Winter isn't officially here, but in many places across the country the snow is falling and the temperatures have dipped well below freezing. More snow is on the way and it's only going to get colder so here are five top jackets from the puffy category that promise to keep you warm wherever you are and whatever you get after as we welcome our favorite time of year.
Ibex Wool Aire Hoody
If you've spent enough time in the backcountry you've probably seen this guy: long beard, old K2 skis, a first- or second-generation pair of Scarpa T2 boots, and… a wool sweater. He's been using that wool sweater for 20 years because it works. No need to replace it with some fancy new fabric because wool is one of the warmest fabrics on the planet, keeps you warm even when it's wet and naturally repels odor.
I don't know if Ibex had this guy in mind when they designed the Wool Aire Hoody, but the jacket would make him proud. It uses Merino wool (a renewable resource) for the insulation, and the outer fabric is a recycled nylon. Because it's wool it provides the same warmth as other puffies but has less puff, or bulk.
The backcountry dude doesn't care about style but Ibex does, so the jacket is nicely cut. At $350, it's a lot more expensive than what he paid for his gear, which he probably found at a thrift shop. But times have changed, and the Wool Aire Hoody is made well enough that you, too, should be able to wear it and abuse it for the next 20 years.
Outdoor Research Floodlight Jacket
The outdoor gear industry, just like the fashion industry, tends to go through trends.
Just recently, water resistant down was all the rage. Down loses its warmth when it's wet, so companies found that using feathers coated with some kind of water resistant or hydrophobic finish helped make sure your jacket stayed warm longer when you were out in wet weather.
The technology was met with some skepticism, though, because a water resistant finish can only protect you for so long before it stops working. That's why I was excited to see Outdoor Research take the idea in a different direction with the Floodlight jacket. Instead of treating their down with a water resistant finish, the Floodlight uses high-loft 800+ Fill European goose down and then wraps it in a waterproof (key word) breathable shell made of Pertex Shield+ fabric. The baffles are bonded, not stitched, which means water can't seep in.
I suspect that for a lot of people the jacket will be a quiver killer. Instead of having to wear a down jacket and a shell on cold, wet days, skiers can now just use the Floodlight, which pulls double duty.
Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic Jacket
The Thermostatic jacket from Mountain Hardwear doesn't appear to have much insulation and at first glance doesn't seem like it fits in the puffy category because it would be wildly outmatched. Wrong.
As soon as I started wearing the jacket I was routinely surprised by the warmth-to-weight ratio. Mountain Hardwear's secret weapon is Thermal.Q Elite, a synthetic insulation that's designed to mimic the structure of goose down. Unlike down, however, the fibers in Thermal.Q Elite are waterproof and will keep you warm even if they come into direct contact with water.
What's also nice about the jacket is that it's super thin and packable. It can be worn as an outside layer but also fits nicely under a shell as a mid-layer and takes up almost no room in your pack when you're not using it.
Salomon Halo Down Hoodie
There's nothing particularly innovative about the Salomon Halo Down Hoodie. And I like that. It's just a nicely designed down jacket that will keep you warm in the backcountry on a cold bluebird day or while you're out on the ski lodge deck sipping beers after a long day of running laps.
Instead of getting caught up in the race to make something new, I like that Salomon stuck to the basics and produced a straight-forward down jacket that does its job well without having to market new technology. To me, that says the company is secure in its designs and knows that sometimes simple is better. Kudos.
All that said, there are still some nice touches that make the jacket stand out. It's got an active fit, which makes it less bulky and perfect under a shell. It's also super lightweight so it won't weigh you down.
Rab Strata Hoodie
When Polartec released their Alpha insulation a while back it was a big deal. And rightly so. The insulation, originally developed for the U.S. Special Forces, allows manufacturers to create a more breathable puffy.
A number of brands now use the technology, and one of my favorite Alpha pieces is the Rab Strata Hoodie. This is the jacket you want to wear when you're moving fast in cold temperatures because with Polartec Alpha insulation, the Strata Hoodie can get rid of extra heat and moisture so you're dry even when you're breaking a sweat. It's perfect for dawn patrol in the backcountry or for a quick lap up and down your local ski area before the lifts start spinning.
The 20 denier Pertex Microlight outer fabric makes the jacket wind and water resistant, and even though it appears to have a fair amount of bulk, the Strata Hoodie packs down well when you're not using it.