Best Winter Hiking Jackets For Four-Season Adventurers

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Don’t hang up your boots just because it’s cold out: The best winter hiking jackets will keep you out on the trail year round!
Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Intro
The Arc’teryx Beta LT, our best winter hiking hardshell overall.

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’ve been wearing the Airshell for the last year and love that it functions as a highly breathable fleece, but also adds a good degree of protection from the elements. 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 clothing. With this combination, you’ll stand the best chance of staying as dry and comfortable as possible in the widest variety of conditions.

Insulated midlayers are your best friend 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 cold air, but can be overkill for bluebird conditions.

When the weather really gets nasty (be it high winds, heavy snow, or serious rain), a waterproof shell is a must. A windproof outer layer blocks out cold winds and keeps both your body and your midlayers from getting soaked, which are both serious safety concerns for cold weather hiking.

That’s a lot of layers to keep up with, which is why we’ve found the best option in each category to include on the list below. With that being said, we also know that winter hiking clothes can get very expensive, very fast, which is why we’ve also included our favorite budget picks for each layer down below as well. 

And, of course, 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!

Summary Table: 

Jacket:Overview:
Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Warm: Best Fleece MidlayerA do-it-all fleece midlayer that boasts both breathability and weather protection. An ultralight jacket that’s packable and all-day comfortable. See Review
REI Trailsmith Fleece Pullover: Best Fleece Midlayer On A BudgetProven mid-weight Polartech fleece that anyone can afford. Highly breathable and built to last. See Review
Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody: Best Insulated MidlayerThe 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 Budget800-fill down for under $100. Bonus technical features offer outrageous value for the money. See Review
Arcteryx Beta LT: Best Hardshell JacketA lightweight technical hardshell that does it all from cold weather hikes to snow-covered summits. Bombproof durability and material quality that goes anywhere and does anything. See Review
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L: Best Hardshell Jacket On A BudgetBombproof weather protection and outstanding build quality on a budget. Built to last and keep you dry all day for less cash. See Review

Best Winter Hiking Jackets

Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Warm: Best Fleece Midlayer

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Warm

Specs:
– 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. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Warm 2
The AirShell’s Pertex outer fabric adds a degree of wind protection while still allowing us to manage heat, and also sheds light moisture like snow or drizzling rain.

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.


Our testers found this combination 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 allowed us to spend less time stopping to shed layers as the weather changed or our physical output increased. With a long sleeve merino baselayer underneath, we found the Airshell kept us warm and dry on the move, and we only needed to add layers when stopping for extended periods in seriously cold conditions.

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Warm 3
The Airshell’s unique liner fabric functions as a breathable 3D mesh against the skin, but is backed with microfleece for added insulation as well.

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.

Pros:Cons:
– Unparalleled versatility
– Added weather protection
– AirMesh lining is warm and highly breathable
– Expensive
– You’ll need an additional layer for seriously cold hikes.



REI Trailsmith Fleece Pullover: Best Fleece Midlayer On A Budget

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-REI Trailsmith Fleece Pullover 1

Specs: 

– Warmth: Intermediate
Respirability: High
Type of insulation: Polartech synthetic (fleece)
– Weight: 13.4 oz (380 g)
Price: $

The great part about a good fleece jacket is it doesn’t need a bunch of technical fabric or features to get the job done. The REI Trailsmith Fleece Pullover is our favorite example, combining retro good looks and proven Polartech fleece for warmth and breathability that works on the trail and around town. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-REI Trailsmith Fleece Pullover 2
Classic looks combined with proven materials: The mid-weight Polartech fleece in the REI Trailsmith is warm, breathable, and highly durable.

As our budget fleece of choice, our favorite feature of the Trailsmith is its price, which is well under $100 but can be had for much cheaper if you pick it up during one of REI’s regular sales. Despite its affordability, we love that you still get an impressively refined garment, with zippered hand pockets, elasticated cuffs at the neck, hem, and sleeves, and a convenient chest pocket for stashing quick-access items like your phone, keys, or wallet. 

Performance wise, we found the middleweight Polartech fabric gives a good balance of warmth, breathability, and durability, which is ideal for coller weather hikes or for layering around camp when temps drop after sundown. We’ll also note that the Trailsmith sports a more “relaxed” fit than many of the more technical options out there, so you won’t have to worry about it digging into your armpits and pooling undue moisture as you move. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-REI Trailsmith Fleece Pullover 3
The Trailsmith delivers breathability you need for aerobic activities, and also happens to look darn good doing it.

As far as drawbacks go, this is a simple fleece with an emphasis on comfort over performance, which means it wouldn’t be our first choice for more highly aerobic activities where outright breathability is the priority. We’ll also note that while many will view the Trailsmith’s looser fit as a boon in terms of comfort, it makes the jacket a bit bulkier in your pack and a bit less friendly for layering under a technical shell. 

Pros:Cons:
– Great price for Polartech performance
– Built to last
– Excellent breathability
– Heavier/bulkier than more modern designs
– Looser fit may not be for everyone



Patagonia Nano-Air Insulated Hoody: Best Insulated Midlayer 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Patagonia Nano-Air Insulated Hoody

Specs:
– 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. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Patagonia Nano-Air Insulated Hoody 2
The Nano-Air’s polyester shell gets a quality DWR coating that sheds light moisture with ease.

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. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Patagonia Nano-Air Insulated Hoody 3
We appreciate that the Patagonia Nano-Air hoody packs down small into its own pocket, and is tough enough to bounce around in our packs without worry.

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. 

Pros:Cons:
– Excellent balance of performance and breathability
– Comfortable and stretchy
– Insulates when wet
– Limited warmth as a standalone jacket
– Expensive
– No drawstring at hem



Decathlon Forclaz Trek 100: Best Insulated Midlayer On A Budget

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Decathlon Forclaz Trek 100

Specs:
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 lightweight down jacket is the best bang-for-your-buck we’ve seen in years. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Decathlon Forclaz Trek 100 2
We’ve been wearing the Decathalon Trek 100 for the last year, and it’s held up exceptionally well for such a budget-friendly jacket.

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 a more affordable down jacket feels more like a casual piece that happens to work in the outdoors, but this jacket is tailor-made to wear winter hiking: Its hand pockets are high enough to work with a hipbelt, its hood and cuffs are both elasticated to seal in body heat, and it even includes a high-quality DWR finish to keep light rain from wrecking those precious down feathers.

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Decathlon Forclaz Trek 100 3
Buttery soft and impressively warm, we love zipping into the Trek 100 for chilly mornings when winter camping.

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.

Pros:Cons:
– 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



Arcteryx Beta LT: Best Winter Hiking Shell

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Arc’teryx Beta LT 1

Specs:
– Warmth: Intermediate
– Respirability: Low
– Type of insulation: NA (shell
– Weight: 13.9 oz (394 g)
– Price: $$$

The Arcteryx Beta LT took top honors as our favorite rain jacket overall last year, largely due to its uncompromisingly technical build, durable construction, and overall versatility. As such, it should come as no surprise that we’re giving the LT our top pick as a winter shell, as it’s already proven itself in alpine conditions during our testing. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Arc’teryx Beta LT 2
We tested the Arcteryx Beta LT out during a mountaineering trip this year and it didn’t disappoint.

We’ve taken this jacket hiking in all-day drizzles, rock climbing in the pouring rain, and even had the opportunity to wear the Beta LT during a 14,000ft summit of Mt. Nadelhorn in Switzerland last year. No matter what we throw at it, the LT dismisses wind and rain with equal aplomb while also boosting warmth by trapping more of the heat from our midlayers choice. 

It’s this versatility that really earns the LT the top spot, because while there are certainly tougher shells and lighter shells out there, this jacket walks the line between the two better than anything else we’ve tested, making it a smart choice for pretty much any situation you encounter year-round. We’ll also note that the LT scored high marks in overall breathability for us due to its large pit zips and breathable fabric, which help keep us comfortable on the move without having to stop and swap out layers as often.

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Arc’teryx Beta LT 3
The Beta LT’s fabric is tough, its seams are flawlessly sealed, and all the details are exactly what we’ve come to expect from Arc’teryx.

Drawbacks here are few and far between. The largest barrier to entry for most will be the Beta LT’s asking price, which is fairly steep but also a good bit less than many premium shells including Arcteryx’s own beefier GoreTex Pro offerings. Speaking of which, we’ll also note that while we found the Beta LT to be impressively tough, there are definitely even tougher options out there for folks who are particularly hard on gear.  

Pros:Cons:
– Uncompromising weather protection
– Premium build quality, features, and design
– Light, breathable, and packable
– Expensive
– Not as tough as Arcteryx GoreTex Pro options

Check Women’s at REI




Patagonia Torrentshell: Best Winter Shell On A Budget

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Patagonia Torrentshell 3L 1

Specs: 
– Warmth: Intermediate
– Respirability: Low
– Type of insulation: NA (shell)
– Weight: 14.1oz (400 g)
– Price: $$

The Patagonia Torrentshell likely needs no introduction: This weatherproof shell has been a hiker’s favorite for years for its outstanding value, and when it comes to bang for your buck, there’s no shell out there we’d recommend more enthusiastically. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Patagonia Torrentshell 3L 2
We logged some serious miles on the Torrentshell this year, and found it’s still the best bang for your buck out there if you need a high quality hardshell.

In our field testing this year, we found all the essential elements were there in the Torrentshell: This jacket kept us dry in all-day showers, help up to months of abuse both inside and out of our packs, and dumped heat surprisingly well with its large pit zips and breathable liner. 

Speaking of which, we’ve gotta give props to Patagonia’s proprietary three-layer H2No membrane and high-quality DWR coating, which we found kept the wet stuff at bay just as well as the most premium GoreTex shells on the market. This is our main concern for jackets in the under-$200 price range, but the Torrentshell holds its own with the best in the business. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-Patagonia Torrentshell 3L 3
The Torrentshell may lack a few of the premium bells and whistles, but it’s built like a tank and the traditional storm-flap closure keeps water out with the best of them.

The Torrentshell’s budget-friendly build does include a few shortcomings, however, and our testers all agreed an extra pocket or two would go a long way toward improving the jacket, as would a slightly softer/quieter exterior fabric. We also found the Torrentshell didn’t pack down quite as well as jackets like the premium Arcteryx Beta LT, but considering the difference in price between the two, we believe most hikers will find this a worthwhile concession. 

Pros:Cons:
– Nails the basics for less cash
– Durable materials and great built quality
– Reliable all-day weather protection
– Lounder/crunchier fabric than most
– Could use better pockets
– Slightly heavier/bulkier than some

Check at Women’s REI / Check at Women’s EVO




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

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. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
Down insulation like that found in the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer seen here provides unmatched warmth for its weight.

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 repellency. 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, which is why you’ll find it in everything from expedition-grade sleeping bags to winter hiking boots. 

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.

Layering

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Layering
In extreme conditions like these, you may need all three layers. For lower elevation, higher temperature hikes, a fleece may be all you need to stay comfortable.

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. 

Breathability

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.

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Breathability
Insulated midlayers like the one seen here provide a solid tradeoff between breathability and 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. 

Waterproofing

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Waterproofing
Your shell will usually live in your pack, but when the wet stuff starts coming down, you’ll be glad you packed it.

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 with wind-blocking face fabrics are a smart compromise allowing you to stay comfortable when active in a wider range of conditions.

Durability

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. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Durability
If you plan on carrying a full pack, durable fabrics are important for longevity.

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.

How We Test and Review Jackets

We’re no strangers to winter weather at The Wise Adventurer. Our team spends time backpacking, camping, skiing, and climbing in many of the jackets you see above, and we know firsthand what works and what doesn’t for just about any outdoor activity. Unfortunately our team is still a small one, which means we don’t have time to test every jacket we review first hand. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets-How We Test and Review Jackets
Rain, shine, or snow: Our team is always out testing somewhere in the world.

For models we don’t test ourselves in the field, we rely on feedback from friends, experts, and existing owners, as well as hours of in-depth research both in-store and online. Our aim here is to help you find the right choice for your next jacket by bringing you the most comprehensive information possible through every means at our disposal, and we hope this guide does exactly that. 

Conclusion

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. 

Best Winter Hiking Jackets - Introduction
The Arcteryx Beta LT: Our Best Winter Hiking Shell overall.

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 LT. The Beta LT 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!

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