary in a good comforter. Too little, and you’re nearing summer weight, which just won’t provide the warmth you need in the cold of the winter.
There’s really no use in evaluating comforters based on their external shell. All of the high-quality comforters you’ll find will have a cotton shell of varying thread counts and patterns, so material isn’t really a decisive issue. And beyond making sure down feathers don’t poke through, the appearance of the comforter has very little to do with how good it is. After all, to preserve longevity, you should absolutely be shielding your comforter with a duvet cover. That will keep it clean, maximize the time between washings, and help prevent its fabric from getting ripped, torn, or snarled. Some companies will try to convince you to spend more money for super-high thread counts; we encourage you to ignore such pleas. Sure, a higher thread count does mean a tighter weave, which means less chance of feathers poking through, but we had no such problems with our comforters, which ranged from 230 to 400 thread count. (You can read more about the thread count red herring in our guide to sheets.) Not to mention the reduced breathability that comes with a higher thread count—considering how important your comforter is to regulating body heat overnight, you’ll want to take any concessions you can towards breathability.
For down and down alternative comforters, you’ll also want to look at box construction—whether they’re baffle-box or straight box-stitch. As discussed earlier, both have their benefits, but as Sean Rook at eHow explains, saying of box-stitch comforters, “the stitching lines themselves are effectively cold areas.” Think of it this way: In straight box stitching, the top and bottom of the comforter are sewn together directly, making a tight box that will lead to the down inside clumping towards the middle. Baffle-box stitching adds a piece of fabric between the two ends—in itself adding a bit of warmth—that allows the down to expand more fully. Plumeria Bay adds that “baffles also add strength to the comforter, allowing it to ‘give’ and reduce stress on the stitching while you toss and turn.” That creates a longer-lasting comforter.
Care and cleaning
Apartment Therapy has a good guide to down comforter cleaning, in which they recommend using a large, industrial-size washing machine (like the ones at a laundromat) on gentle, with a small amount of mild detergent, making sure to run it through the rinse cycle at least twice. Dry on low in a large dryer for as long as it takes, possibly a few hours, according to Apartment Therapy. To keep it fluffy, throw a couple of tennis balls in the dryer as well.
Wrapping it up
If you’re looking for a good comforter to keep you warm in the winter and cool in summer, we recommend L.L.Bean’s Baffle-Box Stitch Down Comforter. If you are allergic to down or prefer a synthetic fill, we like The Carpenter Company’s Beyond Down Gel Fiber Comforter. And if you have allergies but still prefer natural materials, we recommend the Australian Wool-filled Sateen Cotton Comforter.