What to Look for When Buying a Hiking Jacket in 2024

May 24, 2023

A man in a hiking jacket alone on a mountain

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Hiking is one of America’s favorite pastimes. Trekking up a mountain or through a forest connects you with nature and makes you appreciate the beauty surrounding you. Before you go, you’ll need to grab some gear, such as a hiking jacket. 

Your clothing is vital when hiking. You might not realize it now, but you’ll be thankful when your clothes protect you from weather, bugs and other outdoor elements. If you plan to hike, use this guide for selecting a hiking jacket. 

What Are the Types of Hiking Jackets?

Selecting a hiking jacket can be difficult because you have so many options. First, consider the types of jackets on the market. There are four to keep your eyes on, including:

  • Softshell: You may be thinking about tacos, but that’s for another day. Softshell hiking jackets are ideal for casual use and light hiking. They’re lightweight, so you can wear them when it’s chilly or warmer, depending on your preference. Softshell jackets also help when you’re layering with heavier coats below.
  • Hardshell: Again, no relation to the taco. Hardshell jackets are similar to their soft brethren but more resistant to weather conditions. For example, imagine you’re on a hike when the sky falls out. Hardshell jackets repel water off your body better than softshell ones do.
  • Fleece: Another popular type of hiking jacket is a fleece. These jackets are ideal if you want to stay warm without overdoing it. Imagine it’s about 45 degrees at the start of your hike, but the temperatures will rise during the day. The fleece jacket warms you without overheating. Like softshells, fleece jackets are suitable for layering.  
  • Insulated: The fourth type on the market is an insulated jacket. This clothing provides maximum protection against the cold. Remember in “A Christmas Story” when the mom tries to put the oversized jacket on Randy? Some people call them puffy jackets because of their looks. If you ever plan to hike in the Arctic Circle, you’ll need one, even if you can’t put your arms down.

How Should You Pick a Hiking Jacket?

Hiking is popular in the U.S., with about 59 million people partaking in 2021. Hikers find trails all across the country, from sea to shining sea. Before you pick a hiking jacket, use these five considerations.   

1. Climate

The most crucial factor in your purchase may be the climate. Will you hike across the Florida, Ice Age or Arizona trails? The trails you select will significantly influence your type of hiking jacket. What should you pick for each climate?

  • Cold: Some people like cold-weather hiking. If you do, try out Denali National Park, where the average temperature dips below 50 degrees for 10 months of the year. In this situation, you’ll need an insulated jacket.
  • Hot: If you’re not careful, hiking can get hot, like the sun’s surface. Imagine hiking on the Arizona Trail in the dog days of summer. For this instance, you might not consider a jacket. However, a softshell may be beneficial because it provides ultraviolet ray (UV) protection without overwhelming you.
  • Rain: One way the weather can rain on your parade is with, well, rain. Precipitation makes the hike uncomfortable, prompting you to find shelter quickly. When it rains, a hardshell jacket is best for staying dry. The rugged fabric on the outside makes it durable despite the precipitation. With a hardshell jacket, you’re more prepared to hike the Florida trail, where you can face constant rainfall in the summer.

2. Hike Length

Your hike’s length is something else you should consider. How long is the trail? Some hiking treks are incredibly long. For example, the Appalachian Trail is about 2,200 miles from Maine to Georgia. If that wasn’t enough, try the American Discovery Trail from Delaware to California.

You’ll need to consider the length because you need comfort in your hiking jacket. You can bear an uncomfortable jacket if the trail is only a few miles away. However, you need something soft and cozy when you’re talking hundreds of miles. Otherwise, the hike becomes a struggle.

3. Hike Intensity

Some trails are family-friendly because they don’t require a lot of hiking expertise. For example, Arkansas’s Hot Springs Mountain Trail is a leisurely stroll through the forest. However, the Harding Icefield Trail in Alaska is no joke. As the name suggests, the Icefield trail consists of ice and snow. 

The intensity of your hike should be a factor in your decision. If it’s a short hike, you may be able to get away with a fleece or a hardshell jacket. However, an intense hike will require more breathable material, like a softshell jacket. How easily do you sweat? Those who sweat easily definitely need a lighter jacket. Find a jacket with armpit zippers to ease the heat. 

4. Color

You don’t need an Elle Woods mind of fashion when picking your jacket. Though it helps when choosing the color. The color and tone you select don’t matter too much, but it can be a factor. 

You’ll want to wear light colors in warm climates to reflect the sunlight. Whereas, with hot climates, you may find darker colors to absorb the sun’s rays better. If your trail is on a hunting reserve, wear bright colors so hunters and other hikers can see you. Plus, you never know if you need rescuing from emergency services. Orange and pink are terrific colors for this instance. 

5. Extra Features

Lastly, you’ll want to consider other features that aren’t obvious so obvious, such as these three components:

  • Hood: If you want rain protection, a hood is a must. Some hiking jackets don’t have a hood, so look out for one that does. You’ll need safeguard from precipitation, not to mention the sun. Even in snowy climates, you need to protect your face from sunburn in high elevations. 
  • Pockets: When hiking, you want to carry as few things as possible to lighten the load. Preferably, you don’t need to bring a backpack or any knapsack. A hiking jacket with pockets is highly convenient for carrying a phone and some peanuts. 
  • Zipper: You may overlook the zipper, but it’s an integral part of the jacket. Ensure the zipper is high quality and able to endure wear and tear. The last thing you want is to be in single-digit temperatures, and the zipper doesn’t work suddenly.

Picking Your Favorite Hiking Jacket

Ultimately, the best hiking jacket for you is the one you like the most. Imagine yourself in the coat when you’re outdoors, and pick the one best suited for multiple climate types. Also, ensure durability because a high-quality jacket can last you a long time.

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.