A light, packable puffy might be the most versatile layer ever. Not only can you get incredible warmth out of a monster down jacket, but you can get it in an extremely small, compressible package. Whether you’re looking for something to carry to the top of a mountain, something you can workout in, a warm coat to run errands in, or something you can jam into your carry-on for a hike on your next work trip, a puffy can get it done for you.
Puffy jackets come in a slew of different varieties but the biggest breakdown within the category is what insulation is filling it. Traditionally, down feathers reign supreme. The natural material is incredibly light, compressible, and warm — to a degree that humans really haven’t been able to reproduce. Synthetic insulation, while often not quite as light or compressible at the same warmth as a down coat, is incredibly durable and stands a better chance in damp environments where a lot of down will wet-out. Manufacturers also have an easier time using synthetics in smaller quantities than down, which means it works better for jackets that need to be more breathable.
Regardless of your insulation of choice, these are the best puffies out there today, no matter what you need it to do.
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With a sweater-weight amount of high-quality 800-fill down and Mountain Hardwear’s staple super-thin Ghost Whisperer face fabric, this jacket has cemented itself as one of the lightest fully-featured jackets ever, at only 8.8 ounces, making it perfect for jamming into your pack when weight and space are at a premium (like alpinists of thru-hikers). And it somehow doesn’t skip on features either: The snug hood is super warm, and the jacket comes with two handwarmer pockets, a water-resistant treatment, and an adjustable drawcord hem.
The North Face’s Summit L3 50/50 Down Hoodie uses slightly more down than the Ghost Whisperer, but it also uses a unique baffle construction, letting the down-filled tubes hang off the face fabric like flaps on the inside of the jacket. The result is that as you move and the baffles adjust, hot air can escape, preventing you from overheating but keeping you warm when you need it. Not to mention the whole jacket still packs down smaller than a football.
This Feathered Friends Khumbu Down Parka borrows its name from the icefall below Mount Everest, which is a legitimate place you could take this massive puffy. Filled with 900-fill down (which means it’s especially packable and warm for its weight), the Khumbu has seen some of the coldest mountain summits all over the world and has held its own down as low as -40 degrees. A wind and water-resistant face fabric keeps the elements at bay and pockets on the inside are large enough to keep water bottles or gloves warm.
Patagonia’s Micro Puff Hoody uses proprietary synthetic insulation that comes startlingly close to replicating the loft and airiness of down but improves on its durability and water resistance. That makes this jacket a jack of all trades, working great as a light layer under warmer jackets on really cold days, or as a puffy on its own on cooler summer nights (and as a great, versatile travel layer). Plus it packs down into its own pocket, is water-resistant, and hides behind a durable outer face fabric.
The Polartec Alpha insulation tucked into the super-thin Stio Alpiner Hooded Jacket is a wonder: When you’re not moving, it’s a capable insulator on its own in mild temps, and layers well under warmer jackets. But when you’re working, the synthetic insulation allows the moisture and heat from your body to pass right through, keeping you regulated and comfortable even when you’re sweating up a storm.
Sure, down is notoriously finicky in wet weather (a lot of down today has been treated to shed moisture better, though it’s still not as resilient as synthetics). One solution to that problem is by putting a more durable, water-repellent fabric on the outside. The Montbell Permafrost Down Parka features Gore Windstopper, which means you can take the jacket out on the windiest days and feel protected. It’ll even manage water better than the other jackets on this list, without losing out on the packability and weight savings of down.
You’re probably buying a puffy because you want to be warm without a super heavy jacket. The compromise here is that many puffies, especially down ones, use a relatively light and delicate face fabric to keep it all together. The Black Diamond Vision Down Parka answers that by coating its face fabric in a liquid crystal polymer ripstop which adds enough durability to let you hike off-trail through the trees with the jacket. Then, if you do punch a hole in the jacket somewhere, the beefed-up material will prevent it from tearing like another jacket would.