I am the queen of packing Tetris, the empress of zipper tugging, and the star of the long-running show, “we can make it fit, somehow.” So, when I failed to stuff a size 2X raincoat into the pocket in which it supposedly self-stores, it demonstrated exactly the motivation for this list. No matter how hard I pushed or how tightly I rolled it, the coat simply did not become small enough for that pocket, and it dawned on me that, while the company clearly scaled up the size of the coat for plus-size customers, nobody ever checked to see if the larger versions still fit into the pack-pocket.
Outdoor gear companies are making progress in the plus-size category: Size and style selections have increased significantly each year for the past half-decade. But as I wrote for this publication earlier this year, the difficulties for plus-size people wanting appropriate gear for spending time outdoors go far beyond selection. Hiccups like the pack-pocket demonstrate how far there is to go to get to a point where plus-size travelers, skiers, and anyone else needing to stay warm in inclement weather can count on the same selection and quality as smaller people.
The companies that do make larger sizes don’t tend to carry them in-store (something REI aims to rectify), so there is no opportunity to try them on, and major lists, like the New York Times outlet Wirecutter’s “Best Down Jacket,” choose options that top out at size XL.
This leaves women and femme travelers looking for plus-size jackets with few options for how to figure out what coats to pick out for their next trip to the rain forest, mountaintop, or just to walk the dog in winter weather. As a frequent traveler who spends weeks each summer in rain-soaked Mexico City and much of the winter coaching ski racing, I took on the responsibility of figuring out the best rain jackets, puffy coats, and ski jackets for larger people.
How coats were selected
I contacted more than 20 different outdoor gear and jacket producers—including plus-size-only Instagram darlings and century-old industry stalwarts—selling products up to size 3X, our minimum for eligibility. (Because men’s sizing and styling differ, without the hard plus-size divide, I stuck to requesting “women’s” styles of rain jackets, puffy coats, or ski jackets.) Some brands sent products immediately. Other brands, including ones that previously claimed to be releasing larger sizes in their 2023–2024 line, seemed to shy away when asked to actually send samples.
I ended up testing about 40 products across the three categories, though the snow sports/ski jacket category was woefully thin. It remains an area that we hope to see companies devoting more resources to in the near future.
The testing process
Initially, testing was casual: I tried the jackets and coats on; I noticed which ones bunched at the seams or hung like a paper sack and which ones made me look like I could fit in with a group scaling a frozen waterfall. Each time I went skiing, I tested another coat (it didn’t take many days on the hill). I packed raincoats that I donned in downpours in my notoriously wet hometown of Seattle and on lakeside paths in North Macedonia. Every trip, I grabbed a different coat and took notes. Pretty quickly, the top contenders became clear—they were the ones I wished I had with me as the next jackets left me looking like a drowned rat.
But while casual testing works well for things like “hey, these guys never tried to stuff this into its pack-pocket,” and “wow, I barely stepped outside in this rainstorm before this jacket completely soaked through,” it didn’t give me the kind of direct comparison I wanted.
Which is how I ended up standing in my yard in the middle of August, using a garden hose to spray 15 jackets—the top 5 options in rain, puffy, and snow—each one stuffed with shop towels for easy comparison. While the towels gave a good visual afterward, they were unnecessary: It became immediately clear which coats bogged down under the weight of the water they absorbed, and which mellifluously bounced the rain away for the entirety of the summer shower.
But I still wanted to check the warmth of them, and since there was no budget for a quick trip to South America, I did the next best thing: I dragged a suitcase full of test jackets to the Ice Room at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, British Columbia. At this brilliant reuse of an obsolete cigar lounge following the end of indoor smoking, most people come to taste-test vodka—including the Real Housewives of Orange County. Unlike Tamra, though, I didn’t need a lesson in why we don’t put our tongues on ice: I just wanted to know which coat would keep me warmest in a room that was 20°F below zero.
Best Plus-Size Raincoat: Women’s Dryfecta Rain Coat by Duluth Trading Co.
- Buy now: $180, duluthtrading.com
- Color options: 2
- Sizing: up to 4X
In my dream world, my raincoat is waterproof and breathable enough to wear in warm, heavy rains, like the ones I expect most afternoons during August in Mexico City, and packs down small enough to slip into a purse the rest of the day. This Duluth Trading Co. model was the closest thing I could find. Its main drawback was the lack of self-storage, but it rolled up fairly small. I slipped a luggage strap around it, and it was almost the same thing.
Most importantly, it stayed impervious to both actual downpour and the garden-hose variety: It kept both me and papers in my pockets dry. The wide, long cut flowed nicely over my hips, keeping the rain off my butt, too, and the hint of spandex makes it comfortable to walk in. The hood mechanism is not intuitive, but the hood visor prevented all but the hardest rains from hitting my face. The color selection is sadly quite limited, but it runs through size 4X.
Best Plus-Size Puffy Coat – Heavy: Women’s Montana Relaxed Fit Insulated Jacket by Carhartt
- Buy now: $150, carhartt.com
- Color options: 5
- Sizing: up to 3X
Part way through hosing off the puffy coats, I whipped out my phone: watching the way drops of water bounced off this coat was absolutely mesmerizing, like a team of Pop Warner players trying to breach an NFL line. It is a bit bulky, like a lineman, too, so it’s not going to be a go-to coat for trips unless you plan to wear it most days—including on the plane—but that bulk works with the style, giving it a hard/soft look with fuzzy lining in the hood.
The bulk did not, however, keep me as warm as I had hoped: At non-extreme temperatures, it was excellent and held up well in all forms of rain and chill, but it let in just a hint more of the ice room’s frigid air than I would expect from this type of coat. Still, it makes a powerful choice for daily dog walks in non-absurd temperatures. Though it does run up to a 3X, the sizing ran on the small end, and I would recommend ordering up a size, particularly if you hope to layer underneath it.
Best Plus-Size Puffy Coat – Light: Women’s StratusTherm Hooded Down Jacket by Eddie Bauer
- Buy now: $149, eddiebauer.com
- Color options: 4
- Sizing: up to 3X
Though this coat feels light, it punches above its weight in warmth and waterproofing. The gentle, loose fit and weightless feel make it surprisingly comfortable, and the small color selection includes a few fun ones. It’s not a particularly remarkable looking style, but wearing it in the ice room, I took note: It kept me far warmer than any of the other puffy coats, even rivaling the ski jackets. It fared decently in the hose test, as well: You wouldn’t want to wear it in a downpour, but you also wouldn’t worry about getting caught in a drizzle. Combined with its lightness, it is an obvious choice for travelers looking for something light, easy, and fun that will keep them warm and dry.
Best Plus-Size Puffy Coat – Ultra Light: Women’s SuperStrand LT Hoodie by Outdoor Research
- Buy now: $235, outdoorresearch.com
- Color options: 4
- Sizing: up to 4X
Unlike the raincoats, this ultra-light puffy coat packs down into its own pocket with plenty of room to spare. It also hangs nicely when released from the pocket and is available in up to a size 4X—helpful, since they run a little small in certain dimensions. It has some waterproofing and stays warm even when damp, which makes it an excellent choice for travelers looking for a super-packable and versatile coat, or for someone aiming to get a lot of warmth out of a thin layer.
Best Plus-Size Snow Sports Coat: Women’s Snowcrew Jacket by Outdoor Research
- Buy now: $349, outdoorresearch.com
- Color options: 3
- Sizing: up to 4X
When I finished testing coats in the ice room, and I needed one to wear while I continued hanging out (er, tasting vodkas), this is the one I reached for: It kept me warmer and more comfortable than any other, across all categories. It fared reasonably well in the hose test and has exactly the kinds of small extras I look for in a ski coat: an insulated pocket to keep my phone warm, a ski pass pocket on the sleeve, a hood that fits over my helmet, and elastic wrist openings with a thumb hole to prevent cold air or snow from hitting the gap between jacket and gloves. The main drawback of this jacket is easily remedied: It left room for a few too many layers—it fit very loose and bulky. I’d plan to order this one a size down from my usual.