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Puffy Jacket Alternatives?

Hello,

I was looking for a puffy jacket (synthetic), since it seems to be such a popular layering piece. Already having the coldest weather covered with my long down parka, I wanted something that I could also layer and cover temps from mild to cold (when I’d switch to the parka). However, after months of looking, I couldn’t find a puffy that I really loved and that fit me well. I don’t like to feel restricted across my shoulders and most did this on me. I also read or was told a lot of negative reviews of many including the venerable Patagonia puffy jackets simply not holding up well (one retailer of their jackets shared they had purchased this jacket for themselves and had serious wear in the stitching in 6 months making the jacket look extremely worn). All this was obviously discouraging. The Patagonia was one of the few that fit well but the reviews of poor durability concerned me. I also tried North Face, Helly Hansen, LL Bean, and so many others. My other concern is durability as I’ve seen a lot of puffy jackets covered in duct tape or tenacious tape repairs, which I’d rather avoid.

I’m wondering what might be alternative options for such a jacket. I tend to love hoods. They completely keep the chill off one’s neck and allow a quick wind-block, and keep the cold off without having to bring along a hat and scarf. I actually use mine often. I’d truly love to hear any ideas that you would have for alternatives to a puffy that would still pack small, be versatile across a range of temps, allow for easy layering, and perhaps, be more durable. I’m not completely against the puffy at this point, if you have any other ideas to try on this, just rather disillusioned after trying so many that I couldn’t find one that fit well and even paying $300 for a top-of-the-range Patagonia wouldn’t get me the durable jacket I had hoped. I don’t buy things like outerwear that often and I want it to last many years.

Any ideas would be super helpful! Thanks so much in advance. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. :) 

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More info, if needed:

We live in Northern New England and see true 4-Season weather with long, cold, snowy winters. I’ve come to truly appreciate the benefits of layering for varied temps and changeable weather. We also have to travel 3-4 times a year for me to have surgeries required for ongoing medical treatment to a much warmer southern climate. I have a knee length, extra warm Big Agnes Long Draw Parka (down) for the coldest of winter weather. 

The closest option I found was the LL Bean waterproof ultralight jacket which has a great cut (completely different from their synthetic puffy) with plenty of room across the back, slightly longer, which I don’t mind, and lots of adjustability and pockets. The problem is, even with features like the pit zips and open/close back vent, it’s still too warm/clammy for milder weather and can’t really be layered as much as I’d like (other than adding another layer under it). It’s very nearly as warm as my down coat. While the waterproofing is a cool feature for really snowy weather, colder rain, etc, I think it’s simply too warm for the transition jacket I had envisioned. It also (understandably) doesn’t pack down as small as I was thinking, though it will compress into it’s own (smallish) pocket.

Hi Rae!

I, for one, am very confused as to what exactly you are specifically looking for. You mention a puffy, but then also a rain jacket later on. Two very different types of jackets with very different applications.

You also mention not finding one that fit. Almost every single company has at least one synthetic puffy (often times 2 or 3, heck a quick search on Patagonia's site shows no less than 25 different models). Often being able to try them on in person can be difficult and you have to take a leap of faith but most reputable companies/sites have great return policy should they not fit. In terms of feeling restricted, there a lot of jackets made now with fabrics that stretch, the patagania nano air for example (not trying to promote patagonia or saying that you need to spend that much money to get a quality jacket, you just mentioned them so I'm using them as an starting point).

You also say you are worried about the durability. Is this for city use, or backcountry use? If its for mountain use, it's gonna get dirty, ripped and worn, it just happens, there no magic puffy that won't wear out when exposed to rocks, branches etc. If its for city use, well, most of the high end, and probably most of the mid tier companies will be more than durable enough for commuting, etc.

I think if you give a little more direction in what temps/ conditions you are looking for, what size you are, and your intended uses it would give people a better chance of giving you a helpful suggestion.

Go with fleece.  I get your lament.  A basic fleece hoodie will work well.  You can get it in different loft weights to fit your personal warmth profile.  And if not too choosy, fleece is fleece, and cheap at Target and other discount stores.  If you need to cut wind or shed rain, add a soft or hard shell that is unlined.  My NE friends like this combo for the fall.

Ed

https://www.patagonia.com/product/mens-nano-air-hoody/84366.html?isSearch=true&dwvar_84366_color=FRE

https://www.patagonia.com/product/womens-nano-air-hoody/84267.html?isSearch=true&dwvar_84267_color=BLK

Men's and women's versions of the nano air w/hood. Trailspace reviews here (one is mine): https://www.trailspace.com/gear/patagonia/nano-air-hoody/ this and their R-1 hoody are the most versatile layers i own. you can judge from the reviews whether this is what might fit your needs.

As for puffy synthetic jackets I have used one of the first generations of the Patagonia Puffball and used it extensively. It held up for many years and finally I donated it to charity still in great shape. I still use my Puffball vest and it is in great shape. My latest Patagonia Nanopuff pullover I got last year and used about every day through the late fall, winter and early spring has nothing wrong with it at all.

But I don’t hike in a puffy even in very cold weather. I find them too hot. They only get used when I’m stationary in camp or at rest. How thick you need is subjective so it’s hard to steer you there. They offer many levels of protection. I think they do offer a jacket system that has both puffy and hard shell that zip together. I have a good Patagonia Houdini windshirt and a good rain shell that I can mix and match with insulation as need be.

Some prefer fleece and that works well in some instances too. That is not as warm per weight or as wind resistant though. 

Wool cruiser by CC Filson.

@Rae: You said you're big on layering, already have the deep winter coat, and want something to last a while...so, the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody.

I have one. It's amazing. Super warm for the weight, replaces a couple of items in a pack, and breathes like all get out. Throw a hardshell over it when you need to.

Just a little more on the OR Ascendant. The inner is a mid-weight Polartech Alpha fleece, about equivalent to 150-weight traditional fleece, at a fraction of the weight. The outer layer is 20-denier Pertex Mirolight, a very wind-proof and water resistant windshirt. 

The hood is comfy, and the thumb-loops work well. With a long-sleeved baselayer, and appropriate hand/legwear, I feel comfortable wearing the Ascendant for in-camp lounging/activities down to about freezing.

+1 for the OR Ascendant.  I wear mine when I want to be warm but I know its going to be a wet trip. 

Layers! I wear layers of clothing instead of one jacket. Tshirt, sweater,windbreaker or rain jacket.

As far as fit goes, in my experience $300 is almost enough. Like you, I never found a Patagonia jacket that fit me well. Seems like they might be good for the more typical skinny vegetarian type hiker perhaps (I'm guessing ... not really sure why they are so popular.)

Arc'teryx on the other hand, fits me like a perfectly unrestricting second skin. There is something magic about that they way they stitch their gear together that nothing else I've tried comes close to. Puffy, fleece, raincoat, whatever.

(I don't disagree about the relative cost-benefit goodness of OR jackets, probably my second-favorite fit overall).

Gary, I knew a guy in Montana who's entire insulation system was comprised of polyester thrift-store button up long-sleeve dress shirts -- about 20 of them all piled on top of each other. He'd wear however many he needed for the weather.

No idea how comfortable he was, but the entire system cost all of $5.

In the Adirondacks in winter I always wear my shell with a synthetic puffy underneath. Fleece works well and always has. It doesn't slip on and off easily though, and doesn't pack down like these newer synthetics.  For core warmth at the top I have my 700 down vest in the bottom  of my pack. I've never needed more no matter how cold. Ya gotta spend the money for the good stuff...for durability and true substitute for good old feathers.. currently I have a mountain hardwear alpine kor strata hoody. Love it. ....yes, it's all about how a particular company's product fits you...primaloft gold and coreloft are the two synthetics I find that work...the thin 850-900 fill jackets dont seem to work unless you spend an absurd amount of money for a really stuffed one....then you might as well go back to the 700 fill....just my opinion....

Zalman said:

Gary, I knew a guy in Montana who's entire insulation system was comprised of polyester thrift-store button up long-sleeve dress shirts -- about 20 of them all piled on top of each other. He'd wear however many he needed for the weather.

No idea how comfortable he was, but the entire system cost all of $5.

 I love that.  And I will readily admit that I own three or four fleeces that see regular wear on backpacking trips--and all came from thrift stores.  They still get loaned out to those who join us....

And I would still use them myself, but I have a couple of alpaca sweaters that I bought in Peru for about $15 and are perfect in every way...

balzaccom said:

".. I have a couple of alpaca sweaters that I bought in Peru for about $15 and are perfect in every way..."

Now we're talking!  I LOVE alpaca.  There are few fibers that are as soft to the touch as high grade alpaca.  I end up wearing out the sweaters in the BC, due to pack shoulder pads wearing on the sweater, so my alpaca tops are kept back home.  Alpaca does make for good around camp layers, on par with a down puffy, except like wool, it is more forgiving when damp.  Quality alpaca makes for excellent head wear and scarves.  My sub freezing layers include a long, thick, alpaca scarf I use to fill the air space around my neck and shoulders, and an Inca style beanie that I wear when skiing in the cold, and under my helmet while climbing in the cold.  (BTW: climbers will want to remove the laces dangling off the ends of the ear flaps on those Inca beanies, as they may get tangled in the climbing rope.  Been there, done that...)

Ed

September 18, 2020
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