For many outdoor enthusiasts, the first sign of snow signals the end of the hiking season.
Winter weather presents numerous challenges: slippery trails, frozen water bottles, and of course the risk of frostbite or hypothermia.
But cold temperatures don’t need to stop you from enjoying your time in the wilderness; you just need the right gear.
An insulated and weatherproof jacket is the most important article of clothing for winter hiking, and will keep you warm, dry, and out on the trail.
Best Winter Jackets for Hiking Comparison
Choosing the Best Jacket for Winter Hiking
A winter hiking jacket needs to be a lot of things: warm, weather-resistant, comfortable, stylish, and hopefully a little durable.
But there are always trade-offs.
A really warm jacket might make you look like the Michelin Man, but at least you won’t get hypothermia.
A really durable and weather-resistant jacket will be made from thicker, more technical materials, so it will probably be a little less comfortable.
And of course, the most flattering jacket is rarely the warmest one.
To choose the best winter hiking jacket, think about where you’ll be using it and what attributes are most important to you.
How Warm Does My Hiking Jacket Need To Be?
That depends on where you live (or where you plan to hike).
If you’re accustomed to trekking the Berkshires in Massachusetts, where it only gets down to the high teens, you won’t need much insulation.
On the other hand, if you’re planning a hike in Alaska’s Brooks Range, your life will depend on having a jacket rated to -20 degrees.
You won’t know how warm a jacket is just by looking at it either, as the design and the quality of the insulation both have a big effect on how you’ll feel in it.
For instance, all down jackets have a fill rating that classifies the quality of feathers used in it.
Jackets with high fill power are highly packable: they compress down to the size of your fist and can be thrown in a backpack when you don’t need them, but will still provide plenty of warmth in sub-zero temperatures.
How Weather-Resistant Should It Be?
Again, it depends on where you intend to wear your jacket.
A packable down jacket makes a fine outer layer if you’re not coming into contact with wet snow or fierce wind.
But more inclement weather will require a tough outer shell that can provide some waterproofing and shield your body from sharp gusts of wind.
The insulation in jackets comes in two varieties, down and syntheti. Down jackets are warm, but become essentially useless if they get wet, because the feathers compress and won’t trap any air.
But synthetic down retains its insulating properties even when wet, so it’s a good option if you need to stay warm in a rainy or slushy climate.
It’s also a good choice if you’re working up a sweat on the trail, because that moisture will also cause a down jacket to lose its insulation.
This helpful video explains in further detail the differences between the two types of insulation.
How Comfortable Can a Winter Hiking Jacket Be?
This is a point of personal preference, but you’ll want to buy the most comfortable jacket that you can.
Lightweight jackets are usually more comfortable than bulkier ones, but you’ll also want to consider how much ventilation they have.
You’ll want to layer as much as possible, so you can take clothes on and off as the situation requires.
Bulkier coats usually have more zippers and drawstrings that can be used to vent some of the heat if you’re working up too much of sweat.
However, they’re often made of less breathable material, which can leave you feeling sticky on a strenuous hike.
Can I Still Look Stylish In It?
If you live in a ski town like Aspen, Breckenridge, or Park City, no one’s going to bat at an eye if you’re wearing technical gear in town.
But for most of us, winter hiking jackets just don’t look right outside of their intended environment - the wilderness.
That’s not to say there aren’t at least a few jackets that could be considered fashionable, though.
The downside is that, like other attributes, being stylish often comes with some tradeoffs.
More fashionable jackets are usually made from bulkier or less weatherproof materials, which tend to be less comfortable.
They also won’t usually be as warm; form-fitting jackets might look good, but a pocket of warm air between your body and the coat is what keeps you warm on a chilly winter hike.
How Tough Should My Winter Hiking Jacket Be?
This requires answering another question:
Are you someone who hikes gently sloping trails with just a dusting of powder on them, or do you prefer to climb steep, technical pitches?
You won’t need much in the way of durability for the former - gently falling snowflakes don’t do much damage – but the latter will require tougher fabrics.
Winter hiking, especially in inclement conditions, involves a variety of sharp objects: microspikes, ice axes, and crampons, not to mention sharp rocks covered in ice.
Packable down jackets are delicate and will be ripped to shreds by that kind of equipment.
If you see yourself getting into rough terrain, consider a jacket with a tough nylon or Cordura shell and save the packable puffy for a mid-layer.
Ready for our review? Okay, let’s do it…!
The Five Best Hiking Jackets For Winter
The Lightline from Mountain Equipment is a great winter hiking jacket for budget-minded consumers who need a warm and somewhat durable jacket but aren’t interested in paying extra for style or packability.
This jacket is made with 675-fill down, which isn’t the highest quality insulation, and that means it’s won’t pack down all that well.
However, it’s still plenty warm enough, and the bulkier insulation keeps the price below $200.
It also utilizes Mountain Equipment’s Drilite fabric, which makes it thicker, more durable, and more water-resistant than the standard down jacket.
It’s not something you’d want to get soaked with slushy snow or wear in a downpour, but it’s enough for hiking in relatively dry climates.
This jacket is also pretty breathable, which makes it a good choice for strenuous hikes where you’re sweating heavily.
While fashion is subjective, the Mountain Equipment Lightline looks like pretty much like every other down jacket you’d see from any of the big outdoor companies.
It looks fine on the mountain, but has a fairly technical appearance.
Choose a neutral color and it might be versatile enough to use as an everyday jacket.
At first look, Fjallraven’s Singi might cause a little sticker shock, as it comes in at close to $600 - more than double what many equally warm jackets cost.
But you’re paying for style with this choice.
The sleek Scandinavian design is something you wouldn’t feel out of place wearing to the office, a restaurant, or any other outing that doesn’t take place on the side of a mountain.
Don’t think that Fjallraven has prioritized form over function, though.
The Singi is an incredibly durable jacket and just as warm as a standard puffy one.
Its thick outer shell can withstand scrapes with tree branches and rocks that would be the end of lightweight coats.
This jacket is also longer than most, covering your hips and keeping them warm with a full 265 grams of 600-fill down.
Unfortunately, the Singi weighs just over four pounds, and really can’t be compressed at all.
The 600-fill down is a little too bulky for a packable jacket, and the thick cotton/polyester shell also prevents it from being stuffed in a backpack.
If you choose to wear this coat on a trek, be prepared to wear it all day.
The Fjallraven Singi is the best hiking jacket for those that don’t need a packable coat but want something that is both stylish and functional.
The Montane Featherlight may look more like a windbreaker than something you’d wear in sub-zero temperatures, but the lightweight (only 1.6 ounces!) and weather-resistant design makes it the perfect choice for ultralight backpackers and those who experience mild winters.
Given how thin this jacket is, you’d assume it wouldn’t be very weatherproof.
But it doesn’t have venting zippers and the fabric isn’t very breathable.
However, it’s lack of openings also makes it incredibly resistant to wind and water. It’s doesn’t really have any insulation beyond the outer shell, but unless the temperatures are below freezing, it should keep you warm while you’re moving.
However, in an effort to shed ounces and use as little fabric as possible, Montane may have made this jacket a little too small.
It rides up at the waist with almost any kind of movement, and it fits snugly.
It might be a good idea to buy a size larger than you normally would so it’s not too restrictive.
Throw this super-lightweight jacket in your pack, but know that it won’t be very comfortable if the trail gets strenuous and you start sweating.
If you buy a larger size than you’d normally wear, you could also wear a wool sweater or fleece as a mid-layer in colder temperatures.
The Patagonia Nano Puff is the classic packable jacket.
It’s lightweight, super warm, and just stylish enough for a technical jacket.
This jacket has a fairly tough nylon liner, making it particularly wind resistant.
It also has a DWR coating, but the excessive stitching used to create its iconic, quilted look also gives water plenty of opportunities to enter the jacket.
The Nano Puff is a trendsetter in the technical down jacket department and looks good as an everyday coat as well.
However, it isn’t the most comfortable coat on the list as it’s not particularly breathable (the shell’s weatherproofing keeps wind out, but it also keeps sweat in), and the loose cuffs let out a lot of valuable heat.
Still, this is a one of the best hiking jackets, providing plenty of warmth and looking good doing it.
If you’re using it for a long trip where the weather could change, bring a weatherproof shell to wear as an outer layer and prevent it from getting wet.
The Xenon X might be the ultimate jacket to throw in your pack. Coming in at just 11 ounces, it will occupy less space than a water bottle and provide you with plenty of warmth.
This jacket’s biggest downside is probably that it’s not very fashionable. Not only is its appearance too technical, but the hood doesn’t even detach.
Out of the jackets reviewed here, the Xenon X has the least versatility when it comes to off-trail use.
It’s also not a great choice for an outer layer if you’re hiking anything but the most spacious trails, as the thin material will almost certainly get damaged if caught on something.
At a little over $200, Rab Xenon X is a great choice for hikers who need a jacket with moderate compressibility and great weather-resistance, and aren’t too concerned about being fashionable in it.
The Best Hiking Jackets?
Any of the coats on the list would make a great winter hiking jacket, but we found the Mountain Equipment Lightline to be superior to the rest.
It’s a happy medium in all of the categories examined without any major downsides; it’s a warm, comfortable jacket that’s stylish enough that you won’t look out of place but still lightweight enough that it could be packed in a backpack.
It’s not the most durable and the weather resistance will be insufficient for places that have very wet snow, but it could be used as a mid-layer with a protective shell on rougher trails.
However, the Nano Puff from Patagonia was a close a second, only missing out on the top spot due to its slightly less breathable design.
It’s a somewhat more stylish jacket, so it could be a good choice for those that want a better looking everyday winter coat.
More budget-minded consumers might want to try the Rab Xenon X. It does have some problems with breathability and isn’t stylish enough to be an everyday jacket, but you can’t beat the price or its incredible packability.
Having a quality winter coat can make or break your hiking experience, so take some time to consider your needs and choose the one that best suits them and fits within your budget.