Just a few years ago, no expert skier or boarder would dream of wearing an insulated jacket off piste. Even women (who typically run colder than men) couldn’t wear them for anything but easy groomer laps. The fabric was too stiff, the cut too confining, and the insulation too bulky and hot to handle tree runs, powder laps, and bootpacks.
But that’s all changing. Synthetic insulation is getting lighter, more compressible, and more breathable, and companies are starting to exploit those features in insulated jackets that actually keep pace with aggressive skiers.
“Honestly, we prefer insulated jackets and pants for hiking Highland Bowl,” says Pete Gaston, a ski mountaineer who co-founded Strafe, an outdoor apparel company based in Aspen, Colorado. Most puffy midlayers aren’t very breathable: wear one of those beneath an uninsulated shell (as many skiers and boarders do), and you’ll soak yourself in sweat. Once you’re wet, you’ll get cold. Strafe’s approach to this challenge was to integrate super-breathable insulation under a stretchy Polartec NeoShell outer fabric that’s supple, breathable, and not stiff.
Strafe Cloud Nine ($495)
That hike-ready combination makes the women’s Cloud Nine Jacket practical for cold-weather powder missions. Yes, it’s got the R-value (read: insulation) you want during zero-degree chairlift rides. But it’s far from bulky, with super thin Polartec Alpha insulation sandwiched inside—no baffles needed. It doesn't stifle during strenuous powder laps through the trees either: Alpha was originally designed for the U.S. Special Forces, which asked for the fastest-drying insulation that science could produce. Sweat breezes right through this stuff.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t overheat in it. Sometimes, opening the collar and pit zips still can’t vent all the fire and moisture of a full-tilt effort, but that’s true of uninsulated hardshells, too. This one’s no clammier—just warmer—so it’s perfect for ripping women who need a boost of warmth on resort days.
Flylow Daphne ($420)
Outrageously soft, stretchy fabric makes the Flylow Daphne feel lighter and less confining than most insulated jackets, and 80 grams of Primaloft Eco insulation delivers warmth without the lead-jacket weight. In short: it’s comfy during hard-charging pow patrols.
Helly Hansen Powderqueen ($375)
Primaloft Silver insulation makes the Helly Hansen Powderqueen less bulky than most insulated models, and its H2 Flow venting system keeps you from feeling smothered during sweaty sessions. As you move, mesh-backed panels in the back funnel out heat and moisture.