This is The Wise Adventurer’s roundup of the best winter hiking jackets currently on the market. Winter hiking jackets are a crucial part of any successful winter endeavor, but they’re as numerous as they are varied, so knowing where to start on your hunt can feel like a serious undertaking.
Not to worry, we’re here to make your search as painless as possible: After reviewing dozens of the best winter hiking jackets on the market, we found the Mountain Hardwear Kor Airshell Warm to be the most impressive of the bunch. We love the Airshell because it functions as a highly breathable fleece, but also adds a good degree of weather protection. This is ideal because the best winter hiking jackets come as part of a two or three-layer system (meaning you’ll need more than one jacket), and the Airshell’s smart design minimizes the need to add or remove layers as conditions change.
Despite the versatility of a fleece jacket like the Airshell, you’ll still need to consider adding both an insulated midlayer and a waterproof shell to your winter hiking jacket loadout. With this combination, you’ll stand the best chance of staying as dry and comfortable as possible in the widest variety of conditions.
When the weather really gets nasty (be it high winds, heavy snow, or serious rain), a waterproof shell is a must. Shells block out cold winds and keep both your body and your midlayers from getting soaked, which are both serious safety concerns when you’re hiking in cold weather. This is why we found that the the Arc’teryx Beta AR is the best hard shell jacket money can buy, thanks to its outstanding waterproofing and durability.
As for insulated midlayers, they are your best friends when temperatures drop lower than a fleece can comfortably handle, whether you’re wearing them over your fleece or as a standalone hiking jacket. These jackets provide more warmth than fleece, and also do a better job of keeping out light rain and wind, but can be overkill for bluebird conditions. In that regard, the Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody will be our top recommendation.
Huh…! That’s a lot of layers to keep up with, right? If you’re just getting into this whole “jacket layering” rabbit hole, you’ll also find an easy-to-digest buyer’s guide down at the bottom. There we break down all the most important aspects we use to evaluate any winter hiking jacket worth buying.
All right, enough preamble, let’s get into our favorite jackets!
|Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Warm: Best Fleece Midlayer||A do-it-all fleece midlayer that boasts both breathability and weather protection. Light, packable, and all-day comfortable. See Review|
|The North Face TKA Glacier: Best Fleece Midlayer On A Budget||A bargain bin fleece that punches way above its price point. Excellent for chilly hikes or as part of a larger layering system. See Review|
|Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody: Best Insulated Midlayer||The perfect balance of insulation and permeability. A lightweight and packable synthetic layer ideal for active comfort. See Review|
|Decathlon Forclaz Trek 100: Best Insulated Midlayer On A Budget||800-fill down for under $100. Bonus technical features offer outrageous value for the money. See Review|
|Arc’teryx Beta AR: Best Hardshell Jacket||Hands down the most capable and versatile waterproof shell on the market. Industry-leading 3-layer GoreTex Pro membrane delivers unparalleled protection. See Review|
|Patagonia Calcite: Best Hardshell Jacket On A Budget||Solid 2.5-layer GoreTex waterproofing at half the cost of the competition. A standout performer that won’t break the bank. See Review|
Best Winter Hiking Jackets
Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Warm: Best Fleece Midlayer
– Warmth: Warm
– Respirability: High
– Type of insulation: Synthetic (Air Mesh polyester)
– Weight: 12.3 oz (350 g)
– Price: $$
Fleece is your best option for shedding heat and moisture on an active winter hike, but it provides little to no protection against the wind and wet. The folks at Mountain Hardwear understand this better than most, which is why they designed the best-of-both-worlds Kor AirShell Warm as the one fleece to rule them all.
Looking from the outside, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Kor AirShell Warm for your typical insulated jacket: After all, its outer shell is made from Pertex Quantum Air fabric, a lightweight but highly durable material that definitely isn’t fleece. On the inside, however, the AirShell wears a layer of superlight AirMesh polyester, which provides the same warmth as a midweight fleece, but weighs next to nothing.
The result is a fleece winter hiking jacket that sheds heat and perspiration with the best of them, but also performs well in light wind and rain. Pertex Quantum Air was designed as the ideal tradeoff between weather resistance and breathability, which means you can hike in this jacket all day without shedding layers everytime you stop or start. Just throw a long sleeve base layer underneath and go get after it.
In terms of performance, we have no complaints with the Kor AirShell Warm. This is about as technical and well-designed a garment as we’ve seen, and it’s the perfect companion for your typical winter hike. The main drawback here is price, as the AirShell costs a good bit more than a standard technical fleece midlayer, but its outright quality and versatility are well worth a few extra bucks.
|– Unparalleled versatility|
– Added weather protection
– AirMesh lining is warm and highly breathable
– You’ll need an additional layer for seriously cold hikes.
The North Face TKA Glacier Quarter–Zip: Best Fleece Midlayer On A Budget
– Warmth: Intermediate
– Respirability: High
– Type of insulation: Synthetic (fleece)
– Weight: 7.6 oz (215 g)
– Price: $
The beauty of a good fleece is that it doesn’t have to be expensive to serve its purpose, which is keeping you dry and comfortable during strenuous winter activities. The North Face TKA Glacier is the essential no-frills budget fleece, but there’s nothing about it that feels cheap.
We love that you can pick this winter hiking jacket up for around $60 all day, yet it delivers serious technical performance for all sorts of cold weather endeavors. The 100-weight polyester material is nice and light, but delivers ideal warmth and breathability for a body in motion.
The thin-yet-durable material also has the added bonus of weighing in at just 7.6 oz, and packs down surprisingly small for a traditional fleece hiking jacket. You’ll get no adjustability at this price point, but we will point out that The North Face includes an elasticated hem and cuffs on the TKA Glacier, which helps keep your body heat where it belongs.
As far as drawbacks go, there’s no denying the Glacier is pretty bare-bones: There are no pockets to speak of either at the waist or chest, and the jacket’s quarter length zipper provides less adjustability than a full-length or half-length zip. Its relatively thin material works under other layers, which you’ll definitely want if you plan on using it in below freezing conditions. Still, paired with a good base layer the Glacier works well for everything from day hikes to back country skiiing, and at this price, it just feels wrong to complain.
|– Super affordable|
– Lightweight and packable for a standard fleece
– Fantastic breathability
|– No pockets|
– Not warm enough for standalone static use
Patagonia Nano-Air Insulated Hoody: Best Insulated Midlayer
– Warmth: Warm
– Respirability: Intermediate
– Type of insulation: Synthetic (FullRange polyester)
– Weight: 12.2 oz (346 g)
– Price: $$
When it comes to insulation, the best winter hiking jackets walk a fine line between warmth and breathability. We believe that the Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody does this better than any other insulated midlayer, and for that, it gets our top pick in the segment.
The secret to the Nano-Air’s success is its combination of a plain-weave polyester shell and 60g worth of Patagonia’s proprietary FullRange polyester fill. Together, these two work to preserve heat when you need it, but also deliver the ideal amount of breathability and air permeability to keep you comfortable while you move.
As its name suggests, the Nano-Air is also impressively compact and packable for a synthetic jacket. The hooded version packs into its own pocket to roughly a 2-liter size, and weighs just 12.2 oz. This is also one of the most comfortable insulated jackets on the market, combining an insanely soft interior material with dual handwarmer pockets that work great with a hipbelt.
The main drawback of the Nano-Air is its laser-focus on active comfort. With a light merino baselayer, the Nano-Air delivers ideal warmth on the move, but in colder conditions it feels a bit thin anytime you stop to catch your breath or get a calorie break in. It’s also a bit more expensive than other technical synthetic options out there, but if a performance-focused jacket is what you’re after, the Nano-Air delivers in spades.
|– Excellent balance of performance and breathability|
– Comfortable and stretchy
– Insulates when wet
|– Limited warmth as a standalone jacket|
– No drawstring at hem
Decathlon Forclaz Trek 100: Best Insulated Midlayer On A Budget
– Warmth: Very warm
– Respirability: Intermediate
– Type of insulation: Down (800fp duck down)
– Weight: 10.2 oz (289 g)
– Price: $
If you’re not familiar with Decathlon products, you’re not alone: The brand is popular overseas, but here in the US, most folks haven’t heard of them. That’s a real shame, because they make shockingly high quality gear for applaudably low prices, and the Decathlon Trek 100 down jacket is the best bang-for-your-buck we’ve seen in years.
Unlike other budget down jackets out there, it’s honestly hard to find anything to dislike about the Trek 100. Where other affordable jackets use 650-fill down, the Trek uses 800 fill, and plenty of it. Where other jackets are bulky or heavy for their warmth, the Trek weighs in at an impressive 10.2 oz, and packs down to about 1.5 liters inside its own pocket.
We also love that the Decathlon Trek 100 lacks little in terms of technical features as well. Typically more affordable down jackets feel more like casual pieces that happen to work in the outdoors, but this jacket is tailor made for hiking and backpacking: Its hand pockets are high enough to work with a hipbelt, its hood and cuffs are both elasticated to seal out the cold, and it even includes a high-quality DWR finish to keep light rain from wrecking those precious down feathers.
There are virtually zero drawbacks considering the price here. The Decathlon Trek weighs a few ounces more than superlight options like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 or Arc’teryx Cerium SL, but it’s still lighter than most jackets two or three times its price while delivering similar warmth. Yes, it lacks a few premium features like ripstop fabric or adjustability at the hood and cuffs, but at this price it still deserves a standing ovation.
|– Excellent warmth to weight ratio|
– Sub $100 for 800 fill power down???
– Impressively light and compact for a budget jacket
|– Slightly bulkier than more expensive options|
– Would prefer ripstop fabric to the 15D standard nylon
– Won’t insulate when wet
Arc’teryx Beta AR: Best Winter Hiking Shell
– Warmth: Intermediate
– Respirability: Low
– Type of insulation: NA (shell)
– Weight: 16 oz (454 g)
– Price: $$$
When it comes to bombproof winter gear, Arc’teryx is known for making some of the most capable and high-tech garments on the planet. The Arc’teryx Beta AR Shell is a prime example, and lacks nothing in terms of features or performance.
Chief among them is the Beta AR’s GoreTex Pro membrane, which is the highest-level of three-layer protection available from the first name in outdoors waterproofing. Everything else you’d expect from a no-compromise winter hiking jacket is here as well, including a helmet-friendly adjustable hood, extra-large water-resistant pit zips for ventilation, and respectably lightweight and packable construction for a jacket this bombproof.
Another major highlight for us is the Beta AR’s fit: Where most shells are on the bulkier side, Arc’teryx uses a more tailored fit, which still allows plenty of room for laying without ever feeling boxy or oversized. We’ll also note that the latest version of the Beta AR has been upgraded with reinforced 80D polyester panels along the shoulders, which should add considerable long term durability for folks hiking with heavy packs.
As far as drawbacks go, there’s no way to downplay the Arc’teryx Beta’s price tag: $600 is no paltry sum, and for more casual/occasional winter hikers, this level of technology and protection is likely overkill. With that being said, you’d be hard pressed to find a better shell outside of Arc’teryx’s own Alpha SV jacket, but unless you’re chasing the most hardcore alpine ascents, there’s really no reason to look any further. The Beta does literally everything well from winter hikes to backcountry skiing, and delivers utterly uncompromising weather protection in the nastiest conditions.
|– Top of the line GoreTex Pro waterproofing|
– Reinforced fabric in key areas for added durability
– Does everything well from backpacking to snowboarding
– Overkill for occasional use
Patagonia Calcite Jacket : Best Winter Shell On A Budget
– Warmth: Intermediate
– Respirability: Low
– Type of insulation: NA (shell)
– Weight: 14.5 oz (411 g)
– Price: $$
All good waterproof hiking jackets are expensive, but some are significantly less expensive than others. Our favorite example is the Patagonia Calcite, which is one of the best winter hiking jackets on the market, yet costs about half of what you’d pay for the “premium” competition.
For your money, you’ll get proven GoreTex waterproofing, a helmet-compatible hood with a glove-friendly single-pull adjuster, and dual drawcords at the bottom hem to help seal out unwanted wind and moisture. We also love that Patagonia includes pit zips for adjustable ventilation (both of which are treated with a water-repellent coating) as well as a fully waterproof exterior pocket for storing sensitive items (aka your smartphone).
Material quality is another unexpected highlight of this budget-friendly model, as the entire shell is made from durable 75D polyester which is both 100% recycled and fair trade certified. It’s also worth mentioning that despite the Calcite’s heavy duty fabric, its fairly minimalist design weighs in at just 14.5 ounces, outperforming all but the most hardcore lightweight winter shells.
As far as drawbacks go, the main one here is the Patagonia’s GoreTex Paclite Plus waterproofing. This 2.5-layer system performs well and saves weight, but isn’t quite on par with the latest and greatest GoreTex Pro 3-layer systems. Paclite Plus is also a little less breathable than some top-shelf membranes, but between the dual pit zips and the full-length zipper, there’s a respectable amount of heat management worked into the design.
|– Reliable 2.5 layer GoreTex Paclite waterproofing|
– Durable 75D polyester construction
– Reasonably light for a winter shell
|– Not quite as expedition worthy as 3-layer GoreTex Pro waterproofing|
– Good-not-great ventilation
Buyer’s Guide For The Best Winter Hiking Jackets
You’ve got no shortage of options when buying just about any piece of outdoors gear, but winter hiking jackets can be particularly tricky. These are some of the most technical and diverse pieces that live in your closet, and finding the right jacket for your intended use requires a fair amount of know-how.
Our goal with this guide is to give you all the know-how you need to make the right purchase for your next hike. Below you’ll find all the most important metrics we use to evaluate any winter jacket worth buying, whether you’re looking at one of our favorites from the list above or have another option in mind.
Insulation for winter hiking jackets comes in a few different flavors, and each has its own benefits. Your main options are fleece, synthetic fill, or down fill.
Fleece insulation is the most breathable and the best at shedding heat, making it ideal for staying warm while hiking without overheating. The main drawback of fleece is that it lacks wind protection, and typically offers little to no water repellancy. For winter hiking on cold-but-clear days, fleece is the best option.
Synthetic fill insulation comes in puffy jackets rated for various degrees of cold, and works as a great second mid-layer over fleece or as a standalone mid-layer in certain conditions. Synthetic fill delivers greater warmth and wind resistance than fleece, and often includes some added water repellancy as well. Synthetic insulation generally isn’t as compressible as down and often weighs a few ounces more, but it also continues to provide warmth when wet, making it ideal for inclement weather.
Lastly we have down insulation, the king of lightweight and compressible warmth. Like synthetic fill, down feathers make excellent mid layers, but deliver the same amount of warmth while weighing less and packing down much smaller. The main drawback of down insulation is that it loses its ability to insulate when wet, so you have to take care to limit its exposure to rain and snow. Many down jackets nowadays come with a water-repellant treatment to add a degree of wet performance, but even the best hydrophobic down jacket has its limits and still requires a shell for protection.
Hiking in cold weather is all about layers, and jackets like these are an important part of the equation. As you may know, your upper layering system consists of three distinct parts: Your base layer, your mid layer(s), and your outer layer or shell.
Both your mid and outer layers will be made of hiking jackets, but you may need more than two layers depending on the conditions. For cold-but-not-freezing conditions, you can typically get away with a base layer and a lighter fleece mid layer, especially if your hike is particularly strenuous and therefore generates lots of heat
As temps get colder, you may need to consider adding a second mid layer to your system, which often comes in the form of an insulated hiking jacket. Adding a puffy over your fleece generally “adds” about 20-degrees or so of comfort to your setup.
You’ll typically only wear your waterproof outer shell when it’s particularly windy, or when you’re dealing with precipitation, be it snow or rain. A shell can also be used to retain extra warmth when you aren’t moving, whether it’s during longer breaks or around camp at night.
Hiking is a strenuous activity, and even in the dead of winter you’re going to sweat to some degree. The best hiking jackets account for this, and as a result, deliver maximum breathability without sacrificing warmth.
As we mentioned above, hiking jackets are worn in layers, and as a general rule of thumb, the closer a layer is to your body, the more important breathability becomes. For this reason, we generally recommend technical fleece jackets to be worn directly over base layers (they do the best job of venting heat and moisture), and additional layers to be added from there.
Insulated jackets make for outstanding mid-layers as well, and their synthetic fabrics add a degree of wind and wet resistance to the mix. They typically provide more warmth than fleece layers for this reason, but they also sacrifice a degree of venting in the process.
The majority of your waterproofing in a layering system comes from the outer shell, which should be either completely waterproof or close to it, aka “water resistant.” Insulated midlayers should shed a light drizzle and handle intermittent exposure to snow, but if conditions take a turn, your shell is your friend.
Having to stop to add and shed layers throughout the day is a drag, but it’s also an important part of staying comfortable (and safe) on winter hikes. Performance synthetic midlayers like the Mountain Hardwear Kor Airshell above (which add a degree of wind and rain protection without limiting breathability) are a smart compromise allowing you to stay comfortable when active in a wider range of conditions.
Durability is an important concern, but the degree of durability you need will vary depending on your intended use. If you’re planning on winter backpacking, backcountry skiing, or taking your winter hiking jacket out to the crag, chances are you’ll be better served by more durable fabrics like Pertex or higher denier nylons.
If you’re not planning on toting a heavy pack or hiking through more rugged parts of the backcountry, however, you can always save a few ounces with lighter fabrics like a 15D ripstop nylon or polyester. Just keep in mind that heavier duty (higher denier) fabrics also tend to last longer than thinner, more technical materials, so if you’re a casual user who doesn’t need to be particularly weight-conscious, opting for something heavier and heavier duty may be a smart investment.
Well there you have it: Everything you need to know to put together the best winter hiking jacket ensemble on any budget. Remember, the name of the game here is breathable layers, and if you want the most high-performance, highly-breathable layer in the game, you just can’t go wrong with the Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Warm.
If you plan on hiking in serious cold, an insulated midlayer is a must, and for that, we tip our hats to the Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody. Hikers looking for something a bit warmer and more packable will do well with the Decathlon Trek 100, and as an added bonus, they’ll save a hefty chunk of change in the process.
Lastly, no winter hiking loadout is complete without a shell for when the weather takes a turn, and there’s no better shell out there than the Arc’teryx Beta AR. The Beta AR may not be cheap, but it’s built to last for years of hard use, and delivers four-season waterproof functionality to boot.
Any doubts about what should bring with with you for you next outing? Check out our hiking checklist!