With six years of expertise analyzing the best insulated jackets for women, we've purchased and tested over 38 different models. This update for 2020 features 14 of the market's best and brightest. Our globetrotting testers have worn them all over the world while sailing over the North Seas, climbing big walls in the desert, and slaying many backcountry miles. We've spent hundreds of hours analyzing performance differences between each product. We take them into the shower, weigh them out, and assess key craftsmanship features. With all this information, we offer you the best-unbiased recommendations to help you find your next cozy and fashionable insulated jacket.
The Best Insulated Jacket for Women of 2020
Best Overall Synthetic Jacket
Ortovox Swisswool Piz Bial - Women's
The reversible Ortovox Piz Bial stands out as an exceptional wool-insulated jacket that touts versatility. Not only does it give you two jackets in one nifty package, but it offers great functionality for hiking, backpacking, skiing, and more. The exterior shell is continuous, offering fantastic wind resistance. The insulation doesn't feel ample to the touch, but it's quite warm. The jacket is also breathable, making it functional for both the coffee shop and your ventures into the mountains.
While we do love this jacket, it's not our go-to for lightweight missions that require a super compressible jacket. While we can stuff it easily into a stuff sack, it can't be compressed into its own pocket. The sticker price is also high, but you do get two jackets in one versatile package.
Read review: Ortovox Swisswool Piz Bial - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Columbia Heavenly Hoody - Women's
The Columbia Heavenly Hoody is a 100% polyester hooded jacket that features a thicker construction that'll keep you warm through the coldest days of winter. The shell cuts the wind and repels rain and snow, offering nice protection throughout the cold months. We prefer it as our outermost jacket, as it offers plenty of room for layering. The smooth interior layers easily and offers great comfort! We absolutely love the hi-pile fleece hood that offers immense comfort throughout the season. To top it off, it's affordable, with the jacket (without the hood) offering the best value. It has many of the same features, with removable attributes, and is also a wonderful low-priced option to consider.
Unfortunately, with a thicker and more protective construction, breathability and compression is an inherent trade-off. We did not experience any durability issues, but the stitching could be improved upon.
Read review: Columbia Heavenly Hoody - Women's
Best for Compressibility
Rab Xenon Hoodie - Women's
The Rab Xenon once again dominates the competition with its lightweight, protective, and compressible performance, winning an award for the fifth year in a row. It offers an amazing warmth to weight ratio and is built for any kind of ultralight mission; it's our top choice for long overnight fastpacking missions and long multi-pitch climbs. The continuous shell is windproof and offers great water resistance. Wear it on its own in cool weather, or add it to your layered outfit for insulative warmth when the weather deteriorates.
It's hard to find caveats with this jacket, but if we had to scrutinize, the boxy fit isn't the most flattering, and the shell doesn't offer much breathability or venting capabilities. The newest update does have a more breathable face fabric, but you'll find yourself getting hot if you're hiking uphill. Despite these minor imperfections, we love this coat for fast and light missions throughout the year.
Read review: Rab Xenon - Women's
Best for Warmth
Marmot Avant Featherless Hoody - Women's
The Marmot Avant Featherless is a popular jacket that we have just had the pleasure of testing and is a favorite for its immense amount of warmth and weather protection. The baffled design houses 100% synthetic insulation that is quite airy. It can compress and offer the same amount of warmth as a 700-pile down coat! During our tests, it kept us the warmest of any of the jackets, with the best overall performance for this metric. It offers excellent compression and has a plethora of uses for cold weather. Use it as your next belay jacket or as a warm coat option.
While we absolutely love it, it's not our first choice if you're after one jacket for year-round use. Sure it can be used as an extra layer in colder temps in the summer, but when it heats up, this is one that you won't want to be wearing. Many testers noted that the back of this jacket is quite tight; if you're not sure about sizing and have broad shoulders, size up.
Read review: Marmot Avant Featherless Hoody - Women's
Best for Breathability
Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody - Women's
The Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody is our favorite jacket for cold winter runs, backcountry skiing, and adventuring in colder weather. This jacket is surprisingly warm for its level of breathability, protecting you from gnarly wind while adventuring up high. It has an outdoorsy appeal to it with many different color options. If you need a jacket that'll keep you warm while you tackle sweaty, winter endeavors, this is truly our top choice.
While it is incredibly breathable, it lacks water protection. The shell has a DWR finish, which once it's soaked, the material is highly absorbent. That said, it'll still keep you warm when wet (it is polyester), but it makes for a less comfortable adventure. Be sure to wear a shell if you know you'll be hitting very wet snow or rain.
Read review: Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
As an outdoor educator and adventurer, Amber King has been a gear tester for OutdoorGearLab for over five years. She's written over fifteen different categories, providing expertise in gear through her adventures. She is an avid trail running, climber, and splitboarder, commonly found exploring new trails and ridgelines in the San Juan Mountains just outside of Ouray, Colorado. When she's not adventuring here, you can find her sailing the high the North Seas with friends from Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. On all these adventures, she's trucking along with insulated jackets, collecting data in climates all around the world. Just last year, she explored the Hornstrandir Nature Preserve a remote northern part of Iceland, testing insulated jackets in this wet climate by foot for over a month. We take our testing seriously, traveling to different climates and locals to truly test each piece.
Our testing starts by researching over 80 different products for several hours. After carefully reading descriptions and user reviews, we select the best on the current market. Paying for each at retail costs, we then receive them to test comparatively, and side-by-side. We wear each jacket for at least 100 hours while hiking, backpacking, skiing, splitboarding, running, and more. We test primarily in Southwest Colorado, but adventure across the country and the world to access different climates and environments. In addition to field testing, we put each jacket under the shower to see how it fairs when completely saturated. Yes, our testing is in-depth, unbiased, and that's how we like it.
Analysis and Test Results
A synthetic jacket is a key part of any outdoor woman's wardrobe. Unlike down, it maintains its heat when wet and offers great protection and reliability when you start adventuring into the backcountry. The products we select and test are mid to lightweight insulated jackets that can be worn on their own in warmer weather, or with a layer in the winter.
We test each while biking, skiing, hiking, and backpacking throughout all four seasons. After our field tests, we objectively and comparatively evaluate the integrity of six key metrics, to get a comparative score. Our award winners highlight those that fill certain niches or those that stand-out among the rest.
At OutdoorGearLab, our Best Buy winner is often an indicator of the product that not only offers high value but provides a steal of a deal. The most expensive products are not always the best and sometimes those that are less expensive perform better. The most affordable products include the Columbia Heavenly Hooded Jacket, our Best Buy award winner, and the Columbia Peak to Park. Both are less breathable contenders with a heavier construction, but offer way more features. The Peak to Park is a little less expensive, and you can remove the hood and its faux fur lining, while the Heavenly is a little more expensive with better warmth and weather protection. Both are less technical, which is why they are a little less expensive.
Many higher-priced contenders are more expensive because they use more technical fabrics, which costs more. However, there are still great deals out there for the technical insulated jackets that we love. For example; the Rab Xenon has been an award winner for many years because it's highly compressible, warm, and protective. It also boasts a good price for its high scoring performance. ThermoBall Hoody is another great deal that features a baffled design. It offers the compression and warmth of down, but also protects when wet (unlike down). This is another fantastically high valued contender to consider.
When evaluating warmth, we took each jacket out into cold, blustery weather that dipped down into the negative double digits. We walked around, hiked, ran, and just stood around wearing similar layers under each coat to determine relative warmth differences. We also looked at warmth features to include cinching hoods, weather-resistant shells, and the relative length of the torso and arms. In this metric, we think of warmth as its insulative value when simply standing around in the cold. We also discuss the relationship between breathability and warmth and the jackets that do the best in balancing both.
The warmest jackets tested are those with a thicker design and more insulation packed into every square inch. These jackets tend to be less breathable and are best if you find yourself standing or walking around in cold weather. The Marmot Avant Featherless is the warmest jacket by far. It is thicker than both the Columbia Peak to Park and Columbia Heavenly Hoody, with airier insulation and a more breathable design. These three jackets come in at the top for scoring, but it's the Avant we'd take out in the worst weather. Since it is more breathable than these other two contenders, it's also suitable for more active activities like winter hiking. It also makes for a great belay jacket.
Both the Columbia options are great for winter weather as well but are truly reserved for the winter season. The Heavenly offers an Omni-Heat lining that does a better job at keeping heat in than the Peak to Park. Both offer enough performance to wear throughout the winter, and both function great for skiing or snowboarding at a resort.
More breathable jackets are typically not as warm when looking at straight-up insulative properties. They do, however, offer better moving warmth, allowing moisture to ventilate into the world, keeping you dry, and thus, warmer when you stop. If you're looking for an active-wear piece this winter, it's important that it's breathable. Of these contenders, the Black Diamond First Light Hoody is the warmest and most breathable. This hosts a thicker design, loaded with 60-grams of high-quality PrimaLoft Silver insulation. The North Face ThermoBall offers more standing warmth insulation than the First Light, but isn't quite as breathable. Both are great options to wear as winter jackets and both layer nicely with other layers.
The Ortovox Piaz Jacket hosts wool as its primary insulator. While it does offer much warmth to be the final layer in your winter system, but functions as a great mid-layer in super cold weather. It is about the same thickness as the First Light, but not as thin as the Rab Xenon. It is also a breathable choice, but not quite as breathable as the First Light Hoody or other more breathable, mobile face designs.
The least warm jackets are those that focus on breathability, but some are warmer than others. The Outdoor Research Refuge Air and Ascendent are both super breathable options, both being award winners for this reason at some point in time. Between the two of them, the Refuge offers much more insulative warmth but ventilates better.
The North Face Ventrix Summit Hoody (new version this year) has less insulation than it has in the past, and offers more warmth than the Refuge, simply because its materials are thicker…even though the Refuge advertises to have more insulation (70 grams vs. 60 grams). The Patagonia Nano-Air and Arc'teryx Atom LT are two breathable jackets that offer a surprising amount of warmth for their lightweight design, but comparatively, are much less insulative when standing around.
Finally, we are surprised at the offered by the amount of warmth offered in the Rab Xenon's super-thin design. The lofty 60 g/m2 stratus insulation locks in air, and warms up, holding it close to the body. When taking a walk-in cold temperature well below freezing, we were cold. However, once moving and layered appropriately with a base layer and fleece, we stayed warm. This is our Top Pick because it offers the best compression to warmth ratio out there.
Weight & Compression
We love jackets that compress into the bottom of a backpack or clip to something. We also appreciate when a model is lightweight. As such, we regard compression and weight as one of the most important metrics. Like many jackets, its main purpose is to provide warmth. When conditions get too warm, being able to stow it away comfortably is a huge plus.
To test each comparatively, we noted stowaway systems and relative weight and compressed each until they couldn't compress anymore. Jackets that scored the highest weighed the least and stuffed away easily into backpacks.
If you're looking for the lightest and most compressible jacket, the Patagonia Micro Puff is it. Weighing only 8.7 ounces, we took this with us on many fastpacking missions because of its ample warmth (65-grams of polyester) and packability. The Rab Xenon weighs just a tad more (8.75 ounces) and packs to an even smaller size than the MicroPuff. The MicroPuff offers more breathability, but not as much warmth as the Xenon. Both earn perfect scores in this category are a favorite amongst our testers for different reasons.
Another awesomely light jacket that provides great warmth is The North Face ThermoBall Jacket. It's a high-value choice that compresses almost as small as the Xenon and features its own stash pocket. The Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody is also very light (11.18 ounces, size small) and compresses to an incredibly small size, despite not having its own stuff sack. It is lighter and more compressible than the Thermoball, and the smallest of the mobile, breathable jackets tested. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as warm as the Thermoball though. The Patagonia Nano Puff is also very compressible, with a similar weight and size to the Atom LT.
Other jackets that didn't score as high in this category are bulkier or don't compress super small. However, many of these jackets, like the Ortovox Piz, will compress to a small size if put into its own stuff sack. The Columbia Heavenly is quite heavy but offers a surprising about of compression when putting into one of these stuff sacks.
Of the mobile-faced jackets, the Outdoor Research Refuge Air (13.45 ounces) and Patagonia Nano Air (10.50 ounces, size small) do best. The Nano Air is much lighter (10.50 ounces, size small), but the Refuge Air packs to a smaller size. Both feel quite light on the body. The North Face Ventrix 2 (12.65 ounces, size small) is similar in weight but doesn't compress nearly as well as these other two. None of these pack into their own pocket, but roll nicely into their hoods. Since the Refuge Air and Ventrix box have cinch cords on the hood, they work as their own compression system.
- Rab Xenon
- Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
- Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
- The North Face Thermoball Hoody
- Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody
The rest do not pack into their pockets, but most are relatively compressible.
Comfort & Coziness
Looking to burrow down while the comforts of your coat surround you? In this metric, we look at the comfort and coziness of each jacket. Think fur-lined collars, fleece-lined interiors, those compatible with helmets, and pulls that are easy enough to use with a set of gloves. Some jackets offer the ability to remove different parts, while others don't. We also consider how easy it is to layer underneath the jacket, based on its fit, liner construction, and more.
Contenders that scored the highest in this metric have the best features tested. These insulated synthetic jackets are ones that our testers didn't want to take off all day long, even after wearing them for weeks.
Hands down, the most comfortable and featured jacket are those constructed by Columbia. The Heavenly Jacket (our Best Buy award winner) is fully loaded with a hi-pile fleece hood and chin wrap that makes burrowing into it during cold weather, super comfortable, and cozy. The Peak to Park doesn't have these features, but it comes with a faux-fur liner for the hood. Both the liner and hood are removable. Both have super soft, stretchy cuffs with thumb loops. While the Heavenly has an Omni-heat liner that makes it very easy layer, the Peak to Park has a baffled design, that also makes it easy to layer. You can easily fit a thinner profile helmet under both of them.
Other jackets with a continuous shell and baffled design are quite easy to layer but come with far less featured. Offering sleeping bag-like comfort include the Ortovox Piz Beal and Rab Xenon. Both score high because their fabrics are just cozy and nice to burrow into. They have many functional pockets and features that we love. We also like The North Face ThermoBall and Marmot Avant that have a baffled design, offering you the luxury of burrowing down into it for great comfort. All are easy to layer as the interior fabrics are almost frictionless.
Those with a softshell construction have softer fabrics that are nice and stretchy. These offer a different type of comfort, in the form of a tighter fit, but more breathable and soft to the touch fabrics. The Black Diamond First Light Stretch has a thicker construction, less stretchy fit, and offers immense comfort in this category. It's much easier to layer under than the jackets described next. Both The North Face Ventrix Summit Hoody, and Patagonia Nano Puff are also quite comfortable. The Ventrix has more and larger pockets with elasticized cuffs while the Nano Puff has fewer, with tapered cuffs and a shorter fit. The Arc'teryx Atom LT offers similar performance, and is a little more comfortable than both, but with three pockets, instead of four like the Ventrix.
Some jackets host many awesome comfort features but aren't as easy to layer. For example, the OR Ascendant has a fantastic fleece liner that makes for superb comfort for all-day wear. However, like the OR Refuge Air, its liner isn't frictionless, and it grabs onto bulkier layers, making it harder to pull on in a pinch.
It's important to note that all the jackets in this review are comfortable to wear all day. Some just have cozier features than others. When trying to find your next jacket, be on the look-out for what you prefer. Faux fur? Soft pockets? Slippery liners? You choose.
To assess weather resistance, we went outside when mother nature offered soul-crushing weather, and went hiking, skiing, or simply stood out in it. This includes conditions like howling winds, snow, sleet, rain, and more. When bad weather didn't present itself, we sprayed each down in the shower to determine how each piece performed during a simulated heavy rainfall and light sprinkle. After each test, we assessed the fabric to see how it performed and how much water each absorbed after two minutes of being under the showerhead.
An insulated jacket does not serve as a substitute for a rain jacket or hardshell, but many of the products that we review are treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish. With differences in fabric and stitching, each repels water a little differently. Be sure to carry a shell with you if you intend on using any jacket in especially wet conditions.
The most weatherproof jackets are those with a thicker construction, to cut the wind and a face fabric that beads water and doesn't absorb. Those with more water-resistant shells do the best. Of the jackets tested, the Marmot Avant earns perfect points in this category. When battling out rain and snowstorms, its materials don't absorb water and instead wick it away; this is one of the reasons it's our favorite cold-weather belay jacket.
Other thicker jackets like the Columbia Peak to Park and Heavenly Hooded also did amazingly well in these tests. Their thicker materials are impervious to cutting winds. While the shells on these jackets aren't as technical and absorbed more water than the Avant, the material didn't hold the water in our shower tests, once again, offering excellent weather protection. Between the two, the Heavenly offers a little more resistance to the wind, as a result of its Omni-Heat liner, which the Peak to Park doesn't have. That said, the Peak to Park is much more breathable.
Other jackets constructed of a continuous shell like the Ortovox Piaz, do quite well when it comes to cutting the wind and repelling water. The Xenon uses a lightweight Atmos shell material, which is very similar to the Pertex Quantum used in the Piaz. When standing on mountain tops, with sufficient layers underneath, both jackets adequately cut the wind and repelled water. Neither is waterproof, but the thicker nature of the Piaz offers more warmth when wet, which we appreciate. In our shower tests, both repelled water for a whooping 30 seconds (which is good) before absorbing completely. Both absorbed the water within the layers of the jacket, with no water going through the material.
Of the lightweight quilted competitors, the The North Face ThermoBall offers the best weather resistance. Its baffled design allows some airflow, but it does not make it impervious to a sharp wind. It does a better job than both the thinner Patagonia Micro Puff and Patagonia Nano Puff because of its tighter stitching patterns. And, the fabric, when put into the shower test, absorbed little to no water and repelled water effectively, making it much more weather resistant than most.
Finally, it's important to note that more breathable, softshelled competitors scored lower than other jacket designs. Thicker jackets like The North Face Ventrix 2 offer a little better wind resistance than thinner designs like the Arc'teryx Atom or Patagonia Nano Air. The Ventrix and Nano Air offered a similar amount of water resistance, keeping the jacket pretty dry after 2 minutes in the shower. The Atom LT (after two years of use) has had the DWR treatment wear off, and more water got through the fabric, absorbing, than these other two jackets.
The least impressive jackets in this test include the Black Diamond First Light Stretch and the OR Refuge Air. Both jackets offer a DWR treatment that repels water, causing water to bead up on the jacket surface at first. However, just a few seconds in the test, both completely saturated, and even went through all the layers soaking the jacket completely. All the other jackets protected the inside. As a result, we will conclude that these are simply not great for wet weather. That said, both do okay in the face of the wind. The Refuge Air can cut wind much better than the First Light. Make sure you pair both of these with a shell if you're going to get into wet weather.
Breathability is an important metric to consider, as it's important to discuss if each model has the affinity to be used for exercise throughout the seasons. The more breathable options we tested typically have softer face fabrics or "breathable panels" that allow ample airflow in high sweat areas like under the arms or the back. A more breathable jacket is better for aerobic activities like hiking or running in cold weather, but can sacrifice warmth and weather resistance as a trade-off. A more breathable jacket offers the chance for moisture to escape from a layered system, effectively keeping the body drier and warmer in the long run. If you are going to be exercising in an insulated jacket this winter, be sure to prioritize breathability.
The most breathable insulated jackets are those with mobile face fabrics that resemble softshell materials. Winning our Top Pick for breathability this year is the Outdoor Research Refuge Air. It features a thinner design with a mesh-like interior that wicks away sweat and effectively moves it out of the jacket, for excellent ventilation. The OR Ascendant used to be the award winner in this category. However, given its thicker face fabrics, lesser warmth overall, and a similar level of breathability, it lost this award. That said, it does offer better protection from water than the Refuge Air, which some might consider more important when looking for a breathable option. Both are perfect for activities like winter running or cross-country skiing.
The Arc'teryx Atom LT and Patagonia Nano Air are two other breathable, mobile faced jackets that do immensely well in this metric. These offer less warmth than the Refuge Air, or The North Face Ventrix 2, but provide far more breathability. Between the two, the Atom LT is a little more breathable, with fleecy panels down the side of the jacket that wicks away moisture, in addition to a thinner construction that offers moisture regulation through the fabric. If you're seeking a jacket with more warmth and good breathability, be sure to check out the thicker Black Diamond First Light Stretch.
Other jackets that do well aren't just softshelled in design. Those with thinner baffled construction like the Patagonia Micro Puff is a perfect example. While the jacket is loaded with insulation, it is surprisingly breathable, given its thinner and lighter design. We took it fast packing and running in rainy climates like Iceland, and it kept us warm by keeping us dry. Of the baffled (aka quilted jackets) out there, it's by far the most breathable option. The Patagonia Nano Puff has a similar construction and similar performance.
The North Face Thermoball and Marmot Avant are also baffled contenders, but thicker and less breathable. The ThermoBall offers okay breathability, with the Avant offering the least, based on relative thickness.
Continuous shell insulated jackets like the Rab Xenon and Ortovoz Piaz also offer okay breathability, as long as it is thin enough. For example, the newest version of the Rab Xenon is thinner than it used to be and offers more breathability than it has before, even though it's comparability less breathable than those with a mobile face construction. The Piaz is more breathable than the Xenon simply because it uses breathable wool insulation in its core, with more options for ventilation throughout its construction.
Style & Fit
As in many of the women's clothing reviews that we do here at OutdoorGearLab, style is an important consideration. We recognize that many women are looking for an insulated jacket with a flattering and feminine fit that will accommodate the length of their torso and arms. More importantly, the fit is probably the most important part of a jacket, and one of the hardest to test and report on. That said, we don't actually score fit, but we do score style in this section. We analyze the fit of each jacket, and with information from the internet, in addition to our own observations, we report on any issues, relative length, and stretch of each.
When considering style, we look at the cut, baffle shapes, fun features (like fur!), stitching patterns, and fabric type. We also note the length of the arms and torso to help our longer-limbed ladies find an insulated jacket that will actually fit you. We then compare and contrast each model to give you a tangible style and fit rating. Those with more stylish features and fit both short and long-limbed testers than those that did not have these features.
Many of the insulated jackets provide different fits based on the body types testing them. In this metric, we used some different women to gain an opinion on each piece. Some of these jackets fit tighter than others, while others lend a more versatile fit. Boxier fitting jackets like The North Face ThermoBall and Rab Xenon will offer more room throughout the body, than a slim-fitting piece like the Patagonia Nano Air.
- Rab Xenon
- Columbia Peak to Park
- Columbia Heavenly
- Outdoor Research Refuge Air
- Black Diamond First Light Stretch
Some women love the outdoorsy look of shiny baffled jackets, while others simply aren't into it. Of the insulated jackets tested, the ones that offer the most versatile style include those made by Columbia. The Heavenly and Peak to Park are heavier but offer super cute designs, colors, and options that most of our testers love.
If you don't mind the outdoorsy look, the Arc'teryx Atom LT is one of our favorites. Its many color options and continuous face fabrics are snazzy, and not too technical looking. The Ortovox Piaz Jacket is another that stands out as it is reversible! You actually get two different color options in one jacket. The colors are bright and stand-out, and the jacket has a slim fit that is a little short in the torso.
More technical pieces like the Patagonia Nano-Air, OR Refuge Air, and The North Face Summit Ventrix frequently received reactions like, "Oooooooh! It's so cute". Many of our testers also liked the soft face fabric feel offered by these jackets. They have a variety of styles, so take a look at the pictures to see which you like the best. Other jackets have a technical baffled look, like the Marmot Avant, which makes for a puffed up, but stylish look, great for hitting the town or the trail.
A jacket built with synthetic insulation offers many great advantages, like the ability to stay warm, even when wet. With many options out there, the selection process can be tough. The first step is to decide what you're looking for to help slim down the options. This jacket is an integral part of any woman's outdoor wardrobe, and a big decision like this should be made with care. Enjoy the process, using this guide as a means for finding the best option out there for you.
— Amber King