REI Co-op Groundbreaker Insulated Review
Cons: Heavy, bulky, no hood, not breathable, overly baggy fit
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Groundbreaker is a straight up, old school puffy jacket, which combined with the synthetic insulation that fills its baffles, is very easy on the wallet. Despite the fact that it's made and sold by Recreational Equipment, Inc., this is not a garment fit for recreating in, but is merely a solid and cheap winter coat, useful if you live somewhere with harsh winters and don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a high-tech layering system. The jacket is huge and bulky, and the fit is very baggy, making our skinny head tester feel like he was preparing for a Himalayan expedition. It lacks the standard features like a hood, elastic cuffs, chest pockets, zippers on the hand pockets, or even a draw cord at the hem, and also does not stuff into itself. While it is the lowest scorer in our review targeted at clothing for winter recreation, it is still a jacket worth owning for the right person and the right purpose.
This jacket uses synthetic insulation of an unspecified type and weight to fill its wide, overstuffed baffles. It is thick, heavy, and pretty darn warm overall. That said, in order to keep the price down, many features that would positively contribute to warmth have been cut, most notably a hood, as well as a draw cord around the hem.
The fit is very wide and baggy, and not by any means athletic, so depending on your body shape, there may be extra interior space that needs to be heated, or a gap around the waist for cold air to enter.
Weight and Compressibility
Our size men's large jacket weighed in at 20.5 ounces on our independent scale, which is no surprise to us considering how large and puffy this jacket is. There is no doubt that it features the most insulation of any in this review, which naturally leads to a higher overall weight. However, since we don't feel this jacket is fit to be hauled or worn into the mountains on backcountry adventures, the weight is really not that big of an issue. It does not stuff down into its own pocket for easier transport, and likewise is the bulkiest choice amongst our competition.
The liner material on the inside of this jacket is standard polyester — smooth and slippery and gentle against the skin, without added friction to hang up on clothing you may be wearing underneath.
The fit is awkward for an athlete, with a very baggy fit in the torso, while the arms are simply too short for the size, suggesting that this jacket has been designed with the non-athletic in mind. While it lacks a hood, it does have a large and tall collar that is fat and warm and easily protects the neck, with enough space to tuck in the chin if need be.
Considering the competition that we compared it against, we were fairly surprised at how weather resistant this jacket proved to be. Its overly thick design provides effective protection from even a stout wind, although the lack of hood and hem drawcord certainly doesn't help in this regard. What was really surprising, though, was how well it managed to shed water when we sprayed it with the hose. Water beaded up and ran off with minimal soaking in, proving that its DWR coating is quite effective, at least when its still relatively new.
Designed to be super thick and warm, and lacking the technologically advanced fabrics and insulation that would drive up the price, it's no surprise that this is easily the least breathable jacket that we tested. Simply put, if you are wearing this jacket and also feeling hot and sweaty, you will need to take the jacket off. There should be no expectation of breathing here.
While we don't want to be too harshly judgmental, we can't help but think this jacket looks pretty "economical," while also presenting a fairly unflattering cut. The color choices are solid and subdued, without flair or reason to get you noticed.
Compared to the prices of the high-tech layers we compared it against, this jacket fits in a whole different price chart. It costs roughly one quarter the price of the most expensive jackets we tested. If you are on a budget and want a warm jacket to survive the winter, we think this one presents great value. If you are expecting a technical garment for recreating, you are simply going to have to spend a lot more money.
The REI Groundbreaker Insulated Jacket is warm, impressively weather-resistant, and comes at an unbeatably low price. It is also heavy, not athletically cut, and not really designed for outdoor winter sports. It is a great budget choice for those who need a new winter coat for their everyday lives, but not worth the money for those who need clothing for playing in the snow.
— Andy Wellman