An insulating midlayer is one of the most often used pieces of apparel in any Alaskan’s closet, year-round. Especially come October. As snow begins to fall higher in the mountains, and daylight wanes, Alaskans (and visitors) need a warm jacket to take them through the next seven months—even in Southeast. The good news is you won’t need a heavy down parka most of that time (unless you’re on the North Slope). Pack some layers, along with one of these midweight insulating jackets, and you’ll cut the wind and keep warm (without roasting) while you work and play outside through the fall, winter, and spring.
Our team of Alaskan testers spent several months trying out the best midweight insulating jackets on the market by hiking and climbing in the Chugach and Alaska ranges, fishing on the Gulf of Alaska, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking, and doing just about everything else we could think of with ’em. These five came out on top.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Helly Hansen Odin Insulator
The warmest of the midweight insulating jackets we tested, the light (14 oz.) Odin Insulator proved to be the most versatile in a variety of weather conditions. Its dense, ripstop nylon shell effectively blocked all but the strongest glacial winds, so our testers typically only needed to don a shell over the jacket in heavy rain and wet snow. Our testers also enjoyed its high, wind-blocking collar, cinchable hem, and fleece-lined hand warming pockets. Bonus: It compresses down to the size of a cantaloupe. $300, hellyhansen.com
Icebreaker Helix LS Zip
Constructed with MerinoLOFT, a new lightweight insulation made with Merino Wool fibers, the Helix LS Zip brings together the tried-and-true reliability of wool and the convenient packability of puffy-style insulation. Unlike most “puffy coats,” however, the new Helix LS Zip will keep you warm even when wet. Our testers particularly enjoyed its stretchy side panels when climbing and skiing, noting its breathability and light (16 oz.) weight. Bonus: Ten percent of the loft comes from recycled wool salvaged from Icebreaker’s factory floor, and the shell is made from recycled polyester. $285, icebreaker.com
The North Face ThermoBall Hybrid
If you like the maneuverability (read: stretchiness) of soft shells, but want a little more insulation, you’ll love The North Face ThermoBall Hybrid jacket. Designed specifically for the rigors of technical, cold weather rock and ice climbing, the soft shell sleeves aren’t insulated (on purpose) for increased mobility, but the body is made with ultrafine synthetic fibers that compress easily, and are extremely water-resistant and insulating. Our testers found that the jacket worked best as a midlayer, working in conjunction with a hard shell in high winds or rain, or with another warmer jacket in below freezing temps. Bonus: It’s only 14 oz. $179, thenorthface.com
Arc’Teryx Atom LT
Extremely light (13 oz.) and ostensibly made for abuse, the Atom LT kept our testers warm in chilly temps and took a beating on their adventures. The ripstop nylon shell proved to be the most durable out of the jackets tested, and its highly compressible insulation kept our testers warm (without additional layers) into the single digits. Bonus: The jacket is made completely of hydrophobic synthetic materials that resist absorbing moisture. $199, arcteryx.com
BEST BARGAIN: Montbell U.L. Down
Weighing less than most cotton t-shirts (7.6 oz.), the U.L. Down jacket’s warmth to weight ratio, along with its low price tag, impressed our testers. The jacket kept them warm down into the single digits, without layering, and also repelled water (and coffee…) effectively. Bonus: the U.L. Down jacket is also surprisingly windproof. $155, montbell.us.