Don’t leave home without a warm winter buddy.
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoodie ($299)
A few years ago, waterproof down and down blends were all the rage as brands worked to improve on the coveted high-loft, but moisture-averse, insulation. This year, companies are debuting a crop of jackets with new types of synthetic insulation that perform as well as down, regardless of the weather. Best of those is the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoodie. The superlight jacket is filled with the company’s brand-new PlumaFill insulation, made of hydrophobic polyester fibers that mimic the structure of down—gossamer tendrils radiating from a central spine. Rather than being blown into baffles like other synthetic down, the PlumaFill is tacked between sheets of ten-denier nylon fabric in long strands, so it won’t shift and create cold spots. Yet the Micro Puff costs $50 less than the company’s cornerstone 800-fill Ultralight Down Hoodie, weighs an ounce less, and is almost indistinguishable in warmth and feel. When you engineer a better, cheaper version of a material as fundamental to gear as 800-fill goose down, that’s an easy winner. 9.3 oz (men’s) / 8 oz (women’s)
Flylow Puma ($275)
Best For: Dropping in.
The Test: The Puma would have cost at least $100 more had Flylow not skipped brand-name waterproof-breathable fabrics and utilized its own instead, but our testers didn’t notice any loss in performance, even when banging out top-to-bottom Tram laps in Jackson Hole. This minimalist shell keeps things simple, light, and streamlined with merely four pockets, but it goes heavy on snow protection with a powder skirt, a hemline that comes down to the top of the thigh, and ergonomic cuffs that can cinch over gloves or under mitts. Last but not least, Flylow outfitted the Puma with the company’s signature large pit zips to dump heat when you’re boot-packing in search of that freshest of lines.
The Verdict: A lightweight, well-priced ski shell at home on-slope or off-piste. 1.4 lbs
The North Face Purist Triclimate ($549)
Best For: Committed ski bums.
The Test: For day-in, day-out skiing, nothing but a waterproof-breathable hard shell will do. The Purist Triclimate is that, yet so much more. The 70-denier Gore-Tex fabric should stand up to seasons of abuse, and the North Face has built in some impressive innovations, starting with the articulation of the entire torso to accommodate a more active downhill stance. (Picture a tighter front, so the jacket doesn’t bunch when you’re crouched, and a looser back that bends with you.) What’s more, the designers snapped in a sweet synthetic insulated vest for extra warmth and versatility. Finally, the chest pockets of both garments align perfectly, so you can get to your gear with less fumbling.
The Verdict: The North Face has raised the bar for ski-shell design. 1.7 lbs (men’s) / 1.3 lbs (women’s)
Strafe Pyramid ($549)
Best For: Riding the Rockies.
The Test: Polartec NeoShell has long been our favorite fabric for shredding drier climes like Colorado and Wyoming—it’s more supple, breathable, and stretchy than the hard shell you’d want closer to the coasts. The Pyramid can handle steam buildup, and the fabric sheds abuse from shouldered skis, making this the perfect coat for lapping the relentless Highland Bowl boot-pack at Aspen Highlands (where Strafe is, not coincidentally, located). Cut from a new, even stretchier, more supple version of NeoShell, the Pyramid and its features prove this jacket is built for serious skiers: huge pit zips dump heat if you do work up a sweat, big chest pockets easily stow a pair of climbing skins, and the powder skirt is removable, to save you a few ounces in a pinch.
The Verdict: Tough, yet tender. 1.8 lbs
Arc’teryx Airah ($599)
Best For: Paring down your kit.
The Test: Arc’teryx found that many of its female team skiers run so cold, they shred full-time in down jackets—even when they’re working up a sweat skinning uphill. This led the designers to build the Airah specifically for women. It’s an insulated shell breathable enough for uphill slogs, thanks to its Polartec Alpha insulation and a two-layer Gore-Tex membrane. But the Airah is also warm and dry enough to slash pow turns without having to swap it out for another layer. One tester was amazed at how well it worked even on Jackson Hole’s notorious 45-minute Glory boot-pack. Not to mention the Airah has two water-resistant pockets for stashing whatever you need. All this plus the legendary (if pricey) Arc’teryx fit and style.
The Verdict: Leave your hard shell at home. 1.3 lbs
Mountain Hardwear Rogue Composite ($450)
Best For: Dawn patrol.
The Test: Two-in-one jackets have traditionally been merely value prospects, but the Rogue Composite couldn’t be more capable. It has two layers—a superlight 8.8-ounce waterproof shell connected to a technical soft shell underneath with four sleek snaps. Both already breathe extremely well, thanks to the soft shell’s zones of Polartec Alpha and even more breathable Naked Alpha insulation. Once you build up steam, unzip the 16-inch-long chest vents on each layer to bring air right to your core. Those vents also double as huge pockets, so you can have quick access to essentials like cameras and climbing skins. Each layer sports great stretch, too.
The Verdict: Witness the reborn two-in-one. 2.2 lbs
686 GLCR Multi ($300)
Best For: Getting a move on.
The Test: The GLCR Multi jacket is cut from Paclite, Gore-Tex’s best combo of waterproofing and breathability. Add to that a pair of extra-long chest vents and you aren’t likely to sweat through this thing, even if your Whistler ski trip includes a rainy day hike near Vancouver, British Columbia. Still clammy even with all that? Then deploy the GLCR Multi’s most innovative feature: a removable interior shoulder strap that lets you drape the coat off your back like a cape. We’ll be the first to admit it sounds weird, but it’s a fast way to dump all your excess heat without shedding your pack—handy when you’re racing tourists for freshies. (But treat the Paclite gently, since what you gain in breathability you lose in durability.)
The Verdict: Fast and efficient in any season. 1 lb
Adidas Outdoor Agravic Alpha Shield Hoodie ($159)
Best For: Going aerobic.
The Test: A superlight shell with a wafer-thin layer of Polartec Alpha insulation on the chest, the Agravic Alpha Shield is an essential for any activity that demands high effort and, more often than not, a lot of sweat: winter running, skate skiing, fat biking, and so on. True, the Pertex Quantum face fabric is breathable but also warm enough that we used the Alpha Shield as an everyday midlayer, relying on it to fend off light wind and snowfall on the skin track before fortifying it with a shell on the summit for the ski down. Bonus points to Adidas for balancing that breathability with enough strength to last you years of day-in, day-out winter fun.
The Verdict: “I can’t imagine next winter without it,” said one tester. 6.3 oz (men’s) / 5.3 oz (women’s)
Black Yak Hybrid ($500)
Best For: Scaling the summit ridge.
The Test: To design the ultimate mountaineering piece, South Korea’s Black Yak stitched together an impressive six types of insulation and fabric to help manage temperature and moisture, from 750-fill down in the torso to stretchy fleece on the hood and even a panel of super-breathable Polartec Alpha running down the spine. The arm baffles get thinner closer to the cuffs, where less insulation and more articulation are needed. But the most noticeable feature: two vertical mesh pockets high on the torso, with a daisy chain of carabiner loops next to each for stashing and clipping all sorts of odds and ends. Every component of this jacket is built out to the nth degree.
The Verdict: A fully featured Frankenstein best kept to the mountains, not town. 1.5 lbs (men’s) / 1 lb (women’s)
Outdoor Research Alpenice ($350)
Best For: Doing it all.
The Test: The Alpenice was originally conceived as a hard-charging piece for a relatively niche pastime: swinging ice tools while winter climbing. But this jacket proved so cozy that it transcended its intended boundaries, and we found ourselves wearing it everywhere—from games of broomball on the pond to runs down the sledding hill. The interior is lined with Polartec’s Alpha Direct, while the face fabric is a mix of wind-resistant soft shell on the torso and waterproof, seam-taped hard shell on the shoulders, hood, and tops of the arms. Thus, the Alpenice is breathable enough for working up a sweat snowshoeing yet will keep you warm while you’re sitting rinkside at a hockey game, not to mention dry if you do decide to break out the ice tools.
The Verdict: The perfect hybrid. 1.2 lbs
Columbia OutDry Ex Eco Down Jacket ($280)
Best For: When snow turns to rain.
The Test: Last spring, Columbia greened up its groundbreaking two-layer, waterproof-breathable OutDry fabric by making it from recycled plastic and removing all traces of PFCs and dyes. Even the zipper pulls, cinch cords, thread, and labels (seen here on the women’s version) are recycled plastic and nylon. For winter, Columbia took its OutDry Ex Eco and filled it with responsibly harvested 700-fill down for a puffy so pure it might as well come with a halo. There are no compromises, though: fabric welding—rather than stitching—keeps precipitation out and away from the down, while interior pockets are perfect for stashing gloves, a beanie, or a snack for the hill.
The Verdict: Get outside guilt-free. 1.5 lbs (men’s) / 1.3 lbs (women’s)
Goldwin Terra Hybrid Down ($499)
Best For: Slope-street crossovers.
The Test: Japanese company Goldwin has been making fashion-forward skiwear for years, and this jacket is as good a choice for trudging through a blizzard on Fifth Avenue as it is for hunkering down on a Big Sky chairlift. The Terra Hybrid Down is a sharp super-puffy with minimal pockets and tabs. Its mixed insulation includes a lofty down-synthetic blend in the torso and panels of plump, warm-even-when-wet PrimaLoft Black Eco at the head and shoulders. It sports a long hem, removable powder skirt, and huge helmet-compatible hood, but the thing that makes this coat the coziest we’ve ever tested is the down-filled, sleeping-bag-style collar that nestles around your neck and seals in every shred of blessed heat.
The Verdict: Try it on and you will want one. We promise. 2.3 lbs
Helly Hansen Point North ($425)
Best For: Brutal cold.
The Test: The Point North is a large, obscenely warm jacket for the diehards to wear while sitting still and riding lifts on those subzero days at Lake Louise. Should you overheat, though, Helly Hansen’s unique H2Flow system will kick in: opening the pit zips allows cool air to flush clean through the holes tucked beneath the baffles on the Point North’s back. It’s like cracking the windows of your SUV if you’ve got your wet dog in the back seat. And it seems like Helly Hansen thought of everything. Some of the other resort niceties include a tethered goggle wipe, wrist cuffs, and a specially designed PrimaLoft-insulated smartphone pocket to preserve your battery life from the juice-sapping cold.
The Verdict: Bells and whistles that really work. 3.2 lbs