A good jacket keeps you warm and dry, fits just right, breathes well, and has exactly the right features. What you need in a jacket depends entirely on what you plan to use it for. Powder skiing on a storm day demands a different jacket than hiking on a cool day in fall. Although the choices might appear daunting at first, once you get your hands on just the right jacket, you’ll keep it for years and wonder how you ever did without.
The type of jacket you want depends entirely on the type of activities you prefer. Sure, you can use a skiing jacket for climbing or vice versa, but a purpose-built technical shell, insulator, or rain jacket has just the right features and design for the job.
Some activities only call for a jacket that’s water-resistant, but if you plan to get outside in nasty, wet weather you want something with highly waterproof fabric (20K+), a breathable membrane, and taped seams.
A fully insulated down or synthetic jacket offers all the warmth you need so you can just pull it on over a thin baselayer and go. An uninsulated shell jacket is more versatile because it allows you to pick and choose the type and weight of your insulation you decide to wear beneath.