The Best Men's Synthetic Insulated Jackets of 2017
Which synthetic insulated jacket best keeps you warm? We found out by researching 75 products and buying nine for hands-on testing. Each jacket was tested for 20-plus hours by a team of outdoor experts while hiking, backpacking, skiing and just standing in the cold around town. While one jacket came out on top overall, we have many recommendations tailored to your specific activities and budget. Whether you want the warmest jacket for subzero commutes or a jacket that breathes while hiking, we'll guide you to a product that meets your own needs.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated Spring 2017
Spring brings fresh new colors to some in our jacket selection, but few major product changes. Our review remains up to date. We're always on the hunt for new innovations and products, but for the moment our award winners, many of which have won for four years in a row, remain the same. We did add some new charts and tables to help you select the jacket that excels at the metrics you care about.
Best Overall Insulated Jacket
Rab Xenon X Hoodie
How does the Rab Xenon X Hoodie win our top honors almost every year? In a word: simplicity. It covers your needs without wasting an ounce. It's miraculously weather resistant despite its low weight and compressibility. It can be a stand-alone warmth solution in moderate weather or easily layered for colder conditions. Our favorite features include a micro-fleece-lined collar and ergonomic zipper pulls. The Xenon X stuffs neatly into its chest pocket, and we love it as a lightweight outer layer for hiking, backpacking, climbing, and skiing.
Very warm for its weight
Stuffs into pocket
Wind and water resistant
Read full review: Rab Xenon X Hoodie
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
Once again the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket is the best value in the category. It delivers strong performance for $200. This mobile jacket is also the third lightest jacket tested, and it features a combination of a weather-resistant torso and breathable underarm panels. Despite its affordability, the Cathode still has great features like glove pockets and an excellent hood cinch design. While our other award winners have more focused performance, the Cathode does everything reasonably well. If your priority is "best bang for your buck," then our Best Buy winner is a great choice. For a great layering piece, check out the $150 Cathode Vest.
Light and stows small in pocket
Good weather resistance yet still breathable
Little wind protection
Read full review: Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
Top Pick Award for Breathability
Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody
The Patagonia Nano Air Hoody - Men's is designed for high octane endeavors like backcountry skiing, mid-winter running, and steep uphill approaches, which is why it won Top Pick for Breathability. It keeps you warm but is more capable of remaining comfortable over a range of temperatures and activity levels. The soft, stretchy fabrics inside and out feel great, provide excellent mobility, and wick sweat to the outside. No more stopping to de-layer or layer up - just keep charging. If you plan on using this jacket with another hooded layer, consider the Nano Air Jacket to cut down on bulk.
Little wind resistance
Read full review: Patagonia Nano Air Hoody - Mens
Top Pick Award for Warmth
Patagonia DAS Parka
This is an outermost layer that is designed for hunkering down, whether you're at a cold belay ice climbing or winter camping. The Patagonia DAS Parka, or "Dead Air Space" parka, has a PU-coated outer fabric for water resistance, insulation layered just where it's needed, and a stiffened hood brim. Two internal mesh pockets hold water bottles to keep them from freezing, or damp gloves warm and dry, or to warm up climbing shoes. An impenetrable layer against the wind and vulnerable to only torrential rain storms, the DAS Parka takes home our Top Pick Award for Warmth for the second year running.
Warmest contender tested
Designed for cold weather climbing
Great weather resistance
Bulky and heavy
Read full review: Patagonia DAS Parka
Analysis and Test Results
An insulated jacket is an essential layer for colder weather. We spent several chilly months testing these products across a spectrum of performance metrics. We discuss how we assessed each model in the various metrics below, as well as identifying top performers per category. We recommend focusing on the key areas of performance that matter most to you and your needs when making purchase decisions. For an overview of how the contenders stacked up against each other, though, see the table above.
First and foremost, your jacket, combined with your other layers, need to keep you warm in the weather you plan to use it in. We've weighted this metric most heavily: 25% of each model's score. As we detailed above, down is warmer by weight than synthetic insulation, however, the scores awarded to the jackets in this review only compare their warmth relative to each other. This review spans thicker pieces that are intended as an outermost layer in frigid weather, breathable models for aerobic activity, and thinner pieces to be used as midlayers. Thinner jackets also make excellent outer layers for around-town wear in cooler months.
One product used significantly more insulation than the rest of the field. The Patagonia DAS Parka - our Top Pick for Warmth - is the warmest model tested, as well as the heaviest and least compressible. It is a perfect belay jacket for ice and winter climbing. It also has several climbing-oriented features, including large interior mesh pockets and a two-way zipper that also opens from the bottom up. Next on the warmth continuum is our Editors' Choice Award Winner, the Rab Xenon X. With 60g/m2 PrimaLoft Gold insulation, the Xenon X is nearly half the weight of the DAS Parka. We feel they are comparable because of their similar constructions, and for the weight, the Xenon X is phenomenally warm. This model is a great outer layer, with its continuous windproof Pertex shell and water-resistant DWR finish. While not as warm as the DAS Parka, we found the Xenon to be an essential piece for alpine rock climbing.
Comparing warmth in lightly insulated models is challenging. Some are designed in whole or partly to allow wind to blow through for breathability, while others are wind resistant. To pick a comparison point, we rated their warmth as an outer layer when worn over baselayers with a light breeze. When you visit our individual reviews, we compare each model's warmth to the most similar products.
Among the lighter weight models tested, the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody and Arc'teryx Atom LT stand out for warmth, though the Nano Puff is less wind resistant, due to its quilted construction. The lightest jackets in the review, the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket and Arc'teryx Atom SL, were the least warm. Light and compressible, these jackets function as exceptional midlayers.
Weight & Compressibility
We find ourselves taking an insulated jacket everywhere, and at OutdoorGearLab, light is usually right. All else being equal, we'll choose the lighter, more compressible model almost every time. Our scores for weight and compressibility contribute 20% to overall scores. The lightest, most compressible jacket tested is the Arc'teryx Atom SL. It uses 40g/m2 of Arc'teryx's Coreloft insulation exclusively in the torso. The Rab Xenon X , Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket, and Arc'teryx Atom LT are the next lightest models. All have outstanding warmth-to-weight ratios when used as a midlayer, and the Atom LT and the Cathode have a breathable hybrid construction. If you prioritize warmth, however, it's hard to beat the Editors' Choice Xenon X for weight. It's barely heavier than the Cathode, more wind resistant, and with additional comfort features.
We appreciate a jacket that stows away in one of its pockets. This makes just-in-case storage in a backpack easy and keeps the outer fabric clean, protecting its DWR treatment. Most models tested stuff into a pocket or come with a stuff sack. The Xenon X, Cathode, and Nano Puff Hoody are our favorite stuff-able pieces; all are compact, have a clip loop, and regularly traveled on our testers' climbing harnesses
On the other end of the spectrum, the big, heavily insulated Patagonia DAS doesn't compress well. It's designed for warmth and uses a type of PrimaLoft insulation known for its loft rather than its compressibility. Expect the DAS to take up space in your pack, about as much as a small sleeping bag.
Five competitors are pictured stuffed above. The Xenon X and Nano Puff are similar in size when stowed in their pockets, the Xenon X could compress even smaller, while the Nano Puff is packed in tightly. While not as low-profile as the Nano Puff, we loved how easily the Xenon X stowed, allowing for more climbing and less stuffing. The Thermoball Hoody and the Cathode Hooded Jacket stuffed away easily.
We found the Outdoor Research Uberlayer difficult to stuff into its stowaway pocket. While synthetic insulation has become more compressible, long-term durability is still an issue. The fibers' ability to rebound to full loft decreases with repeated compression, and the more tightly compacted they are, the more wear the fiber matrices incur. Always store jackets in their uncompressed state.
In this category, we assessed each piece's mobility, as well as small details that made each more comfortable. We found that some moved with us better than others, some had features, like fleece-lined chin guards or hand pockets, that deliver happiness for minimal weight. Let's discuss mobility first; this is an important jacket attribute. When you reach overhead while climbing or reach in your pack, a model that stays put (without the waist hem being tugged upwards) is appreciated.
We assessed how easily we could move our arms, as well as the hood mobility. Ease-of-use is also a consideration when comparing jackets. Nice zipper pulls, pockets in the right places, and convenient hood adjustments are a few features that contribute to higher comfort scores. Each product's individual review provides a rundown of the small details that stood out. Scores awarded for comfort contribute 20% of each model's score.
We loved the comfort of both the Patagonia Nano Air (a perfect 10!) and Outdoor Research Uberlayer. The soft, stretchy fabrics feel great, provide mobility, and wick sweat. The Nano Air's hood fits and feels great, and it's the only jacket tested with two exterior chest pockets; a simple but useful feature. The Arc'teryx Atom LT also received high comfort scores. It has low-bulk cuffs, well-shaped zipper pulls, and great mobility. The Xenon X also scores well for comfort; its light fabrics and lofty insulation feel good. The snug hood, which features microfleece chin and neck patches, was our favorite.
We enjoy having hoods since they provide a warmth upgrade for little weight. A hood is impossible to misplace, unlike a hat. We wore hoods under and over climbing helmets. Our favorite hood designs featured cinch cords that tightened the hood around the head and not the face. A hood can sometimes get in the way if you're planning to wear your layer primarily under a shell that has its own hood. Many hooded models tested are available in hoodless versions.
We've all been caught out in howling wind or unexpected rain. Most of the products tested are designed to be worn primarily as a midlayer with a rain jacket or hardshell on top for foul weather. That said, many users employ these products as their outer layer. We wore all the jackets reviewed as outer layers while hiking and running in fall and early winter. We toted many along on climbs for both warmth and wind protection. We weighted weather resistance as 15% of overall scores.
Insulated jackets are usually not designed to be waterproof or windproof. If you're looking for a jacket that combines the warmth of an insulated jacket with the weather protection of a hardshell, be sure to check out our ski jacket for men review.
Models with a continuous or nearly continuous outer fabric do a better job of stopping wind. The Xenon X is the most weather resistant of the 60 g/m2 insulated products tested. Its nylon ripstop fabric has a Pertex Quantum coating that works in light rain and snow, and it is practically windproof. While it is not seam-taped, the design minimizes seams. The Xenon X is the only light model we'd purposefully wear without a shell during a short, light rain. With the exceptions of the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket and the Outdoor Research Uberlayer, all the models tested hadDWR treatment. This causes light rain to bead off the shell and keeps insulation dry. The DWR treatment was impressive on the Nano-Air Hoody, which stayed dry in light rain while being the most breathable model tested.
The medium and heavy insulated models tested all earned high weather-resistance scores - their bulk stops wind from penetrating. The heavily insulated Patagonia DAS is built with a PU-coated shell fabric; overall, the DAS is very water resistant and completely stops wind. Hybrid construction jackets present an interesting conundrum in rating weather resistance. Take the Best Buy winning Cathode, for example. The torso, shoulders, and top of the sleeves have water-resistant Pertex Quantum fabric. This resists light rain well and stops wind. But the breathable underarm and side panels let wind blow through.
Breathable insulated jackets are a newish arrival and are designed to regulate temperature and wick sweat during high energy activities in cold weather. The introduction of Polartec Alpha and, more recently, FullRange insulation from Patagonia allows a new approach to breathability. The insulation itself moves moisture better than PrimaLoft and promotes better airflow. The Patagonia Nano Air pairs FullRange insulation with stretchy, breathable shell fabric and a moisture-wicking lining to create the most breathable model tested. Not far behind is the Outdoor Research Uberlayer. The warmer Uberlayer uses similar fabrics paired with heavier Polartec Alpha insulation. For high energy activities, like backcountry skiing and winter running, these two jackets are game changers. Add a light shell, like the Rab Windveil or the Patagonia Houdini, in case it gets really windy.
The long-standing approach to making a Primaloft or Coreloft product better suited to exertion is to incorporate low-bulk, breathable panels under the jacket's arms and on the sides t. The Outdoor Research Cathode and Arc'teryx Atom LT both take this hybrid approach. Wind-resistant fabric protects your core, while stretchy side panels dump excess heat. These two hybrids (which both have traditional insulation) earned the next highest breathability scores after the three advanced models above. The medium and heavy models tested were the least breathable.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we've done our best to assign a style score to each piece. Puffy jackets aren't just outdoor recreation items these days, and some products look better than others for around-town wear. Some, like theThermoBall, have quilted stitching in the outer fabric, which creates a distinctive look. Most have a shiny, techy ripstop nylon shell, but the Atom LT, Nano Air, and Uberlayer have a softer, matte look and feel. You will find photos of each product in their individual reviews, including close-ups of their outer fabric, as well as front and back views. Style ratings contribute 5% to overall scores.
We like hoods on insulated jackets, as they provide a warmth upgrade, but a floppy hood isn't exactly an out-to-dinner look. We tested jackets with hoods and without. Some of the hoodless models don't come in hoody versions, so if having a hood is important, be sure to check out the "other versions" section of each individual review to see if there is a hooded version. All test pieces were size smalls (with a few mediums scattered in) and the Style section of individual reviews is where we comment on the size and fit of each.
Care & Feeding of Insulated Jackets
If your insulated jacket is a workhorse, it will get dirty. As a midlayer, body oils and funk accumulate over time and used as an outer layer, it will get all kinds of dirty when you're playing hard. Washing and drying these jackets is easier than caring for down. Always consult the manufacturer's care instructions, but a trip through the washer on cold or warm water with powdered detergent works great. Throw your jacket in the dryer on the lowest heat setting and you're done.
All the products reviewed have DWR treatment of some sort on the outer fabric. Often washing and drying will do a good job restoring a DWR coating that has begun to wet out (accumulating a film of water rather than beading it). Try a short dose of medium heat in the dryer.
Eventually, it will be necessary to re-apply DWR treatment to your jacket to keep it beading water. We prefer spray-on products as opposed to the wash-in varieties. We want the outer fabric to resist water well, but we still want the lining to absorb and wick moisture from sweat towards the outside. Wash your jacket, warm it up in the dryer, and spray on your product of choice. We find "baking on" the new polymers with hot air from a hair dryer increases their lifespan. Nikwax and Granger produce lines of fabric treatments, including spray-on and wash-in varieties.
With the large assortment of models available, choosing the best jacket can be tough. We rank warmth, weight, and compressibility high on the list of important attributes, yet other features, such as weather resistance and breathability, may prove to be important depending on your use. We hope that our rigorous testing will ease your search for the right jacket.
— Matt Bento
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