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The Best Insulated Jacket for Women of 2020

By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday January 6, 2020
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Looking for a sweet women's insulated jacket this season? After researching over 80 of the best models, we purchased the elite, testing 14 side-by-side. From Denmark to South America, we've taken these jackets all over the world. They've seen the tops of tall mountains, the cold winds of the high seas, and warm temperatures of the high deserts. They've been squeezed through chimneys, snagged on desert plants, and put through the dirt. We've taken the time to objectively measure, compress, and spray each down with water. The result? Great recommendations to get you on your way to finding the best jacket for your needs.


Top 14 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $279.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$140.85 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$199.95 at Amazon
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$90.73 at REI
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$219.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Great style and colors, lightweight warmth, warm when wet, versatile use, durableWarm, lightweight, packable, windproof, water resistant, slippery smooth face fabricsVery warm, almost weather proof, flattering fit and style, packableWarmth, many comfort features, very weatherproofLofty and warm, great value, packs small, lightweight, great value, good wind protection
Cons ExpensiveNot breathable, boxy fit, zipper gets stuck in fabric and can ripNot breathable, tight across the backNot breathable or very packableLacks breathability
Bottom Line A veratile wool-insulated jacket with fantastic overall performance in a reversible package.Warm and compressive, this continuous shell jacket is an excellent option for all types of adventures.The warmest synthetic jacket tested.A very affordable and high performing non-technical insulated jacket.A great quilted jacket for all-around, all-year use at a great price.
Rating Categories Swisswool Piz Bial Rab Xenon Hoodie - Women's Avant Featherless Hoody Heavenly Hoody Thermoball Eco Hoody
Warmth (25%)
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Specs Swisswool Piz Bial Rab Xenon Hoodie -... Avant Featherless... Heavenly Hoody Thermoball Eco Hoody
Weight 12 oz 8.75 oz 14.75 oz 21 oz 12.75 oz
Number of Pockets 3 (2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest) 3 (2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest) 4 (2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest, 1 stuff sack) 3 (2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest) 3 (2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest)
Insulation 88% virgin wool, 12% polylactide 60g Stratus 3M Thinsulate Featherless Insulation 100% polyester Thermoball Eco 100% recycled polyester
Outer Fabric 100% recycled nylon Pertex Quantum Atmos ripstop 20D woven Storm-Lite DP II 100% recycled nylon
Lining 100% nylon Nylon Nylon Luscious Pile Fleece, 100% polyester 100% recycled polyester
Hood Option? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Built-in stash pocket? No Yes No No Yes
Cuff construction Elasticized cuffs Elasticized cuffs Elasticized cuffs Internal elastic cuff Elasticized cuffs
Warranty Information 30-day return Lifetime warranty with original proof of purchase - includes repairs Lifetime warranty Limited lifetime warranty Limited lifetime warranty; will repair or replace due to manufacturing defect (not regular wear and tear or misuse)

Best Overall Synthetic Jacket


Ortovox Swisswool Piz Bial - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$279.95
at Backcountry
See It

79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Weight & Compression - 20% 8
  • Comfort & Coziness - 20% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 8
  • Breathability - 15% 7
  • Style & Fit - 5% 9
Weight: 12 ounces | Insulation: 88% Virgin Wool, 12% polylactide
Lightweight
Windproof and water-resistant
Fantastic warmth
Reversible style
Very warm when wet
Not very breathable
Expensive

The Ortovox Piz Bial is a super sweet wool-insulated jacket that is highly versatile. It features a reversible style that gives you the stylish look and functionality of two jackets in one package. The exterior continuous shell is windproof with awesome water resistance, and the insulation packs a punch with its thinner design. It offers more warmth than you'd expect, especially if it gets drenched on your adventures. It's an all-around performer, showing applications for around-town use as well as technical performance in the mountains.

While it's compressible, it doesn't pack into its own pocket like the Rab Xenon, but it is more breathable. You can purchase a mini-stuff sack to increase compression, and it does stuff into a backpack, but it's not our top choice for fastpacking missions where packability is key. It's also costly, and many will find the price too high to pay; however, it is reversible, and you'll get two different looks in one package.

Read review: Ortovox Swisswool Piz Bial - Women's

Best Bang for the Buck


Columbia Heavenly Hoody - Women's


Best Buy Award

$90.73
(30% off)
at REI
See It

75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 9
  • Weight & Compression - 20% 4
  • Comfort & Coziness - 20% 10
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 9
  • Breathability - 15% 4
  • Style & Fit - 5% 9
Weight: 21 ounces | Insulation: 100% polyester
Protects in poor weather
Warm
Great value
Many cozy features
Not breathable

The Columbia Peak to Park is a 100% polyester hooded jacket that features a thicker construction that'll keep you warm through the coldest days of winter. The shell cuts the wind and repels rain and snow, offering nice protection throughout the cold months. Worn best as the outermost jacket, it offers plenty of room for layering. The smooth interior layers easily and offers great comfort! We absolutely love the hi-pile fleece hood that offers immense comfort throughout the season. To top it off, it's quite affordable, with the jacket (without the hood) offering the best value. It has many of the same features, with removable attributes, and is also a wonderful low-priced option to consider.

Unfortunately, with a thicker and more protective construction, breathability is an inherent trade-off. While we didn't notice any durability issues during our testing period, the stitching looks cheap and, in the past, has undone after a lot of use. Aside from these caveats, this jacket is a wonderful option for those seeking a winter insulated jacket for wearing around town or skiing at the resort.

Read review: Columbia Heavenly Hoody - Women's

Top Pick for Compressibility


Rab Xenon Hoodie - Women's


Top Pick Award

$140.85
(28% off)
at Amazon
See It

77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 6
  • Weight & Compression - 20% 10
  • Comfort & Coziness - 20% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 8
  • Breathability - 15% 6
  • Style & Fit - 5% 6
Weight: 8.75 ounces | Insulation: 60g/m Stratus Synthetic
Highly compressible and lightweight
Windproof and water-resistant
High warmth to weight ratio
Boxier fit
Breathability could be better

The Rab Xenon once again dominates the competition with its lightweight, protective, and compressible performance, winning this award for the fifth year in a row! It offers an amazing warmth to weight ratio and is built for any kind of ultralight mission; it's our top choice for long overnight fastpacking missions and long multi-pitch climbs. The continuous shell is windproof and offers great water resistance. Wear it on its own in cool weather, or add it to your layered outfit for insulative warmth when the weather deteriorates.

It's hard to find caveats with this jacket; that's why it's our favorite after all. But, if we had to scrutinize, the boxy fit isn't the most flattering, and the shell doesn't offer much breathability or venting capabilities. Despite these minor imperfections, it's highly versatile and functions in all four seasons, either as a wear-alone jacket or an additional warmth layer.

Read review: Rab Xenon - Women's

Top Pick for Warmth


Marmot Avant Featherless Hoody - Women's


Top Pick Award

$199.95
(11% off)
at Amazon
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 10
  • Weight & Compression - 20% 5
  • Comfort & Coziness - 20% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 10
  • Breathability - 15% 5
  • Style & Fit - 5% 8
Weight: 14.75 ounces | Insulation: 3M Thinsulate Featherless Insulation
Very warmth
Cute style
Quite compressible for the size
Very weatherproof
Not a four-season jacket
Tight across the back

The Marmot Avant Featherless is a popular jacket that we have just had the pleasure of testing! It's our favorite for its immense amount of warmth and weather protection. The baffled design houses 100% synthetic insulation that is quite airy. It can compress and offer the same amount of warmth as a 700-pile down coat! During our tests, it kept us the warmest of any of the jackets tested, with the best overall performance. It has a plethora of uses throughout the winter. Namely as a winter jacket or as a belay coat for colder weather.

While we absolutely love this coat, it's not our first choice for all-year round use. Sure it can be used as an extra layer in colder temps in the summer, but when it heats up, this is one that you won't want to be wearing. In addition, the tight is quite specific. Many testers note that the back of this jacket is quite tight. If you're not sure about sizing and have broad shoulders, size up.

Read review: Marmot Avant Featherless Hoody - Women's

Top Pick for Breathability


Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody - Women's


Top Pick Award

$229.00
at REI
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 6
  • Weight & Compression - 20% 8
  • Comfort & Coziness - 20% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 5
  • Breathability - 15% 10
  • Style & Fit - 5% 8
Weight: 13.25 ounces | Insulation: 70-grams 100% polyester
Airy and breathable
Comfortable fit
Cute design and colors
Wind resistance
Packable
Little to no water resistance
Trouble layering

The Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody is our favorite jacket for cold winter runs, backcountry skiing, and wearing while adventuring in colder weather. This jacket is surprisingly warm for its level of breathability, protecting you from gnarly wind while adventuring up high. It has an outdoorsy appeal to it with many different color options. If you need a jacket that'll keep you warm while you tackle sweaty, winter endeavors, this is truly our top choice.

While it is quite breathable, unfortunately, it lacks water protection. While the shell has a DWR finish, once it is soaked, the material is highly absorbent. That said, it'll still keep you warm when wet (it is polyester), but it makes for a less comfortable adventure. Be sure to wear a shell if you know you'll be hitting very wet snow or rain. It does fine in dry snowier environments.

Read review: Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody - Women's


We test all of our gear on fun adventures all around the world. Here we try out a few while climbing big walls in Red Rocks  Nevada.
We test all of our gear on fun adventures all around the world. Here we try out a few while climbing big walls in Red Rocks, Nevada.

Why You Should Trust Us


As an outdoor educator and adventurer, Amber King has been a gear tester for OutdoorGearLab for over five years. She's written over fifteen different categories, providing expertise in gear through her adventures. She is an avid trail running, climber, and splitboarder, commonly found exploring new trails and ridgelines in the San Juan Mountains just outside of Ouray, Colorado. When she's not adventuring here, you can find her sailing the high the North Seas with friends from Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. On all these adventures, she's trucking along with at least one or two insulated jackets, collecting data in climates all around the world, to provide expert advice on what to buy. Just last year, she explored the Hornstrandir Nature Preserve a remote northern part of Iceland, testing out insulated jackets in this wet climate by foot for over a month.

To start our testing, we spend at least five hours researching different products on the market. After evaluating the various options, we choose top competitors based on a variety of factors, including popularity, user ratings, and hype from the outdoor industry. Once we order the best out there to test side-by-side, we evaluate the materials and start our hands-on testing process. These jackets have been brought to the far reaches of the World, including places like Iceland, Canada, Hawaii, and throughout the United States. Each jacket is worn and tested for at least 100 hours, with ongoing testing throughout the year after we receive them. Using specific metrics, we then evaluate them, noting key differences, niches for performance, and their downfalls. Our testing involves taking them along on many adventures, including hiking, backpacking, running, rock climbing, ice climbing, splitboarding, sea kayaking, and much more.

Related: How We Tested Insulated Jacket for Women

We start the water tests that take about two minutes.
Take a hike  go climbing  go for a run. This Top Pick will keep you comfortable through it all.

Analysis and Test Results


A synthetic jacket offers the unique property of keeping you warm, even if it gets wet. They can be worn on their own or as an insulative layer underneath a shell. Depending on performance, some can excel throughout all four-seasons while others are a little more limited in their function. Each jacket is scored using the key metrics that we discuss below. This includes warmth, weight, weather resistance, comfort, breathability, and style. We discuss each metric in-depth, comparing the performance of each product to help you find the synthetic jacket of your dreams.

Related: Buying Advice for Insulated Jacket for Women

We test our insulated jackets side-by-side. Here we look at two breathable jackets to compare their performance on one of the first snows of the season at Red Mountain Pass in the San Juans of Colorado.
We test our insulated jackets side-by-side. Here we look at two breathable jackets to compare their performance on one of the first snows of the season at Red Mountain Pass in the San Juans of Colorado.

Value


At OutdoorGearLab, our Best Buy winner is often an indicator of the product that not only offers high value but provides a steal of a deal. The most expensive products are not always the best and sometimes those that are less expensive perform better. The most affordable products include the Columbia Heavenly Hooded Jacket, our Best Buy award winner, and the Columbia Peak to Park. Both are less breathable contenders with a heavier construction, but offer way more features. The Peak to Park is a little less expensive and you can remove the hood and its faux fur lining, while the Heavenly is a little more expensive with better warmth and weather protection. Both are less technical, which is why they are a little less expensive.

More technical jackets are typically more expensive. The Rab Xenon is a Top Pick, and has been our Editor's Choice for the last five years! It's one of the least expensive technical jackets out there. The ThermoBall Hoody is a high performer and offers a baffled design an amazing warmth to weight ratios. That a look at these options first if you seek a great deal!

Look for deals on last season's colors. Typically these products feature the same performance at a greatly reduced price.


Warmth


When evaluating warmth, we took each jacket out into cold, blustery weather that dipped down into the negative double digits. We walked around, hiked, ran, and just stood around wearing similar layers under each coat to determine relative warmth differences. We also looked at warmth features to include cinching hoods, weather-resistant shells, and the relative length of the torso and arms. In this metric, we think of warmth as its insulative value when simply standing around in the cold. We also discuss the relationship between breathability and warmth and the jackets that do the best in balancing both.


In our testing, we layered using a single merino wool midweight base layer to truly determine the differences in relative warmth.

The warmest jackets tested are those with a thicker design and more insulation packed into every square inch. These jackets tend to be less breathable and are best if you find yourself standing or walking around in cold weather. The Marmot Avant Featherless is the warmest jacket by far. It is thicker than both the Columbia Peak to Park and Columbia Heavenly Hoody, with airier insulation and a more breathable design. These three jackets come in at the top for scoring, but it's the Avant we'd take out in the worst weather. Since it is more breathable than these other two contenders, it's also suitable for more active activities like Winter Hiking. It also makes for a great belay jacket.

The Marmot Avant offers exceptional warmth in the face of cold weather. It offers great space for layering and thicker  warmer construction.
The Marmot Avant offers exceptional warmth in the face of cold weather. It offers great space for layering and thicker, warmer construction.

Both the Columbia options are great for winter weather as well but are truly reserved for the winter season. The Heavenly offers an Omni-Heat lining that does a better job at keeping heat in than the Peak to Park. Both offer enough performance to wear throughout the winter, and both function great for skiing or snowboarding at a resort.

More breathable jackets are typically not as warm when looking at straight-up insulative properties. They do, however, offer better moving warmth, allowing moisture to ventilate into the world, keeping you dry, and thus, warmer when you stop. If you're looking for an active-wear piece this winter, it's important that it's breathable. Of these contenders, the Black Diamond First Light Hoody is the warmest and most breathable. This hosts a thicker design, loaded with 60-grams of high-quality PrimaLoft Silver insulation. The North Face ThermoBall is offers more standing warmth insulation than the First Light, but isn't quite as breathable. Both are great options to wear as winter jackets and both layer nicely with other layers.

Testing the Columbia Peak to Park on a really cold day in Tahoe. It offers exceptional warmth  even when temps are dipping into the negative digits.
Testing the Columbia Peak to Park on a really cold day in Tahoe. It offers exceptional warmth, even when temps are dipping into the negative digits.

The Ortovox Piaz Jacket, our Editor's Choice winner, hosts wool as its primary insulator. While it does offer much warmth to be the final layer in your winter system, but functions as a great mid-layer in super cold weather. It is about the same thickness as the First Light, but not as thin as the Rab Xenon. It is also a breathable choice, but not quite as breathable as the First Light Hoody or other more breathable, mobile face designs.

The least warm jackets are those that focus on breathability, but some are warmer than others. The Outdoor Research Refuge Air and Ascendent are both super breathable options, both being award winners for this reason at some point in time. Between the two of them, the Refuge offers much more insulative warmth but ventilates better.

This chilly day is made warmer with the Ortovox Piz Bial that maintains warmth and breathability while on the go.
This chilly day is made warmer with the Ortovox Piz Bial that maintains warmth and breathability while on the go.

The North Face Ventrix Summit Hoody (new version this year) has less insulation than it has in the past, and offers more warmth than the Refuge, simply because its materials are thicker…even though the Refuge advertises to have more insulation (70 grams vs. 60 grams). The Patagonia Nano-Air and Arc'teryx Atom LT are two breathable jackets that offer a surprising amount of warmth for their lightweight design, but comparatively, are much less insulative when standing around.

Chilling out on a shady ledge in Red Rocks is a perfect place for this packable  yet  surprisingly warm jacket.
Chilling out on a shady ledge in Red Rocks is a perfect place for this packable, yet, surprisingly warm jacket.

Finally, we are surprised at the offered by the amount of warmth offered in the Rab Xenon's super-thin design. The lofty 60 g/m2 stratus insulation locks in air, and warms up, holding it close to the body. When taking a walk-in cold temperature well below freezing, we were cold. However, once moving and layered appropriately with a base layer and fleece, we stayed warm. This is our Top Pick because it offers the best compression to warmth ratio out there.

All the mobile-faced jackets tested with a focus on breathability can be worn as the final layer with a fleece and base layer built underneath it. On super cold days, all these jackets function well as mid-layers underneath a shell or thicker jacket. Think of using them as apart of your layered system, as opposed to the only point of insulation.

Weight & Compression


We love jackets that compress into the bottom of a backpack or clip to something. We also appreciate when a model is lightweight. As such, we regard compression and weight as one of the most important metrics. Like many jackets, its main purpose is to provide warmth. When conditions get too warm, being able to stow it away comfortably is a huge plus.

To test each comparatively, we noted stowaway systems and relative weight and compressed each until they couldn't compress anymore. Jackets that scored the highest weighed the least and stuffed away easily into backpacks.


Here we scope out Crestone Peak  a Fourteener located in Colorado. We strap the Patagonia Micro Puff to our running pack (it also fits inside) when temperatures plunge at higher altitudes.
Here we scope out Crestone Peak, a Fourteener located in Colorado. We strap the Patagonia Micro Puff to our running pack (it also fits inside) when temperatures plunge at higher altitudes.

If you're looking for the lightest and most compressible jacket, the Patagonia Micro Puff is it. Weighing only 8.7 ounces, we took this with us on many fastpacking missions because of its ample warmth (65-grams of polyester) and packability. The Rab Xenon weighs just a tad more (8.75 ounces) and packs to an even smaller size than the MicroPuff. The MicroPuff offers more breathability, but not as much warmth as the Xenon. Both earn perfect scores in this category are a favorite amongst our testers for different reasons.


The Arc'teryx LT packs into a very small package.
The Arc'teryx LT packs into a very small package.

Another awesomely light jacket that provides great warmth is the North Face ThermoBall Jacket. It's a high-value choice that compresses almost as small as the Xenon, and features its own stash pocket. The Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody is also very light (11.18 ounces, size small) and compresses to an incredibly small size, despite not having its own stuff sack. It is lighter and more compressible than the Thermoball, and the smallest of the mobile, breathable jackets tested. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as warm as the Thermoball though. The Patagonia Nano Puff is also very compressible, with a similar weight and size to the Atom LT.

We have our tiny rock packet stuffed with two sets of gear and the ultra-compressive Rab Xenon. This jacket is perfect for long multi-pitch climbs as it is packable and warm. A great insulative layer.
We have our tiny rock packet stuffed with two sets of gear and the ultra-compressive Rab Xenon. This jacket is perfect for long multi-pitch climbs as it is packable and warm. A great insulative layer.

Other jackets that didn't score as high in this category are bulkier or don't compress super small. However, many of these jackets, like the Ortovox Piz will compress to a small size if put into its own stuff sack. The Columbia Heavenly is quite heavy but offers a surprising about of compression when putting into one of these stuff sacks.

It's surprising how small this large jacket gets when stuffed into a sack. Though remarkably compressible  it's still quite heavy.
It's surprising how small this large jacket gets when stuffed into a sack. Though remarkably compressible, it's still quite heavy.

Of the mobile-faced jackets, the Outdoor Research Refuge Air (13.45 ounces) and Patagonia Nano Air (10.50 ounces, size small) do best. The Nano Air is much lighter (10.50 ounces, size small), but the Refuge Air packs to a smaller size. Both feel quite light on the body. The North Face Ventrix 2 (12.65 ounces, size small) is similar in weight but doesn't compress nearly as well as these other two. None of these pack into their own pocket, but roll nicely into their hoods. Since the Refuge Air and Ventrix box have cinch cords on the hood, they work as their own compression system.

The Outdoor Research Refuge Air compresses quite small.
The Outdoor Research Refuge Air compresses quite small.

Jackets that feature a stowaway system include the following:
  • Rab Xenon
  • Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
  • Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
  • The North Face Thermoball Hoody
  • Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody

The rest do not pack into their pockets, but most are relatively compressible.

Comfort & Coziness


Looking to burrow down while the comforts of your coat surround you? In this metric, we look at the comfort and coziness of each jacket. Think fur-lined collars, fleece-lined interiors, those compatible with helmets, and pulls that are easy enough to use with a set of gloves. Some jackets offer the ability to remove different parts, while others don't. We also consider how easy it is to layer underneath the jacket, based on its fit, liner construction, and more.

Contenders that scored the highest in this metric have the best features tested. These insulated synthetic jackets are ones that our testers didn't want to take off, all day long, even after wearing them for weeks.


Hands down, the most comfortable and featured jacket are those constructed by Columbia. The Heavenly Jacket (our Best Buy award winner) is fully loaded with a hi-pile fleece hood and chin wrap that makes burrowing into it during cold weather, super comfortable, and cozy. The Peak to Park doesn't have these features, but it comes with a faux-fur liner for the hood. Both the liner and hood are removable. Both have super soft, stretchy cuffs with thumb loops. While the Heavenly has an Omni-heat liner that makes it very easy layer, the Peak to Park has a baffled design, that also makes it easy to layer. You can easily fit a thinner profile helmet under both of them.

The fleece-lined hood of the Columbia Heavenly makes it one of the most comfortable pieces that we've tested so far.
The fleece-lined hood of the Columbia Heavenly makes it one of the most comfortable pieces that we've tested so far.

Other jackets with a continuous shell and baffled design are quite easy to layer but come with far less featured. Offering sleeping bag-like comfort include the Ortovox Piz Beal and Rab Xenon. Both score high because their fabrics are just cozy and nice to burrow into. They have many functional pockets and features that we love. We also like the North Face ThermoBall and Marmot Avant that have a baffled design, offering you the luxury of burrowing down into it for great comfort. All are easy to layer as the interior fabrics are almost frictionless.

The North Face Thermoball is quite cozy and layers nicely with other bulkier layers.
The North Face Thermoball is quite cozy and layers nicely with other bulkier layers.

Those with a softshell construction have softer fabrics that are nice and stretchy. These offer a different type of comfort, in the form of a tighter fit, but more breathable and soft to the touch fabrics. The Black Diamond First Light Stretch has a thicker construction, less stretchy fit, and offers immense comfort in this category. It's much easier to layer under than the jackets described next. Both the North Face Ventrix Summit Hoody, and Patagonia Nano Puff are also quite comfortable. The Ventrix has more and larger pockets with elasticized cuffs while the Nano Puff has fewer, with tapered cuffs and a shorter fit. The Arc'teryx Atom LT offers similar performance, and is a little more comfortable than both, but with three pockets, instead of four like the Ventrix.

We also love pockets that are soft and large. The super-comfortable cuffs (shown here on the Columbia Heavenly) with built-in thumb loops  are also quite nice.
We also love pockets that are soft and large. The super-comfortable cuffs (shown here on the Columbia Heavenly) with built-in thumb loops, are also quite nice.

Some jackets host many awesome comfort features but aren't as easy to layer. For example, the OR Ascendant has an amazing fleece liner that makes for superb comfort for all-day wear. However, like the OR Refuge Air, its liner isn't frictionless, and it grabs onto bulkier layers, making it harder to pull on in a pinch.

Some jackets simply don't work with backpack straps as the pockets get covered up. That said  the Ortovox (pictured here) is reversible. The other side has a chest pocket  offering storage for when you wear a harness or backpack.
Some jackets simply don't work with backpack straps as the pockets get covered up. That said, the Ortovox (pictured here) is reversible. The other side has a chest pocket, offering storage for when you wear a harness or backpack.

It's important to note that all the jackets in this review are comfortable to wear all day. Some just have cozier features than others. When trying to find your next jacket, be on the look-out for what you prefer. Faux fur? Soft pockets? Slippery liners? You choose.

Weather Resistance


To assess weather resistance, we went outside when mother nature offered soul-crushing weather, and went hiking, skiing, or simply stood out in it. This includes conditions like howling winds, snow, sleet, rain, and more. When bad weather didn't present itself, we sprayed each down in the shower to determine how each piece performed during a simulated heavy rainfall and light sprinkle. After each test, we assessed the fabric to see how it performed and how much water each absorbed after two minutes of being under the showerhead.


Water Resistance
An insulated jacket does not serve as a substitute for a rain jacket or hardshell, but many of the products that we review are treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish. With differences in fabric and stitching, each repels water a little differently. Be sure to carry a shell with you if you intend on using any jacket in especially wet conditions.

The Patagonia MicroPuff is a mid-weight jacket option that stacks beautifully under a layer. A perfect combination when encountering potentially rainy weather while climbing at the end of summer.
The Patagonia MicroPuff is a mid-weight jacket option that stacks beautifully under a layer. A perfect combination when encountering potentially rainy weather while climbing at the end of summer.

The most weatherproof jackets are those with a thicker construction, to cut the wind and a face fabric that beads water and doesn't absorb. Those with more water-resistant shells do the best. Of the jackets tested, the Marmot Avant earns perfect points in this category. When battling out rain and snowstorms, its materials doesn't absorb water and instead wick it away. This is one of the reasons it's our favorite cold-weather belay jacket.

We actually get out in snowy weather! The Nano Air Hoody offers breathable protection on this super snowy day in the mountains of Colorado.
We actually get out in snowy weather! The Nano Air Hoody offers breathable protection on this super snowy day in the mountains of Colorado.

Other thicker jackets like the Columbia Peak to Park and Heavenly Hooded also did amazingly well in these tests. Their thicker materials are impervious to cutting winds. While the shells on these jackets aren't as technical and absorbed more water than the Avant, the material didn't hold the water in our shower tests, once again, offering excellent weather protection. Between the two, the Heavenly offers a little more resistance to the wind, as a result of its Omni-Heat liner, which the Peak to Park doesn't have. That said, the Peak to Park is much more breathable.

Other jackets constructed of a continuous shell like the Ortovox Piaz, do quite well when it comes to cutting the wind and repelling water. The Xenon uses a lightweight Atmos shell material, which is very similar to the Pertex Quantum used in the Piaz. When standing on mountain tops, with sufficient layers underneath, both jackets adequately cut the wind and repelled water. Neither is waterproof, but the thicker nature of the Piaz offers more warmth when wet, which we appreciate. In our shower tests, both repelled water for a whooping 30 seconds (which is good) before absorbing completely. Both absorbed the water within the layers of the jacket, with no water going through the material.

Alison finds a nice rest on this super fun 600 ft multi-pitch rock climb! When in motion  this jacket is perfect  but sitting still  the thinner fabric design is a little bit chilly.
Alison finds a nice rest on this super fun 600 ft multi-pitch rock climb! When in motion, this jacket is perfect, but sitting still, the thinner fabric design is a little bit chilly.

Of the lightweight quilted competitors, the The North Face ThermoBall offers the best weather resistance. Its baffled design allows some airflow, but it does not make it impervious to a sharp wind. It does a better job than both the thinner Patagonia Micro Puff and Patagonia Nano Puff because of its tighter stitching patterns. And, the fabric, when put into the shower test, absorbed little to no water and repelled water effectively, making it much more weather resistant than most.

Finally, it's important to note that more breathable, soft-shelled competitors scored lower than other jacket designs. Thicker jackets like the North Face Ventrix 2 offer a little better wind resistance than thinner designs like the Arc'teryx Atom or Patagonia Nano Air. The Ventrix and Nano Air offered a similar amount of water resistance, keeping the jacket pretty dry after 2 minutes in the shower. The Atom LT (after two years of use) has had the DWR treatment wear off, and more water got through the fabric, absorbing, than these other two jackets.

We start out water tests on this ultra-weatherproof jacket. Two minutes in the shower under full water.
We start out water tests on this ultra-weatherproof jacket. Two minutes in the shower under full water.

The least impressive jackets in this test include the Black Diamond First Light Stretch and the OR Refuge Air. Both jackets offer a DWR treatment that repels water, causing water to bead up on the jacket surface at first. However, just a few seconds in the test, both completely saturated, and even went through all the layers soaking the jacket completely. All the other jackets protected the inside. As a result, we will conclude that these are simply not great for wet weather. That said, both do okay in the face of the wind. The Refuge Air can cut wind much better than the First Light. Make sure you pair both of these with a shell if you're going to get into wet weather.

Breathability


Breathability is an important metric to consider, as it's important to discuss if each model has the affinity to be used for exercise throughout the seasons. The more breathable options we tested typically have softer face fabrics or "breathable panels" that allow ample airflow in high sweat areas like under the arms or the back. A more breathable jacket is better for aerobic activities like hiking or running in cold weather, but can sacrifice warmth and weather resistance as a trade-off. In addition, a more breathable jacket offers the chance for moisture to escape from a layered system, effectively keeping the body drier and warmer in the long run. If you are going to be exercising in an insulated jacket this winter, be sure to prioritize breathability.


The most breathable insulated jackets are those with mobile face fabrics that resemble soft-shell materials. Winning our Top Pick for breathability award this year is the Outdoor Research Refuge Air. It features a thinner design with a mesh-like interior that wicks away sweat and effectively moves it out of the jacket, for great ventilation. The OR Ascendent used to be the award winner in this category. However, given it's thicker face fabrics, lesser warmth overall, and a similar level of breathability, it lost this award. That said, it does offer better protection from water than the Refuge Air, which some might consider more important when looking for a breathable option. Both are perfect for activities like winter running or cross-country skiing.

Here we take a run with our favorite Top Pick for Breathability  the Outdoor Research Refuge Air.
Here we take a run with our favorite Top Pick for Breathability, the Outdoor Research Refuge Air.

The Arc'teryx Atom LT and Patagonia Nano Air are two other breathable, mobile faced jackets that do immensely well in this metric. These offer less warmth than the Refuge Air, or the North Face Ventrix 2 but provide far more breathability. Between the two, the Atom LT is a little more breathable, with fleecy panels down the side of the jacket that wicks away moisture, in addition to a thinner construction that offers moisture regulation through the fabric. If you're seeking a jacket with more warmth and good breathability, be sure to check out the thicker Black Diamond First Light Stretch.

Here we layer the Patagonia MicroPuff as a mid-layer during the descent of Crestone Peaks  a fourteen-thousand-foot mountain in Colorado. During this run-hike  we also were able to strap it to the outside of our pack  and stuff it inside. Perfect for lightweight missions!
Here we layer the Patagonia MicroPuff as a mid-layer during the descent of Crestone Peaks, a fourteen-thousand-foot mountain in Colorado. During this run-hike, we also were able to strap it to the outside of our pack, and stuff it inside. Perfect for lightweight missions!

Other jackets that do well aren't just soft-shelled in design. Those with thinner baffled construction like the Patagonia Micro Puff is a perfect example. While the jacket is loaded with insulation, it is surprisingly breathable, given its thinner and lighter design. We took it fast packing and running in rainy climates like Iceland, and it kept us warm by keeping us dry. Of the baffled (aka quilted jackets) out there, it's by far the most breathable option. The Patagonia Nano Puff has a similar construction and similar performance.

The North Face Thermoball and Marmot Avant are also baffled contenders, but thicker and less breathable. The ThermoBall offers okay breathability, with the Avant offering the least, based on relative thickness.

We find that the Rab Xenon is an okay choice for this wintery hike. It offers warmth and enough breathability for us to keep it on  even when tackling super steep slopes.
We find that the Rab Xenon is an okay choice for this wintery hike. It offers warmth and enough breathability for us to keep it on, even when tackling super steep slopes.

Continuous shell insulated jackets like the Rab Xenon and Ortovoz Piaz also offer okay breathability, as long as it is thin enough. For example, the newest version of the Rab Xenon is thinner than it used to be and offers more breathability than it has before, even though it's comparability less breathable than those with a mobile face construction. The Piaz is more breathable than the Xenon simply because it uses breathable wool insulation in its core, with more options for ventilation throughout its construction.

Style & Fit


As in many of the women's clothing reviews that we do here at OutdoorGearLab, style is an important consideration. We recognize that many women are looking for an insulated jacket with a flattering and feminine fit that will accommodate the length of their torso and arms. More importantly, the fit is probably the most important part of a jacket, and one of the hardest to test and report on. That said, we don't actually score fit, but just score style in this section. We do analyze the fit of each jacket, and with information from the internet, in addition to our own observations, we report on any issues, relative length, and stretch of each.


When considering style, we look at the cut, baffle shapes, fun features (like fur!), stitching patterns, and fabric type. We also note the length of the arms and torso to help our longer-limbed ladies find an insulated jacket that will actually fit you. We then compare and contrast each model to give you a tangible style and fit rating. Those with more stylish features and fit both short and long-limbed testers than those that did not have these features.

A look at the fit and style of this jacket on a 5'6"  145 lb tester with a medium build.
A look at the fit and style of this small jacket on our 5'6"  145 lb  medium build tester.
A look at the great fit and style of this breathable jacket. This is a 5'6"  145 lb  medium build tester.
A look at the fit on a medium-build 5'6"  145 lb tester.

Fit

Many of the insulated jackets provide different fits based on the body types testing them. In this metric, we used some different women to gain an opinion on each piece. Some of these jackets fit tighter than others, while others lend a more versatile fit. Boxier fitting jackets like the North Face ThermoBall and Rab Xenon will offer more room throughout the body, than a slim-fitting piece like the Patagonia Nano Air. Be sure to dig into each review to see the relative fit of each jacket.

Jackets best for those with longer arms:
  • Rab Xenon
  • Columbia Peak to Park
  • Columbia Heavenly
  • Outdoor Research Refuge Air
  • Black Diamond First Light Stretch

It's important to make sure the jacket fits! Be sure to read about each jacket to learn about how it might work for you. The OR Refuge  for example  is longer and great for those with longer limbs.
It's important to make sure the jacket fits! Be sure to read about each jacket to learn about how it might work for you. The OR Refuge, for example, is longer and great for those with longer limbs.

Style

Some women love the outdoorsy look of shiny baffled jackets, while others simply aren't into it. Of the insulated jackets tested, the ones that offer the most versatile style include those made by Columbia. The Heavenly and Peak to Park are heavier but offer super cute designs, colors, and options that most of our testers love.

Featuring a continuous face-fabric  the Arc'teryx Atom LT is one of the most durable jackets tested with built-in breathability features making it a great option for Aerobic endeavours.
Featuring a continuous face-fabric, the Arc'teryx Atom LT is one of the most durable jackets tested with built-in breathability features making it a great option for Aerobic endeavours.

If you don't mind the outdoorsy look, the Arc'teryx Atom LT is one of our favorites. Its many color options, and continuous face fabrics are snazzy, and not too technical looking. The Ortovox Piaz Jacket is another that stands out as it is reversible! You actually get two different color options in one jacket. The colors are bright and stand-out, and the jacket has a slim fit that is a little short in the torso.

More technical pieces like the Patagonia Nano-Air, OR Refuge Air, and North Face Summit Ventrix frequently received reactions like, "Oooooooh! It's so cute". Many of our testers also liked the soft face fabric feel offered by these jackets. They have a variety of styles, so take a look at the pictures to see which you like the best. Other jackets have a technical baffled look, like the Marmot Avant, which makes for a puffed up, but stylish look, great for hitting the town or the trail.

Layered appropriately  even jackets like the Patagonia Micro Puff can provide enough warmth for cold days. Pictured here is our main tester at Glacier Beach in Iceland.
Layered appropriately, even jackets like the Patagonia Micro Puff can provide enough warmth for cold days. Pictured here is our main tester at Glacier Beach in Iceland.

Conclusion


A jacket built with synthetic insulation offers many great advantages, like the ability to stay warm, even when wet. With many options out there, the selection process can be tough. The first step is to decide what you're looking for to help slim down the options. This jacket is an integral part of any woman's outdoor wardrobe, and a big decision like this should be made with care. Enjoy the process, using this guide as a means for finding the best option out there for you.


Amber King