Misc. | Baselayers | Insulation | Shells
Arc'teryx Kappa SV Hoody
Like its partner the Kappa AR Pant, the Kappa SV Hoody completely seals out wind with its Windstopper shell and seals in body heat with Primaloft insulation. One tester who wore the Hoody on an Alaska trek in icy 40-mile per-hour gusts said she "could not feel the wind at all" and stayed warm while her hiking partners shivered. The insulated, helmet compatible hood with a tall chin guard that protects the neck and face is key to this jacket's exceptional warmth in blustery conditions. A hem drawcord, interior front storm flap and snug knit wrist cuffs boost the jacket's insulating power. A DWR treatment on the Windstopper fabric kept testers dry in light snow and rain. The Kappa SV is not waterproof but it layers easily under a rain shell. Although it is not cheap, we found this quality jacket, with its high warmth to weight ratio, worth every penny in extreme cold conditions.
$450; men's S-XXL, women's XS-XL; 30 oz. (m's M). (800) 985-6681; arcteryx.com.
"This is a great mid layer in cold conditions and also a stellar stand alone jacket in warmer weather," said one tester of the versatile Torrid. Made from Polartec Power Stretch, the Torrid was "extremely breathable" as a mid-layer according to testers who used the jacket on everything from climbing to backpacking to biking trips. The fabric's four way stretch also allowed plenty of unrestricted arm movement when reaching for hand holds. Thanks to a full front zip, hand warmer pockets and adjustable wrist cuffs, the Torrid also served as an outer layer on a spring backpacking trip in Utah's Escalante Canyon when temperatures ranged from 60 to 40 degrees F. The smooth outer surface on the hardface fleece makes it easy to layer and sheds light drizzle, while the brushed underside is super soft against the skin and insulates.
$140; men's S-XXL; 12 oz. (m's M). (888) 357-3262; marmot.com.
Misc. | Baselayers | Insulation | Shells
REI Ladro Hoodie
Women testers found this highly packable, lightweight fleece jacket the perfect take anywhere layer, whether it was on a day-hike in Arizona's Kachina Peaks Wilderness or a week-long backpacking trip in Utah's Grand Gulch. Made from Polartec Wind Pro hardface fleece, the Ladro sheds wind and light rain with its smooth exterior but the brushed interior insulates and feels like velvet against the skin. Testers reported staying warm when wearing the Ladro over a baselayer on mountain hikes in 40-degree F temps with icy winds gusting at 30 miles per hour. But they also said the jacket was breathable when humping a pack uphill. A snug-fitting hood with tall collar adds warmth and protects the chin, neck and head from chilly breezes. Fleece lined hand warmer pockets and a bottom drawcord hem boost the cozy factor. Flat lock stitching on shoulder seams prevent chafing under a pack and thumb loops keep the sleeves in place. The Ladro's smooth exterior along with a trim cut through the sleeves and torso make the jacket easy to layer under a shell.
$99; women's XS-XL; 17 oz. (w's M). (800) 426-4840; rei.com.
Solstice Cool Ruler
After a winter of hard labor hiking, skiing and climbing in the Colorado Rockies, the Cool Ruler emerged a favorite among a dozen insulated jackets tested for its durability and high warmth to weight ratio. The hooded Primaloft puffy was comfortably layered under a shell during below freezing temps and worked well as an in-camp parka when conditions hovered just above freezing. Testers reported the fit was "fantastic" with tapered sleeves that allowed for layering but were not bulky and a snug fitting, cinchable hood that added significant warmth on cold nights in camp. A bottom hem draw cord also helped seal in warmth. Despite being repeatedly stuffed into a tiny wad at the bottom of a pack, the Cool Ruler's insulation stayed in like-new condition during five months of hard use. The 30-denier polyester rip-stop shell fabric also held up to bushwacking and abrasion against rocks but it did suffer a few pin-prick size holes, not surprisingly, from wayward campfire cinders.
$149; men's S-XXL; 1 lb. 4 oz. (m's L). (800) 878-5733; solsticeoutdoor.com.