Lightweight Insulated Jacket Review

The freedom experienced when backcountry skiing is like no other. The ephemeral, meditative state of breaking trail or skinning through wild forests up alpine peaks followed by the bliss and euphoria of weightless powder turns with no one but you, a partner and a wily wabbit, is a gift of winter not to be taken for granted. 

And while some consider this self-propelled passion a ‘death march’, those of us who know its transformative power revel in moving through wildness in search of the untracked. But bliss comes with effort, and skinning and skiing a big descent in challenging conditions are not for the weak of mind or body. Going light is one key to making ski touring easy from the start. Building out a lightweight clothing kit that keeps you warm, dry and comfortable from sweaty climbs to bitter cold, windy descents can make or break the experience. 

Dialing in your clothing system on backcountry ski tours can be simple despite challenging transitions. While different body types and climates present their own unique challenges, it is still possible to build a light and super effective kit. 

One of the keys to keeping dry and warm all day is a well-designed, lightweight insulated jacket, preferably synthetic. This layer does double duty as the perfect cold start insulation out of the car and when the skins get ripped off up high, on goes the ideal descent jacket. Weight, type of insulation and a good windproof, water-resistant shell are the critical aspects of the perfect ski touring puffy. Leave your hardshell at home or stuffed in your pack. The right puffy jacket does it all in one light, soft, warm bundle.

To test and review, we searched for options that use high quality synthetic insulation, (60 to 100 grams at most), light wind-resistant shell fabrics, good packability, and a cut that could comfortably fit over a hard or soft-shell jacket underneath. In addition, we tested them on cold rock climbing days for their versatility. 

Fabrics play the most critical role in this test, even beyond the importance of fit and features. High quality fabrics offer the balance of weight, warmth and good packability. These qualities are paramount in the insulation, but also in the “face” fabric, aka the outer shell fabric of the puffy. Ski touring in the Rockies, for example, is dry enough that with the right puffy, there is little need for a hard shell.

Primaloft insulation is the most widely known branded synthetic with a variety of types and weights. But “unbranded” or company branded insulations like those Patagonia or Arcteryx use, are still very high quality. Note that we have a breathable insulation jacket review in our archives. This review is focused on windproof insulated jackets for more protection from the elements than the focus of moving moisture out from the inside. 

We also tested some down jackets that offered excellent wind/water resistance, making them suitable for cold dry ski touring days but overall, we recommend synthetic for your one descent puffy. In the big picture of a ski touring kit, it’s important to carry two puff jackets for safety reasons. In this case, a midweight down jacket that’s stuffed in your pack 90% of the time is the ideal second puffy.

Best Overall


Trollveggen Primaloft 100

Price: $329
Weight: 482 g
Sizes: XS-LG
Fabric: Primaloft Gold 100g synthetic insulation
Features: Two long chest pockets, two hand pockets, helmet hood with drawcord, stretch mesh inner pocket stuffs the jacket, stretch cuffs, drawcord hem.
Overall: Our testers loved this jacket. It was the perfect cocoon on a puking wet spring storm day in the Wasatch, and the ideal weight for all winter use. The shell fabric was cozy-soft yet protective and very wet-snow resistant, drying quickly even when it got damp. The over-the-helmet hood and high neck with ultra cozy suede-like softness against the skin were the most appreciated and loved features on this jacket. The shell fabric has a unique look and feel of very high quality and the right balance of durability to quiet, soft comfort and protection in a storm. Thanks to critical features like an external chest pocket and internal stash pocket, we gave this jacket the highest rating in our tests. Well worth the price.

Model is wearing a size S.
Model's measurements | Bust: 32 Waist: 27 Hips: 32.5

Tied for Second Best Overall

Mountain Hardwear

Compressor Hoody

Price: $250
Weight: 414g/14.6oz
Sizes: XS-XL
Fabric: 100g synthetic insulation body, 80g arms, 15d nylon face fabric
Features: Drawcord hem and hood, external zip chest pocket, zip hand pockets, inner stash pocket, velcro cuffs. Hood fits inside a helmet only.
Overall: Sleeves are very short in the medium size, the fabric is a little noisy but very warm, cozy and packable. We loved the external chest pocket for quick access to our phone for grabbing pics. This one got great kudos for its super cozy warm feeling in high winds and at camp on a big ski tour excursion in the Sierra. The warmer body and slightly lighter arm insulation levels made it especially flexible and functional for ski descents. The cuff adjustment is great for different size gloves. Hood is small and did not fit over a helmet unfortunately. The neck is a little tight but has good coverage. The hand zips were a little grabby and not easy to use in a storm. Though a bit bulky, its warmth was appreciated in the wind. After multiple ski tours, our testers fell in love with this jacket.

Model is wearing a size S.
Model's measurements | Bust: 34 Waist: 28.5 Hips: 34.5

Tied for Second Best Overall


Das Light Jacket

Price: $349
Weight: 275g/9.7oz
Sizes: XXS-XL
Fabrics: 10 denier Pertex recycled nylon ripstop face fabric, 65 gram PlumaFill recycled polyester insulation
: Helmet hood, back of hood adjustment only, chest and hand zipped pockets, stuffs into left front pocket, two-way center front zipper.
Overall: The warmth to weight ratio, clean design and critical features all combined to make us appreciate this jacket as one of the better ‘descent’ jackets in the mix. Our one complaint was the crispy loud shell fabric. It packed away nicely given a little bulkier feel than other test jackets and was definitely nice and warm with its windproof shell. Our testers felt it was perfect for mid-winter but a bit warmer than needed for spring ski missions. Our testers loved the color, fit and easily accessible external chest pocket. The hood fit nicely over a helmet and the length was just right for comfort and warmth with or without a harness.

Best Versatile Synthetic Puffy


Swiss Wool Piz Boe Jacket

Price: $300
Weight: 294g
Sizes: XS-XL
Fabrics: Pertex Quantum shell fabric, 60g swiss wool insulation, Merino/spandex stretch panels. 
Features: Two front zip chest pockets with long zippers, elastic hood, elastic cuffs, stretch underarm inserts of Merino wool with spandex and nylon.
Overall: We tested this one in a multitude of conditions due to its lighter weight and stretch panels. Though it’s too light for most ski touring, it was loved for skinning up on cold windy ascents, perfect for rock climbing on blustery spring days and won as our favorite for fit and aesthetics with its unique color combination, stretch cuffs and side back stretch panels. The insulation level and feel is amazingly comfortable and versatile for its light weight.

Model is wearing a size S.
Model's measurements | Bust: 34 Waist: 28 Hips: 32


Cerium Hoody

Price: $400
Weight: 290g/10.2oz
Sizes: XXS-XXL
Adjustable leg loops: Yes
Fabric: 850 fill power down with Coreloft synthetic insulation in areas prone to wetting out. The shell fabric is recycled 15d nylon.
Features: Stretch cuffs, adjustable hem cord, stuff sack included, two hand pockets and one internal zip chest pocket.
Overall: It’s quiet, light and cozy but due to the quilting, and the potential for more wetting out at the seams, is not as warm and windproof for ski touring as other alternatives here. It is a nice combination of the light soft comfort of down with a little added security of synthetic. Once again, the lack of an external chest pocket frustrated our testers. The soft cozy feel and great packability make it a nice second puffy in the pack however.

Model is wearing a size M.
Model's measurements | Bust: 38 Waist: 30 Hips: 39


Cirrus Alpine

Price: $200
Weight: 455g/16oz
Fabric: 30d nylon recycled face fabric, 50 gram Primaloft Silver recycled synthetic insulation
Features: stretch cuffs, zip hand and one internal chest pocket, under helmet hood.
Overall: A nice durable mid-weight puffy we felt was more useful for casual use than ski touring. The lack of an external chest pocket was a downside. The shell fabric is a bit heavy relative to the insulation but is quite durable. It’s cozy but not very warm for its weight. Quilting makes it less water and wind resistant and less warm overall for ski touring. It is quite long for its size, which is great for taller folks.

Model is wearing a size M.
Model's measurements | Bust: 38 Waist: 30 Hips: 39

Outdoor Research

Helium Down Hoodie

Price: $279
Weight: 436g/15.4 oz.
Sizes: XS-XL, 1X-3X
Fabric: Waterproof shoulders, Pertex 15dx30d Diamond Fuse nylon face, 800+fill down insulation
Features: Drawcord hood and hem, zip hand and one chest pocket, internal stash pockets, left hand pocket stuffs the jacket.
Overall: Unfortunately, our test jacket was hoodless, making it a little more difficult to give this jacket the full test and review we would like for ski touring. That said, its waterproof shell on a light down insulation made it feel cozy, soft and warm for its weight, yet still weather protective. The bonus of down is that it’s light and packable and much warmer for its weight than any synthetic, yet we still felt confident taking it out in nasty conditions knowing that the waterproof, windproof shell covering would protect the down from saturating and becoming useless. Our testers appreciated the external chest pocket.

Model is wearing a size M.
Model's measurements | Bust: 34 Waist: 28.5 Hips: 34.5


Ortles Medium 2 RDS Down Jacket

Price: $350
Weight: 477g
Sizes: XS-XL
Fabric: 750g duck down in main body, 130g, 60% polyester/10% wool insulation in shoulders, hood and hem areas are super warm for the weight. Water resistant, windproof nylon outer shell fabric. 
: Drawcord hem and hood, inside wide elastic ‘gaiter’ cuffs, two zip hand pockets, external zip chest pocket. No stash pocket.
Overall: While we don’t advocate down for all winter ski touring, this jacket’s beautiful attention to detail, high quality shell fabric that wards off moisture, and wool insulation where it’s more prone to wetting out, had us loving this jacket even in a puking wet spring snowstorm. Though it is nice and packable, it’s definitely more of a mid-winter, cold temps jacket. The sleeve closure was the favorite of our testers with a thoughtful inner cuff that fits well with different glove sizes and seals out all moisture and wind. The ergonomic cut and fit was ideal over other base layers and light ascent jackets. The fit was sleek but not tight. This jacket had our testers' minds swayed toward the benefits of down when intentionally constructed as it is. We would confidently take this jacket ski touring in any cold winter conditions.

Model is wearing a size M.
Model's measurements | Bust: 38 Waist: 30 Hips: 39

Black Diamond

Vision Hybrid Hoody

Price: $295
Weight: Not Listed
Sizes: XS-XL
Fabrics: 60 gram Primaloft Cross Core Insulation with Aerogel 
Features: Helmet compatible hood, single-pull hood drawcord, zippered hand pockets, internal zip chest pocket, internal stretch mesh pocket, two-way center front zipper, elastic cuffs and hem.
Overall: While this jacket is warmer than we expected for its 60g insulation level (likely due to the benefits of ultralight Aerogel insulation), it lacks the quality and fine details we found in most of our other test jackets, especially in the wrist and waist hem closures. Its light weight and breathability did allow one tester to take it on an 8 hour Wind River ski tour comfortably through varying temperatures, snow and wind. “This layer was very versatile in changing temps and warm enough for lower temps with a base layer plus a fleece underneath. The shoulders got a little damp when the storm moved in but dried quickly once we got out of the snow.”  One tester also used it rock climbing in cold, windy temps in Sinks Canyon in late March. “It fits nicely under a harness and didn't bug me while climbing and placing gear.” The lack of hem drawcord, the loose lycra cuffs and lack of a vital external chest pocket left us a little disappointed. The hood fit was a little tight over a helmet. Aesthetically, our testers felt this jacket did nothing to excite them. We did like that it works well as a light puffy for rock climbing up high or just a light belay jacket at the crag that you can climb in on cold starts.

Model is wearing a size M.
Model's measurements | Bust: 32 Waist: 27 Hips: 32.5

Header photo courtesy of Alexa Flowers

Disclaimer of Liability: Technical rock and ice climbing is inherently dangerous. Neither Broad Beta, LLC., nor any of its employees, shall be held liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information described and/or contained herein, and Broad Beta, LLC. assumes no responsibility for anyone's use of the information.
Any person using our gear in any manner is personally responsible for learning the proper techniques and good judgment. We strongly recommend that every climber seek instruction by a qualified professional.

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