At literal first glance, the Spyder Leader appears to be the most sophisticated jacket in our test. The look is simply the most polished and opulent. This classy look is accomplished while also maintaining a somewhat contemporary looser fit and feel, which is a rare combination in the ski jacket market. Under the shell, literally, is synthetic insulation that will either prompt you to pass on by or seal the deal for you. The performance advantage of synthetic insulation like that used in the Leader is that it dries out many times faster than down. For back-to-back wet days, a synthetic piece like this contender is the best-insulated choice.
Spyder Leader Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Stylish, loose fitting, with fast-drying synthetic insulation
Cons: Polarizing style, lacks versatility
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Leader jacket from Spyder is a great synthetic insulated model. As such, and given the unique attributes of synthetic insulation. Our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Macai is an excellent jacket that is down insulated. For the wettest of conditions, synthetic insulation is better. For those conditions, check out the Leader.
Overall, the Leader is nothing special relative to the competition. This is mainly because it enters a very high-end field. Were we to narrow the field to synthetic insulated jackets, it would come out near the top. In that subset, only the Helly Hansen Alpha beats it.
The warmth of this competitor is a function of its 80 gram Thinsulate insulation and the attributes that seal warm air in. Synthetic insulation is described by the weight, in grams, of one square meter "batt" of it. The heavier that one square meter, generally, the more insulating the selection of fluff is. Comparing the gram weight of brands and types of insulation to one another is problematic, as different types have different lofting characteristics.
80 gram Thinsulate is among the warmer weights of this material, and the Leader demonstrates effective insulation. Only the 3-in-1 Columbia Whirlibird III and our down insulated jackets are warmer than the Leader. The close competitor Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 is about the same insulation value. The Best Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange accomplishes greater warmth with the same weight of insulation, plus additional layers of fabric due to the three-in-one construction, plus Columbia's debatable (but seemingly effective) reflective "Omni-Heat" innermost lining. The down-insulated Arc'teryx Macai and Patagonia Primo Down are also warmer than the Leader, but do so by adding expensive down insulation that must be carefully treated and maintained.
To be honest, there is nothing special about the weatherproofing of this ski jacket The fact that we can largely gloss over this category for all of the jackets in our review is a testament to the excellent technology and techniques in use today. All jackets at the top of the market use excellent waterproof/breathable fabrics, whether proprietary or Gore-Tex, sew it together with minimal seams, and then back those seams with heat sealed tape that creates a truly impermeable shell.
Additionally, every jacket manufacturer uses a water-resistant coating that beads up most water before it can even reach said waterproof membrane. In the last 20 years, clothing manufacturing and technology has come a long way, raising our expectations to a generally high plateau for all products on the market. If your clothing is to be used in poor weather, there is no reason it shouldn't keep the weather out.
The Leader keeps the weather out with sealed seams and its proprietary "Xt.L" membrane. We had no problems whatsoever with this fabric or the construction. The hood is effective, though we wish it were insulated. The zippers all keep out "normal" skiing weather, but might be overloaded in an extended downpour. That's okay, as everyone should be headed to the bar in an extended rain situation. If you absolutely must ski in extended rain and wet snow, build a layering system featuring the immaculate weather protection of our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Sabre or the bombproof Norrona Lofoten.
Fit and Comfort
The insulated jackets in our test fell into two distinct fit styles. The Leader and Patagonia Primo Down are loose-fitting, airy selections. This is nice to get on and off and to layer underneath. For maximum warmth, both of these fits must be tightened down to block drafts. The other style was more close-fitting, like the Arc'teryx Macai and the Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0. The close, tailored, and in the case of Helly Hansen stretchy, design of these appeals to some more than the loose fit of the Spyder. This is a matter of personal choice. If you like the loose fit, the Spyder is for you.
The Leader has short vents, with mesh backing, and they follow the line of your armpit. Past versions of this jacket had chest-mounted zips, and we preferred them. Without the forward bias of the newest Leader pit zips, there is nothing remarkable about its ventilation score.
The Outdoor Research Skyward II jacket sets the bar for ventilation features in a jacket. The venting zips on the Skyward II are long, with no mesh backing, and they run from the hem to the bicep on each side. No other jacket in our review has vents this large.
The highest style praise we had for the Leader came from a reviewer that suggested that it looked as though we should be driving a luxury car while wearing the Spyder. The shell fabric is textured for a different sort of look, while careful accents draw attention to a flattering, if loose, tailoring.
As compared to the other loose fitting, insulated jacket in our review, all testers liked the look of the Spyder more than the Patagonia Primo Down. The toned color selection is more sophisticated than the Primo Down's contrasting accents, and the cut is simply more tailored on the Leader.
Evaluating ski features divided our test team. For most, the features are nice, but not any deal breaker. Whether there is a special pocket for your pass, or not, didn't sway the majority of our testers opinion. Others felt, passionately, that it is the ski features that make a ski jacket built for skiing. For those, the carefully chosen set of extras on the Leader represented exactly the right combination of things. The pockets are excellent and carefully located. The pass holder and goggle wipe are gimmicky to some, but crucial to others. Those into matching their clothing love that they can snap the Leader to the Spyder Dare pants. The Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 has more features, while many jackets in our test have far fewer. For instance, the Outdoor Research Skyward II is basic and has almost no ski specific features.
This contender is a snazzy piece of ski clothing for someone riding day after day in wet conditions. The synthetic insulation will dry out overnight, while something like the Arc'teryx Macai or Patagonia Primo Down, once saturated, might take a few days in a chilly ski cabin to fully dry out. Few skiers are exposing themselves to such extended moisture, but for those that are, this is an excellent choice.
At retail price, the Leader is around half the cost of the Editors' Choice jacket, the Arc'teryx Macai. However, it is still more than twice the cost of a budget piece. The synthetic insulation of the Leader will not last as long as the down in the Macai, but the look and feel of the Spyder is clearly more nuanced and of higher quality than a budget jacket. In short, with the Leader, you get what you pay for. We do not think it is overpriced nor is it any sort of excellent bargain.
The Spyder Leader is a specialized wet-weather insulated ski jacket. Many who ride regularly under these conditions will choose to construct a layered system with a dedicated shell jacket like the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell or the Flylow Gear Lab Coat. However, for the subset that simply wants the freedom of movement of an insulated piece, this ski jacket should top your list.
— Jediah Porter