The 3-in-1 jacket is a must-have for anyone who loves to get outside during the winter, but who needs to stay protected from rain and snow, wind, and bitter cold. With so many on the market, though, it’s hard to know which ones are the best right now.
In this article, we’re going to explain to you what a 3-in-1 jacket is and what it’s best used for. Then, we’ll get into our list of suggestions for the best 3-in-1 jackets for 2018, starting you off with a short list of must-know terms so you understand the different technologies and features offered. Lastly, we’re going to leave you with some buying advice so you can find the perfect cold weather jacket for the upcoming season.
The 3-in-1 jacket, sometimes referred to as a component jacket or systems jacket, has two main parts:
1. The liner jacket, which is usually insulated with either down or synthetic fibers. Also called the inner layer, the liner provides warmth in a number of ways. It may fit tightly to the body; be made of a warm fabric, like fleece; or have extra insulation, like a heat-reflective lining.
2. The outer shell jacket, which is usually waterproof and is not insulated.
You can wear this jacket three ways: (1) the liner jacket, (2) the outer shell or (3) the liner jacket and the outer shell together. To wear both parts at the same time, the liner and shell can usually be either snapped or zipped together. The more severe elements you’re facing, the more protection you’ll get from wearing both pieces at the same time.
A 3-in-1 jacket is excellent if you engage in any outdoor activities during cold weather. Those activities should have a stop-and-go component: downhill skiing, hiking, snowboarding and snowshoeing, for example. They’re also great jackets for basic winter wear, even if your time spent outdoors is mostly at the dog park, out and about in town, or shoveling.
Some 3-in-1 jackets have additional features that are sports-specific. For example, a skier may look for a 3-in-1 that has a powder skirt, which seals to prevent snow from getting in; a hood that will work with a helmet; or a pocket specifically for a ski pass or goggles.
For activities that require higher exertion, like backcountry skiing or running, you’ll be better off with a non-insulated shell that’s designed specifically for breathability.
Yes – both. The two biggest perks of buying a 3-in-1 jacket are cost savings and versatility. Weight may be the biggest drawback, depending on what you’ll be using the jacket for.
If you were to purchase a liner jacket and outer shell separately, you’d likely spend more money than you would by buying both pieces together in a 3-in-1 jacket. Plus, separate layers may not comfortably fit together.
When it comes to spending time outside during the winter, especially if you’re going to be engaging in any type of sport, the advice is generally to wear layers that you can remove or add as needed. Plus, a 3-in-1 jacket can carry you through the other not-so-cold months, like chilly spring and autumn days that aren’t as cold as wintertime, when you may just need one layer or the other. When you have a 3-in-1 jacket, you can quickly adapt to unexpected cold, warm or wet weather, or change protection as you warm up or cool down.
The buttons, tabs or zippers that allow both parts of a 3-in-1 jacket to be integrated add some bulk and weight to the jacket. If weight is an issue – for example if you’re a backcountry hiker and need to save every bit of weight however possible – you’ll want to look specifically for a lightweight 3-in-1 jacket to counteract that extra bulk.
A few, especially if you have your eye on one of the Columbia jackets on this list. Like most winter jacket makers, Columbia has its own set of technologies that they use in their outerwear. We explain these technologies in the individual listings below, but when it comes to the Columbia jackets, we thought we’d give you an overview here so you know what their terms mean.
Both types of jackets repel water, but how much water they repel is what makes the difference.
Water-resistant means there’s a coating that keeps water from penetrating the fabric, but it can only handle up to a certain amount of saturation. If you’re stuck in a downpour for a long time, you may feel wetness through the jacket.
Waterproof can withstand much more saturation and still prevent the water from penetrating. Often, waterproof jackets have critically seamed seals. After a lot of wear, you may notice that the waterproof isn’t working as well as it used to. You can re-proof the jacket with a wash-in or spray waterproof solution.
The liner fabric of the Columbia Bugaboo Interchange Jacket is fleece with Omni-Heat Reflective technology.
The Omni-Heat outer shell is waterproof and windproof. The shell has a high collar and an adjustable, removable storm hood.
This jacket also has Velcro adjustable cuffs; a chest pocket with zipper; handwarmer pockets with zippers; a goggle pocket; and an interior security pocket. Additionally, this jacket is especially good as resisting abrasion.
While this jacket is sealed in critical places to keep moisture out, the seals aren’t perfect and you may notice water seeping in. Unless you’re in a downpour, though, the waterproofing should work fine.
In the men’s jacket, you may find that the front zip is a little too big to adapt to the inner zipper. If you plan to wear the pieces separately more often than together, you may not care about attaching them very often.
The liner of the men’s Columbia Eager Air Interchange 3-in-1 Jacket is a thick and soft 100% polyester microfleece. The 100% nylon outer shell is waterproof and windproof.
There’s a medium-height collar on the liner and high collar on the shell, plus an adjustable and removable storm hood. Hook-and-loop cuffs and long sleeves are adjustable with Velcro fasteners. There’s an interior secure zipped pocket and two zipped hand pockets. This jacket has a relaxed fit without being too loose.
Compared to the other jackets on this list, this one isn’t very breathable. Depending on what you need it for, you may do just fine, but if you’re working out outdoors, you may want to go with another jacket on this list.
You may also find that the interior zipped pocket is a little flimsy, best for storing light items instead of something heavy like your smartphone.
The liner in the men’s Columbia Jacket of All Trades Interchange Jacket is fleece; the liner in the women’s jacket is 80g Microtemp XF II polyester fibers. The reversible liner jacket can be stowed in the shell’s back pocket.
The shell of the men’s jacket is cotton and polyester with Omni-Tech; the shell of the women’s jacket is cotton and nylon with Omni-Tech. The women’s jacket also has a sleeveless, snap-in anorak vest.
The liner of the Columbia Whirlibird Interchange Jacket is 100% polyester Omni-Heat Reflective Microtex Light. The shell is made from 100% polyester Legacy Twill with Omni-Tech.
There’s an adjustable storm hood and adjustable sleeves, plus a goggle pocket, interior pockets in the liner and zippered hand warmer pockets. The jacket also has an adjustable, snap-back powder skirt and zippered underarm vents.
You may find that the hood is on the small side.
The Marmot Featherless Component Jacket liner is nylon with Marmot MemBrain, a waterproof and breathable laminate. The shell is made from 3M Thinsulate Featherless polyester fibers.
3M Thinsulate Featherless synthetic insulation mimics the compressibility, lightweight-ness and warmth of down, but it won’t stop being insulating when it gets damp. It’s a great jacket to wear on rainy camping trips, hikes, or when the snow’s coming down as you ski, snowboard or snowshoe.
The North Face ThermoBall Snow Triclimate Jacket has a liner made from 124g PrimaLoft ThermoBall synthetic insulation and a shell made from polyester with DryVent waterproof and breathable laminate.
This jacket also has a helmet-compatible hood, a powder skirt and underarm zips. Unlike most of the other jackets on this list, the ThermoBall is parka-length, providing extra warmth for those in extremely cold conditions (or who just tend to get cold a lot).
The Under Armour Sienna has a liner made from ColdGear, which absorbs moisture and circulates body heat.
The shell fabric is lightweight and highly water-resistant. The UA Storm outer shell has critically-taped seams to stand up to the elements, including wind, and the seams also reduce the overall bulk of the jacket.
The jacket also has a three-piece hood with a bungee drawstring to adjust fit, and open hand pockets on the front.
The Craghoppers 364 Retro Inspired 3-in-1 Jacket is a chic, parka-style jacket with a low-design hem in both layers. With eight pockets and a main zipper covered by a wooden button flap, this jacket is designed more for everyday wear than for sports. The quilted inner jacket and hood will hold up in the rain on days when you don’t need the outer layer.
It comes in Black Black Pepper and Dark Khaki for men, and Old Gold Almond and Soft Navy for women.
If possible, try the 3-in-1 jacket on at a store before making a purchase. You can still order it online to snag the best deal available, but actually trying on the jacket will ensure it’s not too heavy, that it’s comfortable, and that the two separate pieces are easy enough to integrate when you’re on-the-go. One detail to pay attention to is the fit of the outer shell without the inner liner – you don’t want it to be too baggy, which could feel uncomfortable or even get in the way depending on your winter sport of choice.
If you’re going to go into a physical store to try on or buy a jacket, and if you’re going to need some help from a staff member, try to choose a store that specializes in your sport of choice. For example, my experience has been that the staff at Cabela’s is well-versed in hunting, the staff at EMS knows a ton about climbing and hiking, and REI specialists know about winter-specific sports, like skiing and snowshoeing. This may change based on your location and the types of outdoor recreation available, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival prepping. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.