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The key to staying warm in cold winter conditions? Try the ‘onion method’, and get layering. Wearing multiple layers is a great way to trap in body heat effectively, and one of the most useful pieces you can add to your wardrobe is an insulated jacket. A warm insulated mid layer is ideal for wearing under a thick coat in winter or with a waterproof shell jacket on top in a storm, and thicker versions can be worn alone as winter coats.
Animal down or synthetic down - what is the difference and which is better?
Insulated jackets either use animal down or synthetic down as warm padding. Animal down, which usually comes from ducks or geese, is very warm and very lightweight. The downside is that it is useless if it gets wet – plus, cheaper down is sometimes harvested unethically from live animals.
Stick to brands that use traceable down (look for the R.D.S, or Responsible Down Standard), or just avoid animal down altogether and pick synthetic insulation.
Synthetic materials such as PrimaLoft (made from polyester) are rapidly catching up with traditional down when it comes to warmth and performance, and are also quicker to dry and still provide some warmth when wet. Increasingly, brands are using recycled insulation and other recycled materials to make their jackets, which definitely gets our vote.
What should I look for in an insulated jacket?
You’ll see a range of insulated jackets for women on the market, from lightweight, packable down jackets to thicker padded coats. The former are best for active sports such as hiking and climbing, and the latter are ideal for dog walking, camping and keeping cosy when the temperature drops below zero.
Some insulated jackets pack down into a small stuff sack or into their own pocket – these are ideal for carrying in your backpack or popping in a bicycle pannier bag so you can sling a jacket on and off as you go.
Look for a jacket with zipped pockets and an adjustable hood, and that feels snug enough around the body to trap in heat but still leaves space to wear base layers underneath. Insulated jackets aren’t usually fully waterproof – you’ll need to pop a waterproof shell over the top in heavy rain – but water-resistant jackets are handy for wearing in light rain or snow.
Best insulated jackets for women at a glance
- Best for value for money: Mountain Warehouse Cosy Extreme Womens Short Down Jacket
- Best for sports: Keela Belay Pro Jacket
- Best down jacket on test: Montane Women’s Anti-Freeze XT
- Best for warmth: 66 North Dyngja Down Jacket
- Best for style at a reasonable price: TOG24 Raleigh Jacket
- Best long jacket: Craghoppers Narlia Jacket
- Best for comfort: Icebreaker Merinoloft Jacket
- Best for style points: Jack Wolfskin Nature Corduroy Jacket
- Best recycled jacket: Dare2B Striking Jacket
- Best reversible jacket: On Running Switch Jacket
Key specs – Insulation: Down Size Range: 6-24 Colour Options: khaki
Mountain Warehouse’s Cosy Extreme jacket is described as ‘short’, but it’s actually the perfect generous length to cover your lower torso comfortably.
Pop this down-filled jacket on for instant welcome warmth – we like the soft lining and the well-fitting hood, which is ideal for light rain (the soft brushed exterior is water-resistant enough to repel a medium shower). The Cosy Extreme fits on the slim side – if you want to wear it over thick jumpers, choose a size up.
Key specs – Insulation: Primaloft Gold insulation Size Range: 8-20 Colour Options: red, black
We always rate Keela’s no-fuss outdoor kit, and their Belay Pro Jacket is everything we’d expect from the British brand. This jacket is surprisingly lightweight and packable, but still packs a punch on cold days thanks to plenty of PrimaLoft synthetic insulation.
Adjustable cuffs and hem trap in heat well, making the Belay Pro ideal for adding warmth without bulk for climbing, hiking and camping. The black version is smart enough to pop on for the commute, too. The fit is definitely small here – we’d recommend sizing up.
Key specs – Insulation: Down Size: Range: 8-16 Colour Options: black, red, green
Meet the jacket that ticks all the boxes this year – Montane’s high-performing Anti-Freeze. This down-filled jacket is the Goldilocks of our list – it’s lightweight and packable into its own stuff sack when you’re on the go, but still warm and substantial to wear when you cool down.
We love the comfy high neck and adjustable hood, and the soft silky lining, which feels lovely to wear all day. The outer material is the double whammy – recycled and water-resistant. A true go-anywhere down jacket you’ll find yourself wearing daily.
Key specs – Insulation: Duck down Size Range: XXS-XL Colour Options: black
If you don’t mind splashing your cash and you’re in the market for a really fantastic warm jacket, try 66 North’s gender-neutral Dyngja for size.
This boxy, retro-inspired insulated coat looks very stylish in the city, but where it really excels is in the cold, when responsibly-sourced duck down gives reliable warmth around the torso even in sub-zero temperatures (we’d expect nothing less from clothing designed in Iceland).
A long and a cropped version are also available. Our pick of the pack if you want a coat style rather than a mid layer.
Key specs – Insulation: Recycled synthetic Size Range: 8-24 Colour Options: pink, khaki, black, navy
Keeping warm this winter looks to be an expensive business – so it’s definitely worth investing in a warm insulated jacket you can wear daily once bitter temperatures arrives.
The shin-length cut of TOG24’s Raleigh is wonderfully warm, keeping your torso, bum and legs cosy, and the slim cut and neutral colourways (our favourite is the smart gunmetal colour) will stop you from looking like you’ve wrapped up in a duvet. We liked the elasticated cuffs and well-placed pockets on test, plus the fact that the cosy insulation is made from recycled plastic bottles.
Key specs – Insulation: recycled synthetic Size Range: 8-20 Colour Options: cream, black, green
Meet the closest thing you can find to wearing a comforter wrapped around you all winter - Craghoppers’ cocooning Narlia jacket. This long-length coat is unapologetically big and bulky but it offers great warmth and is comfortable to wear all day.
The outer material, which is party made with recycled plastic bottles, is water-repellent, and on test we found rain beaded off its surface well. A cosy hood and handwarmer pockets make this a great choice for dog walks, sports matches or just standing about in winter weather.
Key specs – Insulation: Merino wool Size Range: XS-XL Colour Options: black, red
Icebreaker have taken the know-how of their deliciously soft Merino wool base layers and crafted a high-performing insulated jacket – and we’re big fans.
Merino wool is a bit of a wonder material for wear in the outdoors, as it’s warm, soft, moisture-wicking and naturally antibacterial. Here, it’s used in place of down as insulation, and makes for a jacket that is both lightweight and impressively breathable, so you stay cosy without overheating, even as you move.
The slim, bulk-free cut of the Merinoloft makes this the perfect jacket for layering, and it feels pleasingly soft and comfortable against the skin.
Key specs – Insulation: Down Size Range: XS-XXL Colour Options: grey/black/beige
Who said down jackets can’t be as stylish as your daily winter coat? Not Jack Wolfskin – they’ve nailed the perfect balance of cosy and cool in their Nature jacket, which has a soft corduroy exterior and a generous filling of responsibly-sourced down.
The outer material is wind and water-resistant, and the hem is adjustable, cinching in to trap in body heat. Pulling on the Nature on a chilly day feels like dressing up in a big hug, and we love the smart colours it’s available in.
This jacket is too warm for mild days – save it for frosty winter walks.
Key specs – Insulation: Recycled synthetic Size Range: 6-20 Colour Options: grey/blue/black
Meet one of our favourite all-rounders – the Dare2B is a great middleweight jacket you can wear over base layers and under coats as you fancy.
This design has a great hood, good pockets and a slim cut that’ll stop you feeling too bulked out, and as an added bonus it’s made from fully recycled materials, with the equivalent of 19 plastic bottles saved in the construction of each Striking jacket.
Three neutral colours look good with everything.
Key specs – Insulation: Recycled synthetic Size Range: XS-XL Colour Options: black & white, grey & yellow
On Running, best known for their reliable running shoes, have turned their design nous to apparel with the slick-looking Switch insulated jacket.
We love that this design is reversible, so you get two colours in one – choose from grey and yellow or black and white. At 315g this was one of the lightest jackets we tested, and is a cinch to pack down into a backpack pocket, so it’s ideal for adding warmth when you’re getting active without having to carry a bulky layer.
The slim cut and rather futuristic design make the Switch a great quiver-of-one jacket to wear from city to countryside.