Gear Guy

What Are the Best Insulated Vests?

I’m looking forward to spring skiing—and to staying comfortable without a heavy jacket. What do you recommend for those days when a hardshell is overkill?

Bob Parks

Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.

Whether stuffed with goose down or synthetic insulation, the classic insulated vest is a versatile tool in any cool-weather wardrobe. Vests make a good outer layer on warm ski days, and they function as a midlayer under a shell in bitter, windy weather on the mountain. Either way, they’re no hassle to pack.

Our favorite vests all weigh under 10 ounces and stuff into one of the hand pockets of the vest itself. That means you can carry the pouch in your pack during the rest of the year. Pull it out to make breakfast on chilly mornings on the trail, or when the campsite is winding down at the end of the day, or anytime your core temp needs a bump.

L.L. Bean Ascent Packaway
Outdoor Research Men’s Transcendent
Mountain Hardwear Nitrous
The North Face Women’s Blaze

The Best Insulated Vests: L.L. Bean Ascent Packaway

LL Bean Ascent Packaway insulated vests outside gear guy bob parks
L.L. Bean Ascent Packaway. (Courtesy of L.L. Bean)

We found an old L.L. Bean insulated vest at a swap meet last year, and we haven’t taken it off since. This updated version, the Ascent Packaway, uses the synthetic insulator Primaloft One, a 60-gram microfiber that dries fast and stays warm when you sweat. The treated nylon in the shell sheds water and blocks wind, and an elastic cord cinches the hem close to you on blustery days. Use it under another jacket or alone for chilly days on the trail.

WEIGHT: 10 ounces
PRICE: $89

The Best Insulated Vests: Outdoor Research Men’s Transcendent

Outdoor Research Mens Transcend insulated vests outside gear guy bob parks
Outdoor Research Men’s Transcendent. (Courtesy of Outdoor Research)

Like all the vests here, Outdoor Research’s Transcendent packs into a small sack, but it has some of the more technical features of the company’s beefier jackets. An internal flap inside the zipper blocks wind, and the 650-fill down provides great insulation. A brushed-tricot band makes the collar more comfortable when belaying or performing other stationary activities in the cold. Nice features include the chest pocket and the carabiner loop that hangs from the stuff sack. The vest runs large, so size accordingly.

WEIGHT: 9.4 ounces
PRICE: $140

The Best Insulated Vests: Mountain Hardwear Nitrous

Mountain Hardwear Nitrous insulated vests outside gear guy bob parks
Mountain Hardwear Nitrous. (Courtesy of Mountain Hardwear)

A layer of high-density 800-fill goose down in Mountain Hardware’s Nitrous vest gives it a great warmth-to-weight ratio. Like all the vests here, it chinches at the waist to keep out blowing air and stows in a sack made from one of the hand pockets.

WEIGHT: 9 ounces
PRICE: $175

The Best Insulated Vests: The North Face Women’s Blaze

The North Face Women’s Blaze outside gear guy bob parks insulated vests
The North Face Women’s Blaze. (Courtesy of The North Face)

The lightweight Blaze from The North Face uses 60-gram polyester insulation for warmth that dries fast in wet conditions. In addition, The North Face’s own FlashDry treatment in the insulation wicks away sweat for added comfort and warmth. The newest edition of the Blaze for women has a more fitted look with all the same features as the men’s version: zippered pockets, integrated stuff sack, and a weight that’s one of the lightest in the category.

WEIGHT: 7 ounces
PRICE: $130

promo logo