The Best Insulated Jackets
Insulated jackets can be hard to specify, especially as technical fabrics become more sophisticated in terms of weight, durability, and moisture control. Outdoor brands have an array of materials from which to choose, a lineup of nylons and polyesters that can breathe and insulate at levels not possible even a few years ago. For example, water-repellent down came on the market not long ago. It’s now virtually ubiquitous.
We divided our testing categories into lightweight insulated jackets and winter insulated jackets, or puffer jackets, for both men and women. We avoided dividing jackets based on types of insulation (synthetic vs. down) or their marketed titles (belay jacket, hoody, insulator) to base the competition on a jacket’s most obvious use case.
Best in Class
Black Diamond First Light HoodyInsulated Jackets & Men's Lightweight Insulated Jackets
The First Light Hoody by Black Diamond is an insulating multi-tool, ideal for a range of conditions on its own, or as a sturdy layer under tougher exterior protection. The jacket is heavy when compared to category competitors but makes up for that weight with moisture resistance and usefulness when active. It feels great to wear, breathes better than its true down competitors, and looks the part in the frontcountry. The hood could use adjustment mechanisms but stays in place when over a helmet. Overall, the First Light Hoody is streamlined and technical, and a top performer in the test.
Best for Thru-hikers
Patagonia Micro Puff HoodyInsulated Jackets & Men's Lightweight Insulated Jackets
The Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody lives up to the hype with which the company has been surrounding it. Crazy warm for its weight, and surprisingly moisture beating, this coat packs a ton of functionality in less than 10 ounces. It’s not as windproof as others in this category, and testers found multiple stitches coming loose, perhaps a result of Patagonia’s unique approach to keeping its PlumaFill synthetic in place. Its overall comfort and fit may be what surprise customers the most, striking an ideal balance between mid- and stand-alone layer. It’s also minimally designed and reasonably priced considering its 4-season functionality.
The Eddie Bauer BC DownLight StormDown is a versatile, wet-weather ready winter jacket good for trips and activities where things may get bad, but not extreme. The fit stands out when worn over midlayers and the array of pockets and features make this jacket ideal for those who live in urban environments that aren’t known for pleasant weather. It’s heavier than it looks and it's priced at a point to be attractive in this category. This is a jacket ideal for the beginning mountaineer, backcountry ski tours, and guides who understand how to manage their temperature when active.
The Big Agnes Fire Tower Belay jacket is fat, warm and will give users plenty of reasons to not want to take it off. While it wins on warmth, the jacket’s thin shell lacks technical treatments to withstand consistent moisture or wear and tear. Thus, this is ideal for cold trips out to the hut bathroom or when moving slowly along the rope-line during moderate ascents. It has a hood that embraces the skull in a hug of comfort, and overall, can be a go-to external piece for any time you’ll be stationary in very cold, dry conditions.
Best in Class: Women's Lightweight Insulated Jacket
Rab Strata HoodyHiking & Camping, Insulated Jackets & Women's Lightweight Insulated Jackets
The Rab Strata Hoody is a versatile mid layer jacket that manages to be both warm and weather resistant while being breathable at the same time. It has many nice features like a large chest pocket and double zippered side pockets. In addition it does pack down into its own pocket though reviewers did wish that it had an extra zipper pull to close it up when packed down.