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Best Insulated Jacket: A Beginner Buyer’s Guide for Insulated Jackets

Sean Nelson
Written by Sean Nelson

When it comes to cold weather, choosing the right gear turns into more than just comfort and nice features, it becomes a matter of survival. It might sound like an exaggeration, but going on a hike on cold weather or snow, and not having enough protection against its conditions, might get you more than just flu, it can turn into things as bad as hypothermia or frostbite. So whether you are planning on hiking Mount Everest soon, or just exposing to low temperatures for long periods of time, you should be protected against the conditions.

Considering this, we thought we might help you choose one of the most important things for outdoor cold weather, insulated jackets. But before we can choose the best insulated jacket for you, we should start by knowing exactly what an insulated jacket is.

What is an insulated jacket?

An insulated jacket is a kind of gear made for low temperatures, including even extreme low temperatures, protecting your body against the cold, and keeping the warm inside thanks to its insulated fabric.

Insulated Jacket

This doesn’t mean that it can usually substitute a water-proof jacket, since it can only withstand so much moist before it gets damped and wet, but it can help you stay both dry and warm when temperatures are too low.

How does the insulation work? And, how do I pick the right kind for me?

Insulation on an outdoor gear works different depending on the type of insulation it has, and its effectiveness on different conditions can also vary depending on this. So we will define the main types of insulations in outdoor jackets.

Down Insulation

These jackets get their insulating ability by using layers of down and feathers to allow the warmth to stay in. Down is a byproduct of the birds raised for food, like ducks and gooses, and it is hands down the best insulation in the world.

Jacket With Hydrophobic Down

However, if you are more of an animal-lover you might not like this type of protection (although many companies are making sure their down is cruelty-free). Another downside of this type of insulation is that it doesn’t usually stand against wet weather and is slow to dry compared to other insulation types.

Down also tends to be more expensive than synthetic insulation and also less breathable, but more durable. When choosing the best jacket for cold weather, you must take into account their “fill power” which is the number of cubic inches that one ounce of the down takes up. The higher the fill power, the better the insulation. It usually goes from around 400 up to 900.

Down Hydrophobic Insulation

This is down that has been treated with a water resistant coating, which makes it repeal water a little more than non-treated down. Hydrophobic down combines the best features of regular one like its light weight and warmth, plus adding a moisture protection which is helpful for light wet rain.

Jacket With Hydrophobic Down

On the downside, for vegans out there, the source of this down is the same, and it also does not protect as much against wet weather as much as a synthetic does.

Synthetic Insulation

These kinds of jackets contain man-made polyfibres (polyester) that creates a similar effect that natural down does. Depending on how small the polyfibers are, the higher their insulation power.

This one is a great option for people who need to be protected against water, whether it is in rain or in snow form, because this polyester is easier to be treated for water repellency, and it tends to dry way faster than natural down, even than the hydrophobic one. Also, it is cheaper and usually more breathable. Lastly, it isn’t sourced from animals if that is an issue for you.

Syntetic Insulated Jacket

The synthetic jacket’s insulation power is usually expressed in grams per square meter, which means that the more grams it has, the warmer it is. This number doesn’t mean the real weight of the jacket thought, and it usually goes from a light 50g, great for fall temperatures, to 100-200g which is great for more extreme weather.

Hybrid Insulation

This type of insulation is the most recent one, and it keeps growing in popularity. It combines several types of insulations into one technology, to create more benefits than just one kind.

Hybrid Insulated Jacket

It can usually combine down with synthetic options to get the benefits of both features, and create the best within insulation, weather resistance, weight, comfort and price. As a growing technology, they might be pricier right now than other insulation options, but as the technology advances it is expected to becomes lower in price

What does an insulated jacket need to have?

Now that you know the kind of options you have, you can choose among its ups and downs for the features you need the most.

For example, as a snowboarder, your aim might be to be able to move easier and to be protected against water/snow conditions, but if you plan to be on warmer temperatures you might expect different features.That’s why we have put together a list of the main things to keep in mind when choosing the right insulated jacket.

Warmth

This is usually one of the top features you should look for in your insulated jacket, since after all, the reason you are looking for one is to stay warm. But when I say usually, it means that depending on the need you have, you might sacrifice a bit of warmth for mobility or cost.

Insulated Jacket Warmth

For example, if you are not indented to go on extreme weather, but a more fall-like temperature for outdoor sports, you might choose one that is not as warm, but allows you to move easily than a thicker one. Also if you are planning to use it with layers, and are willing to have less warmth but more water protection, for example.

As I mentioned before, the type of insulation will give you an idea on how warm is the jacket going to be, so you should check its fill power, in the case of Down jackets, or insulating capacity in grams, with the synthetics.

Weight and size

Another important feature to look into is the jacket’s weight and its size. There are many jackets that offer high insulation, but tend to weigh a lot more and tend to more sizable. They can be useful for certain situations but for backpacking, trekking or for playing sports where you need a higher mobility, it can get in your way.

Storing Insulated Jacket

Also the size comes in handy when storing and moving your jacket around. If you plan on traveling, big jackets will not be as comfortable to carry as the lighter ones. Now, size and weight not necessarily are correlated, since synthetic fabrics can now be big enough to keep you warm, while still get really light and also have a compressing ability that allows saving them in small spaces.

Comfort

Comfort depends on the fabric used, its size and weight and some extra features like panels around moving areas such as elbows and shoulders.

This is very important for those who tend to be on the more active spectrum of the usage like rock climbing and snowboarding or outdoor sports. If your need are less active and need less mobility, you might be willing to compromise comfort for warmth.

Weather resistance

Weather resistance means resilience against water and wind. Although as I mentioned, insulated jackets are not meant for repelling water or wind, having one is always a plus. Some jackets tend to be water repellent and maybe even wind resistant, but you are probably going to have to compromise on breathability or warmth. It is a matter of catering to your needs.

Insulated Jacket

If you are, for example, going on treks where you should limit the carrying weight and still need to be protected against the elements, this could be a good investment. However if you can combine an insulating jacket with a waterproof one, it might be the best option for staying warm and dry.

Breathability

Breathability is not only important for summer gear but it is also really important among winter gear as well. Why? Because no matter the temperature you’re in, your body sweats. If you are under low weather but wearing an insulated jacket with no breathability, your body heat will stay trapped which can lead to “overheating”. This makes you stay wet, so you will end up wet and cold.

Colmar Insulated Jacket

Breathability is often a compromise when you need water or wind resistance, or when you need your jacket to be warmer. But if you are planning to be active which can lead to sweating, you should try to look for a jacket with a good breathing capacity.

So, now that we’ve reviewed both the insulating types for you to choose from, as well as the features in the jacket, we will review some jackets options with their pros and cons to facilitate the decision making.

Top Insulating Jackets Reviews

Patagonia Rubicon Jacket

Weight: 39 ouncesPatagonia Rubicon Jacket

Dimensions: 19.7 x 18.2 x 4 inches

Specific features: Breathable and durable polyester ripstop fabric, H2No Performance Standard reinforced panels, deluge DWR (durable water repellent), 150-g thermogreen insulation, lots of pockets and hood that is compatible for helmet

Best Use: Skiing, backpacking or trekking in very cold conditions

The Patagonia Rubicon Jacket was designed with skiing in mind. This jacket has a 150-g thermogreen insulation, which allows you to remain warm even in very low temperatures. This is the key element for any insulated jacket to have, and with this one you can count on it.

Their H2No Performance standard reinforced panels are made almost completely (90%) out of recycled polyester in areas like elbows, shoulders and the bottom hem to protect these areas from wet and cold. It is made out of a durable polyester ripstop fabric which provides not just superior cold protection but from other elements as well, even possible impacts.

Another highlight of this jacket is the number of pockets it has which are great for carrying important things safely and can be a lifesaver when backpacking. And as for keeping things safely, it also counts with a RECCO avalanche rescue reflector, that helps improve visibility in case a rescue mission is needed.

The downside with this jacket is that its water-repellent finish is better for hard dry snow but not so much for wetter snow.

Check the price on Amazon

Helly Hansen Aplha 2.0 Jacket

Weight: 2 lbs 3 ozHelly Hansen Alpha 2.0 Jacket

Dimensions: May vary according to size

Specific features: 80-g primaloft synthetic insulation, dual hand-warming and chest pockets, YKK water resistant zippers, internal pockets for electronics and goggles, waterproof, windproof and breathable, RECCO advanced rescue system

Best Use: Skiing, hard cold weather activities

This jacket pretty much has anything you can ask for in ski gear. Helly Hansen Aplha 2.0 Jacket has a great cold insulation of up to 80-g that allows to keep you protected from those hard conditions when skiing. It also comes with a great water-proof feature, by both the DWR (durable water repellent) finish and also its stretch, fully seamed fabric and waterproof zippers. You can count on staying dry for longer when facing snow and unpredicted weather.

Your hands will not get cold either, as it comes with dual hand-warming pockets and also internal pockets for you to keep your important items like electronics which could get ruined by the snow or rain. Windproof, yet breathable, you will not get cold but will not overheat when exercising either.

Lastly, it has articulated arms and elbows and a fabric that facilitates movement, as well as a hood that adapts to helmets. The only thing that you will have to consider is its size, because this jacket really hugs the body and can run small sometimes.

Check the price on Amazon

Mammut Bormio HS Hooded Jacket

Weight: 2.5 poundsMamaut Bormio Jacket

Dimensions: May vary with size

Specific features: Fixed snow skirt, DryTech shell (waterproof), Ajungilak Insulation: 80g in the body and 60g on arms, adjustable hood, lycra hand gaiters, hook-and-loop cuffs, pockets under arms for breathability and other specially for goggles and electronics

Best Use: Snowboarding / Skiing, Snowy conditions

This jacket’s insulation makes it great for snowy and low temperature conditions. It has an Ajungilak insulation of 80g in the body, where you need to preserve body warmth and a bit less on the arms which tend to move more and sweat. With its DryTech waterproof, this jacket is a great option to preserve dryness when snowboarding or skiing when you may get into direct contact with the snow.

Other features that make this Mammut Bormio HS Hooded Jacket a great insulated jacket is the adjustable hood, which is very comfortable and can easily adjust when wearing a helmet. Its lycra hand gaiters and fixed snow skirt can help in getting a better coverage of the body and to protect the wearer from the cold and snow.

Also to help with ventilation, the jacket comes with zippers under the arms in case temperature rises or movement makes you heat up. The zippers are designed with different functions in mind like ones to keep your goggles and to keep electronics from getting damaged and so on. The jacket is very lightweight and breathable, yet has a great coverage against the temperature and water. Also, thanks to the jackets fully taped seam and its hook-and-loop cuffs, you will stay dry and warm. Might be the best lightweight insulated jacket from Mammut.

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Rab Strata Hoody

Weight: 1.1 poundsRab Strata Hoody

Dimensions: 21 x 18 x 2 inches

Specific features: Windproof and water resistant Pertex Microlight, insulated hand warmers, Polartec Alpha insulation, over/under helmet hood, 1YKK napoleon pocket and 2YKK side pockets

Best Use: Cold, fast moving activities; backpacking / trekking in hard low temperatures; snow sports

Rab Strata Hoody is a really lightweight and breathable option. Its low weight and fabric allows for very easy movement which is perfect for snow sporting activities. Not only will you be kept warm but it can improve performance as well. It is also a great option for backpacking or trekking long, hard trails with low temperatures. This is because of the lightweight aspect as you can easily carry it without adding too much weight to your bag.

You can thank its Polartec Alpha insulation for its ability to keep you warm but you should consider this is designed for very active scenarios where your body will produce more heat. Thus, this jacket would probably more suited for less extreme conditions if you plan on using it alone to keep yourself warm.

Another great thing is that it is windproof, which means you can climb snowy mountains and stay protected. Also, its insulated hand warmer pockets will help you keep your hands warm which is one of the most delicate parts of the body.

Check the price on Amazon

Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket

Weight: 14.4 ouncesOutdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket

Dimensions: 23 x 17 x 4 inches

Specific features: PrimaLoft Gold Insulation, Pertex Quantum outer fabric for breathability, adjustable hood, zipped Napoleon pocket, side pockets

Best Use: Snow weather climbing, trekking

The best feature in this jacket is no doubt its lightweight fabric. This fabric is made out of ripstop nylon and has an outer Pertex Quantum that offers very high mobility and breathability, which makes the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket a great option for rock climbing and trekking on cold weather. Thanks to both its breathability and light fabric, you will not sweat as much during high activities in the cold.

Another great feature this jacket has is the number of options when it comes pockets which is rare for a light jacket. You can count on your things being secured and the pockets are really ergonomic and comfortable.

Due to its low weight and light fabric, this jacket is easy to carry around and makes it great for backpacking, where space and weight is essential.

On the downside, this jacket might not be the best option if you need to be protected against the wind, since it is not windproof. Also, remember this jacket is designed for more active situations, so the fit is a bit tighter and you should pick your size accordingly.

Check the price on Amazon

Rab Xenon X Hoodie

Weight: 14 ouncesRab Xenon Hoodie

Dimensions: May vary

Specific features: Pertex Quantum inner and outer, Primaloft Gold Insulation of 60g, 2 handwarmer pockets, over/under helmet hood, water resistant

Best Use: Hiking, climbing, cold weather sports

The Rab Xenon X Hoodie is great for intense outdoor activities like hiking or climbing, due to the lightweight fabric. It it’s a very slim fit, so you can use it for layering without a problem. This jacket is water and wind-resistant, which means you can use it easily for skiing or other snowy sports and remain dry and warm. Also, this coat gets dry fairly quick when wet which is a great feature for activities like backpacking, where water resistance and less dry time means less weight to carry.

Its insulation is Primaloft Gold of up to 60g, and also counts with an inner and outer layer of Pertex Quantum which will allow you to remain warm under hard conditions considering its weight.

It comes with an adjustable hood, and several pockets, including two hand warmer pockets, which will facilitate your life. The only downside with this jacket, due to its high weather resistance, it tends to be less breathable than other jackets, which could become a problem for those active situations.

Check the price on Amazon

Arcteryx Atom AR Hoody

Weight: 1.7 poundsArcteryx Atom AR Hoody

Dimensions: 12 x 12 x 7 inches

Specific features: 100% polyester, wind resistance, abrasion resistant and has Durable Water Repellent finish, Coreloft synthetic insulation of 120g in torso, 80g under arms and 60g in hood, hand pockets with zippers and internal zippered chest pocket

Best Use: Winter /Snow Sports, ice climbing, skiing, snowboarding

This jacket is a great balance of warmth and comfort. Its 120g insulation in the torso area allows for you to stay really warm even during extreme cold conditions, and its lesser insulation on other areas, where movement and heat could make you sweat, makes it a great balance to keep you fresh as well.

Arcteryx Atom AR Hoody has a great Durable Water Repellent finish that allows you to use this jacket on snowy weather without worrying too much about staying dry. Also its wind and abrasion resistance make this a great option for outdoor winter sports.

The jacket has an athletic fit, and it is 100% made out of polyester so it is very comfortable and easy to wear although it tends to be bulkier than other jackets, and also not as light. On the downside, with this jacket you trade a bit of breathability for its warmth and water repellent qualities.

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The North Face Thermoball Jacket

Weight: 15.2 ouncesThe North Face Thermoball Jacket

Dimensions: 24 x 17 x 3 inches

Specific features: Stylish jacket with stowaway pocket, Ripstop shell, synthetic ThermoBall insulation, zippered hand pockets, Durable Water Repellent

Best Use: Hiking, backpacking, Climbing, skiing and other snowy sports

Due to both its Thermoball insulation and its ripstop shell, The North Face Thermoball Jacket is a perfect option for cold mountain activities like hikes. It can endure tough terrain, which makes it perfect for snowy sports as well. This jacket is best used with an inner layer.

This jacket has a big fit, which means it is great for using under layers to stay warmer during more extreme conditions. Fortunately for you, it is really stylish so you won’t worry about that aspect in any way. Its elastic cords around the cuffs and adjustable cord around the hem will help preserve warmth and allow you to stay dry.

A great feature this jacket has is that it can be packed very easily. You can pack it into its own left pocket and carry it around. It’s a great feature for hikers and backpackers, and it is not heavy considering the large fit. One last thing you have to love about this jacket is that it is very water repellent considering its thin layer which is nothing short of impressive. Breathability is top-notch as well.

Check the price on Amazon

Have you found your insulated jacket?

Now that we’ve mentioned both the pros and cons of each type of insulation, the features to keep in mind when buying an insulating jacket and that we’ve even reviewed some popular options, you should be ready to shop for your signature insulated jacket. We hope this review has been helpful with deciding the right jacket, and we want to hear your opinions, so help us out!

What do you think is the best insulated jacket out there? Is there anything else you think we should consider before buying? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean Nelson
Sean Nelson

Sean was backpacking since he was 7. He was born close to the RMNP and his father was a ranger, so life surrounded by mountains and wildlife is a norm for Colorado. He likes to explore, but prefers to stay in USA. In his opinion, there are too many trails and options in US to go abroad.

  • Lisa Hogenson

    I’m such a big fan of the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket. It has a really good fit and feel to it and just overall it feels like it has a nice weight against you. And it also has enough room underneath to fit a long-sleeved baselayer on underneath.

  • Sean Nelson

    Everyone I know who uses this hooded jacket are satisfied with its roominess without being too bulky. The sleek silhouette of this jacket is stunning, and it’s breathable, too, which is another plus. The classy design is also worth mentioning.

  • Kevin Pavlik

    I can’t say enough about the North Face Thermoball Jacket. It is extremely comfortable, and as the article says, very breathable as well. The material used is soft and, while I have only had it for a few months, it seems well constructed.

  • Sean Nelson

    The North Face being an excellent brand, it’s no wonder that it has a massive following. The jacket is well-constructed and durable. It’s also stylish and has Durable Water Repellent finish.
    Thanks for your thoughts Kevin and have a great day!

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