Backcountry.com - Insulated Jacket Guide
Jacket Guide: What’s all the puff about?by Adam Riser
A few years ago it would have been unlikely to see a down or synthetic jacket anywhere but on a mountaineering trip. Today’s puffy jackets have invaded slopes, crags, campsites, and cities all over the world, taking the place of ski shells, fleece layers, and even cotton hoodies. Though the debate between down and synthetic insulation rages on, both forms have high warmth-to-weight ratios which eliminate the need for multiple layers in cold temperatures. Puffy jackets have become niche pieces with specialized designs for many different applications. Find the right jacket for the job, and you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.
Ski and Snowboard Jackets: Do you find yourself wrapped in four layers of insulation on the coldest days of the season? One of these jackets gives you the same amount of warmth when you wear it over nothing more than a short-sleeve polyester T-shirt. Ski and snowboard jackets generally have tougher shells than other puffies because they need to stand up to the abuse of tumbling crashes, ski and snowboard edges, and glade runs. Many of these jackets include powder skirts and water-resistant or waterproof materials to keep you (and the insulation) dry on the slopes.
Casual Puffy Jackets: Mountain-born technology has been infiltrating the cities for years, and puffy jackets are no different. You’re just as likely to see a down- or synthetic-insulated jacket on a city sidewalk as you are on a winter trail. All the same advantages apply. A puffy jacket keeps you warm without the need for tons of layers. With all the styles and quilted variations, you’re sure to find a look that you just can’t live without.
Lightweight Puffy Jackets: These minimalist jackets, often no thicker than an average fleece, serve a variety of purposes on backpacking, skiing, alpine climbing, and even extended bike trips. They act as midlayers, outer layers, and rest-stop insulation—all for less weight than most midweight fleece tops. Oh, and they don’t make you look like a lard ass.
Cragging, Camping, Everyday Puffy Jackets: Just about every climber or backpacker has a puffy jacket that falls into this category—usually accented with duct tape patches and coffee stains. This jacket goes over all your layers and even your shell. Pull this jacket from your pack when you’re belaying a friend during a cold fall day in Indian Creek or hanging out at a chilly campsite.
Belay Jackets: Ice climbing, alpine climbing, and mountaineering call for warmth above and beyond the standard. These jackets usually have first-class high-loft down or synthetic insulation because weight is such an important consideration in the mountains. You generally don’t wear one of these jackets when you’re actually doing the climbing, but you better have one to pull on when you stop for a break on a high ridge or have to belay your partner for an hour while he battles a steep ice pitch. Belay jackets usually include oversized hoods that fit over a climbing helmet, waterproof/highly water resistant shells, and a large internal pocket to hold your gloves until the next pitch.
Expedition Jackets: The puffiest and warmest down and synthetic jackets fall into this category. These are the giant insulated coats that you would use on an expedition to the high Himalayan peaks, Alaska in bad weather, or the North or South Pole. If you wear one of these jackets on anything less, you’ll be so hot that spontaneous combustion will be more of a concern than frostbite.