Perfect for snowy or cold destinations, an insulated jacket will keep you warm whether you’re winter walking, snowmobiling or watching the northern lights – we review the best available
Down jackets are filled with goose or duck feathers and offer a great warmth-to-weight ratio. The feathers ‘loft’ – that is, capture warm air between them – which keeps you warm. The problem with natural down is that it stops working when wet (if not coated in a hydrophobic treatment) so you get cold. Down jackets are also at the higher end of the price scale.
The alternative is synthetic insulation – which all jackets in this test feature. This also offers a great weight-to-warmth ratio, though is normally slightly heavier than down. It also tends to be cheaper. The key thing is that, even when wet, synthetic insulation will keep you warm – vital when most insulated jackets are water resistant, not waterproof.
Some jackets have them, some don’t. A hood is a useful addition to help keep you warm, just be sure it fits your head well or is adjustable.
Some jackets will be unisex; some will be cut in specific men’s or women’s fits. All the jackets in this test are available in both men’s and women’s versions (apart from one unisex model) – both names are mentioned where they differ.
This is a key concern for any traveller. The good news is that insulated jackets offer great warmth for a light weight. To find out which jacket is warmest, simply try several on, one after the other – you’ll be able to feel the difference. Warmer tends to mean bulkier and heavier, so you need to find the balance that’s right for you.
Not only good for stashing items such as compact cameras and smartphones but also the key place for warming up cold hands – make sure the pockets fit your mitts well.
6) Draught excluders
You will lose heat if the jacket sleeves don’t fit flush to your arm. Look for elasticated cuffs or Velcro adjusters to help prevent this. Also look for an adjustable bottom hem (to eliminate draught) and a panel of fabric behind the zip (this keeps cold air out). A fleecy chinguard is good for comfort.
To ensure the jacket fits properly, lift your arms above your head (the cuffs shouldn’t rise up) and bend over (it should still cover your waist – look for a scooped bottom to keep your back warm).
THE TEST: By far the cheapest on test, there’s still a surprising number of desirable features on the Ice Bird: an adjustable hem to keep out cold air, a draught excluder behind the main zip, well-sized zippable pockets, elasticated cuffs. But as you’d expect of something at this price, the finishing touches are missing – there is no covering over the cuffs so the ruffled fabric is a bit uncomfortable at the wrist. Also there’s no hood and no scoop at the bottom, which would help keep your back warm.
The fit is not as well tailored as it is in those jackets at the higher end of the price scale, which may not matter to some, but may not be as good on some body shapes. When travelling it would undoubtedly keep you warm, but it is much bulkier than most here and comes in as the second-heaviest on test (505g, size 12).
THE VERDICT: Heavier, bulkier and lacking in some of the features you get when you pay more, but for those on a tight budget this is a good option.
THE TEST: The tailoring is the first thing you notice when comparing this to the Ice Bird: it cuts a closer fit. The insulation is also zoned – thicker in the parts of your body that don’t move about (ie torso) but thinner in your arms, so movement is not restricted. That means a smaller, more packable jacket and a lower weight (424g, size 10). The elasticated cuffs are covered in soft lycra making them more comfortable. The hemline is adjustable to help keep warm air in and the fleece-lined pockets are a good size. The zipped pockets feature reflective pull tabs, making them easy to find and operate with gloves on. There’s a draught excluder behind the main zip and a covered chinguard for comfort.
A couple of things could be improved. The hood is only adjustable at the back (not around the face) and doesn’t move with your head as well as others. The cuffs are also not as close fitting as some on test.
THE VERDICT: Some nice features and a good tailored fit that, despite some niggles, make this jacket good value for money.
THE TEST: This jacket is money well spent. It not only features the key elements – hood, scooped bottom, draught excluder behind the main zip, adjustable hem, covered chinguard – but also some excellent extras. For instance, the hood is not only adjustable, but is big enough to take a helmet – great if you’re trying snowy activities. It’s also got a wire peak so re-shaping is easy. Behind the hood there’s even a Velcro tab so you can roll the hood away when you don’t need it. The body length is ideal, being long and well cut. The sleeves are articulated, allowing good freedom of movement.
A couple of tweaks would make it perfect. For instance the cuffs are elasticated and fit well, but could have benefited from a soft covering for more comfort. The tags on the zips could have been longer (though the sticky coating does help with grip). This is the lightest jacket on test (360g, size 10).
THE VERDICT: A light, feature-packed option that is priced well and ideal for those needing warmth and wanting to stay active.
THE TEST: Another well-equipped jacket that offers a nice fit and a good level of warmth. It’s middle of the road weight-wise (448g, size 10) but you can instantly feel the warmth when you put it on. The cut is tapered, keeping it close to the body, and the length is great. The bottom has a slight scoop and a useful adjustable hem, which helps eliminate draughts.
The cuffs are elasticated and covered in soft fabric making them comfy; the hood is also elasticated and covered around the rim – both fit and move well, showing extra money spent makes for a better overall fit. The arms are articulated for good movement. A covered chinguard protects your face from the cold of the zip. The pockets are a good size and there’s a well-sized draught excluder behind the main zip. It’s not the cheapest but you do get all the key features and a good warmth-to-weight ratio.
THE VERDICT: All the features you need, with a good fit; only missed out on top spot due to non-adjustable hood and higher price.
THE TEST: This jacket makes you feel instantly warm. It’s jam-packed with insulating filling making it the biggest jacket on test. If you really feel the cold, this is the one for you. You do pay for it with weight though: it’s the heaviest jacket here (600g, S) – but it would roll up into an excellent pillow!
This model is unisex so some women and smaller men may feel it’s a bit big. It’s made for throwing on over the top of other jackets to warm you up fast, which accounts for the size and shape. The hemline is elasticated rather than adjustable, but it’s been made to fit well no matter what you’re wearing underneath; because of that there is no scooped bottom. The cuffs are covered and elasticated, and there’s a generous draught excluder behind the main zip. There’s a chinguard – though it’s not covered. The pockets are a good size and the hood is adjustable. The tags on the zips make them easy to use with gloves on.
THE VERDICT: Instantly warm, with fantastic features, but its heavier weight and bulk may be a turn off for some.
THE TEST: If money is no object then this offers all the features you need, in a modern, athletic cut. The hemline is adjustable while also offering a good-sized scooped bottom. The pockets are zippable and accommodate hands easily; they also feature grip tags so they’re easy to operate in gloves. Behind the main zip is a more than adequate draught excluder. Weight-wise it’s excellent, being the second-lightest (404g, size 10), and it feels very warm when you put it on.
The cuffs are elasticated and fit closely – the only downside is that they’re not covered, though this would have added to the weight. The chinguard is covered with soft fabric. Overall it’s nicely cut with a long length, which feels good on. The hood is well-fitting and adjustable both at the rim and the back; a semi-structured peak helps it keep its shape after packing. It’s all here. The only catch is that you have to pay for it.
THE VERDICT: Everything you could need from an insulated jacket – if you have the extra cash to spare.
We asked a range of gear manufacturers to submit insulated jackets most suitable for travellers: jackets with great features that are warm, packable and low weight. From the 12 we were sent our editor, Phoebe Smith, took them out on the road to see which performed best. The six here are all “Wanderlust Approved”, with a Value Buy for those on a tight budget and Best in Test for the overall best buy, being indicated.