How 3-in-1 Jackets Work

Women wearing warm jackets in the snow
Layering is the best way to stay warm when the weather gets cold. See pictures of winter sports.

We all know that layering is the way to go when dressing for unpredictable outdoor weather. Start with a couple of layers for indoor wear, and top them with two or three more if cold and precipitation threaten while you're working or playing outside. That said, what are the best outer layers to use? For many active people, 3-in-1 jackets are the answer.

Many of these jackets consist of two pieces that can be snugly fastened together or worn separately. That's the "3" in the name: This two-piece jacket actually can be worn three ways.


Versatility, adaptability and convenience are the buzzwords in ads for 3-in-1 jackets. Because the various combinations can provide protection from damp, chilly weather; cold, dry weather; or extremely cold weather even with precipitation thrown in, the wearer is ready for whatever Mother Nature might serve up. With a 3-in-1 jacket, a person can be ready for a wide range of temperatures and levels of activity with a minimum of fuss. And because the pieces fit together, planning and packing are a snap.

The basic "3" in a 3-in-1 jacket are:

  • The outer shell is made of waterproof, breathable synthetic material, with a hood that may be detachable. It's worn alone in mild or wet weather.
  • The inner jacket is the insulating layer. It's made of something warm like down, fleece or a synthetic, polyester filling. There are a number of brand names, such as PolarThin ™ or Primaloft ™. This layer, which usually has pockets and style features, can be worn alone when the main objective is staying warm.
  • The two layers fit together snugly with zippers or three-point snaps. When the weather is really nasty, windy, wet and cold, the whole package provides protection without being bulky.

Anyone who faces unpredictable weather in everyday life might benefit from one of the more affordable standard 3-in-1 jackets. They can be found on sale and on Web sites for prices as low as $50 or $60.

The higher-tech models can cost hundreds of dollars. They're designed for serious athletes and others who are active outdoors in wintry weather. Many have underarm vents or "pit zips," which come in handy during aerobic activities.

Skiers, hikers, climbers, hunters and even motorcyclists are among those who find that 3-in-1 jackets work well for their needs.

Want to know more about the 3-in-1 choices? Click through to the next page.



Types of 3-in-1 Jackets

Visit a few outdoor equipment stores and you'll find two schools of thought on 3-in-1 jackets. Some sales associates sing their praises. Others say they can advise their customers on pieces to buy for smart layering and there's no need to buy a special jacket for that purpose.

Some point to outerwear separates that layer and call them 3-in-1 jackets. But unless these separates are made to interlock by zippers with a flip top or by a system of snaps, they're just handy separates, not 3-in-1 jackets.


That said, there are two main types of 3-in-1 jackets. Some jackets sold as a single unit. The outer, waterproof, hooded shell and the inner, insulating jacket go together and are sold as one. Others are sold as interchangeable separates, all with compatible zippers or snaps. The warm, insulating layer might be a vest rather than a jacket. Some people buy both. (Then they'd have a 4-in-1 jacket.) The separates offer features like pockets, vents and cuffs. Some shoppers buy separates to get exactly what they want. Others appreciate the ease of a ready-to-go package. Prices tend to come out about the same either way.

Another important choice is the material of the inner jacket or vest. Fleece is warm, but some involved in active sports think it doesn't move well [source: Russell]. On the other hand, synthetic polyester blend is warmer and doesn't add bulk. Down is the warmest material available, but it's worthless when wet and some people are allergic to it.

You can find all sorts of jackets labeled 3-in-1. They carry brand names that you know well and names you may never have heard of. They can be found in pricey outdoors stores and at discount outlets. There are units and separates, and there are a variety of materials and styles. Some don't even have hoods. You can pay from $50, to 10 times as much.

When you're considering a 3-in-1 jacket, think about your needs: Do you want something versatile when running errands or hanging out, or will you be doing serious outdoor activities? If it's the latter, you'll want a higher-end model with more features. While you're at it, take a good look at the inner jacket. Make sure that you like its looks as well as performance when you wear it alone. Some lower-price models are more like zip-out linings than stand-alone jackets.

Read on for more information on outdoor equipment.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Altrec. "Nike ACG Men's Storm-Fit Trail 3 in 1 Jacket." Accessed Dec. 28, 2009
  • Eddie Bauer store, Friendly Center, Greensboro, N.C. Personal visit. Dec. 26, 2009.
  • Great Outdoor Provision Company. Friendly Center, Greensboro, N.C. Personal visit. Dec. 26, 2009.
  • "Harley-Davidson MotorClothes Spring 2010 Jackets. Accessed Dec. 18, 2009
  • Land's End Catalog. "The Outerwear Headquarters." Fall 2009.
  • "Land's End Outerwear Expert Reveals The Top Five Tips for Choosing The Perfect Winter Coat." PR Web. Dec. 28, 2009.
  • L.L. Bean. "Storm Chaser 3-in-1 Jacket." Accessed Dec. 27, 2009
  • NexTag Comparison Shopping. Accessed Dec. 28, 2009
  • Russell, Tari. Sales specialist, REI, Friendly Center, Greensboro, N.C. Personal interview. Dec. 26, 2009.
  • PrimaLoft. "What Is PrimaLoft?" Accessed Dec. 28, 2009