Puff Piece: 6 Insulation Jackets That Rule

And why puffy doesn't necessarily mean bulky

I love my puffy jacket. More than any other piece of apparel I own, my puffy provides me with an enormous sense of comfort and security—whether I’m camping, hiking, climbing, backcountry skiing or even just among the crowd at an outdoor wedding in the fall, I bring one along without fail. And thanks to updates in technology over the years, these jackets have become so light, so packable that it follows that backcountry maxim, “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”[slideshow:564]

For the record, there are down insulation jackets and synthetic insulation jackets—and they each have different strengths. I, personally, have both. Nothing beats down for warmth and packability. Goose feathers trap air better than any synthetic fiber, and depending on how robust the “fill” level is (think fluffiness), down can keep people warm in the most bitter cold. 

The virtue of synthetic fibers is more in their versatility—i.e., they can keep you warm even when they’re wet. And synthetic generally dries much more quickly than down—especially valuable when you’re in rainy weather or out for multiple days.

Though some down jackets are tailored to be svelte, my personal preference for layering is synthetic, too. They are usually a little trimmer in cut, and synthetic fibers keep me warmer after episodes of high output.

During cold weather activities, puffys really shine through as the superstar layer. For example, when you’re out for a day ski touring and stop for lunch, core body heat can drop quickly. So, before I grab my sandwich, I’ll snatch my puffy from my pack (which I simply stow in the main compartment) throw it over whatever I happen to be wearing, then grab my sandwich and water. And when it’s time to go, the last thing I do is strip down, stuff it into my pack, and head up the skin track. Works like a charm.

Keeping my core temperature relatively consistent during an outing also means I expend less energy trying to stay warm, making my overall experience that much more fun and civilized. And that applies to hiking, climbing, camping and even kicking back, drinking late on a friend’s porch.

The bottom line is that puffy jackets take the sting out of cold weather. Even more than that, they bring a peace of mind. If equipment failure befalls you or someone gets hurt in the woods and a chilly night is descending, having the insurance policy that is your puff jacket increases the odds in your favor. “At least we’re not gonna freeze to death,” becomes a very real reassurance.