Published Mar. 24, 2021

People have been looking to the animal kingdom for clues on how to keep warm for millennia. Thankfully, we’ve moved well beyond bear skins — but we still owe our warmest technology to waterfowl. The best puffer jackets get their coziness from stuffing that’s either made from or inspired by the fluffy plumage found under the feathers of geese and ducks. The insulation inside puffer jackets works because it traps tiny pockets of air between your body and the elements, so your body heat actually becomes the source of warmth for these coats and jackets. Puffer coats come in a wide variety of styles, but they’re all designed to keep you warm when the weather turns chilly.

Best Down Puffer Jacket: Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket

Best Hooded Puffer Jacket: Flylow Roswell Insulated Jacket

Best Packable Puffer Jacket: Eddie Bauer CirrusLite Down Jacket

Best Lightweight Puffer Jacket: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2

Best Budget Puffer Jacket: RedHead North Port Down Jacket

What to Consider When Shopping for the Best Puffer Jacket

The best puffer jacket for you depends on your intended use and personal preferences. One of the biggest factors to consider is the type of insulation. The two biggies are down (sourced from geese, or less commonly, ducks) and synthetic fills, each with their own pros and cons. Compared to soft shell jackets, down jackets are warmer for their weight, highly breathable, and very compressible, making them ideal for hiking, hunting, and backpacking trips where you’ll probably have to carry them some of the time. But down loses its insulating ability when it gets wet (though you can buy down that’s treated with a water-repellent coating to help with that) and costs more. Synthetic insulation comes in a wide variety of forms, all of which aim to mimic down’s natural air pockets. It’s more affordable and retains its warmth when wet, but it’s bulkier.

If you’re shopping for the best winter jackets, you’ll also want to consider warmth. Puffy coats that are thinner and lighters aren’t as warm as thick, heavy ones. If you’re shopping for down, look at the jacket’s fill power: The higher the number, the more thermally efficient the coat. So, an 850-fill down coat is typically more insulating than a 650-fill coat.

Weatherproofness is another key piece of the puzzle. Some puffer jackets have a waterproof outer shell to protect the insulation, which is convenient for everyday wear. Others don’t, making them more breathable and versatile—but you’ll have to put a rain jacket on over them in bad weather. Think about the features: Do you want a hood (hooded puffer jackets are a lot warmer)? If so, does it need to fit over a helmet? How many pockets do you want? Do you want adjustable hem and cuffs? Finally, consider the fit. A men’s puffer jacket and a women’s puffer jacket shouldn’t have the same shape.

Do You Want a Down Puffer Jacket?

Down puffer jackets are perennially popular for their warmth-to-weight ratio, breathability, durability, and packability. If weight and packed size are a concern because you’ll be carrying the jacket in your backpack on skiing, hiking, or hunting trips, a down jacket might be for you. Down jackets also let body heat escape easily when you’re active, and they last a long time.

Keep in mind down’s biggest weakness when shopping: It collapses when wet, ruining all those toasty little air pockets. That doesn’t mean that you can’t wear one in the rain and snow; you’ll just need to have a waterproof shell jacket at the ready in case of inclement weather. You can also look for hydrophobic down, which has been treated with a water-repellent finish to prevent water from ruining its fluffiness (though it will eventually get wet).

Best Down Puffer Jacket: Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket

Versatile Coziness

This do-it-all down puffer jacket strikes the perfect balance of warmth, weight, and price. Cotopaxi

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Stuffed with lofty, 800-fill goose down and weighing less than a pound, this hooded puffer jacket is a great choice for most activities. The lightweight nylon fabric has a durable water repellent treatment for light precipitation, and it has four pockets (two hand pockets and two inner ones) and a hood. The understated stripes look great on the mountain or around town.

Do You Need a Hooded Puffer Jacket for the Worst Weather?

If you need protection from rain, snow, wind, and extreme cold, then look for parka-style outerwear with extra weatherproofing. Some insulated jackets have a waterproof/breathable membrane between the outer shell and the puffy stuff, making them ideal for skiing, hunting, hiking, or just walking the dog when the weather turns nasty. These membranes keep water out but allow body heat to escape, keeping you from sweating (too much) when you’re active. A durable water repellent treatment on the shell adds to the waterproofing. The all-in-one style of this kind of coat is convenient when you don’t want to mess around with separate layers, but be aware that they’re less versatile for that reason as well.

Make sure your bad-weather jacket has weathertight features, too. A hood is a must for cold weather: They retain a surprising amount of heat, keep cold breezes from sneaking down your neck, and protect your head and face from the elements. Waterproof zippers or zippers with a protective flap add coverage, and adjustable cuffs and hems let you cinch them down to keep out wind.

Best Hooded Puffer Jacket: Flylow Roswell Insulated Jacket

Waterproof Warmth

The Roswell is a shield from snow, rain, and cold, thanks to a membrane and midweight insulation. Flylow

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Designed for cold-weather outdoor activities like skiing and snowboarding, this hooded puffer jacket keeps you warm with a medium-weight synthetic fill and dry with the brand’s Intuitive waterproof/breathable membrane. The protective hood works with a helmet, and there are seven zippered pockets to store snacks, gloves, and keys.

Do You Need a Packable Puffer Jacket for Hiking or Travel?

Whether you’re exploring the wilderness or the airport, a huge, bulky winter coat is overkill. A packable puffer jacket is a much better option, as you can easily stuff it into a backpack or suitcase when you’re not wearing it. The best ones will also be warm enough to keep you cozy when you do need to put it on.

Down puffer jackets reign supreme in the packability department, as the fluffy plumage can be compressed into a small package yet still loft up when unpacked to capture a surprising amount of warmth. Some synthetic insulations do a good job of mimicking down’s compressibility, too, so don’t rule them out for a bargain option—but ounce for ounce, down will be the very best pick.

Best Packable Puffer Jacket: Eddie Bauer CirrusLite Down Jacket

Warm and Light

This down-filled midweight jacket hits the sweet spot between packability and coziness. Eddie Bauer

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Ideal for travel and moderate to high activity levels thanks to its 650-fill down insulation, this Eddie Bauer jacket weighs less than 10 ounces and packs into an included storage pouch. A durable water repellent finish on the nylon shell adds a touch of weather protection, and the medium cut fits over mid layers in colder weather. There’s no hood, but the stand-up collar protects your neck.

Do You Need a Lightweight Puffer Jacket for Backcountry Trips?

The farther you stray from civilization, the lighter you’ll want your pack to be—after all, you’ll have to carry every ounce, mile after mile. That’s where an ultralight puffer jacket comes in. Even though such jackets pack very small and weigh about half a pound, the ones with higher-fill power down still provide significant warmth. Their light weight also adds to their breathability.

Lightweight puffer jackets are best used as part of a layering system, since they’re not the warmest options on their own. In combination with a base layer and mid layer underneath, and perhaps a waterproof shell on top, though, they work well for all but the coldest excursions. And in milder weather, they’re ideal to pack on their own for cool camp evenings or unexpectedly chilly days.

Best Lightweight Puffer Jacket: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2

Ultralight and Planet Friendly

This airy down jacket features recycled fabric and responsibly-sourced feathers. Mountain Hardwear

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Need a truly lightweight puffer jacket? At less than 8 ounces, the Ghost Whisperer/2 is one of the lightest puffer jackets out there. Its 800-fill down boosts warmth, and a relaxed fit makes it great for wearing over other layers. It also boasts eco-friendly bona fides: 100-percent recycled nylon face fabric and lining and certified down fill.

Are You Looking for a Budget Puffer Jacket? Here’s What You Can Find for Under $65

Premium insulated jackets can get pricey. And if you’re not taking it on extended wilderness tours or into harsh mountain conditions, why shell out for all the bells and whistles? A cheap puffer jacket will still keep you warm on walks around town, to work or school, or even on shorter hikes. Cheap puffer jackets often keep costs down by using lower-quality insulation, be that lower-fill power down, duck down instead of the higher-quality goose down, or synthetic fill. They might also be less durable and packable than more expensive options, and could lack adjustable features.

Best Cheap Puffer Jacket: RedHead North Port Down Jacket

Cozy Value

This streamlined puffer has useful features and moderate warmth for $65 or less. RedHead

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Stuffed with 650-fill duck down, the North Port down jacket offers midweight warmth and light weight (the lack of a hood keeps both weight and price lower). There are four pockets (two hand pockets and two inner ones), and the elastic cuffs and hem aren’t adjustable but still help seal off drafts.

FAQs

Q: What is the warmest puffer jacket?

Essentially, the warmest, best puffer jacket is the one with the most insulation. That insulation could be synthetic fill — and a lot of it — or high-loft down. A jacket with 900-fill down or higher will be one of the loftiest options out there. But also take note of the amount of insulation; Even a super-high fill power won’t deliver maximum warmth unless there’s a lot of the down stuffed in the jacket.

Q: Should puffer jackets be tight?

Short answer: No. Puffer jackets should not be tight. Puffy jackets are warm because the insulation inside of them traps warm air against your body. If your jacket is too tight, you might compress some of those air pockets, compromising the warmth. Puffer jackets also work well as part of a layering system that includes a base layer and sometimes a midlayer underneath them for versatility. So, you’ll often want a puffer jacket that has a cut that’s relaxed enough to fit over multiple layers. But that doesn’t mean you want a baggy fit, either: Aim for a comfortable cut that will also fit under a waterproof shell if necessary.

Q: When should you wear a puffer jacket?

You should wear a puffer jacket in cold weather — but not always. If you’re doing something very active, such as cross-country skiing or trail running, even in very cold weather, a puffer jacket will likely be too warm. But if you’re hiking at a moderate pace, sitting in a treestand, or relaxing at camp, a puffer jacket will make you comfortably toasty. It’s a great idea to pull a puffy coat out of your pack to wear during breaks in cold-weather activities, too. It’s much easier to stay warm than to get warm.

The Final Word on Shopping for the Best Puffer Jacket

The best puffer jacket is the one that keeps you comfortably warm for your intended activity. Beyond that, you’ll need one that fits your budget, has the features you need, and the proper weight. Consider a synthetic jacket for a more affordable option, or a down jacket for maximum warmth-to-weight ratio and packability. Look for a waterproof shell and/or hydrophobic treated down if you expect to be out in wet conditions, and a lightweight one if you’ll be very active or you need a coat for milder weather.

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