Ah, the venerable vest, equal parts indispensable accessory and outdoor wardrobe lynchpin since lumberjacks roamed the earth. Cold mornings in camp, lunch breaks on the ridgeline and après beers in the trailhead parking lot—the insulated vest is a versatile tool for any cool-weather wardrobe. Designed with your spirit of wanderlust in mind, a quality vest ensures your body heat is secure at the core while giving you the freedom to move without freezing up.
Just like stoking a fire, it’s important to cultivate those core embers and maintain the production of body heat with a steady flow of insulation and fuel. You can keep that internal inferno ablaze with a quality insulated vest. Following are six of our editors’ favorite offerings, ready to keep you toasty warm from autumn excursions to spring backpacking trips above the treeline.
Patagonia Nano-Air Vest
For those aerobic start-stop missions when core warmth, stretch and breathability are key, the Patagonia Nano-Air Vest reigns supreme. This beautifully thought out and well designed vest (available in men’s and women’s) is an answer to gear needs you didn’t even know you had. Combining the best qualities of a fleece, a puffy and a softshell, this feathery light vest packs small while still offering the technical, cutting-edge features of the brand’s beefier jackets.
The Nano-Air Vest features Patagonia’s exclusive FullRange™ insulation that’s warm, stretchy and impressively breathable, making it the perfect partner for any dynamic outdoor activity. The secret to this insulation technology is a proprietary element that gives it added stability against fiber migration, and allows for great stretch and recovery. In other words, insulation stays put enabling the designers to open up the exterior and create space for vapor to exit the jacket. In other words, you get a super-breathable vest with mechanical stretch that lets you move easily on the wall, the skin track, or the hiking trail. And trust us when we say, the warmth to weight ratio on this vest is off the charts.
Big Zoro Vest with DownTek
When you need that extra little somethin’ somethin’ to keep you warm on those extra cold days, zip on the Big Agnes Zoro Vest. Featuring high loft 850 fill power DownTek you get the gift of insulation that repels water while maintaining loft. With the ability to absorb 30% less water and dry 60% faster than untreated down, DownTek is nothing short of remarkable. Simply put, DownTek offers the comfort and weight of down combined with the water resistant/quick drying properties of polyester creating the ultimate insulation. Result? Plenty of dry feel-good warmth even in snowy, damp conditions.
Insotect Flow™ vertical baffles and Flow Gates contour to your body and keep the down in place to provide a more comfortable fit. Ripstop exterior resists pulls and scratches for long-wearing durability while a superior DWR finish turns moisture into liquid roller balls that fall off your vest instead of lying around and sinking in. Don’t pack this versatile beast away with the rest of your ski gear when winter’s over, because it’ll come in handy when you’re hanging around the campfire on those chilly high-mountain summer evenings. On the rare occasion you do actually need to pack it away, the interior zip security pocket doubles up as a stuff sack.
Stio Azura Vest
With the sheer versatility of the stio Azura Vest (available in men’s and women’s), you’ll find yourself reaching for it at least 329 days a year. That’s because it’s tough enough to be an outer layer and bulk-less enough to be a midlayer: warm enough for skiing and stylish enough for nights at the mountain tavern. The secret to its performance is Primaloft GOLD insulation that offers maximum warmth with minimal weight all while remaining completely packable.
Primaloft GOLD sets a high standard for synthetic insulations. Microfibers trap body heat to make this the most thermally-efficient synthetic insulation available, with water-repellency that insulates even in the wettest weather. So you get a vest that keeps you warm and dry during predawn starts and blustery afternoons. The more you wear this one, the more you’ll love it. Which is one of the reasons it’s the vest that ended up making the trek to Europe with our field team.
NuDown Mount Whitney Vest
The Mount Whitney’s core values are simple: weather-resistant warmth, mobility and technological innovation. Unlike the other vests featured on our list, the Mount Whitney Vest (available for men and women) is the only option that offers customized levels of warmth. Light Primaloft Gold fill in collar keeps the chill out while Polartec Windpro wide inserts ensure full stretch for dynamic movements.
Featuring proprietary NuTech technology, the first on-demand customized insulation system, the Mount Whitney Vest offers insulation courtesy of naturally pumped air giving the user power to create and adjust their own ideal temperature no matter what the conditions. Each pump adds approximately one degree Fahrenheit of comfort offering a comfort range that spans over 30 degrees. As an added bonus, the Mount Whitney features RECCO® technology which makes you searchable to professional rescuers in the event of an avalanche accident.
L.L. Bean PrimaLoft Packaway
Spend more than 100 years designing gear for life lived in the great outdoors and you too might create a feature rich, versatile vest like the L.L. Bean PrimaLoft Parkway Vest (available in men’s and women’s). This ultralight, ultra-packable vest offers weather resistant performance and a surprising level of warmth to ensure you’ll never be left out in the cold.
The PrimaLoft Packaway utilizes a lofty 60-grams of PrimaLoft One polyester insulation for warmth while an elastic drawcord that cinches tightly to seal out the cold. The hand pockets have soft fabric in them that keeps your hands cozy as well as warm, and ultralight ripstop nylon glides like butter under layers for a smooth fit that won’t restrict motion making this our favorite mid-layer of the group. For the bonus round, you get your choice of this gem in six different colorways ranging from bright lapsis to dark cayenne and kelp.
Mountain Khakis Swagger Vest
The MK Swagger Vest is reliable as a farm truck and useful as an avalanche beacon. In addition to its rugged good looks, the Swagger Vest provides you with both warmth and comfort. The quilted, DWR (Durable Water Repellent) exterior is not only a welcome departure from the typical outdoorsy world of ripstop nylon, but it offers exceptional comfort that makes your vest wearing a daily routine.
Mountain Khakis insulated the Swagger Vest with Primaloft Silver, a synthetic down alternative developed for the U.S. Army, featuring superior warmth and compression. Extra style points include storm flap with field-inspired closures. Simply put, this vest gives you the warmth you need with the mountain gumption you want.