Staying warm in the winter months isn’t a choice for those who love the outdoors, it’s absolutely required. Activities like skiing, snowboarding, climbing, and running would literally be miserable if there were not any warm options out there for women.
Thankfully, the research and development which has been poured into warm insulation over the past few decades has vastly improved what were once limited options. Synthetic insulation has been developed which plays off all the great qualities of natural down, while also fixing its negative characteristics.
This means that insulated jackets now maintains heat longer even when wet, compresses considerably more, and continue to improve on breathability. So what does it take to be the best women’s insulated jacket?
There are a few common threads running through the suggestions below, mainly synthetic down, windproof, breathable, water resistant, and versatility. These characteristics are important factors to consider when looking into the wide world of women’s winter wear. Certain brands, which we focus on below, take each of these features to heart.
A Brief Brand History
One of the things you may notice while browsing our recommendations for the best insulated winter jacket, is that they seem to focus on only a few particular brands. Perhaps you might wonder, why there are only a handful of companies represented on the list? It’s because these brands fully understand what it takes for women to keep warm while being active in a winter climate.
These select brands have been developed by fellow outdoor enthusiasts and backcountry athletes. Their equipment stands up to thorough testing in all conditions, and in many different environments. Given their company histories, we feel that we can completely trust their outdoor gear no matter what the environment.
This company was originally started by a group of likeminded outdoor adventurers in the Coastal Mountain Range outside of Vancouver, Canada. They launched in 1991 into the field of climbing equipment, and are named for Archaeopteryx Lithgraphica, the first known reptile which had feathers for flight.
After launching, it took them another 4 years of dedicated research to launch what are they are know known for – their outdoor apparel. They have pioneered innovations in apparel technology that is focused on making clothing more waterproof and more durable than ever before. This included watertight zippers, thermolaminated seams, and now they are producing high quality equipment for a huge variety of mountain sports.
A company founded in 1981, by someone who is considered one of the original mountaineers of the 20th century. Rab Carrington grew the company from a small manufacturer in the United Kingdom to what it’s known as today, a leader in creating practical gear that works. Between 1970 and the 1980’s, Rab traveled all over the world developing new methods of climbing and summiting.
His travel log reads like an adventure novel, bouncing from one continent and one summit to the next, sources of continued inspiration for their gear and clothing lines. Rab’s primary market focus is still for climbers, mountaineers, and alpine enthusiasts.
Yvon Chouinard was a man on a mission. He refused to be scared of anything. In 1953 he first started his outdoor career, climbing as a 14 year old boy. Not only did he start climbing, but he and his friends taught themselves how to climb.
Soon after they were developing new routes through Yosemite. When they needed better climbing gear, Yvon simply bought a used forge, taught himself metalwork and made it himself! Gradually as word of Patagonia’s workmanship spread through the climbing community, they began developing clothing as well, inspired by a few hand-me-downs purchased by Yvon himself.
Patagonia branched out from the bland clothing at the time, and for the first time pioneered completely colourful outdoor wear. Also, Patagonia above all other brands, strives to be a leader in terms of environmental protections.
An idea born in a time of desperation, Outdoor Research was founded following a traumatic episode in Alaska, where Ron Gregg watched a partner suffer severe frostbite due to poorly designed equipment. His first invention when returning home, was a new and improved gaiter, called the X-Gaiter.
After this less-than-sexy first product launch, their product line grew fast and was continually inspired by backcountry adventures by Ron himself. Every time he felt a product didn’t live up to an adventure, he simply decided to design a new one.
Outdoor Research continues to truly listen to its customers, through a program called the Lab Rat, where consumers can give valued feedback on how their products perform in the field.
A long running motto of Columbia Sportswear is “Its perfect! Now make it better.” Not surprisingly, Columbia is also from the Pacific Northwest, which seems to simply breed tough, creative, dedicated outdoor enthusiasts.
Despite being a global brand now, it was started by a small family of german immigrants who fled the Nazi’s during WWII. They bought a small hat company, renaming it Columbia Hat Company, after the Columbia River running through their new homeland. It is still run by the family to this day, and maintains the key values it started with.
The North Face
Founded by a partnership of true mountaineering enthusiasts, and named for what is typically the most difficult ascent of a mountain, the North Face was once just a tiny store in San Francisco. Over the following decades The North Face quickly expanded to include extreme skiing apparel, sleeping bags, outerwear, and backpacking gear.
During the 1980’s they were the only company providing comprehensive gear for all backcountry activities. Over the years they have become a well known brand worldwide, and have continued to target emerging outdoor sports like ultra marathons, trail running, endurance running and extreme backcountry snow expeditions.
Top Insulated Jacket Reviews
After learning a little bit about the features to be considered in an insulated jacket and the brief history about the best sportswear companies, let’s see our top choices and why the products found their place in our little list.
The North Face Women’s Thermoball Full Zip Jacket
Dimensions: 12 x 9 x 3 inches
Specific features: Synthetic insulation, packable, water-resistant
Best use: Casual
Lightweight, fitted and probably one of the most fashionable downs on the market. Being warm and stylish isn’t always easy, especially because most downs just end up making people look like colourful puffy marshmallows.
The North Face Women’s Thermoball Jacket, thankfully, moves away from the bulky tendency in order to focus on women’s fit, form and colour. No matter what your colour preference, this jacket will come in it, in fact probably even a few colours you didn’t even know existed.
The Thermoball insulation works similar to down by creating tiny air pockets to better capture warm air and keep you warmer longer than other fabrics could. The synthetic insulation is built to mimic the qualities of natural down, but with the added benefits of being water-repellent and having a much better price point.
Related: Love the Thermoball, but need a few more features? Why not switch it up by getting the Hooded Thermoball Jacket, the Thermoball Cardigan, or even the Stretch Thermoball Jacket? There are tons of options within this line to cater to your exact style preference.
Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic Jacket
Dimensions: 14 x 10 x 3 inches
Specific features: Synthetic Insulation, Compresses into Integrated Pocket, Pack Compatible
Best use: Casual, Backcountry Middle Layer for Alpine or Hiking
Do you like a jacket that comes with a lot of outdoor adventure features? Look no further than the Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic jacket, the top pick for the Outdoor Gear Lab in 2013. It’s not just warm, but absolutely loaded with convenient features that have been tried and tested by experts in the field. What does this mean? How about the way the jacket easily packs down into its own pocket?
It even has a specific loop when compressed so you can simply attach it to a harness or backpack. Its pockets (both hand warmer, and chest pocket) are all harness and backpack compatible, which means you no longer need to rearrange everything simply to grab something out of your pocket. Finally, it uses synthetic down which is always keeps its warmth even in wet conditions.
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 3 inches
Specific features: Windproof, water resistant, recycled materials
Best use: Casual, climbing, running, commuting
Another award winner on the list, this is the Editor’s Choice for Classic Climbing according to Patagonia, and it definitely isn’t a surprise especially when you consider all the features. Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket is water resistant, windproof and extremely lightweight making it perfect for climbing, running and day trips.
It packs down especially small, which is helpful when you start your day in the frigid morning temperatures only to have the day warm up in the afternoon. Keeping with Patagonia’s goal of recycling, reusing and reducing, it also uses fabrics that have the bluesign seal of approval.
This means the fabrics meet specific targets in terms of waste reduction, environmental safety, and worker safety. For the environmental crusaders among us, this jacket speaks specifically to the ideas you hold dear.
Columbia Sportswear Kaleidoscope II Jacket
Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 3 inches
Specific features: Interior security pocket, comfort-cuffs with thumbhole
Best use: Casual, day trips, middle layer
Columbia Sportswear Kaleidoscope II Jacket is one of the best price-points on the list, but just because it’s more economical doesn’t mean you are losing out on quality. Columbia has its own proprietary thermal technology called Omni Heat Thermal Reflective; using reflection as a means of heat conduction.
Inside of this jacket looks like a disco ball, but all in the name of keeping you warm. It even goes above and beyond the duty of a typical jacket by extending the sleeves with a comfort cuff with thumbhole, plus having a taller fur lined collar; now your hands and neck can stay warm too!
It’s water resistant and thankfully also stain resistant. Unlike some of the other synthetic options, this jacket in particular is great for exercising outside, without inducing excess and unnecessary sweat.
Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket
Specific features: Breathable, windproof, water resistant, versatile
Best use: Backpacking, skiing, hiking, climbing, casual
People absolutely love this jacket, just talk to the people over at Backpacker Magazine, Backpacker, or Outside Magazine. They have all given it major awards over the past few years in Winter outdoor gear categories. In many cases the product testers put the jacket on, but then refused to take it off because it performed so well under a variety of conditions.
Despite not being particularly puffy, the Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket offers the same warmth as down but also importantly is windproof, water resistant, lightweight and breathable. That’s right, one of the only downs to claim to be breathable. Especially when working through variable conditions in the backcountry, it’s an extremely important but often overlooked feature.
It’s perfect for every adventure you have in mind, and like all Outdoor Research’s products, it is literally guaranteed forever!
Related: If you were looking for a shell layer to add on top of this jacket, which is also breathable and equally as versatile, not to mention a fellow award winner – look no further then Outdoor Research Aspire Jacket.
Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody – Women’s
Dimensions: 17 x 12 x 3 inches
Specific features: Helmet compatible, durable, water resistant
Best use: Alpine, hiking, skiing, backcountry, climbing
What would be the best way to describe this top of the line mid-layer jacket? Well, it’s just like a sleeping bag, only much more wearable. Warm – extremely warm – comfortable, and excellent to wear as a mid-layer or as just a jacket itself in warmer weather.
Each aspect of Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody is built to keep warmth in but also be adjustable making it extremely versatile for a variety of situations. There are adjustable hem draw cords, stretchable cuff to allow for layering, chin guard, wind flap, elbows are gusseted, and it’s extremely compressible.
The patented Coreloft synthetic insulation is also extremely resilient and maintains warmth even when wet, plus it dries out very quickly. Like other top of the line brands, Arc’teryx is also well known for its product quality and exceptional warranty, this jacket is warrantied for life!
Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
Dimensions: 9 x 7 x 3 inches
Specific features: Specifically stretch features, water resistant, packable in pocket
Best use: Hiking, middle layer, climbing, alpine
Notably, down jackets do not tend to be particularly stretchy. In activities which require more dexterity and flexibility than most, such as mountaineering, climbing, mountain aerobatics, finding a jacket like the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket can make those activities much more feasible.
This jacket comes with stretchy fabric in all the key areas under the arms, which also allows for much more breathability. These underarm patches ensure that the jacket moves with you when it matters the most. It also is able to neatly pack into its own pocket, for when the strenuous activities bring the heat up enough to mean a jacket is no longer required.
Women’s Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody
Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 4 inches
Specific features: Breathable, water resistant, stretchy, warm
Best use: Hiking, middle layer, climbing, alpine
If you are a Patagonia specific hiker, but are looking for increased breathability and stretch than the Nano Puff jacket reviewed earlier, then the Nano-Air Hoody is the best option. Unlike the Nano Puff, the Nano-Air aims to make a jacket catering to lifestyles and outdoor activities that are on the move!
Not only does the outer fabric stretch, but the insulation is built to be equally as flexible. Its breathability also doesn’t affect the outer fabrics water resistant nature. This also means that it can easily fend off the unintentional coffee stain!
Rab Strata Hoody
Specific features: Integrated stuff sack, water resistant, wind resistant, flexible
Best use: Hiking, middle layer, climbing, alpine
Tested in the real wilderness, Rab’s experienced athletes have refined the key characteristics over and over again, testing it in harsh backcountry weather conditions. Over time the Rab Strata Hoody has become known as the perfect jacket for fast-paced outdoor adventure. Rab, being a climbing directed brand, specifically kept alpine climbers in mind when it originally designed this jacket.
It also was built around the understanding that you want to be extremely warm when the weather isn’t in your favor, and has used Polartech Alpha innovative insulation, a hood that fits over and under helmets, and a wind and Water resistant outer layer. Rab has made sure that the Strat hoody is fitted to women’s build but without compromising any warmth.
Where will you go now that you are warm?
Taking everything we’ve had to say into consideration, there is definitely a perfect, warm and protective jacket out there which perfectly suits your winter time needs. Resistant, to moisture, windproof, activity proof, and above all cozy.
When you aren’t restricted by cold, the options seem limitless, so we want to know – where do you plan to go with your new winter jacket? Feel free to let us know in the comments!