Break out the sustainable insulated jackets because winter is here! At least here in Utah. But we’re OK with that, because winter and snow means we have the opportunity to play outside in ways we can’t the rest of the year: skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, all that good stuff. But winter also means it’s time to break out the layers, especially if you plan to go hiking, cross country skiing, or any other activity where you’ll be working hard in the cold but also need to stay warm when you stop for a snack break.
So we tested out a bunch of nice cozy puffy jackets–all synthetic, all PFAS-free, all more sustainable options–to help you figure out which one is right for you and your specific type of adventure preferences, whether you’re cross country skiing or hiking in the cold. (And if you want even more options, check out these 7 puffy jackets we reviewed last year or 4 hybrid jackets we reviewed this month!) Here are some of our newest favorite sustainable insulated jackets for all your winter pursuits.
Sustainable Insulated Jackets
Helly Hansen Odin Stretch Insulated Jacket 2.0
The Helly Hansen Odin Stretch Insulated Jacket 2.0 is an awesome all-around, do-it-all insulated packable jacket with plenty of features we love, including small stretchy panels just under the arms that offer a bit more breathability, but also freedom of motion, which makes sense, because Helly Hansen designs their gear for mountain pursuits. You know, mountaineering and backcountry skiing and such. But it also just makes a great hiking jacket.
It doesn’t offer the kind of stretch you might find in a hybrid jacket, but I always welcome a bit more breathability. It’s hoodless, which makes it easy to layer–though there’s also a hooded version available–and the fabric feels durable and has just the right amount of stretch, which is nice and makes it perfect for activities where you’re hyper mobile.
There’s a cinch cord in the waist and the zippered hand pockets AND the low-profile chest pocket are designed to lay mostly flat, which keeps it from feeling too bulky under a shell. Frankly, all the details on this jacket make it feel very high quality. The cuffs are unique: they’re more of a hidden, wide, comfy, stretchy band that’s kinda tucked up under the end of the sleeve a bit. It seems like a way to extend insulation all the way down the sleeve, but also keeps it less loosey-goosey around your wrist.
The Odin calls on recycled sheet insulation instead of a down-like flake insulation, which personally I don’t have a problem with because that means you won’t have as many cold spots from stitching or shifting insulation bunching up anywhere. Plus most of the jacket is made of recycled materials, including 100% of the outer fabric and 55% of the insulation, plus it’s Bluesign approved and has a PFC-free water repellent treatment.
It’s slightly fitted, but there’s still plenty of room to layer it over a fitted base layer or two. Anything more than that and I would size up. But honestly, this might be my new favorite jacket for layering AND as an outer layer for cool days.
Size, Weight, Colors: It comes in a S to XXL for men and an XS to XL for women. There are a few color options for both and a men’s medium weighs about 17.5 oz, give or take.
- Small stretchy panels offer range of motion and breathability
- Supremely high-quality materials and design
- Hoodless for easy layering
- Only partially recycled synthetic insulation
Houdini Double Dunfri
Looking for the reining champ of all puffer jackets? This is the crazy cozy Houdini Double Dunfri. It’s just as delightfully soft as the original Dunfri (which we reviewed in this post and video), but with twice the insulation, making it an excellent outer layer or super warm insulating layer when you’re hiking, backpacking, skiing, you name it, in really cold temps.
The hood is ridiculously insulated and roomy, in the best way possible, plus features a two-way adjustment for a perfect fit. The hem is also adjustable via bungees, there are two zippered hand pockets, two massive interior mesh stash pockets, AND an interior zipper pocket for valuables. Oh, and the hand pockets are high enough to stay out of the way of backpack straps and harnesses, by the way. Win.
It obviously isn’t as packable as the original Houdini Dunfri, which is one of Josh’s all-time favorite mid-layers, but it’s still impressively light for how warm it is. I mean, it feels like wearing a puffy cloud. The insulation AND fabric are 100% recycled AND the jacket can be recycled at the end of its life–just send it back to Houdini. That means, yeah, this jacket is circular, which makes this an awesomely sustainable insulated jacket. And yes, it’s PFAS-free and water resistant.
But just as importantly, it’s so soft, comfortable, and warm. The ripstop fabric is soft and the more durable material at the shoulders and on the tops of the arms mean it can also stand up to moderate wear and tear. The fit is a pretty boxy cut, but we don’t care when the jacket is this stupendously cozy. I mean, this is by far the warmest jacket on this list. To the point where I would absolutely wear it on it’s own in winter weather or as a super warm over coat.
It can still be worn over or under a shell, but I do recommend the latter only if your shell is extra roomy. After all, you don’t want to compress the insulation too much or it won’t be as effective. It’s also perfect as a layer you pack to throw on when you take a break during high-output pursuits. Basically, if you’re looking for a super warm layer for really cold days, this is the one. It’s the most expensive one on this list, but if sustainability and warmth are the priority, this is your jacket.
Sizes Available: It comes in XS to XXL for women and men and in 3 mostly neutral colors for both. It weight just over 24 oz for a women’s medium.
- Super warm
- Light and packable
- Highly sustainable
- Lots of useful features
- Doesn’t work as well as a mid layer
Jones Dark Start Recycled Hoodie
The Jones Dark Start Recycled Hoodie isn’t just for early morning starts (we prefer sunset to sunrise here at Terradrift), but whatever time of day you manage to get out of the house and hit the trail, this jacket performs.
Plus, Jones is a snowboard and winter gear brand that’s super committed to sustainability. For one, they collect and recycle snowboards and process the materials to make new snowboards, which almost no one is doing! But they also offer sustainable apparel, including the Dark Start Hoodie, which is made with 100% recycled fabric AND insulation, plus features PFC-free DWR AND the materials are OEKO-TEX certified.
The jacket has two hand pockets and a zippered chest pocket–which the whole jacket stuffs into for compact stowage (talk about a packable puffer jacket)–plus two interior stash pockets and an adjustable hem. It has a touch of stretch, which makes it a good jacket for layering, and feels supremely breathable, which could be because of how the insulation is placed inside the jacket: there’s a lot of empty space within the sewn baffles, which potentially means a lot of cold spots.
Now, I didn’t feel those cold spots too acutely during testing, but if you’re wearing this jacket on it’s own over just a base layer, say, you will probably notice a difference. A bit more of a chill, that is. I dunno if that insulation will spread out over time or what, but if it does, we’ll let you know. There’s a moderate amount of insulation in there, though, so it’s pretty warm. The fabric doesn’t feel as soft as some of these other jackets, but that’s likely because of the added stretch and frankly, I didn’t mind it. It’s likely more durable, honestly.
It’s designed to wear OVER a shell in addition to under one as an insulating layer, so you can wear it how you want. Not that you couldn’t do that with lots of other jackets…Just, size up if you plan to layer it OVER your shell. Though it’s plenty roomy enough for a layer or two underneath even if you order your usual size. The hood fits just right–snug and secure and definitely stays put. Basically, this one is ideal for cold-weather activities, especially ones where you’ll be on the move like hiking or backcountry skiing and need your layers to breathe.
Sizes Available: This one is only available in “unisex sizing.” The brand labels it as “men’s,” but that just means it’s not fitted in an hourglass shape–anybody can wear it as long as their size is available. A medium weighs about 18 oz.
- Can be worn as a mid- or outer layer
- Hooded for extra coziness
- Inconsistent insulation distribution
Mountain Hardwear Ventano Jacket
Looking for a roomier mid-layer that has space underneath for your fave fleece? Check out the Mountain Hardwear Ventano Jacket. The insulation is blown in, which means not only is this particular insulation nice and silky, but it’s nice and fluffy, too. Not that there’s a ton of it: this is more of a winter midlayer or cool-weather outer layer, of course. In any case, it pretty well replicates the softness and loft of down, but, you know, without the animal cruelty.
Also, it’s recycled! The insulation, that is. The outer fabric is a more durable virgin nylon. As for features, this jacket has plenty. For starters, I love the hoodless design. It makes it imminently layer-able. No excess hoods to bunch up and get in the way, ya know? It has two zippered hand pockets–one of which the entire jacket can stuff into for easy portability–AND a nice zippered chest pocket, which I’m always a fan of.
There aren’t any internal drop pockets, BUT! There is a little slot to slide your headphone plug through on the inside of the pocket in case you’re still doing the wired headphone thing. And I’m a fan of this feature: the bungee in the hem is adjustable from inside the pockets AND the ends of those cords have little clips on them. Which means you can easily secure keys or gloves in there so you don’t have to worry about them falling out and getting lost. Huzzah!
As for fit, this insulated jacket runs a bit big (I’m wearing the XS). As in, it’s sized for layering over a thicker shirt or sweater. So if you do plan to layer it over bulkier items like your favorite fleece, don’t be tempted to size up. Just order your normal size, because there’s plenty of extra room in the arms and torso. And I like the available colors, personally. The fabric kinda has a nice, almost iridescent shimmer to it. Very eye-catching.
Sizes Available: It’s available in XS to XL for women and S to XXL for men, plus in a handful of colors for each. It weighs between 10-13 oz on average.
- Roomier fit
- No hood for easy layering
- Plenty of pockets
- Silky insulation
- No stretch
Big Agnes Larkspur/Barrows Jacket
For a superlight, ultra packable, lofty insulated jacket that layers seamlessly under a shell or wears beautifully on it’s own, take a peak at the Big Agnes Larkspur (for women) and Barrows (for men). It’s made out of a silky soft material and fluffy synthetic insulation and is far warmer than it looks. In fact, during testing, we regularly had to take it off when hiking uphill on mild days (hovering just above freezing that is) when wearing it with a long-sleeved tech shirt and a shell jacket.
It’s perfectly comfortable and wears a lot like a puffy sweater. Plus I loved touches like contrasting zipper colors, an adjustable hood, zippered hand pockets, stretchy interior pockets AND a zippered interior pocket that offered a place to stash gloves or other extras. And did I mention there are thumb holes?! That said, the sleeves were a bit too short for those thumb holes to be supremely functional since there’s no stretch to the jacket. The sleeves were just long enough for my very average-length arms, but the thumb holes pulled the sleeves a bit too taught. So if you’re between sizes or on the lanky side, size up.
As for sustainability, the outer fabric and lining are made of 100% recycled materials, the insulation is a combo of Pinneco Core® 50% recycled polyester with a breathable membrane and Pinneco Mantle™ 100% post-consumer recycled polyester, plus the whole jacket features a PFC-free water repellent.
Long story short: this might be my new favorite insulating layer for winter backpacking.
Sizes Available: It’s available in XS to XL for women and XS to XXL for men, plus in a handful of colors for each. It weighs between 10-12 oz on average.
- Super light and packable
- Cozy hood
- Plenty of pockets
- Warm insulation
- Nice long drop hem
- Thumb holes
- No stretch
- The arms aren’t suitable for those with long extremities
Remember the most sustainable option when it comes to insulated jackets is to repair and re-wear the gear you already have or buy used, but if you must buy new, these are a few excellent insulated jacket options and we hope we helped you figure out which one will suite you and your adventures best.
So gear up responsibly, stay warm out there, and wander on!
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Alisha is a freelance outdoor journalist and photographer based in Ogden, UT. She loves backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and snowboarding (even though she’s terrible at it). She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. alishamcdarris.com