Updated Jun 27, 2022 1:23 PM
The best hiking jackets are ones that protect the hiker from weather, provide comfort through strenuous activity, and shield you from the elements. Therefore, jackets vary greatly depending on environment and season. While a softshell windbreaker might be the perfect choice for a fall desert hike, a winter trek requires multiple layers of insulation. When it comes to gear you take on the trail, there’s arguably none as important as the right jacket for your journey.
It can be overwhelming to shop for a hiking jacket that fits all your needs. Follow the recommendations below and discover the best hiking jacket for you.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Hiking Jacket
When choosing a hiking jacket, it’s important to consider the environment you need it for, the activity in which you will be partaking, and then find a jacket that is the right fit for you. Whatever you choose, keep the following in mind:
Don’t Hike in Cotton
The phrase “cotton kills” might sound a little extreme, but the fact is that cotton traps moisture near your skin and blocks the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Therefore, as you sweat in a cotton shirt, hoodie, or denim, you’re putting stress on your body’s ability to keep warm in winter and cool down in summer. Instead, choose jackets made of wool, polyester, and/or nylon. These materials wick moisture and insulate even when wet.
There’s not going to be one best hiking jacket for your adventure. Most hikes require layering. For example, start with a non-cotton base layer (like an athletic shirt in summer or merino wool long sleeve in winter) and add a midlayer like a fleece, sweater, or lightweight puffy jacket. Finally, you’ll need an outer layer that consists of a waterproof shell.
Weather, Functionality, and Fit
Weather and season should be an obvious consideration when choosing a jacket. Summer jackets tend to be lightweight and breathable whereas winter hiking jackets provide more protection against precipitation and are often insulated.
Function plays an important role as well. For long day hikes and backpacking, priority should go to breathability and lightweight materials. On casual short hikes near home, overall comfort outweighs the benefits of ultralight material. Lastly, if hiking is a means to another form of recreation like hunting, fieldwork, climbing, or fishing, consider if you need features on your jacket that a typical hiker could overlook. For example, a hood that fits a climbing helmet, a ripstop fabric that won’t easily tear, or a color for concealment.
Lastly, the best hiking jacket is one that fits you well and is comfortable. Make sure to try on your purchase before taking it into the wild. Check arm length, hood coverage, and the ability to layer under and over if needed.
And don’t forget the rest of your body. Check out or guide to hiking pants and hiking socks when considering your layering system.
Best Hiking Jacket for Summer: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket — Men’s and Women’s
Best Hiking Jacket for Summer
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket Outdoor Research
Why It Made the Cut: This softshell is lightweight, comfortable, and extremely durable. Its breathability, sun protection, and soft stretch make it the best hiking jacket for summer.
- Type: Softshell jacket
- Materials: 86% nylon, 14% spandex ripstop material
- Water Resistance: Water resistant with YKK DWR-treated zippers
- Lightweight and breathable
- UPF 50+ sun protection
- Water, wind, and abrasion resistant
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket is a lightweight softshell perfect for summer hiking. The jacket is water resistant, wind resistant, and breathable.
What makes this jacket superior to some of its competitors is the freedom of movement provided by the stretch material. Often, softshell jackets are stiff, crinkly, and loud. Not so here. What’s more, Cordura fabric makes this jacket resistant to tearing against rock or other abrasive surfaces.
While the Ferrosi Hooded Jacket is not waterproof, it is water resistant and quick drying. The UPF 50+ rating means it protects against sun and makes this the perfect summer hiking jacket. The jacket is also small and packable, with the left pocket doubling as a stuff sack.
Best Winter Hiking Jacket: Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell — Men’s and Women’s
Best Winter Hiking Jacket
Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell Black Diamond
Why It Made the Cut: The Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell is the perfect outer layer for all your winter hiking needs. Waterproof, windproof, and breathable, it protects against snow, high winds, and cold temperatures.
- Type: Hard shell jacket
- Materials: BD.dry, Black Diamond’s waterproof stretch nylon
- Water Resistance: Waterproof
- Waterproof fabric, seam taped, and YKK aquaguard zippers
- Breathable fabric and zippered armpit venting
- Large and adjustable hood with chin coverage
If you are planning on doing some winter hiking, the Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell is the best winter hiking jacket. The strong waterproof shell can be layered on top of your base and midlayers to provide protection against cold winter wind and precipitation.
The large hood is big enough to fit a climbing helmet underneath and I liked the chin guard against wind. Whether you’re on belay duty, trouncing around above tree line, or on a casual winter hike, this jacket offers plenty of protection.
While not as flexible as my summer jacket pick, the hard shell does breathe for those sweaty climbs. It also has armpit zips for venting, adjustable cuff tabs, and is fairly lightweight (less than a pound).
Best Women’s Hiking Jacket
Jack Wolfskin Go Hike Softshell Jack Wolfskin
Why It Made the Cut: With a name like “Go Hike”, it’s no surprise that this is a great hiking jacket. The breathable softshell and comfortable fit makes it the best women’s hiking jacket.
- Type: Softshell
- Materials: 100% polyester
- Water Resistance: Water resistant DWR (durable water repellent) technology
- Windproof and water repellent
A perfect choice for most seasons, the Jack Wolfskin Go Hike Softshell jacket is lightweight, stretchy, and water repellent. It has a comfortable feminine fit, roomy fixed hood, and enough pockets to stay organized on the trail.
Weighing less than a pound, it is light enough to stuff into your pack just in case and roomy enough to fit a fleece under in the colder seasons.
Jack Wolfskin is also an eco-conscious company. The jacket does not contain perfluorocarbons and is made with 90% bluesign fabrics, a mark of sustainability.
Best Men’s Hiking Jacket
Best Men’s Hiking Jacket: Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket Patagonia
Why It Made the Cut: This lightweight puffer jacket is warm, water resistant, breathable, and lightweight. The Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket is great for everyone and my pick for best men’s hiking jacket.
- Type: Puffer jacket
- Materials: PrimaLoft gold insulation and polyester shell and lining
- Water Resistance: Water resistant
- Lightweight and packable
A favorite of hikers everywhere, the Patagonia Nano Puff can act as an all-season jacket: an outer layer in spring and summer and mid-layer in fall and winter. Warm, yet breathable, this jacket has a great fit to most body types and packs into its own pocket.
Although not waterproof, it still insulates even when wet with PrimaLoft Gold insulation. This jacket is also eco-friendly. Made of 100% recycled polyester with Fair Trade Certified labor, it is bluesign approved. The shell is made of 100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR finish that is soft and flexible.
This jacket comes in a wide variety of colors, including orange for added safety when rifle hunting.
Best Hiking Jacket For Cold Weather: Columbia Sportswear Labyrinth Loop Omni-Heat Infinity Insulated Hooded Jacket — Men’s and Women’s
Best Hiking Jacket For Cold Weather
Columbia Sportswear Labyrinth Loop Omni-Heat Infinity Insulated Hooded Jacket Columbia
Why It Made the Cut: When you need to protect yourself against harsh cold weather, the Columbia Labyrinth Loop Hooded Jacket provides multiple layers of protection against cold and wind. It is the best hiking jacket for cold weather.
- Type: Puffer jacket
- Materials: Nylon shell, polyester lining, and Omni-Heat synthetic down insulation
- Water Resistance: Water resistant
- Warm, with Omni-Heat down and thermal reflective lining
- Large, insulated hood
- Roomy hip pockets
When you need an extra warm coat for your winter hikes, the Columbia Labyrinth Loop Hooded Jacket is just the ticket.
I used this as an emergency layer on the summit of a winter peak on a particularly cold day. Even though I already had on three layers of jackets, the wind and cold was still getting in. I was warm as soon as I put this on. The roomy pockets were big enough to fit my gloved hands as well.
Made from recycled synthetic down, this jacket will still insulate even when wet. The shell is water resistant, but not waterproof. The interior lining of the jacket is covered in thermal reflector for added warmth. While this would not be considered a small, packable jacket, I was able to pack it down into its own pocket.
Best Lightweight Hiking Jacket: Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell —Men’s and Women’s
Best Lightweight Hiking Jacket
Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell Black Diamond
Why It Made the Cut: It doesn’t get lighter than Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell. At only 98 grams (3.4 ounces) this windbreaker is perfect for the hiker in need of an ultralight, breathable layer.
- Type: Hooded windbreaker
- Materials: Nylon ripstop with DWR finish
- Water Resistance: Water resistant
- Wind and water resistant
- Not effective against harsh weather
- No hip pockets
This windbreaker is the best lightweight hiking jacket and a great choice for an emergency hiking shell, or a solution for trail runners looking for the lightest option. At only 3.4 ounces, you won’t notice it in your pack or stashed in a pocket.
The Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell packs small. It has a silky feel that will breathe as you sweat. Other features include a large, helmet compatible hood, elastic cuffs, and stow-and-go chest pocket.
This jacket is not waterproof, but it has been treated with a DWR finish and provides some protection against rain. This won’t get the job done in a significant downpour, but it will handle a light drizzle.
Best Fleece Hiking Jacket: Smartwool Hudson Trail Fleece Full Zip — Men’s and Women’s
Best Fleece Hiking Jacket
Smartwool Hudson Trail Fleece Full Zip Smartwool
Why It Made the Cut: A fleece jacket is a staple in any hiker’s closet. The Smartwool Hudson Trail Fleece combines natural recycled wool with polyester to help regulate body temperature and reduce odor.
- Type: Fleece jacket
- Materials: 45% wool, 45% polyester, 5% nylon
- Water Resistance: Minimal
- Warm, midweight fleece
- Odor resistant
The Smartwool Hudson Trail Fleece will work well as an outer layer in cool weather as well as a great choice for an insulative midlayer in extreme cold. As the best fleece hiking jacket, it is an ideal piece for the shoulder seasons and deep into winter.
The wool/poly blend is warm and isn’t itchy like some wool garments can be. This fleece has roomy hip pockets as well as a zippered chest pocket. The thumb slits on the women’s model keep the sleeves in place when putting on a shell or under gloves.
When testing, this sweater got sweaty and also wet from snow. The wool kept me warm even when damp as well as naturally resisting odor. Lastly, I loved the look of this sweater that could easily be used when not hiking as well.
For this article, I tested what seemed like a never-ending list of hiking jackets over multiple months. From hot summer days to frozen summits, I put these jackets through the ringer. My experience as a hiking enthusiast and wilderness guide has made me extremely picky about the gear I wear into the backcountry. While testing hiking jackets for this article, I based my choices on the following criteria:
- Protection: The main purpose of a hiking jacket is to protect you against the elements. While testing, I experienced hot sunny days, wet fall weather, and frigid winter summits. I evaluated each to determine if they delivered the appropriate level of defense against the elements they were designed for. They also needed to provide a breathable barrier that let moisture escape as I exerted myself on the trail.
- Functionality: Does this jacket do what it’s intended? An ultralight jacket and a heavily insulated puffer serve very different purposes, but they both must perform the job they were designed for. Additionally, features like pockets to stash a phone, keys, dog treats, etc. can make the jacket more useful, but add bulk. I looked for a balance of features, weight, and usability in my picks.
- Fit: Fit is one of the most important criteria in choosing a jacket. I once spent months researching hiking rain jackets, buying an expensive coat, and then having it fit poorly. I quickly realized that no matter how breathable and waterproof my jacket was, it didn’t matter if the sleeves weren’t long enough, and the hood didn’t cover my nose. Since fit is highly variable based on body type, I highly recommend researching the sizing information for the brand you choose.
Q: What are the different types of hiking jackets?
The different types of hiking jackets can be broken down into two main categories: outer layer and midlayer. Most outer layers available are rain shells, hard shells, and softshells. Whereas midlayer jackets are fleece or puffers.
A softshell jacket is my pick for most hiking excursions since it is flexible and weather resistant. When experiencing extreme weather, a hard rain shell is better. If in need of insulation, choose fleece or puffer to keep warm. Note that goose down and cotton cannot insulate when wet, so if you’re going to sweat during your hike, it’s best to have synthetic down, polyester, or wool fleece.
Q: What is the best packable rain jacket?
I tested many jackets for this piece, and a lot didn’t make it in the article. The best packable rain jacket I encountered was the Outdoor Research Helium Jacket. It is super light, packable, and comfortable. Other rain jackets were better at waterproofing but couldn’t pack down to a small size. The OR Helium is a great choice to stash in your pack in case you get caught in the rain.
Q: Are waterproof jackets really waterproof?
For a jacket to be truly waterproof, it would have to be made of rubber or plastic. However, this isn’t great for hiking, as these materials also keep moisture in. As you hike, you want your jacket to transfer the heat and moisture you’re generating out of the jacket while at the same time prevent rain from entering. The solution is tightly woven fabrics like Gore-Tex that will allow water vapor like sweat to escape while still providing rain protection. Most shells are also coated in a durable water repellent (DWR), which helps keep water out.
Final Thoughts on the Best Hiking Jacket
Hiking jackets protect against the elements and provide comfort on your trek. If you hike regularly, you will need to have a couple jackets that you can layer. These should include a warm, insulating jacket like a fleece or puffer as well as a protective wind and rain shell. The best hiking jackets are the ones that meet your needs for the hike, suit the weather at hand, and fit you well.