Best Winter Vests
If you’re looking for a piece of winter gear that doesn’t hinder your mobility and is great for layering, a winter vest is an answer. These ingenious pieces keep your core warm, without trapping in sweat, and still allow you a full range of movement. They are typically very lightweight, packable, and available in different touches of warmth. On the inside, you’ll find goose feathers, fleece, or synthetic materials. On the outside, you may find nylon, wool, polyester, and more. Once you see the plethora of choices available, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. We have rounded up the best vests available today and provided you with a short description to warm you up in the right direction.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 9 hrs of research
Great size selection from XS to XXL
Patagonia clothing is made with the highest quality materials that are sustainable and traceable
Crafted with optimum fill-power down
- Patagonia Down Sweater
- The North Face Nuptse
- Arc'teryx Cerium LT
- Patagonia Better Sweater
- Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
- SmartWool Corbet
- Outdoor Research Transcendent
- North Face Thermoball
- North Face Aconcagua
- Columbia Sportswear Flash Forward
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Expert Interviews & Opinions
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Picks
1. Patagonia Down Sweater
Great size selection from XS to XXL
Patagonia clothing is made with the highest quality materials that are sustainable and traceable
Crafted with optimum fill-power down
Comes at a higher price point than many other winter vests
Patagonia’s Down Sweater Vest provides cozy torso warmth for the dawn patrol wave checks of winter or climbing to higher elevations. Ideal for layering under a waterproof shell or over a heavy flannel, it’s functional and easy to maneuver in. Keep your core comfortable and your arms ready for anything in this one.Read more
The shell is made with 20 x 30 denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR finish while the lining is a similar 20 denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR finish, making for a vest that’s wind-blocking, water-repellant, and hardy. It weighs in at a tiny 9.8 oz., making it an easy choice for excursions when you’ll need to pack it away to make space for other essential gear or overnight items.
The Down Sweater Vest easily maintains core heat with an impressive 800-fill traceable down stuffing. It has a slim, athletic fit that pairs well with an active lifestyle.
It has two exterior zippered pockets for storage and security. Additionally, it has an internal zippered security pocket that doubles as a stuff sack for when it’s time to pack up and the weather’s fairer. The pocket sack has a built-in loop for carabiner attachment. It’s made with Vislon zippers, a zipper garage at the chin and pockets and a wicking interior storm flap at the front zipper for maximum comfort. It’s available in a large variety of sizes from XS to XXL.
2. The North Face Nuptse
Lifetime guarantee for material defects and manufacturing issues
Super warmth and high-quality construction make it very durable
The North Face is committed to ensuring that their down products are ethically and humanely sourced
Expensive (it’s a trade-off for a dependable, valued name and product)
Stay more than warm enough with The North Face Nuptse Vest. Top-of-the-line and well-made, it’s great to have on hand when temperatures begin to drop. It’s versatile and stylish enough to wear anywhere and everywhere.Read more
It’s constructed with a tough 50 denier x 50 denier shell that’s 100% nylon, making it resistant to tears, abrasions, wind, and stains. While the average weight of the Nuptse, at 16.23 oz., is greater than some others that made the list, it’s a super lightweight option that will compress and easily pack away for wintry trips. It’s a standard fit vest with a comfortable hip length that averages 27” in the back.
The Nuptse is filled with 700-fill goose down that’s responsibly sourced, has a double layer of taffeta on the shoulders and a high collar to preserve core warmth. It's nice, the updated fit will ensure you are kept warm and comfortable in some of the most uncomfortable elements.
This vest has two deep pockets that are zippered for ultimate security and an internal pocket at the chest for stowing important small items. The vest includes a hem cinch cord for making simple adjustments to length and fit. Available in sizes that range from S to XXL and a wide variety of color options and combinations, you’re sure to find your ideal fit and style. Additionally, it’s media compatible.
3. Arc'teryx Cerium LT
Ultra-lightweight, making it great for serious distance climbers and hikers
Comes with a drawstring stuff sack
Nice fit with a long cut
Higher price than other options
Zipper durability could be improved
Whether you’re casually meeting up with friends for the evening or trekking through wintry wood, the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Vest will meet both cool weather needs. It performs well as an extra warm middle layer as well as a stand-alone top layer. It provides non-constricting comfort and outstanding warmth.Read more
The Cerium LT is crafted with an Arato 10 shell that’s 100% nylon with a DWR finish for moisture resistance. It has a sewn-through construction to decrease weight while increasing tight packability. The Arc’teryx Cerium LT is one of the lightest weight vests available, coming in at a minuscule 6.5 oz. It has a trim fit and the hip length is an average 69.5 cm for a size small back.
Arc’teryx uses a most impressive 850-fill good down in the Cerium LT. Also utilized for insulation is Coreloft 80 (80 g) and Coreloft 100 (100 g) synthetic insulation. It’s placed in areas more prone to moisture exposure by a technology called Down Composite Mapping, creating a user-beneficial partnership between down and synthetics.
It is made with two outer zippered pockets as well as an inner zippered security pocket. Attached to the inner pocket is a drawstring bag for packing up your vest during light travel. The vest includes a bottom hem adjuster for tightening or shortening the hem as you feel comfortable. It is available in sizes S to XXL.
4. Patagonia Better Sweater
Patagonia is one of the most socially, environmentally and animal-friendly companies
Some pilling in the material may occur after much use (somewhat preventable, with careful washing. See FAQ for more details.)
No matter where you are or what your adventure, Patagonia’s Better Sweater vest provides functional core warmth to keep you going all day long. From weekend winter hiking to a busy day at the office, you’ll be equipped with a classy, sweater-like piece to keep you well-insulated in style.Read more
Patagonia provides a durable, well-made product as well as a reliable repair service should life ever get the better of your sweater vest. You won’t be weighed down in this one. It weighs just 13.7 oz, leaving you free to move and explore in comfort. The hip length provides ample coverage and desirable torso warmth.
It’s free of bulk with a flat-seam construction of knitted, heathered 100% polyester fleece that resembles wool. It has a stand-up collar for optimized core warmth, soft interior fleece, and a loose fit. With abrasion-resistance and shape-maintaining hemlines and shoulders, this one might stick around your wardrobe for a while.
It has two outer zip pockets and a left zip chest pocket, providing plenty of spots to store your small gear and necessities. Patagonia takes care to ensure they are socially and environmentally responsible during the production of their clothing. The Better Sweater Vest is dyed using an environmentally-friendly, low-impact process. It’s crafted with sewing that’s Fair Trade Certified and a bluesign system that reduces any negative impact on people and resources used in its production.
5. Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
Packs incredibly well due to its low weight and compact compression
Provides non-bulky wear that feels like you’re not even wearing it
Warm and comfortable
There have been some complaints about flimsy and caught zippers
Ideal for winter running, climbing or simply walking the dog around the neighborhood, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Vest provides a great fit and exceptional warmth for a four-season, outdoor lifestyle. It allows for desired freedom of movement for adventurers and casual outdoorsmen alike.Read more
The vest is made with a special Ghost Whisperer 7 denier Whisperer x 10 denier ripstop fabric. It’s a light, tight-weave 100% nylon fabric that’s water-repellent and windproof. At a mere 5 oz., this is our lightest winter vest option. Those with ultra-light gear needs will swoon over this one. It can compress down and be stored within one of the available pockets. It’s an active fit with a center back length of 27 in.
The Ghost Whisperer is filled with 48 g of 800-fill RDS certified down. It’s a Q-Shield down in which a permanent water-repellant has been added to the down fibers to prevent the clumping and compressing of wet down. The quilted pattern of the vest helps it to not only maintain its shape but trap heat wherever the vest lies.
It includes two good-sized zippered pockets for holding onto small items or keeping hands warm when the temperatures get low. The vest itself can fit into either of the pockets for easy storage and travel. It includes an interior toggle hem for adjusting and a built-in loop for attaching. It’s also available in sizes S to XXL.
6. SmartWool Corbet
Features a place for your headphones to come through
Handles moisture positively, air-drying without odors
Wicking power to absorb excess moisture away from the body
Merino Wool fabric can start to break down over time
For temperature-regulating comfort, a natural feel and a sharp look, the SmartWool Corbet Vest is a winner. It provides a reliable layer of warmth without the heavy weightiness layers can sometimes have. It’s fully functional for all types of active recreation as well as indoor events. Whether your day involves hunting, camping or business travel, the Corbet Vest won’t let you down.Read more
This vest is made from merino wool, polyester, and elastane. Most importantly, the fill of the vest made from 75% wool and 25% polyester, which has proven to be an incredibly hardy winter material. It can stretch and compress without losing its shape, insulating abilities or comfort. Additionally, it can handle and recover well from any moisture that may saturate it. A wool item is one you can count on for years to come. The SmartWool Corbet Vest is ideally made to be warm without unwanted bulk and heaviness. It weighs just 10.6 oz. and has an average fit with a style that keeps the Merino Wool close to your back, ensuring warmth.
The Corbet vest is made with 75% Merino wool, which is even more comfortable than typical wool. Merino wool, designed to be less itchy to the touch, is finer, softer and quicker to dry. The vest is breathable, as it absorbs and then releases unwanted moisture so that you can stay dry and just the right amount of warm. It is a semi-fit, which is a more relaxed fit so as not to constrain the range of movement in the torso and arm areas.
It is made with a zippered security chest pocket for important items like an iPod or key, a big plus for activewear. This chest pocket also features a media cord routing. The hand pockets can also be zipped closed. The vest is available in a good range of sizes from S to an XXL and in seven different colors.
7. Outdoor Research Transcendent
Offers excellent warmth without being bulky
Runs small, in which case you may need to order a size up from your typical fit
Outdoor Research’s Transcendent Down Vest is super light, compressible and made with goose down for proven warmth in the lowest of temperatures.Read more
A 20 denier 100% polyester ripstop shell and a 44 denier 100% nylon embossed taffeta lining gives it a hardy wind and water resistance while you’re out in the elements. It weighs in at light 9.4 oz. with a 70 cm average back length for a lightweight, packable winter vest.
The Transcendent Vest has 650-fill goose down insulation throughout. It’s a standard snug fit for technical and casual wear that will keep the cold out but won’t hinder your movement. It pairs well with a hoodie and can also serve as your light mid-layer underneath a sturdy shell.
It’s made with two secure zippered pockets and a zippered chest pocket. It packs down simply into one of the pockets for multi-day adventure trips. It includes a carabiner loop for easy attaching, an internal front storm flap and an elastic drawstring adjustable hem. As with most of the other options, it’s available in a variety of sizes from S to XXL.
8. North Face Thermoball
Wind and water resistant
Available in sizes XS- XXL
Many colors and prints to choose from
The North Face brand is no stranger to cold weather. This vest is a perfectly packable item to bring with you everywhere. The neck of the vest is high enough to keep you warm without feeling restraining. This vest comes with a "warm" rating, but it is versatile enough to be used on its own or in layers!Read more
Depending on which color and style you choose, the materials can differ slightly. The lining for the shiny and matte styles is made from Nylon Taffeta. The shell of these styles is made from Nylon and has a DWR finish. However, the lining and the shell of the printed vests are made from Polyester and also has a DWR finish. The classic styles are made with ripstop Nylon, also with a DWR finish.
The vest is available in many different colors and prints. Each one has the small squares of insulation to keep you warm.
Inside, you’ll find 13g Primaloft synthetic insulation. The synthetic fibers have a close similarity to down clusters and work together to retain heat and leave you with less cold spots. In a University test, the Thermoball showed that it has equivalent warmth to 600 fill goose down.
Most styles come with zippered hand pockets. There have been a few complaints about the pockets themselves being too big, but if they were smaller, how would the vest fold into itself for easy carrying? With most styles, there is also an internal zippered chest pocket. This a perfect place to stash your credit cards to cash, especially while traveling. The bottleneck shape of the vest comes up high enough around your neck to keep you warm without sacrificing your comfort. To top it all off, this vest is water and wind resistant, making it a very versatile piece that’s easy to pack and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
9. North Face Aconcagua
Lifetime guarantee from The North Face against material and manufacturing defects
Attractive and versatile enough for everyday wear
Not made with 100% down; there is some synthetic insulation used in parts of the vest
Whether you’re at work, around campus or out fishing, this vest is versatile enough for casual or active wear. Throw it over a t-shirt on cool days or add a coat on top for the really cold ones. It has a slimmer profile and lighter weight than the Nuptse. It’s timeless, a great pick for all ages and locations. It may become the go-to vest in your closet.Read more
The body is crafted with a tough 40 denier 53% recycled polyester, 47% polyester finished with a DWR to prevent moisture saturation. The relaxed fit Aconcagua has a comfortable back center length of 27.5 in. and weighs an average 13.4 oz., enabling you to roll it up and tuck it away easily when on the go.
The insulation is 550-fill responsibly sourced goose down in this breathable, non-restricting vest. It also includes 150 g of Heatseeker synthetic insulation at the sides and shoulders to prevent heat loss at these colder spots.
It has two zippered hand pockets and a secure zippered chest pocket for extra storage space. The Aconcagua is manufactured with over 50% recycled materials, making it one of the few environmentally-friendly and Earth-conscious picks available.
10. Columbia Sportswear Flash Forward
Excellent price for the quality
Lightweight with a comfortable, attractive fit
Those needing more room in the bust area of the women’s may need to order a size up
Filled with less down and thinner than some of the others. It may best be used as a late fall or mild winter vest, or as a mid-layer.
Columbia’s Flash Forward Down Vest will keep you toasty warm on chilly days this winter or on your next higher elevation excursion. Its sleek trim cut is slim-fitting and stylish so that you can throw it on for frosty morning commutes, stops at the coffee shop or evening runs and feel totally comfortable without a heavy bulk weighing you down.Read more
This vest is made with a 100% polyester lining and a 100% polyester taffeta shell, creating a durable, water-resistant and wind-resistant addition to your winter wardrobe. The Flash Forward vest is made with a long torso and a snug fit so that it hugs your core comfortably and attractively.
Stuffed with 650-fill down and made with a collar that rises up on the neck, it will keep you snug and cozy all winter long. It has an active fit with hem and armhole binding to provide a sleek look and feel.
It includes two zippered hand pockets at the sides for ideal warmth and storage, as well as two large interior pockets that can store a cell phone, gloves or other small items you may need to have on hand. There are bright and vivid color options available.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
You want to choose a vest that’s made of soft but durable material. Shells made of polyester and/or nylon are commonly used, as they are versatile, comfortable and strong. Also, make sure you’re choosing one that has strong zippers that will last a long time. You don’t want to trade sturdy zippers for an item that’s light in weight. If it no longer zips, it isn’t going to help you stay warm! And finally, you’ll probably want some pocket space for your snacks, keys and cell phone. Interior and zippered pockets are absolutely a plus for maximum security on all your winter ventures.
Down is a high-performance insulator proven to perform well in extreme cold. It is usually sourced from geese and ducks around the world. It can compress tightly, allowing for greater fill at a lightweight. Its easy compression also makes it packable, a perfect option for extended journeys, low-key trips, and distance backpacking and climbing. It is a long-lasting insulator, with the ability to be compacted and misshapen over and over again while maintaining its original shape, fluff, and insulating properties.
For many who live active, outdoor lifestyles, caring for the planet and animals we share our outdoor spaces with is important. Sometimes, to obtain down feathers, the animals are live-plucked, a painful and cruel process. In addition, the waterfowl are sometimes force-fed for fattening, as they are primarily raised for meat. Feather gathering is, after all, a byproduct of the large meat industry.
After the processes of gathering down and the poor treatment of the animals were reported and opposed by animal rights groups, a few companies raised their down standards. Patagonia and The North Face, for instance, now have ethical standards in place to ensure that the down clothing you purchase from their companies is responsibly sourced. Waterfowl connected to these brand names are now humanely treated and traceable. If these are important factors for you and you are willing to pay the price for higher standards, you’ll get what you pay for.
Synthetic insulation is a man-made fine fiber that is manufactured to be very similar to down. They don’t have quite the insulating power of down, as it’s hard to replicate what nature has done so naturally, but they come in close behind when it comes to warmth retention. This type of insulation will lose shape a bit more quickly than down, and therefore, it won’t be as long-lasting. However, synthetic does outperform down when it comes to moisture.
While down clumps when wet, synthetic doesn’t. If your wintry conditions are going to be icy or snowy ones, synthetic could be the way to go unless you have really great shell protection over your insulating material. Furthermore, articles of clothing stuffed with synthetic insulation are typically less expensive than those with down insulation. It’s a good choice to have on hand if you plan to spend any time outdoors this winter.
Winter puffer vests are lightly stuffed with a fill that insulates, trapping body heat and keeping warmth right where it needs to be, snugly against your body on chilly days. Down and synthetic insulation both trap air in the free space between the fibers, thereby providing extra warmth. Both are effective insulators, however, there are some differences to take into account.
The higher the fill power, the lighter and fluffier the fibers. The lighter the fibers, the more that can be packed into a given space without increasing the weight. For instance, 800-fill down and 600-fill down may both weigh one ounce. However, the 600-fill down will take up more space, thereby decreasing the number of fibers it takes to reach that one ounce. The 800-fill down will pack in more compactly, providing more insulating coverage in that same one ounce.
In order to achieve the same coverage as the 800-fill, the item with 600-fill would need to increase its amount of down. This would increase the weight, making an item that’s a bit heavier and, perhaps, bulkier. While all down is an incredible insulator, the very best choice (if it’s within your budget and needs) would be that with a fill power of 800 or more. However, as down is the best fill insulator, lower fill power is still a good one. Deciding which one you need will depend on your outdoor activities, the temperatures you foresee and how comfortable you are (or aren’t) in the cold.
Fill in Grams
Also, the amount of insulation placed into a vest can vary among models. The greater the amount of filling, the heavier and warmer the vest will be. For instance, a vest filled with 200 grams of 650-fill down will be thicker and cozier than a vest filled with just 50 g of the same fill power down. Check the number of grams of down placed into a vest if possible, in addition to the fill power of the down in the vest. A lighter fill will be ideal for early spring or fall weather, whereas you’ll need a larger amount of fill for deep wintertime activities.
The features of a winter vest are another important criterion to look into. For one, pockets are always something to check out. It's useful to know if you'll be able to store your phone or keys on your body, or if you will need a purse. Also worth noting, is if the pockets have a secure closure. Additionally, if you are planning to travel with your vest, you'll want to know how easily it packs down and if it is susceptible to wrinkles. A few of the vests featured on this list can actually fold up into the pocket of the vest. Even if you're luggage is filled to the brim, you could attach the vest to your backpack with a carabiner and not worry about space.
Another feature that some of these vests feature is a collar. If you don't plan on wearing a scarf or a turtle neck, a vest with a collar will help to keep you warm. Another way to keep warm is with the cinch cord of a vest. Some vests have cinch cords around the bottom which not only helps with the fit but also to hold in warmth.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
When investing in a winter vest, it is important to do your research and worry more about the quality of the item than the price. It is much more useful to have one or two great vests in your wardrobe rather than six mediocre vests. Personally, I have one vest for the below freezing temperatures, and one vest for brisk days.
Vests are an imperative layer in layering. Many people don't think about putting on a vest under a ski jacket but it's actually a brilliant idea. A vest will keep your core warm while still providing a full range of motion for your arms. Additionally, vests are an easy layer to shed and most pack up into their own pocket for easy storage.
Other Factors to Consider
The weight of your vest may not be an issue for you, and that’s fine. Some vests are a little heavier and have more bulk to them while others, like those on our list, are light in weight and effortless to wear. If you’re expecting to wear it for outdoor activities, like cycling, running or hiking, you may want to consider a lightweight version. Those that are lighter will be easier to pack as they compress down very small, they will be easier to maneuver in and they’ll remain breathable and comfortable whether you’re in or out of doors.
Layers on top of layers in winter time can become cumbersome and constricting, but we don’t want to be confined to the indoors when those temperatures are dropping just to stay reasonably comfortable. For the most desirable winter vest comfort, you will want to look for a vest that won’t hinder your range of movement. It will be one that will allow you to move freely during all types of activities. You want a fit that’s snug enough to keep you warm, but plenty flexible and giving enough so that you have ample room to climb, run, cast a line, paddle, lift a rifle, or whatever it is that you do. There are many options out there that will suit these needs perfectly.
The length of your vest is another factor to consider. A vest that’s too short will allow torso heat to escape and it may decrease the amount of middle coverage during high movement activities. You don’t want to suddenly feel an icy draft as you set up your tent for the night, or as reach for that next high rock ledge. Checking the back length and knowing your own torso length would be wise before making a good winter vest investment.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: What are the warmest and hardiest types of insulation for active winter wear?
Wool is a stand-alone material that effectively traps dead air and uses it to insulate the body. Wool handles moisture, humidity and wet conditions exceptionally well. It absorbs moisture from the body and then releases it to the outside dry environment as your body warms, maintaining just the right amount of interior heat and dryness. However, if it becomes overly saturated it would need to dry out before being comfortable to wear outdoors again.
It is a quick-drying material. It is odor-resistant, due to its moisture-wicking properties. Bacteria that create odors cannot thrive where there is a lack of moisture. Furthermore, wool has incredibly strong fibers that can be stretched and pulled many times over without damage or becoming misshapen. Merino wool is higher-end wool that is finer than typical wool, creating a softer, less itchy fabric. Its fine fibers also make it even quicker to dry.
Fleece is another stand-alone material. It is warm, similar to wool, but it is much lighter and thinner. It is non-bulky, soft and lightweight. Fleece is versatile and easy to use as a mid layer in colder temperatures or as an outer layer in milder ones.
Down and Synthetic Down
Down and synthetic down are not a material, but fine fibers used as the inner insulation in clothing and other items such as coats, vests, and blankets. They are warm, desirable insulation for winter days. Down tends to be more warm than synthetic, but it does clump without easily returning to its natural shape when wet. Synthetic is not as warm as down but doesn’t clump when moisture saturates it. Both are incredibly effective and highly used insulators in winter wear.
q: How do you properly wash and dry a down vest?
Because down feather fibers can clump and become uneven in a garment, it is wise to be mindful of the washing process to prevent issues. Most vests, though, are made with a quilted pattern that helps to maintain an even spread of down throughout, even with washing.
To ensure your vests last for seasons and cold climates to come, machine wash your down vest with warm water and on a gentle cycle without fabric softener. The soapy softener can saturate the feathers inside, potentially causing odor problems and/or longer drying time. Use a front-loading machine if possible, or a top-loading machine without a middle agitator. The agitator could damage the vest. You want to avoid a washing machine full of feathers.
If using a top-loading machine that does have an agitator it is best to place the vest in a mesh bag before washing. Tumble dry on a low heat setting with sock balls or tennis balls. The balls basically beat the garment back into shape for an effective and even dry and well-maintained shape. The drying time could take longer than the drying time of a load of typical clothing items. Do not iron your down vest.
q: How do you properly wash and dry a vest made from wool or fleece?
Wash by hand in cold water or separately on a gentle cycle in a washing machine. This will prevent pilling, which can occur in these types of fabrics due to frequent washes and heavy friction against other materials. Lie the vest out flat to dry.
q: What can I do if my vest already has some pilling in the fabric?
Pilling can occur in your fleece and wool fabrics. It happens when pieces of the fabric pull away from the garment and collect together in tiny clumps on its exterior in a noticeable manner. It typically happens when there is friction between the piece of clothing and another item, like a backpack or an outer shell layer.
It can also occur with frequent or rough washing, use or handling. However, your vest can recover from pilling. A pill shaver or sweater stone, which can be purchased in many stores and online to remove those excess small balls of fabric that have worked themselves up in a most unappealing way on your favorite vest. In the future, wash and dry carefully as described above.
q: Is a vest or a jacket better for outdoor winter exercise?
Really, this depends on how cold the outdoors is in your region. Typically, a vest is great for outdoor exercise in cold climates because it keeps your core warm while still lending breathability to your armpits. With a vest, you still have a full range of motion to do jumping jacks, push ups, run, and lift weights. With a jacket, these routines can be more challenging because the arms of the jacket can be restricting and the jacket can get bunched up around your waist.
If you live in a windy winter environment, a windbreaker over your vest is a great idea. Windbreakers are typically looser and allow for more breathability through the jacket as well.
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