By Rena Behar
September 24, 2019
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There are few things that can puzzle a minimalist packing list more than jackets. Can you wear it on the plane? Can you wear in the rain? Can you wear it on the trail? In the hail? In a bar? In a car? Lest we get more Seussian, the hunt for the perfect single travel jacket begins.

The ideal jacket should be able to swing from a hike up the mountain to a night out downtown, without actually looking like you stumbled straight from backpack to bar. But how to master that if you only want to bring one item?

“When it comes to winter travel, your first line of defense on the city streets is your outerwear,” said Dani Bernstein, one of Backcountry outdoor retailer’s Gearhead experts. “Finding something that is warm, compact, and stylish can be a challenge. When it comes to design, clean, long lines and coats that cover lots of surface area without restricting movement are what I look for first.”

Shorter, puffy, packable down or synthetic insulated jackets can de-puff down into their own pockets or travel bags, conveniently doubling as a travel pillow and taking up minimal luggage space. A thinner packable rain jacket, meanwhile, won’t be as warm on its own but will insulate your base layers against wind and water, so cross-climate travelers can layer up to make a lighter jacket work better across temperatures or find a 3-in-1 model that has both at once.

Best for Rain: Eddie Bauer Rainfoil Packable Jacket

Credit: Courtesy of Eddie Bauer

The lightweight Rainfoil packs down right into its own pocket. Sealed seams, an adjustable hem and cuffs, and a high collar will keep all your underlayers dry.

To buy: (men's), from $70; (women's), from $70

Best for Rain: Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Arc’teryx puts three layers of Gore-Tex between you and the elements, and zippers everywhere to keep you both dry and well-ventilated.

To buy: (men's); from $400; (women's), from $368

Best Style: Orvis Pack-and-Go Women’s Travel Jacket

Credit: Courtesy of Orvis

The mid-thigh Pack and Go jacket features wind- and water-resistant eco-friendly fabric, with a removable hood that fits into a hidden pocket when you’d rather show off your headwear. The interior zipper pockets hold smaller stashes, and a cinchable waist adds definition to the silhouette

To buy: (women's), $149

Best Multifunctional: Scottevest Jacket

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

One of the most established players in the multifunctional travel clothing game, Scottevest offers a cotton-blend jacket complete with removable sleeves that can hold as much as a backpack. There are pockets for everything from your tablet to your water bottle, and they're integrated into a weight management system that won't drag you down or make you look bulky.

To buy: (men's), $175; (women's), $175

Best Multifunctional: Tumi Packable Travel Puffer

Credit: Courtesy of Tumi

Tumi’s classic attention to detail comes through in its Patrol and Clairmont packable travel puffers. The collar carry sack turns the jacket into a neck pillow, so you can either wear the down insulation or sleep on it depending on the climate.

To buy: (men's), $195; (women's), $135

Best Budget Pick: Uniqlo Ultra Light Down

Credit: Courtesy of Uniqlo

This ultra-light down pick lives up to its name and won’t weigh down your luggage or your wallet. It will still keep you warm on your outdoor walks and then squish up into its carrying sack once you’re back indoors.

To buy: (men's), $30; (women's hooded parka), $100; (women's jacket), $70

Best Lightweight Insulated: The North Face ThermoBall Jacket

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Prefer the look of a more square quilted finish? The pattern on this popular synthetic insulation jacket minimizes cold spots and windchill impact but still rolls up into its own pocket.

To buy: (men's), from $115; (women's), from $146

Best Lightweight Insulated: Patagonia Nano Puff

Credit: Courtesy of Patagonia

This puffer is windproof, DWR-treated, and folds into its own pocket. And as you’d expect from Patagonia, not only is the PrimaLoft Gold Eco insulation water-repellent and thermally efficient, it’s also made from 55 percent post-consumer recycled content. Along with Arc’teryx, it’s also one of the go-to brands for Anna Coplon, Africa expert with Scott Dunn tour operators. “Nano Puffs and a shell are perfect,” Coplon said. “Nano Puffs are light, incredibly warm, and pack very easily. However, they don’t protect well from the wind so packing a shell is a perfect layer to throw on over — Gore-Tex is ideal, it’s both lightweight and waterproof.”

To buy: (men's), $199; (women's), $199

Best 3-in-1: Columbia Bugaboo II Fleece Interchange

Credit: Courtesy of Columbia

This 3-in-1 jacket that offers both a waterproof shell and fleece inner layer is a little more après-ski than urban afternoon, but the ability to separate the layers is a big bonus on the road.

To buy: (men's), $180; (women's), from $180

Best 3-in-1: Mammut Seon 3-in-1 Hooded Coat

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Go for longer layers with the Mammut Seon 3-in-1, which includes a synthetic fiber interior jacket that can snap onto the waterproof Gore-Tex outer layer. It also works with any other Mammut Easy Combine layers if you want to build a whole set.

To buy: (men's), $649; (women's), $649

Best Parka: Oros Orion Parka

Credit: Courtesy of Oros

If you need the warmth of a full parka without the bulk, try the Oros Orion parka. The NASA-inspired aerogel insulation — based on the insulation used in space shuttles — holds in warmth like down with significantly less loft. It will roll into a bundle roughly the same diameter as a yoga mat and minimize that Michelin Man look so you can stay both warm and sleek simultaneously.

To buy: (men's), $300; (women's), $300