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This story originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of our print edition.
Belaying when it’s 34° and windy and watching your partner pitch off the crux of his project for the 12th time demands a level of warmth and protection—and the resulting motivation—that only a special type of jacket can provide. We tested more than 10 belay puffies (one of the most beloved apparel categories) to find our favorite five models that proved warm, cozy, and perfect for even the coldest of cragging days. Our testers packed these heat-monsters for ice climbing in Vermont, single-digit temps in Canada, subzero days in the Rockies, and a full winter of sport climbing at Europe’s best crags. From down to synthetic to blends—you’re guaranteed to find a jacket that’ll keep you cragging all winter.
Review: Adidas Terrex Climaheat Ice Jacket
One ultra-warm puffy to do it all in all cold conditions, whether on dry rock or drippy ice. The technical performance of synthetic, the warmth and coziness of down, ideal features, and a great price for the performance. Read full review.
Review: Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka
This is a top-tier, high-performing down belay puffy with the best compressibility and loft we tested. With just enough features for belaying on the ground or on a wall, choose this for the coldest and driest conditions. Read full review.
Review: NW Alpine Belay Jacket
A high-end, versatile, and warm synthetic puffy that’s trustworthy in any condition with a bargain-basement price. Testers chose it again and again because of its warmth, toughness, and minimal packed size. Read full review.
Warmest and Windproof
Review: Arc’teryx Ceres
If you have the scratch, you’ll be getting one of the warmest and best-performing puffies on the market that includes smart, climber-friendly features and a level of windproofing that few other insulating jackets have. Read full review.
Review: Mountain Hardwear Super Compressor Hooded
If weight and versatility are your top priorities for long routes or backcountry pursuits, this midweight puffy offers an ideal amount of warmth for all but the coldest situations, whether it’s on the ground or on the wall. Read full review.
Trace it: How to Buy Humanely Sourced Down
Imagine plucking feathers while a bird is still alive or pouring feed down a duck’s throat until its liver turns to pure fat. These are two inhumane practices that may have occurred with the down sourcing of the past, but not any more. Two major apparel players are launching third-party auditing programs to ensure that nefarious practices such as live-plucking and force-feeding have no place in the supply chain for their down products. Patagonia’s Traceable Down Standard and The North Face’s Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certify that animals have been treated humanely from the day they’re hatched to the day they’re harvested for meat (down is a byproduct of the food industry), and the programs demand complete transparency in the supply chain, including regular audits of every company involved at all levels of manufacturing from the farm to the sewing-room floor. [Although The North Face developed RDS, they’ve passed on ownership to Textile Exchange, a nonprofit whose goal is to grow global textile sustainability and give more companies access to this certification tool.] As of fall 2014, all Patagonia’s down products use 100% Traceable Down, while The North Face will begin to incorporate RDS-certified down in fall 2015, with hopes to have all products converted by fall 2017.