What's the best synthetic insulated jacket for you? From 75 carefully researched products, we've selected 12 for rigorous hands-on testing. Each model underwent 20+ hours of testing by our team of hikers, climbers, and skiers. One Jacket came out on top, but we've highlighted which products are best for you based on your specific activity and performance needs. Whether you're looking for a jacket that breathes like a champ while you slog up a hill or you're in the market for the contender that will keep you the absolute warmest while you brave the elements, we'll help you select the product that helps you stay comfy on your next adventure.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2018
As winter marches into spring, it's still plenty cold outside, and you need to bundle up. We're ensuring this review is up to date so you can stay warm during your late winter/early spring adventures. We've added the Patagonia Hyper Puff, Patagonia's new heavy-duty synthetic belay parka. On the lighter end of the spectrum, we've reviewed the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody, a lightweight jacket that pushes the envelope for breathability. We've compared our award winners to the newcomers to ensure they are still the top products out there.
Best Overall Model
Rab Xenon X Hoodie
Season after season, the Rab Xenon X just keeps on delivering the best performance, earning Our Editors' Choice Award again and again. How? By giving us everything we need and nothing, we don't. This simple, weather resistant jacket is lightweight and stows away easily in its chest pocket, but still has the little features we love, like ergonomic zipper pulls and a comfy, microfleece-lined collar.
The most warmth for the least amount of weight
easily packs down into storage pocket with clip-in loop
great weather resistance
Not as breathable as other models
Though tough against the weather, this Jacket doesn't breathe as well as models like the Patagonia Nano Air or the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket. Under a shell or as an outer layer, the Xenon X is our go-to synthetic insulator for hiking, climbing, and skiing.
Read review: Rab Xenon X Hoodie
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
Looking for high performance without a high price tag? Check out the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket. This jacket is the fourth lightest in our review and even breathes well due to thin, stretchy side panels that also increase the jacket's mobility. Though inexpensive, the Cathode still offers similar features to its higher-priced cousins like a stowaway pocket, drop-in glove pockets, and an exceptional hood.
Competitively priced without sacrificing lightweight or features
Hybrid construction ensures good breathability
Packs down into chest pocket
Good layering piece
Not very resistant to wind and rain
Unfortunately, exceptional breathability comes as the cost of weather resistance, and you'll want to have a waterproof layer on deck if the forecast calls for precip. If you're on a tight budget, but you don't want to compromise quality, check out this Best Buy Award Winner.
Read review: Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
Top Pick Award for Breathability
Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody
The Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody breathes so well you can you don't ever take it off, plus it offers plush, sweater-like comfort, all while keeping you warm without turning you into a sweaty mess, earning it our Top Pick For Breathability. Soft and stretchy fabrics make it an incredibly mobile and durable piece for climbing and skiing.
FullRange insulation is lofty and breathable
Fabrics are the softest and most comfortable of any insulated Jacket
Doesn't include a stowaway pocket
While this jacket does a great job of keeping you dry and sweat free, it also lets in strong winds. We also wish that it had a stowaway pocket. Our testers loved that they could put it on and leave it on for hours of fun and warmth without overheating. We recommend this jacket for anyone looking to work up a sweat when it's cold outside.
Read review: Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody - Mens
Top Pick Award for Warmth
Patagonia Hyper Puff Hoody
The Patagonia Hyper Puff proves to be the warmest jacket in the synthetic category. This windproof, water-resistant outer layer is the jacket you want for those just-above-freezing days when snowmelt and freezing rain will render your down coat useless. A stiff brim keeps the precip out of your face while an internal mesh pocket holds your water, gloves, or climbing shoes toasty warm.
The loftiest synthetic jacket tested
Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio
Shell is highly water resistant
No two-way zipper
While it does have a decent warmth-to-weight ratio, this jacket is on the heavy side. We wish that this jacket included a two-way zipper, common many belay parkas, that allows for maximum coverage without interfering with the belay device. Additionally, it is the least breathable jacket in its category. Our Top Pick for Warmth, the Hyper Puff is most at home on frigid ice climbing belays and hanging around in camp during multi-day ski tours.
Read review: Patagonia Hyper Puff Hoody
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, needs 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, though each year, synthetics are catching up to the superior warmth-to-weight ratio of down. 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 mid layers. Thinner jackets also make great outer layers for around-town wear in cooler months. Keep in mind that the Hyper Puff (our Top Pick for Warmth) is designed for a very different purpose than the lighter, breathable Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody. Think about what you'll be using these jackets for as you're comparing the metric scores.
One product used significantly more insulation than the rest of the field. The Patagonia Hyper Puff - our Top Pick for Warmth - is the warmest model tested, as well as the heaviest and least compressible. It is a good belay jacket for ice and winter climbing. It also has several climbing-oriented features, including an interior mesh pocket for storing water a water bottle, gloves, or anything else you want to keep toasty. Next on the warmth continuum is our Editors' Choice Award Winner, the Rab Xenon X, followed by the Arc'teryx Atom AR. With 60g/m2 PrimaLoft Gold insulation, the Xenon X is nearly half the weight of the Hyper Puff. We feel they are comparable because of their similar constructions, and for the weight, the Xenon X is phenomenally warm. This model is an outstanding outer layer, with its continuous windproof Pertex shell and water-resistant DWR finish. While not as warm as the Hyper Puff, we found the Xenon x 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 base layers with a light breeze. When you visit each product's review, 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. Some of the lighter jackets in the review, the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket, Arc'teryx Atom SL, and the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody were the least warm. Light and compressible, these jackets function as exceptional mid layers, or as super breathable outer layers for aerobic activities. The Patagonia Micro Puff uses a new insulation called PlumaFill, resulting in extraordinary warmth, despite being the lightest jacket in the review, but its super lightweight shell makes it very vulnerable to abrasion from rocks and brush. Additionally, the PlumaFill tends to leak out in long strands once there is a tear in the shell.
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 Patagonia Micro Puff takes the lightweight cake, weighing in at a mere 8.15oz. The second 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. Third place goes to the super breathable Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody. 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 mid layer, 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 and significantly more durable than the Patagonia Micro Puff.
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. The Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody and the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody don't include a stuff sack or a stuffable pocket option. The Outdoor Research Uberlayer stuffs down into its pocket. However, it's so difficult to get the jacket to fit in the pocket that we didn't find this feature very useful.
On the other end of the spectrum, the big, heavily insulated Patagonia Hyper Puff Hoody doesn't compress as well as our Editor's Choice Award winner, and the Arc'teryx Atom AR is on the heavier end of this category. It's designed for warmth and uses a type of PrimaLoft insulation known for its loft rather than its compressibility. Expect the Hyper Puff to take up space in your pack, about as much as a small sleeping bag. That being said, we liked the Hyper Puff's included stuff sack with clip-in loop and found it easy to pack away quickly.
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 simple it was to stow the Xenon X, allowing for more climbing and less stuffing. The Thermoball Hoody and the Cathode Hooded Jacket stuffed away easily.
We found the Outdoor Research Uberlayer challenging 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. The accordion-like HyperDAS insulation that fills up the Hyper Puff seemed to rebound quicker than any other type of insulation.
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. We also note the fit characteristics of each jacket, giving you a better idea of what body types each jacket fits best and helping you choose the correct size.
Let's discuss mobility first; this is a crucial jacket attribute. When you reach overhead while climbing or dig in your pack, a model that stays put (without the waist hem being tugged upwards) is appreciated.
We assessed how well 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 review provides a rundown of the small details that stood out. Ratings awarded for comfort contribute 20% of each model's score.
We loved the comfort of both the Patagonia Nano Air (a perfect 10!), the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody, and Outdoor Research Uberlayer. The soft, stretchy fabrics feel great, provide mobility, and wick sweat. The Nano-Air Hoody'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 excellent 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. The Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody also provided a high level of comfort, thanks to its athletic cut and exceptional mobility. The Patagonia Hyper Puff has a little stretch to its Pertex shell, making for excellent movement, and ensuring that the jacket doesn't ride up and expose you to the elements.
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. The Patagonia Hyper Puff is adjustable enough to fit over a helmet or snug against your head. 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 hood. Many hooded models tested are available in hoodless versions.
The majority of the jackets tested tend to feature a slim, athletic fit for ease of layering. The North Face Thermoball Hoody is notably larger fitting, while the Arc'teryx models fit the smallest. The Hyper Puff, the Nano-Air Hoody, and the Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody all offer a decent amount of stretch, making them comfortable even though they're form fitting.
We've all found ourselves in torrential downpours and fierce winds despite a bluebird forecast. In these situations, the right insulated jacket could save your life, and they'll always reduce the suffer factor. Most of the products tested are designed to be worn primarily as a mid layer 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 the wind. The Xenon X is the most weather resistant of the 60 g/m2 insulated products tested. Its nylon ripstop fabric has a durable water repellent 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 one of the two only light models we'd purposefully wear without a shell during a short, light rain, though the Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody, like the Xenon X, also beads water and offers a high level of water resistance.
With the exceptions of the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket and the Outdoor Research Uberlayer, all the models tested had DWR 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 second most breathable model tested.
The medium and heavy insulated models tested all earned high weather-resistance scores - their bulk stops the wind from penetrating. The heavily insulated Patagonia Hyper Puff is constructed with a stretchy, DWR treated Pertex shell. After months of heavy use and exposure to dirt, the DWR treatments begin to lose their effectiveness, but out of the box, water rolls right off. Hyper Puff is very water resistant and completely stops the wind. This mobile jacket kept our lead tester toasty while biking around town, well into the cold winter months.
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 the wind. But the breathable underarm and side panels let the wind blow through. The Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody suffers from the same issue. While the FullRange insulated front of the jacket offers a little weather resistance, the waffle-knit back is entirely vulnerable to the elements.
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 Hoody pairs FullRange insulation with stretchy, breathable shell fabric and a moisture-wicking lining to create one of the most breathable models tested. The even more breathable Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody combines a FullRange insulated front with a stretchy waffle-knit back, making an exceptionally quick drying jacket for running or as a layering piece, and some of our testers prefer this jacket to the classic R1 fleece because it is lighter and even more breathable.
While this jacket didn't score well in the warmth or weather resistance metrics, we feel this piece does a great job at what it was designed for. The Nano-Air Hoody gets our Top Pick for Breathability because its warmth and weather resistance makes it more versatile than the hybrid version. 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 Marmot Ether DriClime or the Patagonia Houdini, in case it gets 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. 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, but they work the best as terminal layers, keeping you warm when you've stopped to take a break while hiking, or waiting at a windy belay station.
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. The Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody earned the only 9 out of 10 in our testing, ensuring that you'll look sleek and clean. Most models are available in a variety of colors, allowing you to be as loud or as subtle as you like. You will find photos of each product in their 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 precisely an out-to-dinner look. Additionally, layer after layer of hoods stacked on top of hoods can be pretty cumbersome and uncomfortable. We tested jackets with hoods and without. Some of the hoodless models don't come in hoody versions, so if having a hood is essential, be sure to check out the "other versions" section of each 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 mid layer, body oils and funk accumulated over time, and when 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. Front loading machines are much more gentle on your technical garments than top loaders with agitators. 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 vast assortment of models available, choosing the best jacket can be tough. We rank warmth, weight, and compressibility high on the list of essential attributes, yet other features, such as weather resistance and breathability, may prove to be significant depending on your use. Remember to ask yourself what you'll be doing in your insulated jacket. Will you be running or ski touring? Then go for something breathable like the Nano-Air Hoody. Run cold? Then check out the Hyper Puff. Want the best compromise of all metrics? The Rab Xenon X continues unchallenged to win our Editors Choice Award. We hope that our rigorous testing will ease your search for the right jacket.
— Matt Bento
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.