What Are The Different Types Of Hiking Jackets?

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A good jacket is essential for cold weather hiking. It will protect you against the rain and wind, ensuring you’re guarded against the elements and can stay warm and dry on your hike.

Proper hiking jackets are also built to last and should stay with you for many years, making it a sound investment.

But what type of hiking jacket should you buy and what are your options?

What Type Of Jacket Is Best For Hiking?

Hiking jackets are basically winter jackets that combine features such as:

  • Water-resistance
  • Wind-proofing
  • Insulation
  • Multiple Pockets

They are practical, warm, and often lightweight. The actual materials, features, and cost can vary greatly from one hiking jacket to the next, but they typically cover the following categories:

Rain Jackets

Rain jackets or waterproof jackets are designed to protect you from the rain. These jackets are often lightweight and can be packed away with ease.

Just pack a rain jacket in your backpack and reach for it whenever you feel the first drops of rain.

Rain jackets don’t allow water to pass from the outside but they allow sweat to escape from the inside, keeping your torso dry.

The portability of these outdoor jackets means you can keep them in your backpack during all weather conditions. They’ll be there during heavy rain in the winter and light rain in the summer, and once the storm clouds have passed you can just shake them dry and stuff them back in your pack.

Fleece Jackets

A fleece jacket won’t necessarily protect you against rain, snow, or other extreme weather conditions, but it will keep you warm and is very comfortable.

Fleece jackets come in varying thickness levels and there are also some fleece blends that go above and beyond the usual limits of this material.

Softshell Jackets

Softshell jackets focus more on breathability than water resistance or wind resistance. They can protect against light rain, but they work more like fleece and the goal is to keep you warm and ensure maximum comfort as you walk and climb.

Softshell jackets can be worn in early spring or late fall when you’re expecting moderately cold weather but not rain or strong winds.

Hardshell Jackets

Hardshell jackets form a protective barrier against the wind and rain.

It is the perfect winter hiking jacket, but it may be too warm and heavy to wear in other weather conditions.

If you’re planning a cold-weather hike and need some protection against strong winds or heavy rain, reach for your hardshell jacket. If you’re not sure whether it will be cold enough and are anticipating removing your jacket and carrying it, choose a different option. These jackets are heavy and are not the sort of thing you want to be carrying around with you.

Down Jackets

“Down” is the soft feathers of geese and ducks. It’s a controversial material as the animals are often plucked when they are alive and it’s not a gentle or pain-free process, but there are some very good vegan down jackets that use synthetic materials.

Down jackets are very warm, but they’re not great at repelling heat and so they are not suitable for use in heavy rain. Down jackets also tend to be very expensive, although they are comfortable and breathable.

Insulated Jackets

An insulated jacket is simply one that utilizes insulation to provide warmth and comfort. They are often made from synthetic materials, including vegan down, and while they can be more effective than down at holding onto heat when wet, they are not waterproof.

Wind Jackets

The main goal of a wind jacket is to protect against the wind. If the winds are strong and the wind chill is high, this could be the perfect hiking jacket.

Wind jackets are best for coastal hikes and winter hikes.

Winter Jackets

A winter jacket is more of an all-round jacket. It can be made from a variety of different materials and usually offers protection against water, wind, and snow.

The problem with these jackets is that they can be very bulky and heavy. They have lots of pockets to store hiking essentials, but they’re definitely not lightweight and so they might weigh you down.

What are the Best Hiking Jacket Materials and Manufacturers?

There are a few manufacturers out there that have produced materials for use in hiking jackets, snowboarding jackets, climbing attire, and general outdoor clothing.

Polartec, for instance, manufactures a type of fleece that is warm, fast-drying, and breathable. You can often find Polartec fleeces in snowboarding apparel shops, as they are great for keeping you warm and dry on the snow, but it’s also a good option for a hiking trip.

GORE TEX is another fantastic material and one you may have come across already.

GORE TEX fabrics are windproof, waterproof, and very strong. They are suitable for hiking, climbing, trail running, and camping, and you’ll find this material in many of the best outdoor clothing stores.

For a glimpse into the best GORE TEX and Polartec jackets, as well as other great hiking jackets, check out the section at the bottom of this guide.

What Are Hiking Jackets Called?

If you’re struggling to find hiking jackets at your favorite online store, try using some of the following terms as they may be used interchangeably:

  • Outdoor jackets
  • Fleece jackets
  • Winter jackets
  • Outdoor gear
  • Technical jackets

You can also look into jackets designed for skiing, snowboarding, climbing, camping, and general outdoor use.

How Do I Choose A Hiking Jacket?

When choosing a hiking jacket, consider all of the following features and components:

Weather Resistance

A good waterproof jacket is essential for cold weather hiking. Keeping the rain at bay will ensure you stay dryer and warmer for longer.

If you’re hiking in extremely cold and wet weather, you should look into thicker jackets with windproofing features, keeping you warm as you brace the cold air.


The jacket should be insulated to help you retain as much body heat as possible. It doesn’t need to be big and bulky to achieve that result, but bigger and thicker jackets are usually warmer.


You’re going to be sweating a lot during your hike so your jacket must be breathable. A weather-resistant jacket is pointless if it traps all of your sweat and leaves you wet, sticky, smelly, and uncomfortable.

Weight and Comfort

You don’t want a jacket that weighs you down. Ideally, it should be light and thick enough to store in your backpack when it’s not needed.

Comfort is also key because if it’s too bulky or restrictive, it’s going to give you problems on your hike.


Is there a chest pocket for your GPS or compass? Are there secure inner pockets for your phone? Does it have side pockets for multitools and protein bars? The more pockets that your jacket has, the more practical it becomes and the less space you’ll need in your backpack.

Personal Preference and Price

Last but not least, you want a jacket that fits right and looks right, even if it means getting something that doesn’t tick all the necessary boxes.

Price is also a key consideration. Good quality hiking jackets can cost hundreds of bucks and while there are much cheaper options available, they may not have the protection or durability that you require.

It’s important to do your research and make sure you’re buying from a reliable manufacturer known for high-quality jackets, as opposed to one that is all brand and no substance.

What Does A 3 Season Jacket Mean?

A 3-season or 3-in-1 jacket is a winter jacket that comes with an additional insulating layer and a waterproof shell. It’s built-in layering, and while it can be a good option, many hikers prefer to layer their own clothes and see the additional zippers as unnecessary and inefficient.

Do I Need a Hiking Jacket?

A hiking jacket or general outdoor jacket is an essential piece of kit and one that could save your life. Even if you’re limiting yourself to spring and summer hikes, it’s always wise to have a lightweight rain jacket in your pack just in case.

But remember, it’s not all about the jacket.

A quality jacket can provide great protection against wind, rain, cold, and snow, but its benefits will be limited if you’re wearing thin cotton clothing underneath.

Choose merino wool socks, gloves, and thermals where you can; opt for synthetic and waterproof pants and choose a high-quality pair of hiking boots or shoes. The jacket is just the outer layer, the final piece of the puzzle, it doesn’t have everything that you need.