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The Best Hiking Vest for the Outdoors – Our Top Picks

by | Hiking, Men's Jackets, Women's Jackets | 0 comments

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

If you aren’t a big fan of hiking hoodies but still want to stay warm and stylish on your day hikes, having one or two of the best hiking vests is an excellent alternative.

The best hiking vests are not only just as versatile, but they can be warm to go with the seasons, especially if you prefer hiking in the winter. Most of the best options come with the necessary features, such as zippered hand pockets, waterproof material, and a layer of fleece for extra warmth.

When it comes to enjoying the great outdoors on those brisk fall or spring days, you can hardly go wrong with a high-quality vest. The best hiking vest is cozy, easily packable, and often much cheaper than a full winter jacket.


The Best Hiking Vest to Buy

If you intend to go hiking in cold weather, here is a list of some of the best hiking vests you could consider buying.

Best Overall: Patagonia Down Sweater Vest

Patagonia Down Sweater Vest
  • Insulation: Yes (down)
  • Hood: No
  • Fabric: Recycled down-proof nylon

If you are into hiking, there’s a good chance you want to preserve the environment or, at the very least, keep it clean so you can enjoy even more of the great outdoors. This Patagonia Down Sweater Vest is an excellent choice for people who want to save the world from pollution.

It’s made out of post-consumer recycled ripstop nylon, which is made out of recycled fishing nets. This helps to reduce the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans. Being the by-product of a good cause isn’t the only selling point for this Patagonia Down Sweater Vest. It also punches above its own weight regarding high-quality service delivery.

For starters, it features a PFC-free water-repellent finish (DWR), which is durable and ideal for hiking in almost any weather. It’s also commendably insulated with 800-fill-power virgin goose down, which is excellent for heat retention when it gets chilly; it also features quilted patterning, which keeps the insulation in place despite all the rigorous activity you might put it through on the trail.

This Patagonia Down Sweater Vest has a center-front zipper that features a zipper garage and wicking interior storm flap, both of which go towards making the vest comfortable next to your skin.

It has three pockets: two hand pockets with welted zippers to keep all your hiking essentials secure and an internal chest pocket (also zippered) with a carabiner loop. It can easily convert to a stuff sack.

Likes
  • Zippered pockets
  • Comfortable
  • Warm and cozy down material
  • Waterproof
  • Comes with a repair patch
Dislikes

It’s a bit pricey

Color shown online might not be the true color


Best Cold Weather Vest: Outdoor Research Coldfront Down Vest

Outdoor Research Coldfront Down Vest
  • Insulation: Yes (down)
  • Hood: No
  • Fabric: Recycled polyester and ripstop

This Outdoor Research Coldfront Down Vest is designed specifically for people who want to go hiking in cold weather. It features excellent winter layering and is made of weather-resistant ripstop material that makes it breathable and capable of taking on almost any kind of precipitation the trail can throw at it.

The Outdoor Research Coldfront Down Vest has four pockets: two outer zippered pockets that keep your hands warm through the chilly weather and two inner pockets (drop-in) that you can use for your valuables, such as phones, GPS, and so on.

Heavily insulated with 700+ Fill Power Down material, this Outdoor Research Coldfront Down Vest is soothingly toasty while remaining conveniently lightweight. Finally, synthetic fill in the shoulders keeps you insulated even when the jacket gets wet.

Likes
  • Heavily insulated
  • Lightweight
  • Weather-resistant
  • Zippered pockets
Dislikes
  • Quite pricey
  • Doesn’t have an interior drop pocket

Best Down Vest: Rab Microlight Down Vest

Rab Men's Microlight Down Insulated Lightweight Vest for Hiking and Skiing
  • Insulation: Yes (down)
  • Hood: No
  • Fabric: Nylon

This Rab Microlight Down Vest is not only well-insulated thanks to its down insulation, but it’s also extremely lightweight. The recycled 700-fill power down has been treated with a Nikwax hydrophobic finish that is ideal for water repulsion while retaining the loft and warmth even when the jacket gets wet.

The outer shell is made of ripstop nylon fabric that is durable and adept at repelling water and wind.

Even though this mens hiking vest is warm, it’s still very lightweight. It features lightweight micro and nano baffle stitch-through that goes a long way in keeping the down in the right place to prevent the development of cold spots.

In addition, it has a down-filled collar that’s close-fitting to keep your neck warm through any rough weather on the trail.

The hand pockets on this Rab Microlight Down Vest are large and zippered. It also has a huge chest pocket that can hold valuables such as cell phones, GPS, or compasses. Finally, it has a drawcord that keeps the cold air out, making this one of the comfiest and toasty hiking vests on this list.

Likes
  • Huge chest pocket
  • Lightweight
  • Comes with a stuff sack
  • Drawcord for adjustable hems
  • Waterproof
Dislikes
  • Expensive
  • May be on the smaller side

Best Active Use Vest: Arc’teryx Atom LT Vest

Arc'teryx Atom LT Vest Men's | Lightweight Versatile Synthetically...
  • Insulation: Yes (synthetic)
  • Hood: No
  • Fabric: Nylon and polyester

Even though hiking is inherently an active hobby, there are many different degrees to it. Some hikers enjoy going on a leisurely stroll around their local park, and some like taking on mountains and ranges.

Both are technically hiking, but one group will undoubtedly be more active than the other. For this latter group, the Arc’teryx Atom LT Vest is suitable.

This Arc’teryx Atom LT Vest features synthetic insulation, often the best option if you are looking for a hiking vest that will offer you admirable weather resistance and breathability.

This vest for hiking is perfect for when you want to work up a sweat, but the weather report doesn’t look so promising. You can easily wear it on a rainy day and just as much on a sunny one.

Likes
  • Synthetic insulation
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Weather-resistant
Dislikes
  • Not ideal for extremely cold weather

Best Multi-Purpose Vest: KUHL Celeste Lined Vest

KUHL Celeste Lined Vest
  • Insulation: Yes (Fleece)
  • Hood: No
  • Fabric: Cotton, polyester, and nylon

Even though most hiking vest womens look good and can be used for day-to-day activities, they often have that “go out and hike” look. As such, most people would rather wear a jacket that a regular hiking vest on a normal non-hiking day.

This KUHL Celeste Lined Vest does away with all that and gives you the freedom to wear a vest that is not only stylish but also functional enough for the great outdoors.

Made out of cotton, polyester, and nylon, this KUHL Celeste Lined Vest offers the perfect blend for functionality and style. It goes well with almost anything you wear while protecting you from any weather.

It has quilted shoulders that give you that mountain-town style and two hand pockets that are ideal for cold days. Finally, it has a remarkable fleece lining that gives it incredible insulation to keep you warm and toasty even on the most frigid days out and about in town or on the trail.

Likes
  • Stylish
  • Multi-purpose for both the great outdoors and town use
  • Warm fleece lining
  • Water and windproof
  • Quilted shoulders add to the aesthetics
Dislikes
  • The sizing only works if you are layering underneath

Best Affordable Option: BALEAF Lightweight Softshell Vest

BALEAF Women's Lightweight Vest Softshell Sleeveless Jacket Windproof Stand...
  • Insulation: No
  • Hood: No
  • Fabric: Polyester

If you are in the market for an affordable yet effective hiking vest, you might want to give this BALEAF Lightweight Softshell Vest a second look. Designed for women, this BALEAF Lightweight Softshell Vest is not only stylish but also quite comfortable. It has elastic cuffs and drawcord hems that perfectly fit your body, making it look like a slim-fit vest.

Made out of polyester material, this BALEAF Lightweight Softshell womens hiking Vest is both windproof and water resistant. Not only does it keep you dry, but it also easily wicks away any moisture that might get through to your skin.

In terms of style, it has a stand collar and a full zip design, giving it an edgy yet stylish look while keeping your neck comfortable. The zipper has a cover hood that protects your neck should you pull it too hard.

Likes
  • Stylish
  • Lightweight
  • Affordable
  • Windproof and water resistant
Dislikes
  • Only works with layers underneath
  • Some found it bulky

Factors to Consider Before Buying a Hiking Vest – Buyers Guide

When hiking in unpredictable weather, you need to be properly layered. Having one of the best hiking vests on you is a great way to ensure that your outer layer is stylish and effective.

While most vests can work in almost any day hiking situation, if you are an avid hiker, you will need to have vests that are specifically designed for hiking to take on those “tougher than usual” trails in those more unpredictable weather scenarios.

With that in mind, here are some factors you need to consider when shopping for the best hiking vest.

Weather Resistance

At its core, a hiking vest is designed to protect you from the elements, whether it’s the sun, the wind, the rain, or even snow.

As you would expect, not all hiking vests are created equal in this regard. It’s almost always a good idea NOT to buy a hiking vest designed to take on all four seasons unless you need to pair it with a few layers underneath.

The best hiking vest will provide the following features as far as weather resistance is concerned.

  • Warmth: Your vest must keep you warm. The best hiking vest will keep your core temperature optimal regardless of the prevailing weather. A great hiking vest has excellent insulation and provides the necessary warmth without being bulky. The kind of insulation used often determines the vest’s price and breathability. Wool, down, and fleece are wonderful insulators, but they tend to be a bit pricey and aren’t as breathable as synthetic insulation.
  • Water resistance: This is by far one of the most important features of outdoor gear. You hardly know how quickly the weather will turn on you, so you need your outer layers to offer water resistance should it start raining. Most hiking vests do offer this and more. Some even go as far as being windproof. While looking for water-resistant materials, make sure you don’t pick materials that will soak up water and weigh you down along the way.

Comfort

Hiking is a highly physical activity that requires rigorous movements throughout the process. What you wear when hiking must be comfortable while keeping you warm or protected from the elements. You need to ask yourself:

  • What kind of fabric is the hiking vest made of?
  • Is it soft and cozy against your skin?
  • Does it have moisture-wicking properties to keep your skin comfortable and dry?

Once you find a hiking vest that answers in the affirmative to all these questions, you might have a winner.

Despite all these parameters, only you can decide whether or not a hiking vest is comfortable for you. We all have different preferences, and what might be snug, tight, and comfortable for one hiker might just be close to cutting off circulation for another.

Breathability

When hiking, you are going to get sweaty regardless of the weather. When your sweat mixes with your clothing and rubs against your skin as you walk briskly on the trail, you will most likely experience discomfort. This often includes blisters, chaffing, and some hot spots. To prevent this, you need to wear breathable clothes.

While most vests are sleeveless, which provides some ventilation, the fabric used also plays a big role in its breathability. Another factor to consider is how compressible the vest is when it comes to storage. Hiking vests are outer layer clothes and are often removed when it gets too hot out on the trail.

How compressible they are will determine how bulky your day bag will be once you take the extra layer off. Puffer vests are often the most problematic in this regard despite being very effective when it comes to hiking in the winter. You need to look for a packable vest if you intend to go hiking in warmer yet unpredictable weather.

Materials Used

The kind of material used in making your vest goes a long way in determining how comfortable, durable, and effective your hiking vest will be. It also determines how warm. Fleece vests are some of the most common hiking vests in the market today.

Fleece vests, however, tend to get quite warm and aren’t as breathable as, say, vests that have synthetic insulations. These are some trade-offs you might have to make when choosing a hiking vest.

Here are some of the most common materials used in hiking vests.

  • Down: Down is one of the most popular types of insulation for hiking vests. Sourced from geese, down material is the plumage underneath the bird’s feathers. Down is warm, soft, and lofty, allowing it to trap more heat and keep you well-protected out on the trail. It’s also compressible, making these kinds of vests ideal for packing. The rule of thumb is that the higher the down-fill power, the warmer the vest.
  • Synthetic: Vests with synthetic insulation are generally made of polyester threaded together to create something close to down. This kind of insulation is often cheaper yet more durable and thicker. Synthetic insulation has better water resistance and heat retention when it gets wet.

Many other materials can be used to make a hiking vest, but one of the most ideal is polyester. Vests made out of this material are warm, breathable, and durable.

Of course, other factors, such as brand and pricing, come into play. Well-established brands such as REI Co and North Face have been known to produce some of the most outstanding and durable outdoor gear.

Hiking vests by these brands are almost guaranteed to be the real deal, but they come with a price tag to match. Whichever direction you decide to go, choosing the best hiking vest that is practical, comfortable, and affordable for you should be the priority.


FAQ

Is down better than synthetic material for hiking vest insulation?

It’s difficult to say whether one is better than the other. Down is definitely softer and loftier. Also, depending on the down fill number, it could be warmer than synthetic insulation. However, synthetic insulation is more durable, breathable, and water resistant. So it all comes down to what features you prefer in your hiking jacket.

Should you always bring a hiking vest, even in summer?

Even though a hiking vest is an outer layer that protects you from the elements, you will not always need it. Especially not in summer when the sun is scorching hot almost all the time.
However, a great rule of thumb when it comes to outdoor excursions is to always be prepared for any eventuality. As such, you should always carry clothes from every layer just in case you need them. That’s why getting a packable vest is a good idea.

Are insulated hiking vests better?

This depends on the kind of hiking you intend to do and the prevailing weather. Insulated hiking vests are more practical and convenient, but most tend to be bulkier. You could always just layer better if you don’t have an insulated hiking vest.

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Last update on 2022-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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