The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

REI Co-op Groundbreaker Insulated Review

A warm and cheap insulated puffy for winter, but not winter sports.
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Price:  $80 List | $79.95 at REI
Pros:  Inexpensive, warm, weather resistant
Cons:  Heavy, bulky, no hood, not breathable, overly baggy fit
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 4, 2019
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50
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 13
  • Warmth - 25% 8
  • Weight - 20% 3
  • Comfort - 20% 3
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 9
  • Breathability - 15% 2
  • Style - 5% 3

Our Verdict

The REI Groundbreaker Insulated Jacket is a bulky puffy jacket that is warm and surprisingly weather-resistant, not to mention extremely inexpensive. It is not what we would describe as a technical outer garment, and in that way does not compare favorably to the other jackets described in this review, but we still wanted to see what one could get for roughly a quarter the price of the most expensive choices. As a typical winter insulated coat for everyday living in cold places, the Groundbreaker presents a solid value, but it is not a jacket we would use for our winter outdoor sports.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award 
Price $79.95 at REI$194.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$239.99 at Amazon
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$299.00 at REI
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$215.00 at Amazon
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Pros Inexpensive, warm, weather resistantLightweight, warm, great wind protection, sheds water well, affordableComfortable, very breathable, light, stylishWarm, good water resistance, comfortable, excellent mobility, stylish, durableWarm, affordable, good wind resistance
Cons Heavy, bulky, no hood, not breathable, overly baggy fitDoesn’t breathe well, fit isn’t very athleticHard to get the proper fit, expensive, poor weather resistance, thinExpensive, annoying hem cinching buckles, not the lightestHeavy, not very breathable
Bottom Line A warm and cheap insulated puffy for winter, but not winter sports.The best lightweight insulated outer layer is highly wind resistant and impressively warm.The most iconic active insulated mid-layer offers great breathability.The top overall performer among the active insulating jackets.A synthetic filled version of a down jacket, designed to optimize warmth.
Rating Categories Groundbreaker Insulated Rab Xenon Hoodie Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody Rab Nimbus
Warmth (25%)
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Weight (20%)
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6
Comfort (20%)
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Weather Resistance (15%)
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Breathability (15%)
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Specs Groundbreaker... Rab Xenon Hoodie Patagonia Nano-Air... Arc'teryx Proton... Rab Nimbus
Measured Weight (size) 20.5 oz (L) 11.0 oz. (L) 12.5 oz (M) 14.5 oz (L) 17.0 oz. (L)
Manufacturer Stated Weight (size) N/A 12.7 oz. (L) 12.2 oz. (M) 13.2 oz. (M) 17.8 oz. (L)
Insulation Synthetic 60g Stratus 60g FullRange insulation Coreloft Compact 80 Cirrus insulation w/ 3M featherless fibre
Outer Fabric Polyester Atmos ripstop 100% nylon ripstop Fortius Air 20 (84% nylon, 16% elastane) Pertex Quantum
Stuffs Into Itself? No Yes, clip loop Yes, clip loop No Yes, barely, clip loop
Hood Option? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of Pockets 2 unzippered hand 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal

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.

Performance Comparison


The REI Groundbreaker is far and away the most affordable insulated jacket in this review  but comes with a comparable decrease in usability for outdoor sports compared to its competition. It is good for keeping you warm on cold  snowy days  though.
The REI Groundbreaker is far and away the most affordable insulated jacket in this review, but comes with a comparable decrease in usability for outdoor sports compared to its competition. It is good for keeping you warm on cold, snowy days, though.

Warmth


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.

To save expense  the hand pockets on this jacket do not have zippers  and instead overlap slightly at the opening. This is one area we could feel cold creeping in on frigid days.
To save expense, the hand pockets on this jacket do not have zippers, and instead overlap slightly at the opening. This is one area we could feel cold creeping in on frigid days.

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.

The fat  well stuffed collar is not as warm as a hood would be  but is still easy to tuck the chin into  and provides plenty of insulation around the neck opening.
The fat, well stuffed collar is not as warm as a hood would be, but is still easy to tuck the chin into, and provides plenty of insulation around the neck opening.

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.

At over 20 ounces for a size large  this is far and away the heaviest choice we have included here  and is also bulky and doesn't stuff down into a pocket for easier carrying.
At over 20 ounces for a size large, this is far and away the heaviest choice we have included here, and is also bulky and doesn't stuff down into a pocket for easier carrying.

Comfort


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.

We found the fit of this jacket to be overly spacious in the torso and midsection  which made it fit us weird  but also allows more air in at the bottom where there is no draw string to tighten up the fit.
We found the fit of this jacket to be overly spacious in the torso and midsection, which made it fit us weird, but also allows more air in at the bottom where there is no draw string to tighten up the fit.

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.

For a size large  the sleeves were much too short  and easily rode up our forearms if we were to move around too much.
For a size large, the sleeves were much too short, and easily rode up our forearms if we were to move around too much.

Weather Resistance


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.

To see how well it performs at resisting water  we sprayed it with the garden hose for about a minute  a more demanding test than a light rain shower. This jacket did surprisingly well.
To see how well it performs at resisting water, we sprayed it with the garden hose for about a minute, a more demanding test than a light rain shower. This jacket did surprisingly well.

The DWR coating was very effective at causing the water sprayed on it to bead up and run off  with virtually none soaking into the polyester fabric. The thickness of this jacket also proved to be an effective wind break.
The DWR coating was very effective at causing the water sprayed on it to bead up and run off, with virtually none soaking into the polyester fabric. The thickness of this jacket also proved to be an effective wind break.

Breathability


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.

Running uphill in this jacket to test its breathability was not at all fun  and we felt like we were going to die of heat exhaustion. It is thick and not at all breathable  making it a poor choice for wearing during active pursuits.
Running uphill in this jacket to test its breathability was not at all fun, and we felt like we were going to die of heat exhaustion. It is thick and not at all breathable, making it a poor choice for wearing during active pursuits.

Style


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.

This jacket is simple looking and comes in colors that are not flashy. However  it also fits very large and baggy.
This jacket is simple looking and comes in colors that are not flashy. However, it also fits very large and baggy.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

The Groundbreaker is an old school puffy  good for playing in the snow  or living you life amongst the white stuff in winter  but isn't very awesome for recreating in.
The Groundbreaker is an old school puffy, good for playing in the snow, or living you life amongst the white stuff in winter, but isn't very awesome for recreating in.


Andy Wellman