The Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets of 2019
|Price||$234.95 at Backcountry|
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|$148.93 at REI|
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|$191.25 at Amazon||$299.00 at MooseJaw||$149.40 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Very warm for its weight, stuffs into pocket, wind and water resistant||Very breathable, super comfortable||Warm, durable, packable||Super durable, very breathable, performs well alone and as a mid layer||Breathable, light, great midlayer|
|Cons||Poor breathability||Offers little wind resistance||Heavy compared with other models, hood doesn't quite fit over a helmet||Warmth to weight ratio not as good as the Nano-Air||Poor weather resistance|
|Bottom Line||This jacket has the best warmth to weight ratio of any jacket we tested, great construction, and is very weather resistant.||The most breathable and insulated jacket in the line up.||This jacket has a great warmth-to-weight ratio; a good option for those who run cold.||Arc'teryx's breathable insulator is great choice for folks who are tired of shredding their light weight puffys.||This jacket is one of the most breathable models out there.|
|Rating Categories||Rab Xenon X Hoodie||Nano-Air Hoody||Rab Nimbus||Proton LT Hoody||Ascendant Hoody|
|Weather Resistance (15%)|
|Specs||Rab Xenon X Hoodie||Nano-Air Hoody||Rab Nimbus||Proton LT Hoody||Ascendant Hoody|
|Weight (size small)||11.3 oz||12.3 oz.||14.6 oz.||13.7 oz.||11.3 oz.|
|Insulation||60/m2 PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Active||60g FullRange insulation||Cirrus insulation w/ 3M featherless fibre||65g Coreloft Continuous||Polartec Alpha Direct 100% polyester|
|Outer Fabric||Pertex Quantum/ 100% nylon ripstop lining||100% nylon ripstop||Pertex Quantum||92% Nylon, 8% Elastane||Pertex Microlight 100% 20D Nylon ripstop|
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.
Though tough against the weather, this jacket doesn't breathe as well as models like the Patagonia Nano-Air. 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
Black Diamond Access Hoody
The Black Diamond Access Hoody has most of the features we need from a packable puffy and nothing we don't. This jacket has an effective DWR treatment and a 20d ripstop nylon shell to take the bite out of chilly belays or ski transitions. Primaloft gold insulation is strategically distributed so it's thicker in the torso and thinner under the arms, providing a little breathability, plus stretch panels in the armpits help with mobility and ventilation.The Access Hoody doesn't have the best insulation of the bunch, with the Xenon X providing a better warmth-to-weight ratio. We didn't like the fit of the hood; it's big enough to accommodate a helmet, but without a helmet on, it tends to slide around and get in your face. A cinch cord to hold the hood in place would be a welcome addition. This jacket is a great value, with good performance for much less than many of its competitors.
Read review: Black Diamond Access Hoody
Top Pick Award for Breathability
Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody
The Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody is one of the all-time most comfortable jackets we've ever put on. Soft and warm, the Nano-Air is also slightly stretchy, ensuring good fit and mobility. Looking at our charts, you'll notice that the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, the Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody scored higher in the breathability metric. These jackets are lighter weight and more breathable, but our testers still find the Nano-Air Hoody to have the best combination of warmth and breathability.
Since its introduction, Patagonia has made a few tweaks to the Nano-Air, using a thicker denier shell fabric for improved durability and adding an internal zipper to one of the handwarmer pockets to create a built-in stuff sack. Unfortunately, we found that the new material is prone to pilling, and the stuff pocket is too small to store the jacket effectively. Hopefully these issues are addressed in the next generation of our favorite breathable insulator. For a more durable option, check out the Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody.
Read review: Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody - Mens
Analysis and Test Results
Unless you're hiking around in the sweltering lowlands in the middle of summer, you're going to need an insulating layer for your outdoor pursuits. While down insulation offers an unbeatable warmth to weight ratio, it loses its insulating abilities as soon as it gets wet, and takes a substantial amount of time to dry and re-loft. The models in this category all use a variety of synthetic insulation, some optimized for maximum warmth, while others are engineered for breathability. Despite advances in forecasting, we're always rolling the dice in the mountains when it comes to the weather, so an insulated jacket not only needs to be warm, it needs to be light and packable. Additionally we asses each model for its breathability, comfort, style, and overall value. For an overview of how the contenders stacked up against each other, see the table above.
Related: Buying Advice for Insulated Jackets
A good insulated jacket is no small investment. To help sort through which jackets offer the best bang for your buck, we compared the overall performance score vs. price of each jacket. The Best Buy winning Black Diamond Access offer great value. Additionally, the Editors' Choice award-winning Rab Xenon X scores better than any other jacket and is an exceptional value.
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.
One of the warmest options was the Patagonia Micro Puff Storm. The Storm fits like a parka, offers full butt coverage, and it completely waterproof. The Rab Nimbus is an excellent option for those who run cold, but still, want a lightweight jacket that stuffs into its own chest pocket. Next in line is the Rab Xenon X our Editors' Choice Award winner for many seasons and our favorite balance of warmth, weight, and weather resistance. The Arc'teryx Atom AR also gets top marks for warmth, with 120g/m of Coreloft insulation in the torso region.
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-Air Hoody and Arc'teryx Atom LT stand out for warmth, though the Nano-Air is less wind resistant, due to its breathable shell fabric. Some of the lighter jackets in the review, the 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 by several ounces. Unfortunately, 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 8.15 ounces. The second lightest, most compressible jacket tested is the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody. The Rab Xenon X, Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, 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 Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody and the OR Ascendant Hoody are incredibly breathable. If you prioritize warmth, however, it's hard to beat the Editors' Choice Xenon X for weight. It's less expensive than many of its competitors 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, Rab Nimbus, and the Black Diamond Access Hoody are our favorite stuff-able pieces; all are compact, have a clip loop, and regularly traveled on our testers' climbing harnesses. The Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody and the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody don't include a stuff sack or a stuffable pocket option. The Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody 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.
Four competitors are pictured stuffed above. The Xenon X and Black Diamond Access Hoody are similar in size when stowed in their pockets, the Xenon X could compress even smaller, while the Access Hoody is packed in tightly, though it packs easily thanks to the elastic mesh chest pocket.
While synthetic insulation has become more compressible, long-term durability is still an issue. The fiber's ability to rebound to full loft decreases with repeated compression, and the more tightly compacted they are, the more wear the fiber matrices incur; we recommend that you 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. 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 digging 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 Ascendant Hoody. 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 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 Proton LT Hoody also provided a high level of comfort, thanks to its athletic cut and exceptional mobility.
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 hood. The hood on the Black Diamond Access Hoody tends to slide around and get in the way and could benefit from the addition of a cinch cord. 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 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.
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 Ascendant Hoody, all the models tested have a 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. 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.
The Patagonia Micro Puff Storm is an outlier in this category, being completely waterproof thanks to an H2no waterproof/breathable membrane. It's sized large to wear on top of all your other layers and will keep you dry, but its heavy, and not very breathable.
Hybrid construction jackets present an interesting conundrum in rating weather resistance. Take the breathable The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hybrid Hoodyfor example. The torso has insulated panels on the chest and back that resists light rain 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. The OR Ascendant Hoody makes a wonderful midlayer, but will get soaked quickly in a downpour because of its breathable shell fabric that also lacks a DWR treatment.
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. The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody uses Polartec Alpha direct insulation. This insulation is highly breathable, doesn't need an internal liner, and has a fleecy feel against the skin.
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 Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody. The Proton isn't as light or as warm as the Nano-Air, but it's nearly as breathable and much more durable. 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 Arc'teryx Atom LT and The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hybrid Hoody both take this hybrid approach. Wind-resistant fabric protects your core, while stretchy side panels dump excess heat. These two hybrids 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 the Patagonia Micro Puff, 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 Proton LT 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 accumulate 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. 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