8 Reasons Everyone Should Have a Puffy Vest

If you’re like us, puffy vests hark back to long-forgotten memories of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. However, thanks to the advent of active insulation, the puffy vest (Men’s/Women’s) is back and more versatile than ever—so much so that we find ourselves using one everywhere from windy ridgelines in the summer to icy-cold chairlifts in the winter. Best of all, as they’ve gotten more adept in the outdoors, they’ve also gotten more stylish, making them great for both romping in the mountains and cruising around Hill Valley. Here are eight reasons you should add one to your gear closet this season.

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1. It’s the do-it-all layer

Whatever the season, we always have a puffy insulating layer in our packs. Sometimes, if it’s cold enough, we’ll even carry two. But, often, what we really want is to keep our core warm on the move without overheating. And, this is where puffy vests with active insulation really shine: They provide enough insulation to keep you warm, and due to their breathable fill and sleeveless fit, they also prevent you from overheating while you’re in motion. Seriously, when was the last time you went on a hike, climb, or ride and complained your arms were cold? Keeping the core warm is what counts.

2. You hardly ever need to take one off

As climbers in the early 2000s, we were inspired by Mark Twight’s book Extreme Alpinism and adopted many of the ideas presented into our own outdoor activities. One that’s stuck through the years is the “action suit”—a couple of layers that are rarely taken off during activity. An active insulation vest fits perfectly into this system, especially when it comes to cold-weather pursuits: It provides enough warmth when the pace slows, while its ability to breathe and vent heat is great for fast summit pushes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. They weigh nearly nothing

Along the same lines, there is no sense in carrying around a jacket with sleeves if you don’t need them. And, simply choosing a vest over a jacket offers considerable weight savings. For example, look at the listed weight for one of our favorite active insulation pieces, the Outdoor Research Ascendant: A large men’s Ascendant Hoody tips the scales at 13 oz., while its counterpart, the Ascendant Vest, comes in at a mere 7.8 oz. Imagine how much you’ll save if, instead, you swap out that old heavy fleece jacket.

4. They take up less room in your pack

Speaking of that fleece jacket, opting for an active insulation vest saves space, too. Because vests use less material and fill than jackets, they take up far fewer inches in a pack—enough that you’ll be able to sneak in an extra layer for the next trip, or simply downsize your pack.

5. No annoying bunchy arms

Annoyed by how all your layers bunch in the arms? Or, how the sleeves of your top layer pull up the sleeves of your lower garments? Vests obviously minimize these issues. Furthermore, puffy vests deliver better mobility, with almost as much warmth. And, they are less likely to ride up when you’re reaching above your head for that next axe placement on Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. There’s less wear and tear

Whether you’re hiking through the near-treeline thicket on a windy fall day, scratching up the Lion Head Winter Route, or transitioning from up to down on an epic backcountry spring skiing mission, you’ll probably be wearing an insulating layer. And, the elbows and forearms on it are going to take a beating, especially if you’re wearing a puffy jacket. Avoid this problem by choosing a vest instead.

7. Improving on a tried-and-true design

Historically, fleece has been the go-to material for midlayers, as its breathability often gave it an advantage over puffies. However, the advent of active insulation essentially nullified that. Particularly, active insulation puffy vests are lighter, more packable, more wind resistant, and warmer than their traditional fleece counterparts.

8. They’re cheaper

Another great thing about puffy vests with active insulation is, since they use less material than their full-sleeved equivalents, they’re typically less expensive.

 

Have another reason puffy vests are the way to go? Tell us about it in the comments!

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