The Best Winter Jackets: Staff Picks

Find the perfect coat for your next cold-weather activity among our 9 favorites.

Maren Horjus|Updated June 9, 2021

4 reviews with an average rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars
A woman wearing a winter jacket reveals the inner liner.

Editor’s note: Inventory can be unpredictable this year with COVID-19, so some of the items in this list might be temporarily out of stock when you read this guide. We’ll do our best to update it accordingly.

A good winter jacket needs to keep you warm and dry, but there’s a lot of variability therein. Things like insulation, breathability and features range in importance, depending on when you plan to wear your coat and in what conditions.

In the market? Start here, with our staffers’ favorites, which we’ve arranged by activity. So whether you’re looking for a winter jacket for snowshoeing, skiing, climbing, fat-tire biking, running, camping or everyday wear, we’ve got you covered.


REI Co-op Activator Soft Shell Jacket

Best Winter Jacket for Snowshoeing


“For the price, you can’t do much better than this softie,” declares one Expert Advice editor. The REI Co-op Activator packs features you need for hiking in a winter-friendly package that won’t break your bottom line. For starters, it’s stretchy and will move with you when you swing your arms or plant your trekking poles. That same softshell material is also breathable—great for sweaty sessions plowing through deep snow and working hard. Still, the fleece liner adds a touch of insulation, and the cut is generous enough to accommodate a mid layer.

The Activator’s tough nylon shell can shrug off brambles, and a durable water repellent coating deflects light snow, but the jacket isn’t waterproof. (If you plan to go ’shoeing in wet, heavy snow or even rain, check out the Dynafit Radical 2, below.) It does have a cord-adjustable hood with a brim and high collar to seal out weather, plus a hem cinch, however. Other features: zippered hand pockets, a zippered chest pocket and adjustable wrist cuffs. Buy here.


REI Co-op Powderbound Insulated Jacket

Best Winter Jacket for Resort Skiing

Skiing can be cold and wet, but the Powderbound is warm and dry. Its waterproof, windproof outer shell is a virtual fortress against winter weather, and it packs 80 grams of synthetic insulation in the torso to keep your core toasty (and 60 grams in the arms). That makes it a can’t-go-wrong option for cold days on the hill when you intend to sit on a lift or stand in a line between shredding.

REI Co-op designers loaded the Powderbound with ski- and snowboard-specific features like an adjustable hood that easily fits over a helmet (or can be cinched down), a removable powder skirt, pit zips and oversize cuffs that can fit over gloves. It also has a nose-high collar that you can hide behind if the snow is whipping, or you can easily tuck it below your chin without chafing. And there’s a pocket surplus: zippered hand pockets, a zippered chest pocket, a lift pass pocket and a goggle pocket.

Nice touch: The Powderbound is made with bluesign®-approved nylon. Read more about the line in our First LookBuy here.


Dynafit Radical 2 GORE-TEX Jacket

Best Winter Jacket for Backcountry Skiing

  • VersionsWomen’smen’s
  • Weatherproofing: GORE-TEX® Active fabric on the lower sleeves and torso; GORE-TEX® C-KNIT™ fabric on the shoulders, arms and where a hipbelt would ride. The jacket is seam-sealed.
  • Insulation: None
  • Sustainability attributes: Made in a Fair Trade Certified™ factory
  • Price: $499.95

When you need top-notch protection and breathability, reach for the Dynafit Radical 2. Equipped with GORE-TEX® Active—the lightest and most breathable 3-layer waterproof technology in the brand’s lineup—the Radical 2 allows you to bust uphill without overheating. “I’ll wear mine trailhead to trailhead without fussing with layers,” says one staffer. “As long as I’m moving, base layer and Radical 2 is the perfect combination.”

Still, you don’t need to sacrifice weather protection for all that airiness. Though GORE-TEX® Active is ultrabreathable, it still serves up best-in-class waterproofing and windproofing. The Radical 2 also has sections of burlier (but still quite breathable) GORE-TEX® C-KNIT™ in higher-wear zones, and one staffer’s hard shell looks “good as new” after a season of regular wear in the alpine.

The Radical 2 is one of the lightest winter hard shells sold at REI, weighing a mere 12.2 ounces (for a women’s medium), and it has a trim cut, so it should please gram counters. (Note: You can fit a slim mid layer like a fleece or similar underneath, but the cut is too narrow to accommodate a big ol’ puffer.) It also has an adjustable, helmet-compatible hood with a visor, pit zips and an assemblage of pockets—not a gimme at this weight. Buy here.


Swix Navado Jacket

Best Winter Jacket for Cross-Country Skiing

  • VersionsMen’swomen’s
  • Weatherproofing: Wind- and water-resistant 20-denier nylon outer shell on the torso and shoulders for protection
  • Insulation: 60g polyester insulation
  • Price: $185 (men’s), $190 (women’s)

When it comes to cross-country skiing, mobility is key. That’s why our staffers praise the Swix Navado, a hybrid insulated jacket with articulated elbows and stretchy paneling under the arms, down the sides and across the back. “If it’d be good for jazzercise, it’d be good for cross-country skiing, and the Navado checks that box,” quips one tester. Between the polyester panels, a section of quilted insulation covers the torso to keep your core warm when you stop moving.

The Navado has three zippered pockets: two hand and one on the center back for small sundries like keys and lip balm. It’s lightweight (just a pound for a men’s medium) and has a trim profile that suits it to aerobic activities like cross-country skiing, but note that you can’t very well fit a mid layer underneath. The Navado is designed to accommodate a base layer and not much else. Weather protection is minimal: It doesn’t have a hood, and it’s just water-resistant enough to handle light precip. If you plan to ski in wet weather, layer a hard shell over the top or opt for something with a waterproof membrane like the Dynafit Radical 2Buy here.


Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket

Best Winter Jacket for Ice Climbing and Mountaineering

  • VersionsWomen’smen’s
  • Weatherproofing: GORE-TEX® Pro fabric is wind- and waterproof. The jacket is seam-sealed and has watertight zippers.
  • Insulation: None
  • Price: $799

Sometimes Mother Nature puts the hurt on—and that’s when you should hunker down in the Arc’teryx Alpha SV, the burliest shell in this lineup. It’s constructed with supertough GORE-TEX® Pro and bolstered with sealed seams and zippers, making it virtually impenetrable against rain, snow, wind and the occasional rogue crampon point. “This jacket will keep you dry anywhere, from soggy city streets to snowy chairlifts, but it is probably best utilized in harsh mountain environments,” says an analyst at the co-op who spends his out-of-office time climbing in the alpine. “It’s the most protective and bomber hard shell I have owned.”

As far as features go, the Alpha SV is loaded—making it a great option for most outdoor pursuits. It has a helmet-compatible hood with a laminated brim, pit zips, an assortment of pockets and a handful of adjustment points so you can dial in fit whether you’re layering beneath it or not. Of course, all that protection and all those features come at a cost—but if you’re a skier, hiker, climber and general winter warrior, it’s a jack-of-all-trades piece that will suit for the overwhelming majority of activities, no matter the conditions. Buy here.



Best Winter Jacket for Fat-Tire Biking

  • Weatherproofing: Nylon-and-polyester shell is wind- and water-resistant.
  • Insulation: None
  • Price: $295

One staffer called this jacket a “unicorn” for its just-right weather protection and breathability. The Naughtvind soft shell from 45NRTH does a great job blocking wind thanks to a tough, double-weave nylon fabric, while knit paneling on the sides lets heat escape when you start pedaling hard. “It’s the best winter shell for (real) winter bike riding,” declares one customer reviewer. “Every winter cycling jacket I’ve tried before this is too heavy and geared more for cold rain, but fat-tire biking or riding in snowy conditions demands a jacket with a wind-stopping shell and lots of breathability. This jacket does that.” It has two zippered vents for additional moisture management.

A high collar protects your face if the wind picks up, and the Naughtvind offers plenty of storage: three rear stash pockets, a zippered chest pocket and two zippered hand pockets. Fit is trim enough to be aerodynamic, but spacious enough to accommodate a mid layer if it’s subfreezing. The Naughtvind is technically classified as a men’s jacket, but women on our team like it just as well. Buy here.


REI Co-op Swiftland Insulated Jacket - Women’s

Best Winter Jacket for Running

REI Co-op Swiftland Insulated

  • Versions: Women’s, women’s plus (sorry, no men’s, but the Arc’teryx Argus is similar)
  • Weatherproofing: Wind-resistant nylon shell with a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment that repels light rain
  • Insulation: 40g polyester insulation in the body and fleece lining on collar, cuffs and underarms
  • Sustainability attributes: Contains bluesign®-approved materials
  • Price: $99.95

Staying warm, but not too warm is the name of the game when it comes to winter running, which is why our team loves the just-right REI Co-op Swiftland insulated jacket. It has light insulation on the front, upper arms and shoulders to keep your core warm in blustery temps, but fear not: You’re unlikely to overheat. Stretchy polyester-and-spandex material across the lower back, underarms, collar and forearms helps you dump heat. “When it’s subfreezing and I want some extra warmth, this is the jacket I go for,” says a video producer at the co-op who logs his miles year-round. “Worn with a wool base layer, it keeps me warm in the teens and lower.” Note that this jacket is designed for cold-weather use—if winter is milder where you live, opt for an uninsulated jacket like the Arc’teryx Cita SL (women’s) or Incendo SL (men’s).

The Swiftland Insulated’s feature set belies its sub-$100 price tag. It has fleece-lined cuffs and underarms, plus a fleecy collar, which are soft and warm next to skin and great at wicking moisture if you heat up. It has two zippered hand pockets and an internal stuff-it pocket for a phone, light gloves or a soft flask. Reflective elements dot the garment, too, so you should remain visible to traffic on low-light days. No hood, though. Buy here.



Fjallraven Nuuk Insulated Parka 

Best Winter Jacket for Camping

  • VersionsWomen’smen’s
  • Weatherproofing: Proprietary waterproof fabric with durable water repellent (DWR) treatment repels rain and wind. The jacket is seam-sealed.
  • Insulation: 250g polyester insulation
  • Price: $500

Be the envy of your tentmates with the Fjallraven Nuuk (the men’s version is called the Yupik), which boasts a whopping 250 grams of insulation for sleeping bag-like warmth. It also has a DWR-treated shell, fleece-lined pockets, an oversize hood and a thigh-length cut—everything about this parka was designed for banishing cold. That all makes it a great option for lower-intensity activities like winter camping, ice fishing, belaying or hunting in a blind. (Which is to say: Mobility and breathability are sub-par.)

The Nuuk’s street style and bevy of adjustability features lend it to everyday wear if you live in a harsher winter climate, as well. It has a faux fur liner on the hood, plus approximately one million pockets. Buy here.


KUHL Kollusion Fleece Lined Jacket

Best Winter Jacket for Everyday Wear

  • VersionsMen’swomen’s
  • Weatherproofing: DYNAWAX™ fabric provides wind and water resistance, and PU-and-wax coating repels rain and wind.
  • Insulation: 300g polyester fleece
  • Price: $199 (men’s), $179 (women’s)

“It’s like a winterized fleece,” says one staffer of the KUHL Kollusion. True: The hooded jacket is made with a treated DYNAWAX™ shell that effectively blocks moderate wind, rain and snow, but inside it’s all luxury with a high-pile fleece that’s uber-cozy and soft next to skin. The Kollusion (the women’s version is called the Celeste) doesn’t have the sort of technical features you may want for more specialized winter activities, but its street style makes it a great option for commuting and wearing on your day to day. Buy here.


Shop All Winter Jackets 


Buying Advice

Before purchasing a new winter coat, consider how you plan to use it.


Weather Protection vs. Breathability

In general, weather protection comes at the expense of breathability—preventing water or wind from entering a garment tends to also prevent sweat vapor from exiting the same garment. Weather protection also tends to add to the overall price of a jacket.

For these reasons, we often recommend weather-resistant soft shells for cold-but-not-wet activities like hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Such soft shells provide some insulation from the cold and light weather protection, but where they really shine is in their breathability—making them great for high-output days in cold weather. The soft shells in this lineup are the REI Co-op Activator, the Swix Navado, the 45NRTH Naughtvind and the REI Co-op Swiftland Insulated.

For cold-and-wet activities like skiing and mountaineering, however, we often recommend waterproof hard shells. These jackets are fortresses against rain, snow and wind—which makes them pricier. The hard shells in this lineup are the Dynafit Radical 2 GORE-TEX  and Arc’teryx Alpha SV.

For more tips, read our article on water-resistant versus waterproof jackets.



Ahthe art of layering. If you’re looking to purchase a winter jacket for any remotely aerobic activity, your best bet is to learn how your layers work together and then plop a soft or hard shell (above) on top. It’s always easy to remove a layer if you overheat.

If, however, you’re planning on wearing your winter jacket during lower-output activities like resort skiing, ice fishing or even walking around town, consider a coat with built-in insulation. Polyester or down fill will boost the overall warmth of a garment (at the expense of breathability). The insulated jackets in this gear guide are the REI Co-op Powderbound and Fjallraven Nuuk. The Swix Navado and REI Co-op Swiftland Insulated (both soft shells) have touches of insulation on the torso.

For more information, check out How to Choose Insulated Outerwear.



In general, features like pockets and adjustment tabs make a jacket heavier and less packable. If you’re using your winter coat for casual use, then go all out in identifying the extras that matter to you. If, however, you plan to take your jacket on the trail or into the backcountry, scrutinize those add-ons because you’ll be carrying the jacket the whole time, whether it’s on your back or in your pack. Also, pay attention to activity-specific features: Skiers may want a hood that fits over a helmet, while climbers may want a hood that fits under a helmet. Things like pit zips and stretchy fabric can be worth their weight on more technical pursuits, while pocket placement matters if you plan to wear a pack.



We polled staffers and member-testers across the co-op for their favorite winter jackets for hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, climbing, fat-tire biking, running, winter camping and everyday wear. These are some of their favorites.


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