Women's gear, up first
What is the best synthetic insulation jacket to wear alone or under a shell? Is it better to go with a hooded insulated jacket or non-hooded version? My shell is Arc'Teryx Beta AR, and it has a hood. Jennifer Fort Collins, Colorado
Since your outer layer already has a lid, I'd recommend going hoodless for your mid-layer. I'd also stick with ArcTeryx because most companies design their layering systems to work together, carefully monitoring fabric weights and compositions to make sure you don't sweat, freeze, or suffocate to death. Arc'Teryxs Polartec Hercules ($325, arc'teryx.com), which comes in a hooded and hoodless option, is a beautiful streamlined piece with a long-shag interior fleece that will keep you warm, but will also allow your bod to breathe.
If that's too matchy-matchy, try Cloudveils Sweetwater ($140, cloudveil.com). This jacket, made from plush and cozy shearling fabric with washable suede pocket patches, is almost too cool to be kept under wraps. I'm a sucker for its slightly Western flair.
If you like mustard (the color that is), Helly Hansen's Adara Insulator Jacket ($140, hellyhansen.com) rocks (it also comes in black). With a thin layer of Primaloft insulation, and a fancy elastic band at the bicep, the Adara combines function and fashion.
Finally, check out Oakley's Swerve Fleece ($60, Oakley.com) designed by Olympic silver medalist snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. This 100 percent polyester polar fleece crew isn't technologically revolutionary, but it's light, bright, and was designed to highlight the curves of a lady.