We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

Written By
Updated Aug 12, 2021 8:22 AM

The puffer jacket is the big guns of any backcountry layering system: its first and last job is to keep you warm in whatever conditions you expect to encounter. Now, granted, there are a lot of different types of conditions you can encounter in the outdoors, from sunrise summits to all-day deer hunts to sitting around the fire at camp. To help you choose the best puffer jacket for your next adventure, I’ve narrowed it down the best eight: 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Puffer Jacket

Insulation

The two main types of insulation are down (sourced from geese, or less commonly, ducks) and synthetic. Each has their own pros and cons. 

Down is easily the best insulator out of any of these and provides more warmth for weight than just about any other material used in outdoor gear. If you look at a down feather, you’ll see that it’s made up of innumerable wisps connected to a short shaft. The lack of structure to these feathers creates small air pockets, which trap heat from your body and insulate it from the cold outside air. Down-feather quality is measured by fill power (fp), or how much down it takes to fill one cubic inch of space. For instance, one ounce of 550fp down will fill about nine liters, while one ounce of 900fp will fill almost 15 liters. The Achilles heel of down feathers has always been moisture. When down gets wet, the pockets of air disappear, eliminating virtually all of its insulating properties. In recent years, manufacturers have started using down feathers treated with a water-resistant coating, sometimes referred to as DownTek, but there are several different names. While the water-resistant coating provides some protection, a soaking-wet down coat will not provide anywhere near the same insulation as a dry one. With down products, it’s also worth checking whether the product is RDS (Responsible Down Standard) certified, which helps ensure that no geese or ducks were unnecessarily harmed (such as live plucking). 

The sleeping bags of slumber parties are a good example of synthetic fill. High-end synthetic fill mimics the qualities of down by using short filaments to create pockets that trap body heat. Further, synthetic fill retains heat while wet without the need for additional treatment. The highest quality synthetic fills can approach the insulation-to-weight ratio of 550fp down, but these synthetics also approach the cost of lower quality down. 

Shell Material

Down and synthetics are typically encased by nylon of varying thicknesses, which is measured in denier (D). Most puffer jackets use fabrics between 10D and 30D (although our best ultralight pick pushes the envelope by taking it down to 7D). Polyester, which isn’t as strong as nylon, is sometimes used on the lining of puffer jackets. 

Best Overall: Big Agnes Women’s Luna Jacket/Men’s Shovelhead

Big Agnes

Check Price

Key Features

  • Sizes: Men’s and women’s XS-XXL 
  • Weight: 16 ounces (men’s); 15 ounces (women’s)
  • Fill: 700fp RDS-certified down
  • Shell and lining: recycled 20D nylon shell; recycled 20D polyester lining
  • Hooded only

Why It Made the Cut

This Big Agnes Luna puffer jacket is one of the best values for warmth I’ve ever tried. 

Pros

  • Extremely warm
  • Thumbholes at the end of the sleeves
  • Generous hood and collar 

Cons

  • Heavier than other puffer jackets in my test

Product Description

Where some puffer jackets cut back on down to save weight or to create a more flattering silhouette, the Big Agnes Shovelhead and Luna goes in the opposite direction: it packs it in. In fact, this puffer is packed with so much down that the first few times I wore it wisps would poke out of the shell—something that usually only happens with sleeping bags (don’t worry, this stopped happening pretty quickly). So even though the Shovelhead/Luna isn’t using the fanciest fill power on the market (700fp), it’s using so much of it that similarly priced puffer jackets just can’t keep up. 

With the Luna (the women’s version of this coat), I was never cold during testing, much of which took place during an unusually wet and cold spring in the Pacific Northwest. But there are a few other reasons I keep grabbing for this puffer jacket. The first is a generous hood that would be easy to layer a hat or helmet underneath and a high collar that I could pull up to my nose. It’s worth noting that this extra protection did not obscure my vision at all. It also had thumb holes at the cuffs—something I appreciated while making coffee at dawn on a particularly cold spring day. 

While the Shovelhead and Luna puffer jackets pack down reasonably well, they are significantly heavier than other picks on this list. They weigh about twice the weight of my best lightweight pick. If you’re looking for an ultralight puffer for your next backpacking trip, this might not be the right pick for you, but for serious warmth in the winter and shoulder seasons, this one is tough to beat. 

Best Lightweight: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2

Mountain Hardwear

Check Price

Key Features

  • Sizes: Men’s S-XXL; women’s XS-XL
  • Weight: 8.8 ounces (men’s); 7.8 ounces (women’s)
  • Fill: 800fp RDS-certified down 
  • Shell and lining: recycled 10D nylon ripstop
  • Hooded and non-hooded options available

Why It Made the Cut

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is both tough enough to wear on a thru-hike and light enough to stuff in your pack. 

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Synthetic insulation at the cuffs to prevent wetting out in a drizzle
  • Surprisingly durable for its weight
  • Warm enough for shoulder season and alpine adventures

Cons

  • Expensive

Product Description

Not only was Mountain Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer tough enough to withstand an entire thru-hike of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail, it was still going strong three years later when I headed out on a thru-hike of the 500-mile Colorado Trail. Along the way, it kept me warm in all manner of conditions: predawn starts in the Mojave, 25mph wind gusts in the alpine of the North Cascades, and sudden temperature drops in the Rockies. 

Laura Lancaster wearing the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
Over 3,000 miles in, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer still looks great. Laura Lancaster

Usually I was too tired to be more than marginally careful avoiding the stray branch or brush along the side of the trail that could have ripped the delicate-looking 10D nylon shell; the Ghost Whisperer was fine anyway. (This latest iteration also incorporates synthetic fill at the cuffs—a common place for moisture to sneak in on days when you’re hiking all day in a drizzle). The Ghost Whisperer’s surprising durability also came in handy when it was time to pack it up for the day, its 800fp fill stuffing down into whatever nook or cranny of space was available in my pack. 

Best Ultralight: Norrona Trollveggen Superlight Down 850 Jacket

Norrona

Check Price

Key Features

  • Sizes: Men’s S-XL; women’s XS-L
  • Weight: 7 ounces (men’s); 5.7 ounces (women’s)
  • Fill: 850fp RDS-certified down
  • Shell and lining: recycled 7D nylon
  • Non-hooded only

Why It Made the Cut

The Norrona Trollveggen was so light I almost forgot I was wearing it, while still managing to deliver enough warmth for an early spring turkey hunt. 

Pros

  • The lightest puffer jacket I’ve ever tested
  • Warm enough for shoulder season and alpine adventures (and early turkey hunting) 

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Limited sizing options

Product Description

I thought the Ghost Whisperer was a featherlight coat, but the Norrona Trollveggen takes this to the next level by using an even thinner (7D) nylon shell and an even higher fill power (850fp). This puffer is so light that it literally floats to the ground. But that doesn’t mean that it compromises on warmth at all. On an April turkey hunt in southern Indiana, it kept me warm for hours in 40 degree temps when I was doing nothing more strenuous than leaning against a tree waiting for a gobbler to make an appearance. 

I’m also impressed with the durability of this puffer jacket given its wafer-thin shell—after a month of daily use it looks like new. While I would still take more care when packing the Trollveggen Superlight than with other puffers on this list, I would have no hesitation with taking it on longer backpacking trips or even a thru-hike. 

The only real issue with this puffer is that it runs small (size up if you are in between sizes) and only runs up to a large for women and an extra large for men. 

Best Synthetic: Outdoor Research SuperStrand LT Hoodie

Outdoor Research

Check Price

Key Features

  • Sizes: men’s S-XXXL; women’s XS-XL
  • Weight: 10.9 ounces (men’s); 9.6 ounces (women’s)
  • Fill: polyester
  • Shell and lining: 12D nylon
  • Hooded, non-hooded, and vest options available

Why It Made the Cut

The OR SuperStrand dispenses with traditional puffer baffling to maximize its synthetic fill power. 

Pros

  • Better water resistance than traditional down puffer jackets
  • Durable
  • Roomy fit allows for plenty of layering underneath

Cons

  • Not as warm as other puffers in my test

Product Description

Horizontal baffling has long been the hallmark of the best puffer jackets, as without these compartments, the down fill would bunch together at the bottom—not very effective if you want to keep your upper body warm. But baffling can also limit the warmth provided by puffer jackets, as each of those seams represent a spot where cold air can more easily seap inside the coat. 

The synthetic fill here is a little different. Instead of innumerable wisps forming pockets to trap warm air, the VerticalX SuperStrand insulation is made up of long strands of polyester with pockets along the entire length. There are a few advantages to this. First, you can dispense with much of the baffling, as the longer strands will hold in place better than the small down feathers or their synthetic counterparts. That means fewer cold spots on the coat and fewer fail points in the stitching itself. Also, because there are fewer strands needed in this type of construction, the down is less likely to clump together with continued use.

OR Superstrand Sleeve
The synthetic OR SuperStrand packed in all the puff with half the baffling. Laura Lancaster

In my experience, the OR SuperStrand puffer jacket didn’t live up to its claim of matching the warmth to weight ratio of a 700fp down coat, although its performance seemed to vary depending on conditions. On an early spring hike up 2,000 feet with bluebird skies, it kept me warm without overheating, and when I stopped to eat lunch on an excessively breezy ridge I was just warm enough to not need a layer underneath. On the flip side, I was surprisingly cold wearing this coat on a damp camping trip on the Olympic Coast. This was the general theme during my testing. During active pursuits, this puffer jacket kept me warm down to surprisingly cold temperatures, but when I was stationary the chill crept in faster than I expected. 

This one runs large, so size down if you are inbetween sizes. 

Best for Kids: Big Agnes Kids’ Ice House Hoodie

Big Agnes

Check Price

Key Features

  • Sizes: XXS-XL
  • Weight: 12 ounces
  • Fill: 600fp RDS-certified down
  • Shell and lining: recycled 20D and 30D nylon shell; recycled 20D nylon lining
  • Hooded option only

Why It Made the Cut

With a 30D nylon shell and 600fp down, the Big Agnes Ice House is extremely tough and plenty warm for even the coldest kiddos. 

Pros

  • One of the warmest puffer jackets for kids available
  • Extremely durable
  • Smallest size fits older toddlers

Cons

  • No matching Ice House puffer pants (please?)

Product Description

Finding high-quality outdoor clothing for kids can be challenging, as plenty of pint-sized apparel is built with the idea that you’re going to take a break from your outdoor pursuits now that you’re a parent. But you aren’t, are you? Yeah, me either. So the gear we get for our kids needs to be able to keep up with the gear we already have for ourselves.

Big Agnes Ice House Kiddo
Gotta keep those little ones warm, fed, and hydrated in the great outdoors. Laura Lancaster

That’s what the Big Agnes Ice House is. I’d say it’s like the mini version of my best overall pick—the Shovelhead/Luna puffer jacket—since it shares some basic design similarities, including the generous hood and collar, drop-tail hem, and lots and lots of puff (600fp vs the 700fp of the adult version). But honestly the Ice House might be even better. In the six months my two-year-old has been wearing this coat, it’s been through the wringer: snow, rain, wind, mud, sand, juice spills, pasta dinners. I’ve never washed it. It still looks great. But perhaps most importantly, she likes going outside when she’s wearing it, and she likes wearing it when she’s outside. Now if only I could get her some puffer pants that were of similar quality.

Most Versatile for Hunting: SITKA Kelvin Aerolite Jacket

Key Features

  • Sizes: M-XXL
  • Weight: 16 ounces
  • Fill: Synthetic PrimaLoft Gold Insulation
  • Shell and lining: 20D polyester
  • Hooded only

Why It Made the Cut

The SITKA Kelvin Aerolite is incredibly lightweight, yet warm. And its versatility allows you to wear it as a standalone piece during the early season or a snug layer during the late. 

Pros

  • Packs down to almost nothing
  • Super lightweight
  • Snug fit
  • Cool color/camo pattern options

Cons

  • Soaks up smells

Product Description

Finding a layer that you can consistently stick with for most of the season usually doesn’t happen. But the SITKA Kelvin Aerolite Jacket comes pretty close. It’s light enough to wear as an outer layer in the early season, but I’ve also worn this thing in the snow under a larger shell too. Because it’s such a versatile layer, this jacket stays in my car for the duration of deer and even some of turkey season. And when you’ve got a decent trek to your stand, you can easily roll this jacket up and forget that it’s even in your pack. 

I did notice after a couple of hunts that my jacket didn’t smell the greatest. And I didn’t work up a huge sweat either. So I’ve had to wash this jacket more than my other hunting layers. But if you want a puffer that provides plenty of warmth without the added weight, the Kelvin Aerolite works brilliantly. -Adam Moore

Best Budget: Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket

Uniqlo

Check Price

Key Features

  • Sizes: men’s XXS-XXXL; women’s XXS-XXL
  • Weight: 8.4 ounces for a men’s large
  • Fill: 640fp down
  • Shell and lining: nylon
  • Non-hooded only

Why It Made the Cut

This Uniqlo puffer delivers a surprising amount of performance at a very low price. It’s also lightweight enough to satisfy all but the most demanding gram counters. 

Pros

  • Low cost
  • Lightweight
  • Inclusive sizing

Cons

  • No hooded option
  • Less durable than other picks on this list
  • Some may find its insulation insufficient for shoulder season pursuits

Product Description

The best down puffer jackets can come with high price tags. In some cases, they may cost as much as your backpacking tent or camping sleeping bag. But the Uniqlo Ultra Light Puffer Jacket gets surprisingly close to the performance of the triple-digit puffers at less than half the cost. When I’ve used this coat for summer backpacking, it provided plenty of warmth for evenings and early mornings with temps in the low fifties. It does struggle a bit more with durability—collecting small duct tape patches over time where the shell fabric ripped—but these were generally caused by an errant brush against a sharp stick rather than the failing of the fabric itself. If carefully attended, this puffer jacket will last for hundreds of nights on the trail. 

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.

Q: Is down or synthetic insulation better?

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 best for you. 

Methodology

I have been layering up in the outdoors for over a decade on everything from day hikes to thru-hikes. In that time, I’ve challenged puffer jackets to keep me warm in conditions ranging from single digits with wind chill to the dreaded 33 degrees and drizzling.

Laura Lancaster testing a puffer jacket.
Testing puffer jackets on a cold and windy day along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Laura Lancaster

During this round of testing, I wore the puffer jackets in a wide range of environments, from casual camp days and spring turkey hunts to early-morning summit hikes and trail runs. Conditions ranged from bluebird skies with freezing temps to blasting rain with wind to heavy drizzle with humidity. Puffers were stuffed into daypacks, turkey vests, and even the pocket of my raincoat on one occasion. Where possible I brought multiple puffers with me, to compare how they performed against one another in similar environments. In addition to performance, I also compared fit, sizing, coverage, and features when making my best pick selections. 

Final Thoughts

Despite the impressive inroads of synthetic fills over the last decade, down fill is still the warmest insulation you can find for the best puffer jackets. While the Big Agnes Steelhead/Luna jacket is one of the best values for warmth currently available (and the pint-sized Icehouse is an excellent choice for keeping tots outdoors year round), the Norrona Trollveggen and Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer both impressed me for their weight-to-warmth ratio.