After a difficult Covid summer and fall, skiers, snowshoers, sledders and lovers of all things cold are looking forward to winter. And that’s true for my family and friends who are anxious to get outdoors after a smoke-filled fall here in Oregon. The one thing anyone who spends time outside needs is a warm jacket to ward off the chilly weather. To help brighten the Covid winter, I started asking around about “the best” new winter puffy jackets. What surprised me the most was the quality of design, materials and manufacturing. If you’re considering an upgrade to your winter wardrobe this year, a new puffy down jacket won’t disappoint.
Stio Hometown Down Hooded Jacket ($299)
“There is nothing wrong with this jacket, in fact, listing everything that is right would take the better part of the ski day,” said one tester after a week of hitting Mammoth Mountain’s slopes in early-season condition. We dragged her off the hill long enough to tell us why it is her favorite puffy of the season.
First, it is a work of art. The bright colors are a welcome change from the dark tones that seem to dominate the lift lines these days. One server at Mammoth Brewing Company thanked our tester for wearing the coat as it “was so pretty it made me smile and cheered up a gloomy night.”
Beauty aside, the puffy has one of the best feature sets we’ve seen. The fixed hood has a narrow, stretchy forehead “gaiter”—meaning there is a small strip of fabric under the brim that helps the hood stay in place whether or not you’re wearing a helmet. On the inside, there’s a 3”-wide soft microfiber “collar” that adds warmth and softness against your neck. Lower down, there’s an interior glove pocket on one side (it’s a little small for gloves with gauntlets), and a zippered phone/wallet pocket on the other.
The fluffy 800-fill down is encased in a 100-percent recycled nylon ripstop outer shell that despite being feather-light, didn’t snag or lose down even after several solid months of hardcore use. The nylon isn’t waterproof, but inside, Allied Down’s water-repellent goose down that doesn’t soak up moisture. What our tester loved the most about the jacket (right up there with fit, feel and function) is that the down is responsibly sourced—meaning that the birds are treated with the highest standards of care.
And the logo is super discreet. This is a puffy you’d wear every day, as an outer layer on bluebird days, and as a midlayer under as shell for storm-skiing. “I’ll admit to bringing my Hometown Down to bed with me on cold nights,” reports our tester. “I just wanted to snuggle it.” On the fit note, testers thought the jacket fit a bit small, especially if you’re wearing it over a thick baselayer.
Men’s medium weighs 22 oz.; Women’s medium is 16 oz.
Best Street Smarts (Eco-Friendly)
PrAna Hellebore Jacket ($239)
Imagine a fluffy comforter in a 5-star hotel. That’s how I feel when I slip on the Prana Hellebore. The down is as light and puffy as a cloud. The nylon shell is luxuriously soft and quiet. And there’s the warm, fuzzy feeling you get knowing that the Hellebore is part of PrAna’s first eco-friendly outerwear collection.
PrAa has always been a forward-thinking brand. The company helped to spearhead climbing and yoga apparel in the 1990s, and their designs continue to be on the cutting edge of fashion. Still, the brand has maintained its outdoor cred with designs that have the chops for both urban and backcountry wear. The Hellebore is no exception. For men, there’s the Whitney Portal ($249).
While many outdoor-brand styles evoke the image of an AT thru-hike or attempt on Everest, the Hellebore strikes more of a New York Times Fashion section chord with a cut that’s shorter and wider at the hemline than many modern puffers. Plus, there’s an overlapping flap that snaps shut over the front zipper, which gives the coat a clean, up-town look. On a trip to Mammoth Lakes, one of my 18-year-old twins wore the Hellebore as her ski parka. Despite being from Oregon, she held her own with the fashionable L.A. weekend crowd. And, after multiple days and tens of thousands of vertical feet, she praised the coat for its comfort, warmth and breathability.
The Hellebore and Whitney Portal are made from Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified 650 power fill down. RDS is a program that ensures birds that provide the down are well cared for. Plus, the fabrics are bluesign certified, which ensures that the supply-chain for the materials meets the highest environmental standards in the industry. While you wouldn’t grab the jacket for when you expect a downpour, I wore it on multiple rainy-day hikes and the PFC-free DWR proved effective for beading water before it could wet out the shell. There’s two hand-warmer pockets and zippered chest pocket, silicone tipped cord pull tabs to tighten the fixed hood and a hem drawcord to lock out snow and keep heat in. And we love the subdued, natural hues.
Best Innovation For Warmth
Columbia Three Forks Black Dot Jacket ($280)
Everyone knows how solar panels utilize the sun for heat. Now you can get a jacket that applies similar science to keeping you warm. The Three Forks is the first jacket with Columbia’s new Black Dot technology. It’s the industry’s first thermal shield shell material and works via multilayered metallic black dots that capture solar heat and trap warmth. Not only does it boost the coat’s thermal efficiency, it reduces heat loss.
The second chapter of the warmth story is Columbia’s toasty Omni Heat 3D, a reflective patterning that looks something Andy Warhol would do with thousands of silver peace signs but is actually tiny plumes of soft fibers that create microscopic air space between the coat and your body. The bottom line, the Three Forks Jacket will keep you warm.
The big question was how to test the jacket. I opted for a cold-weather hike on relatively flat ground, followed by a winter picnic. I packed up my favorite Finocchiona salami from Olympic Provisions, a bottle of local Domaine Roy & Fils Pinot, and my Ellis pocket knife that I never leave home without. And of course my husband came along to share the testing experience and wine.
On a cold day that never saw temps rise above single digits, we headed out on-foot to the heart of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. The ancient lava fields are sparsely peppered with slightly less ancient western juniper. Castle-like outcrops of basalt rise up from the otherwise lonely landscape. We braved the wind and cold temps and headed out on Tumulus Trail, our footsteps breaking through the frosty crust. Picking one of the flat rocky sections we braved the harsh weather and sat down for our picnic. With the Three Forks jacket, the cold weather never had a chance. Light rain and 25-mile gusts made napkins and paper plates impossible, but in terms of physical comfort, we stayed warm and dry.
The Three Forks Black Dot has a contoured hood that has soft elasticized tape around the entire circumference. Not only does it lock the hood in place without any fumbling with cord locks and bungee cords, but it’s designed to move with your head, so you can turn to watch birds or search for wildlife without having your view blocked by fabric. There are two zippered hand warmer pockets and a giant outside chest pocket that’s big enough for gloves, wallet, pocket knife and light hat. The Black Dot material is rain resistant, highly windproof and as tear-proof as anything we’ve tested. Plus, no matter what we spilled on it (red wine for starters), it wiped clean without stains.
Men’s medium weighs about 1 lb. 9 oz.; Women’s weighs 1 lb. 7 oz.
Best Belay Parka
Patagonia DAS Parka ($449)
This is a big coat for big adventures. It’s my constant companion for sub-zero dawn-patrol missions and winter climbs when I’ll be lucky to finish 10 pitches before dark. Earlier this season, I skinned up South Sister (Oregon Cascades) in bone-chilling conditions. On the uphill, I wore a shell and several baselayers to ward off the cold. Even moving at max speed it was hard to keep my body temp above the shiver-setting. I worried about reaching the summit and staying warm during the transition from walk to ski mode, and then braving the descent. But, once I pulled the DAS out of its handy stuff-sack, put it on and zipped it up, I realized that the temps could have dropped another 20 degrees and I’d still be comfortable.
So what makes this jacket so warm? Well, DAS stands for Dead Air Space, which give you an idea of how the insulation works. The insulation is a PrimaLoft Gold Eco that’s fused with Aerogel. That’s a mouthful and sounds as complicated as calculus, but in reality, it is pretty simple. Basically, PrimaLoft Gold Eco is a breathable, compressible insulation with an amazingly high warm-to-wet ratio (meaning it stays warm even if gets wet). To boost the warmth, PrimaLoft added Aerogel, a material developed by NASA that is 95 percent air (it’s reportedly the lightest solid material known to man). With the Aerogel “cross core” technology, the already ridiculously warm PrimaLoft Gold Eco is about 52 percent warmer. Basically, this is the technology you want if you’re planning on a winter ascent of Mt. Everest (or Oregon’s South Sister, which felt just as cold). The outer shell is a nylon ripstop with a PU Dry Coating and DWR (durable water repellent) finish. The lining is a slightly lighter nylon ripstop; it too has a DWR finish so if you do sweat—or snow gets inside the jacket—you have another barrier against moisture.
The feature set is simple but effective. There are two internal sleeves that are designed for skins, hat, gloves and goggles. On the outside are two extra-large, zippered handwarmer pockets, and a zippered “Napoleon” pocket that’s big enough for large phones and a wallet. I keep my headlamp there—not only is it handy, but the close-to-the chest position keeps batteries warm. The cut of the parka is perfect for climbing and belaying. The back (tail) is longer than average, so you can pull it down for extra protection on a ledge, snowpack or chair lift. And there’s plenty of room in the shoulders so if you’re swinging ice axes or climbing, the hemline of the coat doesn’t pull up and let cold air in. Sometimes the best features are the smallest and least obtrusive. If you didn’t look, you might miss that the cuffs have a ½ inch internal elastic band that let you push up your sleeves for a bit of venting, or, act as thumbholes when you need more hand protection or want to keep the sleeve in place when you don gloves. Both the helmet-compatible hood and have easy-to-use drawstrings so you can cinch them into place. The cord locks are easy to release, which isn’t always the case.
In addition to being a go-to cold weather coat that will stand up to years of abuse there’s a lot of other great reasons to buy the DAS. The jacket is Fair Trade Sewn and part of brand’s dedicated effort to use recycled, environmentally friendly materials. Also Patagonia gives 1% of all sales to protect and restore wild areas, and has developed Action Works to help people get involved in grassroots projects designed to restore and protect the environment.
Men’s weighs 19.6 ounces; Women’s weighs 18.4 oz. (size medium)