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Why Is A Puffy Jacket A Quality Investment For Thru-Hikers?

A puffy jacket is super important to investigate and purchase because it’s a critical piece to your thru-hiker gear. Your puffy jacket should not be cheap as you spend a lot of time wearing it.
Written By: Josh Koop
December 9, 2019
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A puffy jacket is super important to investigate and purchase because it’s a critical article of clothing while ultralight backpacking. Your puffy jacket should not be cheap as you spend a lot of time wearing it. We cover the 10 best puffy jackets in this article due to user feedback.

A puffy jacket is super important to investigate and purchase because it’s a critical piece.

A quality puffy jacket provides you with a very warm enveloping heat. It is made out of quality materials and light in overall weight. Preferably it will feature water-resistant down or synthetics which hold up to water. The best quality puffy jackets will also include a hood and at least 2 pockets to ensure your hands and head are kept warm with your body. Finally a quality puffy jacket should fit you snug and not have big air gaps to ensure heat doesn't escape.

Lets go into some more details on each of the points you should consider when looking into purchasing a down puffy jacket. These will help you figure out where and what is going to work best for you and your hike.

Each person is unique and needs of a trip are as unique also, once you have had a chance to read through please let me know in the comments if you learned something new!

Key Considerations In A Puffy Jacket

Down vs Synthetic

I personally believe that in your sleep system that down is the hands down superior choice for a quilt or sleeping bag. When searching for a puffy jacket though the options synthetic insulation provide have their place.

Down jackets cost more money but will usually be warmer and more compressible. This means they will take up less space inside your pack. 

Synthetic material jackets traditionally have handled moisture better than similar down based products. They have dried quicker while maintaining more overall warmth when wet. This has changed more with modernization as many manufacturers use a hydrophobic down which makes it more water resistant and helps negate some of the issues a down puffy had to moisture.

To be honest, it is best to save your puffy jacket for when you are in camp and when taking breaks. When hiking in the outdoors, if you are wanting a warm layer in rain or snow, I would suggest a fleece mid layer and rain jacket instead.

The big reason why you will want to really think about a synthetic puffy jacket is the dramatic price difference between them and a down puffy. Synthetic puffy jackets will come with a lower price point but performance in the field is incredibly solid.

Shell and Fill Materials

A shell is the outside exposed portion of a puffy jacket and as such should be a balanced material which is low in weight but higher in durability. Fabric uses "denier" as a measure of thickness and this value correlates into weight and durability.

When I choose a jacket I tend to aim for somewhere in the 7-15 range in the denier rating which gives me a decent weight and a better durability. When you go towards that 15 and higher side you are looking at cloth which withstands brush and bramble better when hiking, honestly I wouldn't recommend that on the daily unless you like patching your jacket.

Your fill is what determines the overall level of warmth from a puffy jacket, there is 2 types of fills commonly available: synthetics and goose down.

Some common names synthetic fills will be listed as are Climashield, Primaloft, and Plumafill. These all are similar to each other and provide a good weight to warmth measure along with moisture handling.

Down is typically from geese and you would like to ensure your choice has at least an 800 fill or higher. Down used to be more of an issue with humidity and moisture rich environments but over time they have begin releasing "water resistant" down which handles moisture better and helps balance the down versus synthetic argument.


This is probably, outside of price, the main factor for bringing a puffy jacket with you on a long backpacking trip. Whats crazy is the ability to measure warmth is not very standardized so it's up to the manufacturers to provide this information. This can lead to misleading statements to help sell products when it is hard to compete as there is no governing body to hold them to the standards.

The best way to understand overall warmth which will be provided from a puffy is to look at the fill type, fill amount and the baffle design on the jacket. Baffles are those lines of sewing you see through a puffy when searching online or in a store like REI.


When ultralight is your end goal you want to pay considerable attention to the weight obviously. The weight is mostly determined by the exterior, shell, of the jacket which makes it the most vital thing to understand.

Most ultralight packers will want to look at a weight of 13 ounces and below for a three season puffy jacket. Typically the more puffy each baffle area is the more warmth you will get from the jacket, though this isn't always entirely accurate either, sorry.


This is an option that is more down to a personal preference than a need since many people bring hats and buffs which help cover head and neck areas. I prefer to have a hood as I can always take it off if I don't need it but when it is cold out having that quality warmth provided from your body through your head can be invaluable.

Having a hood will typically increase the overall weight a few grams but the investment here will pay out over the long run and provide you options on the trail.


Though not a need to have item on a puffy I prefer to have at least 2 quality warm pockets that I can keep my hands in should the need arise. It can also help if you know its going to be a cold night to keep your gear that is a freeze risk, Sawyer, phone and batteries, etc in the pocket while you sleep.

Additionally when you are done hiking for the day and are around camp it can be nice as temperatures drop to have a place to keep your hands warm while engaging with people or preparing food.


A good quality puffy jacket will be a decent financial and hiking investment, though if purchased right the first time can last years. A good synthetic jacket will typically start from $150 and up, a good down jacket will normally start around $220 and move up quickly.

Your quality jacket should last you thousands of miles if treated well and it is an investment worth the time to ensure you check out options if you aren't sold on any one.


You want your puffy to fit you pretty snug in most instances to ensure they have no open air "dead zone" space that could lose heat. If you will layer frequently you will want to look into the puffy and make sure to see if it is sized a little large by default to accommodate this or whether you should "buy up".


I hope you have learned something cool, useful or just broadened your understanding on buying a puffy jacket. I would love to hear feedback on what you purchased and if it was a good purchase for you along with what trails you have worn them on! I look forward to hearing from you and if you want to avoid commenting please feel free to contact me!

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