The Best Hiking Jackets For Each Season

Do you hate shopping for clothes as much as we do? We totally get your frustration. Choosing the best clothes for your needs can be difficult. Yet it’s one of the most important aspects of planning your hikes. The clothes you wear, especially the boots and the jacket, can affect your hiking experience greatly. Nature is unpredictable, the high mountains are even more so, but that shouldn’t make you miserable.

So let’s see how to choose the hiking jacket that fits your needs. We also brought you the list of the best jackets in each category in 2021 – based on customer ratings and reviews at Amazon and REI.

Things to consider first

How often do you hike? Would you use your jacket only when hiking or also in your everyday life? (We actually do most of our everyday clothes shopping in outdoor clothes stores. There are stylish pieces, and they’re very practical and comfortable.)

Where do you hike? What is the weather like there? How many seasons are there? Will you hike in every season? Or only in the warmer months?

Will you store things in your jacket? Phone, credit cards, passport and such things. Or do you store them in your backpack? Depending on your answer, it might be an important factor whether your jacket has pockets and how many.

The most important features

Magaro peak loop trail, Galičica National Park, North Macedonia

Which is the most important and which ones don’t matter that much is up for you to decide, but here are some features that hiking jackets can offer:

Water resistance

If you hike in a rainy climate, a waterproof jacket is essential. Getting soaked and not being able to change for dry clothes for hours don’t make anyone happy. In the worst case, you can even get sick.

Some waterproof jackets are lightweight and highly breathable which makes them ideal for warm, but rainy weather (like tropical forests). Hiking and skiing jackets on the other hand use stiffer fabrics that can give protection against extreme weather conditions, like a heavy rainfall or snowfall. You want to find the sweet spot: a jacket that’s lightweight but will also protect you. But in any case it should have a hood that covers your head and ears.

Breathability

Have you ever climbed a mountain in a waterproof jacket that kept the rain out, but you still got soaked because of your own sweat? That’s where breathability comes into the picture. It’s important that a jacket doesn’t allow any water in, but it’s also important that it allows vapour to get out.

It’s a feature that is sometimes inherent in the fabrics of the jacket, but in other cases it’s an added feature (like pit zips). Merino wool, nylon and polyester are typically good materials when it comes to breathability.

Krimml Waterfall, Austria

Packability

We want everything we pack into our hiking backpack to take up as little space as possible.

Warmth & ability to layer

It’s important if you hike in cold weather. Your jacket should keep you warm, and you should be able to comfortably dress under it.

Which are the best waterproof materials?

The outside water repellent layer is only the first line of defence against rain or snow (and nylon and/or polyester is great for this), but it’s not what makes a good waterproof jacket. The more important waterproof layer is applied to the inside of the jacket’s face fabric, not the outside. There are two main types of this: membrane and coated.

The membrane has microscopic holes that allow vapour molecules to get out but doesn’t allow liquid water to get inside. This makes it both waterproof and breathable. The most well-known membrane is GORE-TEX®.

Then there are the coated jackets which are less expensive. In this case a layer is sprayed or painted onto the inside of the jacket’s fabric. They’re less breathable but could still be suitable for many activities.

The best hardshell jackets – to protect you from extreme weather

Hardshell jackets are must-haves for any longer hikes, especially in the high mountains, as they protect you from rain or snow. We pack them even on a clear day, because weather can quickly change – and it often does. But that’s why it’s so important that they’re lightweight and easily packable.

Best value for price: Marmot Precip Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket – Men’s & Women’s

It’s on the cheap end of the spectrum when it comes to hardshell jackets, but it’s the best value in its league. It uses Marmot’s NanoPro waterproofing technology, and it has pit zips for ventilation.

When you don’t need it, you can stuff the jacket into its interior pocket.

ProsCons
best value for price; great rain and wind protection in its price rangecan’t stand heavy downpours, the water repellent coating on the outside can’t keep up, so the jacket will start to absorb some moisture
lightweight, easily packable jacketit compromises a lot on breathability, one can feel wet when active (but it offers pit zips under your arms)
adjustable hoodwon’t last as long as more expensive models
only two hand pockets

Click to see the current price for men’s or for women’s!

Most budget-friendly: Columbia Men’s Watertight / Columbia Women’s Arcadia

Simple and not the best performer, but it’s a budget-friendly rain jacket for everyday use. Unlike other jackets for a similar price, this one has zippered hand pockets, Velcro wrist cinches and an adjustable hood.

Don’t have too high expectations for this price. It’s great for the average short hike or walk in the rain, but it can’t be compared to mid-range and premium rain jackets that are both more waterproof and breathable.

ProsCons
affordable pricewaterproof (2-layer Omni-Tech waterproof shell fabric), but not designed for rough conditions (like hiking in heavy rain for more than an hour)
lightweight, packs into its own pocketno pit zips, breathability is sufficient only for light exercise
lots of color options available
great durability in its price range

Click to see the current price for men’s or for women’s!

Durable, impressively waterproof: Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket – Men’s & Women’s

It gives protection from strong wind and heavy downpour, and it has great ventilation. The hood is very well designed and adds to that solid protection. It comes with a hefty price, but few other jackets can compete with its durable water and wind resistance.

ProsCons
impressively windproof and waterproof (2-layer GORE-TEX waterproofing)expensive
adequate ventilation for light or moderate exerciseonly two hand pockets
ultralight and compact, can be rolled into its own hoodno pit zips
durable
premium quality and styling

Click to see the current price for men’s or for women’s!

The best fleece jackets – to keep you warm on cool days

Fleece jackets are great for cool and dry weather. Their breathable and flexible shells offer protection from light rain or snow, too, but they’re not waterproof. In cold weather you can use them as a mid-layer.

Most budget-friendly to keep you warm: Columbia Men’s Steens Mountain 2.0 Full Zip Fleece Jacket / Columbia Women’s Benton Springs Full Zip Fleece Jacket

It’s a warm and cozy jacket for a good price. It has thick material, a wind-blocking collar and two large pockets. When it comes to breathability, its material is mostly good at keeping the heat. It can be suitable for hiking, but you’ll likely take it off when hiking uphill and sweating.

It’s easy to layer under this fleece, because it’s quite roomy, but laying over it is not that comfortable.

ProsCons
warmnot breathable
affordablethe men’s Steens Mountain jacket looks a bit bulky, both can be uncomfortable when dressing over them
comfortable
lots of color options available

Click to see the current price for men’s or for women’s!

Most budget-friendly mid-layer (for men): Marmot Reactor

It’s a comfortable, lightweight fleece with a wind-blocking collar, two hand pockets and one left arm pocket – and all zippered. It’s not too warm, but breathable and easy to layer, so it’s a great mid-layer.

ProsCons
lightweightnot very warm
breathable
easy to layer

Click to see the current price here!

Best performer for the coldest days (for men): Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody

This is your comfy fleece for winter hikes! It has an incredibly soft interior that keeps you warm, and it’s also stretchy enough so that you won’t feel restricted when moving. You can use it as a standalone piece in moderately cold weather, but its slim fit makes it easy to layer, as well, on those freezing cold days.

While breathability is not the strength of fleece jackets, this is among the most breathable ones, considering how much warmth it provides. However, it’s best for winter days and could be too much in spring or fall.

It has two hand pockets and one internal pocket (all zippered), and a scuba style hood that fits under helmets.

ProsCons
very warm and comfortableheavy
easy to layerexpensive
relatively breathable

Click to see the current price here!

Best performer for the coldest days (for women): Voormi High-E Hoodie

This is the women’s version of the fleece for winter hikes, even when the weather is poor. Made of merino wool and polyester, and with an added Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish, this jacket is surprisingly weather resistant, considering it’s a fleece.

The downside? While most fleece jackets don’t protect you against wind and rain this much, they’re usually more stretchy.

It has great features, like a front kangaroo pocket and an internal chest pocket, or the zipper that comes all the way up the nose, hence offers even more coverage and protection along with the hood in poor weather. This full cover hood even has a ponytail hole (no joke).

ProsCons
durablestiff fabric, not the most comfortable
very warmtight fit, not so comfortable with long sleeve base layers
excellent water and wind repellentheavy
full cover hoodexpensive

Click to see the current price here!

Most comfortable on casual days: The North Face Campshire Pullover Hoodie – Men’s & Women’s

Warm and thick, with a large kangaroo pouch in the front and an extra handwarmer pocket behind it, this fleece is like a cozy blanket. It has one purpose – to keep you warm – and it does exactly that, and no more. While it’s too heavy to pack for backcountry hikes, it’s great for short hikes or wearing around the camp.

ProsCons
warm and cozyheavy (too heavy for multi-day hikes)
thick and sturdy materialgets dirty easily (long fleece fiber material)
not breathable

Click to see the current price for men’s or for women’s!

The best down jackets – to keep you warm on cold days

Down jackets are for cold weather. They usually use fluff from ducks or geese as insulation, because these natural materials are great at locking in warmth. Good down jackets offer decent wind and water resistance, but they’re not waterproof. You should put a hardshell on top in harsh weather conditions.

Most budget-friendly: Amazon Essentials Lightweight Water-Resistant Packable Puffer Jacket – Men’s & Women’s

No wonder that this jacket is a best seller on Amazon, both the men’s and women’s model. It offers great value for the price: it’s lightweight and warm, water resistant, easily packable, and it has zippered hand pockets, large internal pockets and elastic cuffs for more comfort. It’s great both for hiking and everyday use.

ProsCons
unbeatable pricenot breathable
lightweighttight fit, you might need to size up
warm (100% polyester insulation)
decent water and wind resistance, considering how low priced this jacket is
lots of color options available

Click to see the current price for men’s or for women’s!

Warmest down jacket: Rab Neutrino Pro – Men’s & Women’s

Being one of the warmest down jackets, the tough and weather resistant Rab Neutrino Pro is suitable for the harshest winter days. Its weather resistance also exceeds what one would expect from a down jacket. It’s not that lightweight, but then, you always need to make sacrifices, and in this case you get impressive warmth and features in exchange.

It has a helmet-compatible hood which makes it a great choice for technical adventures, too. It offers two hand pockets and an internal zip pocket.

ProsCons
very warm (filled with premium 800-fill-power goose) and comfortablenot that lightweight
solid water and wind resistance (Neutrino’s Pertex Quantum Pro fabric with additional DWR finish)don’t pair well with a hardshell jacket over top
durable
uses responsibly sourced goose down

Click to see the current price for men’s or for women’s!

Best ultralight down jacket: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Hoody – Men’s & Women’s

This jacket is as light as possible but still keeps you warm which makes it the best choice for backcountry hikes and technical adventures in cold weather. Of course, to make it so lightweight, one has to sacrifice some features and warmth. But only some in case of the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer.

It’s still reasonably warm, has a DWR finish to make it more weather resistant, and has two zippered hand pockets and a hood. When temperatures drop below freezing, you might need an additional lightweight fleece under it.

ProsCons
ultralightexpensive
warm (800-fill-power down), considering how lightweight it isfit design (too tight around the shoulders, too loose around the torso)
decent water and wind resistanceloose cuffs (wear it with gloves)
made of completely recycled face fabricno hood cinch

Click to see the current price for men’s or for women’s!

Best performer: Patagonia Down Sweater

Being both lightweight and warm, this jacket is a great choice for outdoor adventures on a cold day. It has an added DWR finish which makes it water repellent (but keep in mind, it’s not waterproof). It’s the best for cold, dry days and can be used with a shell on top when weather conditions are harsh.

ProsCons
warm (filled with high-end 800-fill-power goose)expensive
lightweight, easily packableno hood
durable
easy to layer (both under and over)
classic style and lot of color options

Click to see the current price here!

Conclusion

Pescadero Beach, California, USA

There are lots of jackets in this review. We chose both budget-friendly and high quality options. You can find ones that are most suitable for day hikes, others for technical hikes, trail running or multi-day backcountry hikes.

There’s always a price to pay for everything – and we don’t only mean the hefty price you pay for a quality jacket. But no jacket can be perfectly lightweight, warm, waterproof and breathable at the same time. We hope that by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of these jackets, you’re able to pick the one that fits you the best. And then nothing can stop you from tackling those amazing trails!

Disclosure: Please note that affiliate links are used in this post, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you are ready to book your trip and would like to support this website in some way, here’s your chance. Thank you! 🙂


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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

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