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The Best Hunting Jackets for Braving the Elements

Whether you’re stalking game while bowhunting or sitting idle in a treestand, these technical performance hunting shells keep you warm and dry in all weather.

best hunting jackets
Staff, Courtesy of Sitka

Hunting jackets have evolved significantly since the 1990s when Realtree camo patterns first started to become popular and most hunting gear was still made from cotton blends. (I wore Army surplus BDU camo pants for my first deer hunt.) Today, hunting outerwear has caught up with advances in materials and treatments borrowed from other outdoor pursuits such as skiing, and hunting coats get every bit as techy as those for mountaineers. They also deliver lots of features created especially for hunters that go well beyond just camouflage patterns.

You can still shoot a trophy buck wearing jeans and a Carhartt jacket, and there’s still no substitute for woodsmanship in the field, but the right hunting jacket can offer performance and features that help keep you in the outdoors longer and make the hunt a little more enjoyable. Using smart layering systems and advanced materials, you can actually wear a lot less clothing than in years past to stay warm but also remain mobile for hiking and moving unrestricted when it’s time to take a shot.

The Expert: I’ve tested jackets for years as a professional gear writer and reviewer, from high-end ski jackets to hunting outerwear. I’ve also hunted since I was a teen and for most of 30 years worn old-timey gear, so I appreciate what modern jackets offer as well as which features matter and which ones don't. I’ve been testing jackets from the big names in hunting jackets for the past five years and tested a half-dozen jackets hands-on for this article.

What to Look For

Layering Systems

Hunting jackets should be considered in the broader context of a layering system. That sounds more scientific than it actually is. Layering—basically an approach to clothing that uses a base layer, various insulation mid-layers, and a weatherproof shell—is essential for hunters because they can deal with a wide range of extremes in a single morning. Even the common experience of hunting whitetail from a treestand can require a diverse array of clothing to be comfortable for situations ranging from that pre-dawn walk into the woods to sitting for hours in a treestand exposed to wind and weather.

A good layering system starts with a simple breathable, moisture-wicking base layer of merino wool or synthetic fabric. (In the earliest seasons in warmer areas, that may be all you wear.) Thicker wool, down, or synthetic mid-layers add warmth. Jackets, or shells, come last (hence outerwear) and are meant to block wind and resist precipitation—and provide more insulation if needed.

If you hate the idea of having to figure out your own layering system or if you hunt in a narrow portion of the year with fairly predictable weather, you may want to sacrifice the flexibility of a layering system and look for a middle-of-the-road jacket that fits your hunting season. Still, consider erring on the side of lighter because you can always add a layer under a lighter jacket, but you can’t make a hot, heavy jacket lighter.

Shell jackets come in two broad categories: hardshell and softshell. Hardshell jackets are typically fully waterproof or close to it, with a waterproof-breathable membrane sandwiched between layers of face fabric. Some have insulated liners (sewn-in or zip-in). Softshells are windproof and water-resistant, but typically not fully waterproof. A softshell is a versatile piece that can also be used as a mid-layer in some situations. Many hunting jackets—including several recommended here—are softshells since they’re quieter and usually more breathable while still providing some warmth.

Patterns and Colors

An in-depth discussion of camouflage patterns and colors is outside the scope of this article, but suffice it to say there is no shortage of options these days when it comes to patterns. Thankfully, most of the bigger hunting outerwear brands offer at least a few options catered to your location and style of hunting, whether marshland waterfowl hunting or woods-oriented patterns for other game.

If concealment is really important to you, consider searching first for the pattern you prefer and seeing what options are available with that particular pattern. Look for a brand that makes pants as well so you can be consistent in your camo.

Some hunters don’t sweat camo and prefer to rely on concealment and other means of going unnoticed. And for disciplines like upland bird hunting, where you’re on the move trying to flush birds out of brush, you’re not exactly trying to stay invisible. If you fall into these categories, there are a much broader range of garments available to you, including general outdoor jackets.



Most modern hunting jackets use modern materials in their outerwear these days, which means multilayer exterior fabrics that have a breathable weatherproofing membrane such as Gore-Tex. Whether it’s Gore-Tex or another system, waterproof-breathable membranes exist on a continuum, with different levels of breathability and water protection. You may not need a fully waterproof jacket if you’re unlikely to stay out hunting in the rain. Many hunting jackets utilize Gore-Tex’s Infinium, which is less waterproof than normal Gore-Tex but is more breathable, soft, and quiet. Christy Haywood, Applications Engineer at W.L. Gore, explained to me that “Gore-Tex Infinium products are for use when waterproof is not as important, but softness, comfort, and stretch are a priority. They offer water resistance and wind protection but are not fully waterproof like [other Gore-Tex products].”

Since many hunters carry separate rain gear and prefer quiet, more breathable fabrics when actively hunting, hunters can opt for less-waterproof layers and bust out the rain gear when weather really turns bad. If you hunt in the Pacific Northwest or another particularly wet area, you may want to prioritize waterproofing. In addition to full waterproofing, look for outerwear with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating that helps water bead and roll off rather than soak the exterior fabric, which will limit breathability. Because it’s a coating, a DWR finish will wear off over time and need to be refreshed with products like Nikwax’s TX Direct.

The only material to avoid is cotton. As the saying goes, “cotton kills,” and that’s because it absorbs water readily, and moisture transmits temperature faster and more efficiently than air. Staying dry means staying warm.

How We Selected

My selections here are based on conversations with other hunters, brand reps, and from my own firsthand experience testing several different jackets throughout several hunting seasons. I have worn a wide range of jackets from cheap and flimsy to technical and expensive and have found that the best jacket is the one that you’re comfortable in and that’s appropriate for your particular type of hunting and climate. A comfortable hunter stays in the field longer and is more likely to be ready in critical moments.

I focused my selections on the more common brands that show up in outdoors stores such as Cabela’s and local outdoor shops in North America, as well as online. Our category picks offer guidance if you’ve already narrowed down your search.

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Best Overall
Sitka Jetstream Jacket
Sitka Gear

Key Specs

  • Color: Gore Optifade Subalpine or Open Country
  • Materials: Gore-Tex Infinium polyester knit softshell face
  • Insulation: Micro-Grid polyester fleece knit interior
  • Sizes: S to 3XL

Sitka was the first technical hunting apparel I ever tried, and despite being a skeptical, cotton overalls-wearing curmudgeon, I was won over by the brand’s quality and performance. Sitka makes performance outdoor athletic wear with proprietary digital camouflage patterns it developed with W.L. Gore (makers of Gore-Tex), military camo experts, and animal vision experts. The Jetstream Jacket is a softshell featuring Gore-Tex’s Infinium membrane, which is water-resistant but not waterproof. It has a hood, too, which is a must for my outer layer.

The fleece lining makes this just warm enough for early mornings and late evenings, but it’s still breathable enough for active hiking and stalking. It’s too warm for midday use in early-season hunts, but I often wear a T-shirt for those times of day when the sun is out. The Jetstream then can go in the pack until things cool down and you need that extra layer. This is a versatile all-around jacket for midseason, and it’s breathable and soft enough that you can layer over it with more of a shell or even a puffy if need be. It’s an athletic fit, so keep in mind you won’t be able to do much layering underneath it. If you hunt in warmer weather and want to skew lighter, look at Sitka’s ultralight and thin Mountain Jacket.

  • Works as outer or inner layer

  • Expensive
  • Too warm for some early-season hunts
Best Budget
RedHead Silent Stalker Elite Parka

Key Specs

  • Color: TrueTimber Strata, Kanati, Blaze
  • Materials: 100% polyester face fabric with BONE-DRY waterproof breathable membrane
  • Insulation: Thermolight Micro insulation: 200-gram in torso, 150-gram in sleeves
  • Sizes: S to 3XL, XLT to 3XLT

The Silent Stalker Elite Parka is what ski outerwear companies would call a “3 in 1” because it has a removable inner liner jacket. You can wear the two jackets together and either the inner or outer jacket on their own for three total jacket options. Systems like this are great because they’re essentially a pre-made layering system that lets you wear what you need based on the conditions.

With all three jackets combined and a serious 200 grams of insulation around the body, this parka is warm enough for long sits in a cold treestand, but wearing the inner jacket alone is suitable for earlier, warmer seasons. You get plenty of pockets in all configurations. The TrueTimber Strata is a modern camo pattern on the waterproof exterior, but it also comes in another camo pattern and blaze orange. The best part is you get three jackets for a fraction of the price of one higher-end brand’s offering.

  • Affordable
  • Flexible layering system

  • Too warm for some climates and seasons
Best for Active Hunting
Under Armour Ridge Reaper Infil Ops Windstopper
Under Armour

Key Specs

  • Color: Barren camo
  • Materials: 100% polyester face fabric, Gore Windstopper membrane
  • Insulation: Microfleece liner
  • Sizes: S to 3XL

Under Armour, not surprisingly, makes athletic hunting pieces that are great for active styles of hunting such as stalking. I personally love this layer for mid- to late-season Western hunts where it’s cold enough that I want a wind-blocking shell and some warmth but still need it to breathe lest I sweat through my base layers. The Gore Windstopper fabric is treated with a DWR but is not waterproof. The emphasis is on breathability, so it’s perfect for fast hiking to get to your spot before first light because it blocks wind and insulates while letting sweat evaporate efficiently.

The exterior fabric has a unique feel: a firm, almost spongy softshell material that flexes really well with your movement but is also surprisingly durable. This wouldn’t be my first choice for blasting through brambles while upland bird hunting, but I waded it through several seemingly impenetrable raspberry and brush patches that snagged on the material without destroying it. This is a very athletic fit; I sized up to an XL for my 6-foot, 200-pound frame and found it to be about perfect. If you want to layer under it, you could try going even larger, but the tailored fit is at it’s best as a mid-layer you can wear as an outer in dry or mixed weather. Just make sure to have a serious rain shell in your pack for when the skies open up.

  • Performance fit and breathability

  • Minimal water resistance
Best for Rain
Kuiu Chugach Rain Jacket

Key Specs

  • Color: Valo, Vias, or Verde camos
  • Materials: Torain waterproof system featuring Dermizax HDM membrane, 4-way stretch Primeflex nylon
  • Insulation: None
  • Sizes: S to 3XL

I always keep a rain jacket in my pack, and if you hunt in especially rainy regions, you may need to keep one always on your back. Most packable rain layers are cheap but can be bulky and prone to tears (which defeats the purpose of a rain jacket). The redesigned Chugach TR definitely isn’t cheap, but it’s a supremely light and packable layer at 14 ounces. The volume of the jacket folded up in your pack is next to nothing, making it easy to bring along so you have it when you need it.

It also sports some of the best waterproofing available, utilizing Toray’s Torain system with the highly breathable Dermizax HDM membrane. (Toray isn’t a household name like Gore-Tex, but the Japanese textile giant is a major supplier to many name brands for technical clothing). While it’s more crinkly and noisy than a softshell, it’s a surprisingly flexible and quiet layer for a rain jacket, meaning you can effectively stalk in it if your hunt lands you on animals in the rain.

  • Best-in-class waterproofing and breathability
  • Lightweight and packable

  • Expensive for a shell-only layer
Best for Treestand Hunting
Sitka Aerolite Incinerator Jacket
Sitka Gear

Key Specs

  • Color: Gore Optifade Elevated II
  • Materials: GORE-TEX 2-layer fabric with brushed polyester face
  • Insulation: Synthetic PrimaLoft Gold Insulation
  • Sizes: M to 3XL

Staying warm in cold, wet weather in a treestand can seem next to impossible and often results in hunters trudging out to their stands in bulky, Michelin Man outfits. Sitka’s new Aerolite Incinerator delivers extreme warmth and waterproofing without rendering you immobile. The 2L Gore-Tex shell is serious breathable weatherproofing, but unlike comparable ski jackets, the brushed polyester face fabric isn’t stiff or crinkly, so you can keep quiet in the stand.

The quilted inner liner hides the synthetic PrimaLoft insulation bolstered with aerogel, a near weightless insulation material used in astronauts’ space suits, which keeps you warm even if it gets wet. I tested this jacket on cold days for hours in a treestand and even sat through several mornings of freezing rain, sleet, and snow with the hood up, indifferent to the weather—aside from when the wind would turn and put sleet right into my eyes. The Aerolite Incinerator costs as much as a high-end ski jacket, but if you regularly hunt from a stand in miserable weather, it’s worth every penny.

  • Extreme warmth

  • Expensive
  • Too warm for any kind of active hunting
Best for Archery Hunting
Kuiu Kenai Hooded Jacket

Key Specs

  • Color: Various camo and solids
  • Materials: Stretch nylon with K-DWR
  • Insulation: Toray DWR 3DeFX+ 90g body, 60g sides
  • Sizes: S to 3XL

Whether from a treestand or at treeline, archery hunting demands extreme quiet, and it’s often much more active, demanding lighter, more breathable layers. Kuiu’s Kenai hooded jacket offers just enough warmth and wind- and water-resistance to serve as an ultra-quiet archery-season jacket for good weather or a mid-layer option in bad. It’s like a puffy jacket, but with a fitted cut and minimal seams keeping bulk down, it’s great layered under a rain jacket when the weather turns sour. The Kuiu Chugach layers on top of the Kenai perfectly and adds wind-breaking and warmth, even if it’s not raining.

The Toray insulation is smartly distributed with a significant 90 g/m2 of insulation around the body and only 60 in the sides, arms, and hood. The stretch-nylon face fabric is supremely soft (not built for busting through brush) as well as dead quiet for when you’re in close quarters with your quarry.

  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Dead quiet

  • Not wind- or waterproof
Best for Upland Bird Hunting
Orvis ToughShell Waterproof Upland Hunting Jacket

Key Specs

  • Color: Olive/blaze orange or olive
  • Materials: ToughShell waterproof nylon
  • Insulation: Brushed tricot liner
  • Sizes: M to 2XL

Traditional upland jackets use ultra-durable canvas for brush-bashing, but they tend to be stiff and not very breathable. The ToughShell jacket from Orvis uses more modern membrane-based exterior fabric to keep the jacket breathable when you’re huffing and puffing uphill through brambles, but the ToughShell nylon still delivers the durability you’d get from a traditional bird-hunting jacket, as well as waterproofing for protection in bad weather.

It’s also a sport-specific build with shell holsters inside the front flap pockets, which use quiet-close magnets instead of snaps or hook and loop. I like that you can get the blaze orange and olive colorway and avoid goofy orange vests that snag easily and restrict movement. It also has a brushed fleece-like tricot liner inside the jacket and handwarmer pockets, which makes it extremely comfortable for a day in the field.

  • Breathable durability
  • 240 in. of integrated blaze orange

  • Expensive
Best for Waterfowl
Sitka Boreal Aerolite Jacket

Key Specs

  • Color: Waterfowl Marsh
  • Materials: Gore-Tex 2-layer polyester
  • Insulation: Synthetic PrimaLoft Gold insulation
  • Sizes: M to 3XL

If you thought it was hard to stay warm in a treestand, try sitting still for hours in a marsh or field during late-season waterfowl hunting when it’s damp and cold. You want the warmest outerwear you can find, and that might be Sitka’s Boreal Aerolite Jacket. It pairs serious two-layer Gore-Tex breathable waterproofing with Sitka’s proprietary Aerolite and Primaloft Gold insulation system to create a barrier of warm air around your body to keep moisture from transferring the cold into your bones.

I love the quiet magnetic-flap front shell pockets that you can snap down or up for easy access. The rubberized sleeve cuffs clamp down tight with hook and loop closures for a waterproof seal at the wrist. There are tons of pockets, and I particularly enjoyed the left-side magnetized open pocket that makes it easy to grab calls or even your phone with a gloved hand.

  • Best-in-class waterproofing and insulation
  • Lots of thoughtful waterfowl-specific features

  • Expensive
Best Puffy
Grundens Windward Insulated Jacket

Key Specs

  • Color: Olive or black
  • Materials: Gore-Tex 70D Infinium shell fabric
  • Insulation: PrimaLoft ThermoPlume Silver w/ CrossCore, PrimaLoft Silver
  • Sizes: S to 3XL

Swedish fishing brand Grundens makes a durable puffy jacket that I love for both fishing and rifle hunting seasons where I’m not concerned with camo concealment. More hunters than ever are opting for solid colors during rifle seasons as evidenced by hunting brands starting to offer multiple solid colorways in their popular hunting jackets. As a bonus, this is also a really stylish jacket that can do double-duty for around-town wear during the winter.

In the field, the rugged 70D face fabric isn’t as prone to snags and tears as lighter, silky puffer coats, which makes it more functional as an outer layer in dry, cold weather. The Gore-Tex Infinium membrane tech lets this coat breathe when it needs to and has body-mapped insulating that’s heavier on the upper body and lighter lower. It’s also a nicely contoured, athletic fit, so if you want to wear it as an insulating mid-layer, you can pull a camo shell or rain jacket over top.

  • Durable face fabric
  • Smart insulation layout

  • No camo or blaze orange color options
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