Outdoors gear is made for out there. As trends take wilderness apparel from the summits to the streets, Highsnobiety is recasting a seminal part of the outdoors for its new home. Trail Mix is a wear-test series, by Highsnobiety. Instead of climbing mountains, we put gear through tests that ring closer to home. Is a down coat too warm for the subway? Will mountain boots slip on iced-over streets? Each month, we’ll take on a new category, testing five pieces in the wilds of New York City to answer questions just like these.
For this first edition, we’re taking on the O.G. outdoors-to-street piece: the down jacket.
Bubble. Padded. Belay parka. “The Biggie.”
Whatever you call it, no other gear piece has straddled the line between culture and camping quite like the puffer jacket. Brands like Moncler fill runways with high-fashion puffs. Others, like The North Face, bring them up Mount Everest. And in the valley between them, a host of names from Ralph Lauren to Mammut take outdoors-cut insulators from the foothills to fashion week and back.
Nearly every major brand makes a puffy jacket for one simple reason: they work. Puffers offer a potent combination of lightweight and high-warmth, the exact qualities sought by Eddie Bauer (the man) when he first added insulating geese feathers to a jacket back in 1936. Bauer’s original jackets wowed outdoorsmen with the heat from their down stuffing. Now, over 80 years later, the outdoors and fashion markets are stuffed with jackets that take a similar shape.
Some are filled with goose down, some are filled with animal-friendly alternatives. Each claims a similar wow factor. So what’s worth wearing, and what’s just hot air?
In search of the best outdoors style, Trail Mix reviewed five puffer jackets across a range of budgets.
Here are our picks for this season’s best puffer jackets for men.
Columbia Iceline Ridge Jacket ($180)
The Iceline Ridge is a puffed-up ski jacket from Columbia, the storied outdoors brand known best for its affordable performance gear. Those seeking nature on a budget have long found their answer in Columbia. Wearing the Iceline around a New York January, however, raises a few questions. First among them: why pay more?
Stuffed with Columbia’s “Thermarator” synthetic insulation, the Iceline Ridge is as warm as you’d ever need — and not bad looking, either. Bold colorblocking and a retro back logo print add a touch of ’80s ski style. A waterproof outer doubles down on functionality.
While some of the slopes-specific features might get annoying, this is a sub-$200 jacket that can be worn without layers in temps below freezing. You get what you pay for in terms of construction (zippers and furniture feel cheap; at 4lbs, it’s certainly not light), but all in all, a solid choice.
Marmot Hype Down Hoody ($300)
There’s hyped puffers. Then there’s the Hype.
The Hype Hoody is a down jacket from Marmot, the California-based gear maker famous for its sleeping bags and ultralight backpacking tents. It’s no surprise, then, that the Hype (dry weight: 9.4oz) stuffs a lot of puff into a very slim package.
Marmot’s lightweight Hype machine is powered by 800 fillpower goose down, meaning a single ounce of feathers can trap 800 cubic inches of air — close to 1.5x the power-per-ounce of a North Face McMurdo parka. With more power, you get the same warmth at less weight. But does the theory hold?
After wearing the Hype as an outer layer and under a shell: oh yeah. It’s plenty, even pleasantly, warm. The jacket’s Pertex Quantum face fabric is wind (not water) proof, so you’ll need a barrier to wear it in snow lest too much water “wets down” the air-trapping feathers. That said, the Hype’s lightweight and agile cut make it a pleasure to rock under wool coats and GORE shells alike, especially in its just-hi-viz-enough Hawaiian Orange colorway. If you’re looking for a performance down sweater, get Hype.
Jöttnar Fjorm Down Jacket ($590)
British brand Jöttnar is the brainchild of two former Royal Marine commandos. While freezing on a mountaineering trip in northern Norway, founders Tommy Kelly and Steve Howarth dreamt of a gear line that would supply them with the niche, uber-hardcore garments they desired. Jöttnar’s Fjorm parka is how they do puffers.
The Fjorm is a down jacket made for seeking summits. Behind a lightweight micro ripstop nylon lies over half a pound (275g) of 850 fillpower “hydrophobic” goose down, an innovation by the company DownTek that sees a jacket’s filling — and not its face fabric — coated with fluorocarbon-free waterproofing solution. The result is an all-weather fusion reaction. The kind of jacket you dream of during snow delays on the J Train. In fewer words: it’s #cozy.
Weighing just 9.7oz all together, Jöttnar’s puffer parka is comically light for its warmth and its size. Fleece-lined cuffs, hand-warmer pockets, and a bevy of adjustable bits make it a joy to wear, too. The only real callout here is that the Fjorm might be overkill for most city rats. If weekends take you skiing (or, if you live in Berlin/Chicago), this is an excellent winter piece. If not, take comfort in knowing that you can wear the Fjorm with just a T-shirt in 15° F.
Norrøna trollveggen ACE down950 Jacket ($799)
Close to a century before Norwegian snow brought Jöttnar to life, Norway’s own Norrøna began making gear designed for its home up north. The ACE down950 is the brand’s pinnacle puffy. And after looking for excuses to wear it more (“it’s not that warm out!”), I can say it’s among the best jackets I’ve ever tried on.
As the name suggests, the ACE down950 is filled with 950 fillpower goose down, a laughably potent fill number that’s among the highest in the industry. In front of this potency lies a PU-coated Vectran textile (translation: highly water-resistant, made from the synthetic used on Mars Rover airbags). Between it, a laminated baffle construction engineered to prevent down leaking (translation: you won’t find feathers on your shirt after wearing it). The entire package can pack down into an internal pocket for easy transport. Oh yeah — it looks great, too!
For all-winter comfort and style, it simply does not get better than the ACE down950. I’ve worn it comfortably in snow, freezing rain, wind, and oh-boy-this-is-climate-change sun, layering only a tee or a hoodie underneath, depending. The Vectran’s subtly-textured grid pattern is an ACE detail paired with monochrome fits, or a standout in its own right if worn with other prints.
The only bad news: it’s $800.
Moncler Genius 5 Craig Green Coolidge Jacket ($1880)
Finally, we’ve come to this. Last but not least is the Coolidge, a jacket from what may just be the most godfather of all fashionable puffer collabs: Moncler Genius x Craig Green.
Designer Craig Green made headlines worldwide with the unveiling of his larger-than-life Moncler line; Skepta even rocked a bulbous body suit in a now-deleted IG pic. For this year’s edition of the Green x Genius lockup, a collection of bubbles-as-sculpture pieces were complemented by more wearable editions. And so goes the story of the Coolidge Jacket.
First things first: Craig’s Coolidge is just plain cool. The jacket is a mish-mash of colors and themes — some fashion, some outdoors, all somehow brought together in a compelling way. On the front, Voltorb colorblocks disguise zip pockets while showing off some truly unconventional paneling. On the back, a contrast gray textile (and “Moncler” logo hit) make the Coolidge a true head-turner. Armpit holes mark it as anything but a survival piece. A supersized, removable bondage-inspired hood makes every wear feel a shift in Snoke’s Praetorian Guard.
As a fashion piece, it’s wild — novel, stylish, and just quite grand. As a puffer, however, that wildness bites back. I really struggled with this one. From un-strapping the hood to the fact that it’s just not that warm, it’s hard to recommend the Coolidge as a cold weather piece.
But perhaps that’s the point. If you live in an area where winter means “cool,” the latest from Moncler x Craig Green is an ultra-stylish way to layer up.
Special thanks to END. Clothing.