About five years ago, the puffy jacket of old suddenly became a “sweater,” triggering an evolution of the stand-by insulation into a more streamlined design that became ubiquitous in every mountain town—and then anywhere that was cold. Beyond the trendiness, this happened for a good reason. The newer models rejected the Michelin Man puffiness, makin’ them downright stylish. And they’ve continued to evolve, as you’ll see with these seven picks. These new jackets boast stretch, hybrid construction (lots of hybrid construction!), and the ability to wear ‘em solo or under another layer. And, as with all things travel, versatility is key.
1.Patagonia Nano Air, $249; 2. Trew Kooshin, $199; 3.Mammut Trovat Pro, $179; 4. Black Diamond Black Forge Hybrid Hoodie, $249; 5. The North Face Thermoball Hybrid Hoodie, $180; 6. Arc’Teryx AR Hoody, $279; 7. Outdoor Research Deviator Hoodie, $185.
Photo: Andrew Vargas, CC-BY
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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The Nano Air broke the mold when it dropped a few seasons back, and it's still one of the best mid/outer layers on the market. Patagonia employs their "FullRange" insulation to provide uncompromised stretch and warmth, but it also breathes surprisingly well for an insulated layer. So you can use it as a solid go-to for spring and fall, as well as a solid mid-layer for cold days. A DWR exterior helps shed light rain. Also available with a hood.
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This mid-layer boasts some solid gear-speak (3DeFX+ insulation!), but the product's name—the a play on the phonetic sound of "cushion"—to grasp how comfortable the Kooshin feels when you wear it. It's like a plush, insulated blanket, only one that's 100% stretchy and 30% warmer than other jackets of similar weight. It's insanely comfortable, whether you use it as an outer layer on milder climates, or as a second layer when the snow starts to fall. Zippered hand pockets and a chest zipper pocket round out the details. And at around $200, it's a real winner.
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Unlike the other jackets on this list the Trovat Pro's warmth comes from a mixture of natural and synthetic fabrics. The Polartec Power Wool fabric places a poly layer on the outside for durability and weather protection, while an inner layer of wool provides all-natural wicking and a plush, cozy touch. You also get your conventional zip pockets, along with thumb loops at the sleeve and flatlock seams for stretch. Despite the use of typically warmer fabrics, it's surprisingly versatile—in warmer scenarios, the tech takes a second to start feeling cool. But when it happens, it's like a switch got thrown.
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One of the warmest jackets on this list—and one of the most compressible—this is the one to pack and forget until you need it. Pulling it on feels like slipping inside a custom-tailored sleeping bag, with little details like elastic inner cuffs and variable baffle construction to justify the higher price point. It mixes two insulation types, PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Down Blend and Gold Synthetic, to offer warmth in certain spots along with weather protection at the shoulders, arms, and a helmet-compatible hood. The new version ditched the chest pocket, but you still get two internal drop pockets and two zippered hand pockets, and it layers like an onion.
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This hybrid jacket leverages The North Face's Thermoball insulation—small clusters of synthetic insulation to mimic down—at its core, alongside breathable, stretchy soft shell fabric at the sides and sleeves for ultra-light warmth with loads of maneuverability. It's perfect for those travelers who like to stay active wherever they land, and—bonus—the small quilting and traditional sleeve construction lets this jacket stand out from the rest.
The North Face
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Alpine-bound? This is your go-to. The synthetic Coreloft insulation retains its warmth in any condition, warm or dry, with a helmet-compatible hood to help seal in the heat. On more temperate days, ditch the outer layer and rock the AR over a short-sleeved shirt; a water-resistant surface will help shrug off any spontaneous precipitation. Loads of other details—pockets, elastic draw chords, high collars, and a good selection of colors—reinforce why Arc'Teryx products are so coveted.
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With accolades from both Runner's World and Backpacker, the Deviator threads the needle between warmth and comfort when engaging in high-octane activities. PolarTech Alpha covers the front part of the torso with warm, quick-drying insulation, while PowerGrid fabric in the sleeves, hood, and back panel to provide wicking and breathability. You also get hand-warmer pockets, a key clip, thumb loops, and odor-fighting tech.