Sometimes called a systems jacket, or a component jacket, a 3-in-1 jacket combines two main elements:
- An outer shell jacket, often waterproof and non-insulated
- A liner jacket, usually lightly insulated with synthetic fibers or down
The “3” in the name comes from the number of ways you can wear these elements—each one can be worn as a standalone piece, or they can be snapped or zipped together to be worn as a complete system for more powerful protection from the elements.
What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of a 3-in-1 jacket?
The common adage on how to dress for winter sports is to wear layers. Layers let you adapt to changing weather—sudden afternoon storms, or unexpected sunny patches just as you’re starting to work up a sweat.
By its nature, a 3-in-1 jacket is a layering system designed to help you adjust easily to changing temperatures or exertion levels. Maybe you want to wear both a shell and insulation for those first few ski laps and chilly early-morning lift rides. After you’ve warmed up, you have the flexibility to switch to just the shell or the liner—depending on the weather.
Because the two jacket elements are designed to go together, they integrate easily with one another, typically via snap tabs or zippers. In many cases, buying a 3-in-1 jacket can provide some cost savings over purchasing a shell and insulating layer individually.
One tradeoff: The extra zippers or integrating tabs add some weight and bulk to the jacket. Though some high-end 3-in-1 jackets offer full-featured technical performance, many 3-in-1 jackets are more entry-level oriented—budget-friendly picks, say, for those outfitting themselves or their families for a new ski season. In this article, we highlight both higher-end 3-in-1 jackets and “best bang for your buck” options.
Pro Tip: If you have the opportunity to visit a store in person and try a jacket on, be sure to try on the jacket in all 3 of its configurations. Especially, ensure the fit of the outer shell isn’t too baggy when worn without the insulating liner.
When should you wear a 3-in-1 jacket?
3-in-1 jackets are a great choice for most any cold-weather activities with some element of stop-and-go action. (For high-exertion, aerobic pursuits like winter running, skate skiing or backcountry skiing, you’re probably better off with higher-end, non-insulated shells more singularly focused on breathability.)
Downhill skiing and snowboarding are two of the most obvious candidates—especially resort skiing where conditions often fluctuate over the course of a day, or where you might alternate between high exertion and resting on ski lifts or mountaintop decks. Many 3-in-1 jackets also come with snowsports-specific features like powder skirts (to seal out snow when you’re skiing or riding in powder), helmet-compatible hoods or designated ski-pass pockets.
Pro Tip: The powder skirts in many jackets also often have snaps or tabs to interface with compatible ski pants from the same brand for an even more seamless barrier against wayward snow.
3-in-1 jackets are also suitable for cold-weather backpacking, snowshoeing or casual winter wear—or any activities (hiking, camping, travel, etc.) for which you might otherwise individually choose a waterproof shell or a light insulating mid layer. They’re also a great general addition to your winter wardrobe—perfect for wearing to the dog park, around town or to shovel your driveway after a blizzard.
Best Full-Featured Ski/Snowboard 3-in-1 Jackets
- MSRP: $399
- Weight: 2 lbs. 8.7 oz. (Women’s) / 2 lbs. 15 oz. (Men’s)
- Shell Fabric: Polyester (70% recycled) with H2No waterproof/breathable laminate
- Mid Layer Insulation: 60g Thermogreen® synthetic insulation (90% recycled)
- Other Features: Powder skirt; removable, helmet-compatible hood; pit zips; Recco® reflector; durable water repellent (DWR) on both shell and liner
What Makes This Jacket Especially Awesome: Its liner jacket is reversible—smooth on one side, quilted on the other—so it’s almost like getting four jacket configurations for the price of one. Partially recycled fabrics and insulation, and a stamp of approval on some of its elements from the sustainability organization bluesign® make it a nice choice for environmentally conscious winter enthusiasts.
- MSRP: $349
- Weight: 2 lbs. 13.8 oz. (Women’s) / 3 lbs. 0.3 oz. (Men’s)
- Shell Fabric: Polyester with DryVent waterproof/breathable laminate
- Mid Layer Insulation: 124g PrimaLoft® ThermoBall™ synthetic insulation
- Other Features: Powder skirt; helmet-compatible hood; pit zips; durable water repellent (DWR) on shell
What Makes This Jacket Especially Awesome: Its parka length (hitting below the hips) has garnered enthusiasm from customers who appreciate its rear coverage. That little bit of extra coverage, in addition to heavier-weight insulation than many 3-in-1s offer, makes this a toasty little number for those who hate being cold.
Best Bang for Your Buck Ski/Snowboard 3-in-1 Jackets
- MSRP: $220-$250
- Weight: 2 lbs. 12 oz.
- Shell Fabric: Nylon/polyester with Omni-Tech waterproof/breathable coating
- Mid Layer Insulation: 100g Microtemp synthetic fibers
- Other Features: Powder skirt; adjustable hood; pit zips
What Makes This Jacket Especially Awesome: It’s an REI Co-op Exclusive costing less than the price of many standalone ski shells these days. Omni-Heat® thermal-reflective lining and the thumbholes in the liner’s sleeves do a great job upping this jacket’s cozy game. And, in keeping with our Force of Nature initiative, which includes a commitment to closing gear gaps for women, we’re proud to carry this jacket in extended sizes.
- MSRP: $280-$299
- Weight: 3 lbs.
- Shell Fabric: Nylon with DryVent waterproof/breathable laminate
- Mid Layer Insulation: 80g Heatseeker synthetic fibers
- Other Features: Powder skirt; removable, helmet-compatible hood; pit zips
What Makes This Jacket Especially Awesome: Both the shell and the liner have zippered pockets to help prevent your phone or wallet accidentally falling out on the ski lift or on the trail. It has a more athletic fit than many bulkier 3-in-1 options. And, tall fellas, rejoice—we also carry this jacket in tall sizes, so your sleeves will actually fit and you won’t have to swim inside a cavernous jacket just to accommodate your long torso.
Best Full-Featured Multisport 3-in-1 Jacket
- MSRP: $350
- Weight: 2 lbs. 6.1 oz. (Women’s) / 2 lbs. 12.3 oz. (Men’s)
- Shell Fabric: Nylon with Marmot MemBrain waterproof/breathable laminate
- Mid Layer Insulation: 3M™ Thinsulate™ Featherless polyester fibers
What Makes This Jacket Especially Awesome: 3M Thinsulate Featherless synthetic insulation is designed to mimic the warmth, compressibility and lightweight performance of 700-fill-power down. Unlike down, though, it doesn’t lose its insulating properties when it gets damp. This makes it a practical choice for drizzly hikes and camping trips, or stormy days on skis, snowshoes or your board.
Best Bang for Your Buck Multisport 3-in-1 Jacket
- MSRP: $199-$219
- Weight: 1 lb. 10.8 oz. (Women’s) / 1 lb. 15.8 oz. (Men’s)
- Shell Fabric: Polyester with DryVent waterproof/breathable laminate
- Mid Layer Fabric: 200-weight fleece
What Makes This Jacket Especially Awesome: You might have thought it impossible to get not one, but two, jackets from The North Face for less than $200, but the Arrowood demonstrates otherwise. Rather than offering a traditional “puffy” insulated liner jacket as many 3-in-1s do, this comes with a midweight fleece liner that makes this more suitable for cool, crisp shoulder-season days or spring skiing.
Fit Tip: Customers report that the women’s version runs slightly small.
Best Casual 3-in-1 Jacket
- MSRP: $260
- Weight: 2 lbs. 12 oz. (Women’s) / 3 lbs. 15 oz. (Men’s)
- Shell Fabric: Cotton/nylon with Omni-Tech waterproof/breathable fabric (Women’s) / Cotton/polyester with Omni-Tech waterproof/breathable fabric (Men’s)
- Mid Layer Insulation: 80g Microtemp XF II polyester fibers (Women’s) / Fleece (Men’s)
What Makes This Jacket Especially Awesome: The men’s and women’s versions are configured a bit differently, but they share several key features. One is the reversible, fleece liner jacket that can stow away into the back pocket of the shell. The women’s version has three unique components, instead of just two—a waterproof shell; a sleeveless, snap-in anorak vest; and the insulated, reversible liner. These provide countless configurations, making it a great pick for traveling to locales with wild weather. (In other words, just about anywhere.)