A quality puffer jacket is an outdoor fitness essential. It will keep you warm and dry on brisk hikes and backpacking treks and even offer a handy spot to store your snacks and personal items.
Plus, puffer jackets are timeless. Buy one today, and odds are you'll still be wearing it five years and hundreds of miles from now. They're also versatile: Puffers are just as at home in the supermarket as they are on the trail.
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Still, they're an investment piece, with some costing a few hundred bucks (or more). When you're spending that kind of money, it's a good idea to do some research to make sure you're buying the absolute best puffer jackets for your needs.
Luckily for you, we've done some of the legwork already. Check out these recommendations, backed by outdoor professionals and athletes. Plus, tips on how to pick the right insulation type, weight and more.
How We Chose
We talked to outdoor pros and athletes about the puffer jackets they personally use and can recommend, and narrowed down their choices according to the following criteria:
Most companies make and market jackets according to gender, so we have listed both women's and men's puffer jackets below. The main difference is the fit. However, materials, quality and comfort should be the same between gender-labeled pairs. Choose whichever fit feels best to you.
1. Best Overall: Montbell Superior Down Parka
- Weight: 8.6 oz (men); 7.3 oz (women)
- Material: Nylon ripstop (shell); 800 fill down insulation
- Hooded: Yes
This jacket has been the go-to for Wesley Trimble, communications and creative director for the American Hiking Society, for the past decade. "And it's been with me for thousands of trail miles," he says.
While advertised as a "parka," this puffer is shorter (hits at the hips) and more lightweight than traditional parkas. It's also packable, offers two zippered hand pockets (plus an internal pocket for storing extra snacks) and features a two-way adjustable hood to customize the brim height and fit around the face.
2. Best for Hiking: Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
- Weight: 11.9 oz (men); 10 oz (women)
- Material: Recycled polyester (shell); recycled PrimaLoft Gold Insulation
- Hooded: No
The best puffer jacket for hiking, the Patagonia Nano Puff checks all your trekking-need boxes.
For one thing, it's a three-season jacket that you can wear with other layers, says Jack Nguyen, owner and founder of outdoor gear review site Rep The Wild. It's also lightweight-but-warm, waterproof and wind-resistant and offers plenty of pockets for storing energy bars, keys and other hiking essentials.
Plus, the internal zippered chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack in case you need to pack the jacket away.
3. Best for Backpacking: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Jacket
- Weight: 6.9 oz
- Material: Recycled ripstop (shell); 800 fill down insulation
- Hooded: No
When you have to schlep all your camping gear for miles on end, a bulky jacket is the last thing you need. Thankfully, this puffer jacket is extremely lightweight (it only weighs 6.9 ounces) and packable — making it the best puffer jacket for backpacking.
"It's my go-to for backpacking and the real world," says Kirstie Mullikin, a guide with Explorer Chick, an outdoor adventure travel guide company for women. Simply pull it on when temps drop and then stow it in its own pocket when not in use. Attach it to your hiking backpack with the internal carabiner clip loop so it's always on hand when you need it.
4. Best Heavyweight: Rab Neutrino Pro
- Weight: 1 lb 5.3 oz (men); 1 lb 1 oz (women)
- Material: Pertex Quantum Pro (shell); 800 fill down insulation
- Hooded: Yes
This heavyweight puffer is a popular pick for extreme temps. It features medium-weight down insulation and a light shell that's windproof and water-resistant, keeping you cozy during the coldest hikes and commutes. An adjustable hood, hem and cuffs offer added warmth-trapping perks.
And like many lighter options, the jacket packs down into a stuff sack when needed.
5. Best Budget: Amazon Essentials Lightweight Puffer Jacket
- Weight: 12.31 oz (men); 11.22 oz (women)
- Material: Nylon and polyester (shell); polyester (fill)
- Hooded: No
It may not be the most technical option on the market, but our pick for a budget puffer jacket boasts some great features, especially for the price: "It's warm and does a good job breaking the wind," Nguyen says.
Other features include zippered hand pockets, a stand-up collar and elastic-band cuffs. This puffer also packs neatly into a drawstring-closure carrying bag (included).
6. Best for Style: The North Face 1996 Retro Nuptse Jacket
- Weight: 11.34 oz (men); 8.16 oz (women)
- Material: Ripstop (shell); 700 fill down
- Hooded: Yes (stowable)
If you want to inject a bit of style into your puffy, it's tough to beat this retro piece. After all, this design has been an icon in the outdoor industry for decades, Trimble says. The best-selling men's and women's puffer jacket is also available in a variety of statement-worthy color combinations if you're ready to break free from basic black.
But don't worry, you'll still get all the features you need for your outdoor adventures, including zippered hand pockets, 700 fill down insulation, a water- and wind-resistant outer shell and stowable hood.
7. Best Lightweight: Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
- Weight: 11 oz (men); 9.9 oz (women)
- Material: Nylon (shell); 850 fill down insulation
- Hooded: Yes
This hooded jacket packs serious warmth into just 11 ounces for the men's version, making it warm and light enough for thru-hiking (an end-to-end backpacking trek on a long-distance trail), Nguyen says. It offers an insulated hood, zippered hand pockets, integrated stuff sack and a moisture- and wind-resistant outer layer.
While it's designed as a mid-layer, this puffer's slim fit and cozy insulation also make it an effective standalone layer for short hikes.
5 Things to Consider When Shopping for Puffer Jackets
1. Insulation Type
Puffies primarily come with one of two types of insulation: down and synthetic.
More durableEasy to compress /pack
ExpensiveDoesn't stand up to moisture
Stands up to moisture
Less easy to compress/pack
FYI: "A few companies make hybrid jackets that use synthetic in places that are most likely to get wet," Trimble says.
2. Warmth-to-Weight Ratio
The warmth of a puffer jacket is determined by the quality and the amount of insulation. "Without getting too technical, the quality of down is measured by its loft measured by fill power," Trimble says.
Fill power typically falls between 500 to 1,000 — the higher the number, the warmer the jacket will be for its weight. So, a jacket with 4 ounces of 800 fill will be warmer than a jacket with 4 ounces of 650 fill.
"The first puffy I ever bought was 650 fill, and I was disappointed with the warmth-to-weight ratio and packability," he says. While higher-quality down will cost more, you'll get a warmer jacket with less bulk.
"I encourage hikers to look at jackets with 800 fill or greater," he says.
The higher the fill, the warmer the jacket.
Whether or not you go with a hood may depend on the typical weather conditions and what you plan to use the jacket for. However, when in doubt, it's generally a good idea to get the hood: "I've had jackets with and without [hoods], but hoods make jackets more versatile, warmer, and help keep out drafts," Trimble says.
If you're worried a hood will add unnecessary bulk when layering, look for a jacket with a low-profile or stowable hood.
To get the most bang for your buck, opt for a puffer jacket you can use year-round. This means finding a puffer you can layer when temps drop. "For hikers and other active users, regulating the body temperature in cooler conditions is critical," Trimble says.
"When it comes to layering, I discourage hikers from buying a really heavyweight puffy for general uses, because it's hard to manage heat with a really thick layer," he says. Instead, look for a jacket you can wear with a long-sleeve shirt during spring and fall activities and warmer layers (like a base layer, fleece and/or heavier shell) in the fall and winter.
Save the thick puffy for low-intensity activities like ice fishing and more extreme weather conditions, Trimble says.
Two pockets to keep your hands warm and store small objects (think: your phone) is all you really need, Nguyen says.
That said, internal zipper pockets can come in handy for keeping items super secure or if you need extra storage space for snacks.