Whether for winter climbing, hiking, skiing, or everyday cold-weather use, we put a variety of different layers through the wringer to find the best synthetic insulated jackets for every activity.
Synthetic insulation avoids the main weakness of down insulation by remaining functional and warm when wet. When caught unaware by stormy weather, synthetic insulation will not lose its loft, as opposed to down, which will clump up and lose a lot of its insulating properties.
Additionally, synthetic insulation is significantly cheaper than down, is vegan-friendly, and tends to be more breathable. The benefits of synthetic insulation remain tempered by a few significant drawbacks, though — synthetic materials are often heavier and less warm than down, and they’re not quite as compressible.
However, as new insulation innovations hit the market with each passing season, the marginal differences between down and synthetic are quickly disintegrating. Many synthetic insulated jackets now rank among the best insulative clothing on the market.
Each jacket on this list falls into two distinct categories: synthetic midlayers and active insulation jackets. The synthetic midlayers stress thermal efficiency for lower-output activities such as walking, belaying, fishing, and so on. Puffy synthetic midlayer jackets prioritize maximum warmth over breathability.
Another type, active insulation jackets, offer more breathability for high-output pursuits such as backcountry skiing, jogging, and climbing. Synthetic jackets designed for active use are more breathable and better at regulating temperature.
We tested synthetic jackets while climbing, hiking, and running errands around town. We then evaluated each jacket based on fit, comfort, and durability. Breathability, pack size, and overall value were also important considerations in our testing process.
While there isn’t a single jacket for everyone, we’ve highlighted useful features of each of our recommendations to help you find the best jacket for your needs. At the end of our list, be sure to check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide, as well as our comparison chart. And if you have some questions, take a look at our list of frequently asked questions.
- Best Overall Synthetic Jacket
- Best Budget Synthetic Jacket
- Best Active Insulation Synthetic Jacket
- Warmest Synthetic Jacket
- Lightest Synthetic Jacket
- Best of the Rest
The Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets of 2022-2023
The Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody ($299) has been a favorite of ours for higher-elevation rock climbing for many years. With every new mission, it proves to be a reliable synthetic middle and outer layer.
When the winter mountain forecast is just short of arctic, the one-pound (men’s medium) Atom AR (All Round) goes into the pack, and — surprisingly for Arc’teryx — the pricing is competitive. Given its stellar warmth-to-weight ratio, durability, and value, we’ve awarded this layer the best overall jacket for low-output activities.
While testing this jacket, we found the fit to be comfortably close, which makes it layer well under shells while still allowing layers underneath. The articulated sleeves, underarm gussets, and elastic-paneled cuffs keep our wrists covered in all arm positions and reaches. The torso length is on the shorter side, however, which makes the lower hem rise above our waist during reaches overhead.
The cuff dimensions are on the smaller side, which seals tiny wrists well, with just enough stretch to be pushed a few inches up the forearms. The front of the collar zips up to cover the mouth, and the single-adjust hood is just big enough for a climbing helmet. This jacket serves well as a belay jacket, but we would like at least one internal dump pocket to dry gloves.
The DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating has proven extremely durable over the seasons and continues to bead water long after some of its competitors’ coatings. The Atom AR compresses to about the size of a volleyball and is exceptionally warm given how breathable it is.
While it’s not the lightest nor the most breathable jacket we tested, if you’re looking for a great do-it-all layer to throw into the pack where functionality and warmth are a primary concern, look no further than the Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody. We think it’s the best synthetic insulated jacket on the market.
- Insulation: Arc’teryx Coreloft Insulation
- Weight: 1 lb.
- Key features: Athletic fit, helmet-compatible hood, two zippered hand pockets, one zippered chest pocket
- Pockets: 3
- Shell fabric: Tyono 30-denier shell with DWR treatment, 100% nylon
- Relatively breathable for such a warm jacket
- Exceptionally warm
- Runs a bit small
- No internal dump pockets
Rab has done it again! Ticking all the boxes of a solid active insulator, the Xenair Alpine Light Jacket ($215) is breathable yet warm, and crazy comfortable, per Rab’s long-standing reputation. For start-stop activities in mixed conditions where stellar breathability is needed, but warmth is also a concern, this jacket stands out as a quality layer for the dedicated outdoor athlete.
The jacket has thoughtful features, but retains a sleek, stylish look. Raised zippered handwarmer pockets accommodate backpack hipbelts, and an internal zippered pocket doubles as a stuff sack. Soft elastic cuffs and a single hem adjustment help maintain warmth and reduce cold spots.
The hood is elasticated on the front and back, ensuring a snug fit, but did give us some issues when worn under a climbing helmet (as it isn’t quite big enough to fit over one). When wearing it under a helmet, the elastic banding, flat front brim, and slippery fabric caused the hood to often cover our eyes and obscure our vision when looking up or side to side.
One of the most notable features of the Xenair is its breathability. It regulates temperature and deals with moisture buildup with ease. Rab has thrown a good deal of cutting-edge technology into this jacket, including two densities of PrimaLoft Gold Active+ synthetic insulation, some of the warmest, most breathable insulation on the market, combined with a weather-resistant, permeable Pertex Quantum Air outer fabric.
This allows for maximum warmth, while greatly reducing moisture and vapor buildup. Additionally, two weights of insulation are strategically mapped around the body, with lighter, more breathable insulation placed on areas of the body, such as the underarm and center back, that require more ventilation.
For the active mountain athlete looking for a lightweight, breathable midlayer for colder climates, or a standalone outer jacket for summer pursuits, the Rab Xenair Alpine Light Jacket may just be the perfect option.
- Insulation: 60gsm Primaloft Gold Insulation Active+ (55% Recycled Content) through front, back, top of sleeves, and collar; 40gsm Primaloft Gold Insulation Active+ (55% Recycled Content) through sides, underarms, spine, and top of hood
- Weight: 10.3 oz. (men’s medium)
- Key features: Under helmet hood, elasticated gusset at cuffs, stuffs into its own chest pocket, body-mapped insulation to aid in breathability
- Pockets: 3 (Two concealed zippered handwarmer pockets and one internal chest pocket which doubles as a stuff sack with a harness attachment loop)
- Shell Fabric: 20-denier Pertex Quantum Air nylon with a DWR finish
- Super breathable
- Packs down small
- Hood design makes wearing it under a helmet a little awkward
- Not the warmest jacket out there
It’s difficult to find a midlayer that you can keep on for the duration of an adventure. But the breathable, lightweight Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket ($249) won’t slow you down by having to constantly adjust your layers on fast forays in the mountains.
Designed for start-stop aerobic missions where maximum breathability while active and reliable warmth while static is required, this midlayer has been a top pick of dedicated mountain athletes for years.
While not the warmest layer on the market, the Nano-Air’s ventilated fabric and air-permeable FullRange synthetic insulation make it one of the more breathable insulating jackets you can buy. As is common with Patagonia products it isn’t cheap, but is consistent with their reputation for creating quality, durable, and versatile gear.
The newest model of the Nano-Air has increased durability and has dialed down the weight a little, making it even better for fast-paced adventures where weight and ventilation are concerns.
The soft polyester plain-weave fabric on the Nano-Air is some of the most comfortable next-to-skin material of any insulating jacket we’ve tried on, and feels more like a fleece midlayer than a synthetic puffy. Though it is not rip-stop, we experienced minimal issues with the durability of the fabric, and felt comfortable taking it on some light off-trail travel. It’s not quite as durable as other models on this list though, and such soft fabric comes at a cost.
For intense aerobic pursuits, the Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket will keep you cool while moving, and warm when stopped. While not the warmest jacket on the market, if you are looking for a versatile shell with stellar breathability for sustained activity, this is a great contender.
- Insulation: 60-g FullRange 100% polyester (40% recycled)
- Weight: 11.2 oz. (men’s medium)
- Key features: Stuffs into its own chest pocket, unique breathable insulation, stretch fabric, and insulation designed for maximum movement
- Pockets: 3 (two zippered handwarmer pockets and one chest pocket which doubles as a stuffsack)
- Shell Fabric: 100% polyester plain-weave with a PFC-free DWR finish
- Stellar breathability
- Super comfortable fabric
- Quite durable compared to previous models
- Not as weather-resistant as other jackets
- Not as warm as other models
- Slim fit makes it hard to roll up sleeves or add layers underneath
Patagonia’s warmest synthetic jacket, the DAS Parka ($449) has been a staple with alpinists and outdoor enthusiasts for years. From freezing belays to snowy mountaintop ascents, it has kept adventurers warm and protected since its debut in 1992, with its newest model carrying on the torch, offering even greater warmth and packability.
“DAS” stands for “Dead Air Space,” referring to the way in which the jacket traps air in two different densities of PrimaLoft Gold Insulation (top-notch stuff), which has been fused with aerogel technology to boost softness and warmth. Its 133-gram insulation runs throughout the jacket, with an extra layer of 40g insulation placed along areas that require more warmth.
We immediately noticed, and appreciated, the DAS Parka’s stellar weather resistance in light precipitation and heavy winds. Its 10-denier Pertex Quantum Pro shell is treated with a polyurethane dry coating and a hefty DWR finish. It’s not a rain jacket by any means, but moisture beads up and runs off the jacket well, and you feel kind of invincible in wild gusts of wind.
Negatives? It’s quite heavy, at 19.6 ounces, and doesn’t pack as small as we would like into the large included stuff sack. One of our tester’s friends thought it was actually their sleeping bag while unpacking from a particular trip.
We also found the front pockets to be somewhat annoying. They are quite shallow and don’t extend to the bottom of the jacket like the internal dump pockets do. This could be for easier use while wearing a harness, but we thought it was harder than usual to warm our hands in them when the temps plummeted, or store a bunch of stuff while on the go.
All in all, this is still one of the best synthetic insulated jackets you can buy for epics in the alpine, or nippy winter temps around the campfire. It’s a legacy piece from a quality brand that just keeps delivering.
- Insulation: 133 and 40-gram PrimaLoft Gold Insulation with aerogel technology
- Weight: 19.6 oz.
- Key features: Weather-resistant fabric, helmet-compatible hood, two-way front zipper for easy belaying and climbing
- Pockets: 5 (Two zippered handwarmer pockets, one zippered chest pocket, two deep internal dump pockets)
- Shell Fabric: 0.8 oz. 10 denier Pertex Quantum Pro recycled nylon with polyurethane dry coating and DWR finish
- Super warm
- Phenomenal weather and wind resistance
- Climbing-specific design
- Pretty heavy
Lightest Synthetic Jacket: Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket
Here it is — the gold standard of lightweight warmth, and what seems like every ultralight thru-hiker’s jacket of choice for their pilgrimage on long trails. The Torrid Jacket ($185) is a king in the world of synthetic insulation. Starting at just 6 ounces, most elements of the Torrid are customizable and can be altered to fit each person’s unique style and goal.
Who would have thought that down jackets would slowly be knocked off the backpacking pedestal by a synthetic piece from a small (though not so much anymore) company in Minnesota? Made with premium CLIMASHIELD APEX insulation, the jacket is almost see-through but somehow traps heat like a beast. No sewn-through seams eliminate cold spots, and a shock cord adjustment at the hem and elastic cuffs seal in warmth.
One of the authors of this guide wore a single Torrid for the duration of an 8-month thru-hike of the CDT and AT, and it retained its loft, warmth, and stitching the entire time. While it’s designed as a three-season layer, it was put through its paces in freezing whiteouts in the San Juans, and winter squalls through the Smoky Mountains.
Often paired with a fleece midlayer or rain shell, it kept him plenty toasty. Since it’s synthetic, it also retained its warmth during weeks of dreary rain when nothing stayed dry.
Can there be cons to such a jacket? Well, the 8.2-ounce weight (7-denier outer and inner fabric with hood) of the Torrid we tested comes with a pretty steep cut in durability. You don’t want to battle off-trail with this thing. It also isn’t form-fitting at all (designed to be layered underneath), with a basic, boxy design. It’s not the stylish Arc’teryx jacket you love wearing around town.
Regardless, if you are looking to minimize base weight without sacrificing warmth for an epic journey across the country, or occasional fast and light forays in the woods, it’s one of the best synthetic insulated jackets you’ll find.
- Insulation: 2 oz/yd² CLIMASHIELD APEX insulation
- Weight: 8.2 oz. (size medium, 7-denier inside and outside fabric, standard torso, standard hood)
- Key features: Zippered handwarmer pockets, no sewn-through seams, shock cord adjustment at the hem, and elastic cuffs
- Pockets: 2 (Two zippered handwarmer pockets)
- Shell Fabric: 7, 10, or 20 denier options for both inside and outside fabric
- Fully customizable
- Phenomenal warmth-to-weight ratio
- Long lead times for custom orders (ready-to-ship Torrids can be found here)
- Fabric not super durable
- Boxy, unflattering look
Best of the Rest
An absolute classic, the Patagonia Nano Puff ($229) is probably the most recognizable synthetic jacket on the market. As one of the first jackets to offer premium synthetic insulation with a lightweight but durable design, it has a heritage unlike many in its category.
It features a stylish design that looks good around town, yet boasts surprising warmth and durability, making it a reliable layer for the backcountry. The versatility of this piece contributes to its reputation, and the newest model definitely stays true to its legacy.
The Nano Puff delivered middle-of-the-road results and proves to be a solid do-it-all jacket despite not being the lightest, warmest, or most breathable option out there. It has a pretty competitive warmth-to-weight ratio, though if you need a super warm puffy for winter pursuits, this isn’t the one for you.
This model performs well in shoulder season adventures, or as part of your layering system for colder forays in the mountains. The PrimaLoft Gold Eco insulation used in the current model does deliver impressive warmth for how thin it feels and does a great job of retaining its insulating properties when wet.
The Nano Puff is somewhat breathable given the amount of stitching it has, but the solid sheet lining limits airflow, and feels pretty clammy when sweat builds up. This reduces ventilation, but does help with wind resistance when temps start to drop. Its slim design and premium insulation make it one of the more compressible synthetic jackets out there, which is one of the areas it shines the most.
If you need maximum warmth for chilly adventures or lightweight breathability for fast and light missions, this probably isn’t the jacket you want. However, as a functional yet stylish crossover layer for use around town, or deep in the mountains, the Nano Puff remains one of the best synthetic insulated jackets out there.
- Insulation: 60-g PrimaLoft Gold Eco synthetic insulation
- Weight: 11.9 oz. (men’s medium)
- Key features: Comfortable front zipper garage at chin, elasticated cuffs, stuffs into its own chest pocket, drawcord-adjustable drop-tail hem
- Pockets: 3 (Two zippered handwarmer pockets and one internal chest pocket which doubles as a stuff sack with a harness attachment loop)
- Shell Fabric: 1.4 oz. 20-denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR finish
- Stylish design looks good in the mountains and around town
- Highly compressible given how warm it is
- Slippery fabric makes layering easy
- Extensive stitching adds some breathability but also allows rain to soak insulation faster
- A little heavier than similar lightweight layers
- Loose-fitting cuffs often let some heat escape
We had subdued impressions when we received the Bight Gear Swelter jacket ($329). It has understated looks, felt bulky, and was in the middle of the road as far as weight is concerned, coming in at a verified 1 pound 2 ounces for a men’s medium.
However, after a few weeks, we found ourselves regularly reaching for this insulated layer for moderate-output activity with temperatures near freezing. Originally, the Swelter felt almost overfilled, with 100% post-consumer recycled Polartec Power Fill. But it soon broke in, softened, and shrunk down considerably.
The fit is generous and allows plenty of layering room. And the articulated sleeves are just long enough to keep the wrists covered in all positions.
The Swelter Jacket has a long torso, which keeps the gap between pants and base layer covered. The front collar is high enough to cover the nose when fully zipped. Breathability is adequate for hiking near the freezing point, and the Swelter packs down to about the size of a volleyball.
The 20-denier ripstop nylon shell fabric’s DWR coating beaded light precipitation for the duration of the test, which included several wash cycles.
The most useful and impressive feature is the sleeve design at the wrists. A large patch of Polartec Power Stretch Pro at the openings keeps them sealed around wrists of all sizes. But a quick push gets the sleeves out of the way for stove operation and camp chores. The generous elasticity allows the sleeves to go all the way to the elbow if desired.
The Swelter’s feature list also includes an elastic drawcord hem, brushed tricot-lined handwarmer pockets in the low position, a mesh interior stash pocket, a zipped mesh chest pocket, an exterior zipped chest pocket, and an adjustable helmet-compatible hood.
If minimal pack size and lightweight pursuits are your main objective, this may not be the best layer for you, but if durability, warmth, and comfort are on your checklist, the Swelter definitely fits the bill.
- Insulation: 100g Polartec Power Fill
- Weight: 1 lb. 2 oz.
- Key features: Helmet-compatible, interior stash pocket, drawcord hem, articulated elbows
- Pockets: 4
- Shell fabric: 20-denier nylon ripstop with DWR finish
- Great for layering
- Thoughtful sleeve design
Patagonia’s Micro Puff Hoodie ($299) has drawn accolades and awards from users and media since its release in September 2017. Though the price point is on the higher end, the Micro Puff Hoodie is the perfect just-in-case insulating layer that’s barely noticeable in the pack.
The 10-ounce Micro Puff Hoodie kept us warm during moderate-level activities down into the 30s with just a base layer, and it was surprisingly wind-resistant for such a light garment. Consequently, though, breathability is on the lower side.
The DWR treatment is exceptional and continues to bead water after a few wash cycles. The fit is snug, and the sleeves keep our wrists covered — except when our 34.5-inch arms are overhead.
A lack of stretch and the just-to-the waist torso length allows a little gapping during long reaches. The jacket is very compact, and the slick outer surface makes it ideal for layering underneath shells or heavier layers.
Stuffing down to about the size of a cantaloupe, the Micro Puff Hoodie fits into a handwarmer pocket with a clipping point. This ability, combined with the best-in-class warmth-to-weight ratio of Patagonia’s PlumaFill, makes it a great insulator we are always throwing in our packs.
The Pertex Quantum GL face fabric proved durable during the test period but does require care, as the wispy fabric is prone to tearing on sharp objects. This shell may not hold up well to brutal bushwhacking or scrambling over sharp rocks in the alpine compared to some of the others.
However, the lightweight, wind-resistant versatility of the Micro Puff makes it ideal for adventurers who need reliable warmth without sacrificing space or weight in their pack. It’s one of the best synthetic insulated jackets out there.
For more, check out our full Patagonia Micro Puff review.
- Insulation: PlumaFill
- Weight: 10 oz. (men’s medium)
- Key features: Helmet-compatible hood, elasticized cuffs, stuffs into its own pocket, plentiful zippered and drop-in pockets
- Pockets: 4 (two welted, zippered handwarmer pockets and two internal drop-in pockets; left pocket doubles as a stuff sack with a reinforced carabiner clip-in loop)
- Shell fabric: 10-denier Pertex Quantum 100% nylon ripstop with a DWR finish
- Quite wind-resistant for its weight
- Expensive compared to similar options
- Minimal stretch
- Shell could tear easily
The lightweight (LT) cousin of the Atom AR above, the Atom LT Hoody ($259) is a time-tested classic for high-output adventures, and is one of our favorite active insulators on the market. How often you snag a jacket from the closet while running out the door for spontaneous adventures is a good indicator of how solid it is, and we grab this one pretty much every time.
As a hardworking midlayer or a standalone piece in milder temps, there are few jackets out there that have better mobility, are comfier, or boast greater warmth-to-weight ratios. The versatility of this thing is really where it shines.
While not quite as breathable as others (such as Patagonia’s Nano-Air above), it scored high points in our book for its ability to be worn during intense activity in cold climates, while also packing a solid amount of heat into a sleek, stylish design. We love that you can take this jacket on fast, cold-weather excursions or climbs without having to compromise warmth and weather/wind resistance like a lot of other active insulators.
The gusseted underarms, stretchy sides, and athletic fit allow the jacket to move with you phenomenally, and the interior fabric is soft and comfortable. You’ll be wearing this thing all day. Couple this with thoughtful features such as fleece-lined pockets, an adjustable hood, and improved cuffs, and well, that’s why Arc’teryx is tough on the wallet.
For speedy adventures in the wild where solid breathability with maximum warmth is required, or for just trotting confidently through town, it’d be difficult to find a better jacket for the job.
- Insulation: Coreloft 60 (60 g/m²)
- Weight: 13.2 oz.
- Key features: 2 hand pockets with hidden zippers, zippered chest pocket, gusseted underarms for mobility
- Pockets: 3 (2 zippered handwarmer pockets, 1 internal zip pocket)
- Shell fabric: Tyono, 100% nylon 20 denier shell with DWR treatment
- Breathable but still warm
- Durable fabrics that move well during activity
- Stylish look with a great, comfortable fit
- No integrated stuff sack
Black Diamond has been churning out lots of high-quality jackets in the past few years. The stretchy, durable, and breathable First Light ($285) is no different. In the brand’s own words, this jacket is the ideal “start-stop” piece. While ski touring or multi-pitch climbing, the First Light provides warmth when you need it, and airy breathability when you don’t.
This jacket has a softshell outer material that is relatively snag-resistant and impressively hardy. Though the First Light isn’t the lightest, or warmest, option on this list, it comes with a few clutch features including plentiful mobility, a large chest pocket, and a performance-oriented hood.
If you’re looking for a jacket that offers the greatest weather resistance, and warmest insulation, this isn’t the one for you. For extended stop-and-go pursuits that require breathability while on the move, and comfort while resting, however, the First Light would be a perfect fit.
If you’re looking for even more breathability, be sure to check out the First Light Hybrid, which features merino insulation on its backside.
- Insulation: 60g PrimaLoft Silver Active
- Weight: 1 lb., 0.7 oz.
- Key features: Large chest pocket, elasticated hood, softshell outer material
- Pockets: 3
- Shell fabric: Schoeller stretch-woven nylon with Eco-Repel Bio DWR – 93% nylon, 7% elastane
- Highly breathable
- Great for “start-stop” activities such as climbing and backcountry skiing
- Not the best warmth-to-weight ratio
The Rime Flex ($229) has a very snug fit when still, but class-leading elasticity allows free movement. The sleeves and lower hem are a tad short for overhead reaches, but the fit around the shoulders feels ample regardless of arm movements.
The Rime Flex is on the warmer and bulkier side of the active insulation category. The Pertex Quantum Air shell and OTI Stretch insulation provide breathability and warmth that works well for loaded hiking down to the upper 20s.
It keeps you warm during breaks, even in moderate winds. The jacket still performed well into the 30s as long as the main zip was vented. We found it excellent for lounging into the lower 50s.
The Rime Flex has two handwarmer pockets in the high position, an adjustable lower hem, dual-zipper pulls, and an insulated helmet-compatible hood.
For the space-conscious hiker focused on an ultralight setup, this may not be the best choice, but if you are looking for maximum warmth without sacrificing breathability, the Rime Flex is a solid pick.
- Insulation: 60g Toray stretch insulation
- Weight: 12.8 oz.
- Key features: Zippered front pockets are compatible with pack straps and climbing harnesses, elastic cuffs, adjustable hem
- Pockets: 2
- Shell fabric: 20-denier Pertex Quantum Air
- Very warm for an active midlayer
- Thoughtful features
- A bit bulky
The Ortles Hybrid Tirolwool Jacket ($200) has a contoured, body-hugging fit with a long torso and long sleeves for coverage in all body positions. Elastic underarm gussets and stretchy softshell sleeves enhance mobility. This jacket was one of the thinner and less-bulky active insulation pieces we tested, making it layer well under heavier garments.
The wool-and-polyester hybrid insulation provides warmth for the core during higher-output activities down to freezing, and the nylon front and back panels block wind. The softshell sleeves and sides vented well.
But this hybrid construction makes the arms and sides feel much colder than the rest of the body while not moving, or in windy conditions. The Ortles Hybrid Tirolwool Jacket was the most comfortable in shoulder season conditions for moderate-intensity pursuits when the core versus arms insulating contrast wasn’t as dramatic.
Maximum breathability does come with its downfalls. While this jacket is a great choice for those involved in high-intensity activities, it may have to be paired with another layer to give you the warmth you need in super-cold conditions or inclement weather.
- Insulation: Tirol wool insulation (60% polyester, 40% wool)
- Weight: 14.2 oz.
- Key features: Tailored and insulated hood, zippered outer pockets, inside pocket doubles as compression bag, Bluesign-approved fabric
- Pockets: 4
- Shell fabric: Nylon woven ripstop 20-denier Bluesign fabric (100% polyamide), and durastretch bamboo PFC free Bluesign fabric (64% polyamide, 25% polyester, 11% elastane)
- Layers well
- Low profile
- Arms and sides can feel chilly due to minimal insulation
Synthetic Jacket Comparison Chart
|Synthetic Jacket||Price||Insulation||Weight||Pockets||Shell Fabric|
|Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody||$299||Arc’teryx Coreloft Insulation||1 lb.||3||Tyono 30-denier shell with DWR treatment, 100% nylon|
|Rab Xenair Alpine Light Jacket||$215||Primaloft Gold Insulation Active+||10.3 oz.||3||20 denier Pertex Quantum Air nylon with a DWR finish|
|Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket||$249||60-g FullRange 100% polyester||11.2 oz.||3||100% polyester plain-weave with a PFC-free DWR finish|
|Patagonia DAS Parka||$449||133 and 40-gram PrimaLoft Gold Insulation with aerogel technology||19.6 oz.||5||0.8 oz. 10 denier Pertex Quantum Pro recycled nylon with polyurethane dry coating and DWR finish|
|Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket||$185||2 oz/yd² CLIMASHIELD APEX insulation||8.2 oz.||2||7, 10, or 20 denier options for both inside and outside fabric|
|Patagonia Nano Puff
||$229||60-g PrimaLoft Gold Eco synthetic insulation||11.9 oz.||3||1.4 oz. 20 denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR finish|
|Bight Gear Swelter Jacket
||$329||100g Polartec Power Fill||1 lb. 2 oz.||4||20-denier nylon ripstop with DWR finish|
|Patagonia Micro Puff Hoodie||$299||PlumaFill||10 oz.||4||10-denier Pertex Quantum 100% nylon ripstop with a DWR finish|
|Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody||$259||Coreloft 60 (60 g/m²)||13.2 oz.||3||Tyono, 100% nylon 20 denier shell with DWR treatment|
|Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody||$285||60g PrimaLoft Silver Active||1 lb. 0.7 oz.||3||Schoeller stretch-woven nylon with Eco-Repel Bio DWR – 93% nylon, 7% elastane|
|Mammut Rime Light IN Flex||$229||60g Toray stretch insulation||12.8 oz.||2||20-denier Pertex Quantum Air|
|Salewa Ortles Hybrid TirolWool Jacket||$200||Tirol wool insulation||14.2 oz.||4||Nylon woven ripstop 20-denier Bluesign fabric, and Durastretch bamboo PFC-free Bluesign fabric|
Why You Should Trust Us
Author and gear tester Chris Carter has spent way too much time obsessing over the minutiae of the gear he takes on adventures. As an ultralight thru-hiker and endurance backpacker, the functionality-to-weight ratio of each item he carries on his back is of utmost importance, and every element of the gear he packs is considered.
Chris has thru-hiked the Triple Crown of long trails, (the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail) and continues to pursue long-distance hiking around the world.
Aside from hiking, he is an avid rock climber and ultra-marathon runner. His gear closet looks about as diverse and unorganized as a second-hand consignment store, but he’s passionate about making informed, wise decisions about the gear that keeps him comfortable and safe in the mountains.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Synthetic Insulated Jacket
Synthetic insulation has become a popular alternative to down over the years, and the market now offers a wide range of high-quality synthetic-filled jackets. On this list, some of our recommendations highlight puffy jackets that prioritize warmth, while others are best used during high-output activities like running or skiing where breathability is key.
Beyond these two broad categories, there are many other factors to consider as you narrow down your synthetic jacket search. In this buyer’s guide, we aim to prepare you to make an informed and confident purchase.
What Is Synthetic Insulation?
Synthetic insulation is designed to replicate the qualities of down. It’s made from polyester fibers arranged into intertwined filaments that trap warm air in millions of tiny pockets.
Compared to down, synthetic insulation has both pros and cons. Importantly, synthetic insulation is able to retain its warmth when wet. This is a huge advantage over down and a key reason why synthetic insulation is often preferred in wet and cold environments.
Unfortunately, synthetic insulation cannot quite match the miraculous warmth-to-weight ratio of down. In other words, synthetic jackets need to be a little heavier to achieve the same level of warmth.
There are many different types of synthetic insulation on the market now, and various companies have their own proprietary types of insulation that they either fill their own jackets with or sell to other companies. A few of the most common types of insulation are PrimaLoft, Thinsulate, and PlumaFill.
PrimaLoft, one of the most widely used types of synthetic insulation, is made with 100% polyester microfiber that mimics the fluffiness of natural down, and comes in a few different categories. The most popular are PrimaLoft Gold, PrimaLoft Silver, and PrimaLoft Silver Eco (which is made of 70% recycled fibers).
PrimaLoft Gold is the most performative and sought-after insulation in their lineup, and is comparable to a 550-fill power down jacket. Each of the categories, to varying degrees, is highly breathable, water-resistant, and compressible.
Thinsulate insulation is considered to be one of the warmest thin apparel insulations on the market. Its incredibly thin fibers retain a surprising amount of warmth, and the nature of its tight construction makes it a prime material for ultralight insulating layers, or small clothing items such as gloves.
Though every type of synthetic material will lose at least some of its insulating properties when wet, Thinsulate boasts excellent moisture-wicking abilities, allowing it to dry quickly. Other types of fill, such as Polartec Alpha and FullRange insulation (used by Patagonia in the Nano-Air series of jackets), offer arguably the most breathable options out there.
Polartec Alpha, or Alpha Direct, was manufactured out of a military request to develop a synthetic and incredibly breathable alternative to down that could be used in high-intensity activities. The insulation eventually found its way into the outdoor industry and is used by many different brands today.
Take a few moments to envision how you’ll use your jacket. Do you need something for winter climbing or long-distance backpacking? Or will this be a jacket that does it all? There’s no right or wrong answer. But being clear about your intended use will help you prioritize certain factors such as breathability and durability.
In each of the product reviews above, we have highlighted a variety of different features that the jackets are known for, in addition to ways they could be improved. Take a look at both the pros and cons of the layers, and focus on what activity you will be using it for most.
If you are setting out on a 5-month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, you will need a jacket that keeps you protected and warm in a vast range of ecosystems and climates.
If you want a layer that keeps you cozy while belaying at the crag, or walking the dog downtown, you may not want the most feature-packed, versatile shell on the market.
Each of the jackets above is either a regular synthetic jacket or an active insulation jacket, and the main difference between them is breathability. Generally, there’s a tradeoff between breathability and waterproofness. Fully waterproof jackets are less breathable than active-use softshell options.
If you’ll regularly wear your jacket as an outer layer, it’s worth investing in a bit more waterproofing. But if you’ll use it mainly for high-output activities, look for a jacket that maximizes breathability.
In general, synthetic insulation is more breathable than down, since it doesn’t trap the body’s heat as effectively as down does. The level of breathability of a jacket varies, though, and has to do with the type of insulation it uses, along with its shell material and design.
Jackets such as the Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody, or the Salewa Ortles Hybrid Tirolwool Jacket maximize breathability due to the nature and construction of the insulation used, but also the strategic placement of breathable material used in the shell.
Durability is particularly important if you plan to wear your jacket as an outer layer in rough and rugged environments. Most jackets on this list stand up great to the rigors of bushwacking or climbing on rough rock. But some need a bit more care than others.
The durability of synthetic insulation versus down insulation is somewhat of a debated topic, as there are a number of factors to consider. Synthetic insulation doesn’t have to be babied as much as down insulation, but also loses its form and breaks down faster over time, especially if you are compressing the jacket a lot. Down tends to leak from the jacket more, however, and therefore slowly loses its warmth.
Not all synthetic insulation is created equal, though, and the different types of insulation will vary in how long they hold up to harsh conditions. When thinking about the durability of a jacket, the type and quality of the insulation (such as PrimaLoft Gold versus PrimaLoft Silver) and the construction of the outer shell (such as what denier and material is used) need to be taken into consideration.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that often the more durable a jacket is, the heavier it is. So, if an ultralight setup is your main concern, you may need to go with a more fragile layer.
A shell like the Patagonia DAS Parka offers increased durability, but may weigh your pack down too much for quick missions in the mountains. If you want to thrash about without concern, something like the thinner Patagonia Micro Puff Hoodie may not be the best choice, but could lend itself as the optimum layer if light and fast is your main goal.
Where synthetic insulation really trumps down is in its ability to insulate when wet. Down absorbs water, and clumps up, thereby losing its loft, as opposed to synthetic insulation which retains its loft. Water sits between the fibers, allowing the insulation to keep its shape, maintain warmth, and dry faster than down.
While all synthetics will generally repel moisture better than down, the degree to which a jacket will insulate you in damp conditions varies from brand to brand. Most manufacturers are adding a DWR (Durable Water Repellant) treatment to the outer shell of their insulated jackets, which beads up water in light precipitation, allowing it to roll off and not soak into the insulation. This only works to a certain degree, however, and in constant rain, you’ll want to add a rain shell to your layering system.
Sure, you plan to wear the jacket, not just pack it around. But for those times you need to ditch a layer or bring it just in case, the pack size and weight matter. Synthetic insulation doesn’t tend to pack as small as down (although synthetic fill technology is rapidly improving).
Key Features: Pockets, Hoods, and More
Depending on your intended use and general needs, you’ll want to choose a jacket with the right array of features.
Pockets, hoods, adjustable hems, and elastic cuffs are all examples of common synthetic jacket features. Each of these has a unique purpose and value.
Pockets come in a wide range of sizes and shapes. From zippered hand-warmer pockets to low-profile chest pockets, the recommended jackets on this list offer a wide range of configurations.
Many synthetic jackets are available in either a hoodie or non-hoodie style. The best choice for you depends on your use. Hooded jackets are great in frigid or stormy conditions and for people who tend to feel cold in the ears, head, and face. Unhooded options are generally best for everyday use around town or in-bounds resort skiing.
At the end of the day, you want to get a good deal. More than just the lowest price tag, a jacket’s value stems from its usefulness and bang for the buck.
Carefully consider how you’ll use your jacket and then look for features that fit your needs. Helmet-compatible hoods, pockets, and materials become important considerations.
Also, if you plan to wear your jacket regularly, it’s worth investing more. Spending a few extra bucks now will afford you many seasons of warmth and comfort outdoors.
What Are Synthetic Jackets Used For?
Synthetic jackets are used in all sorts of situations where comfortable and reliable warmth is needed. From the ski hill to the jogging path, synthetic jackets are a modern and effective tool in the fight to stay warm.
Compared to down jackets, synthetic jackets tend to be slightly heavier and less vulnerable to moisture-related warmth loss. Elite mountaineers use synthetic jackets, as do city dwellers on their way to buy groceries.
On this list, we’ve divided our recommended jackets into two unique categories. For maximum warmth, check out our synthetic insulated jacket category. If you’re looking for a jacket that can regulate your temperature and breathe during active use, check out our active insulation category.
What's the Difference Between Synthetic and Down?
Compared to down, synthetic insulation is slightly heavier, slightly cheaper, and less likely to lose its effectiveness in a rainstorm. Unlike down, synthetic insulation is able to retain its warmth when wet.
When dry, however, synthetic insulation cannot quite match the miraculous warmth-to-weight ratio of down. In other words, synthetic jackets need to be a little heavier to achieve the same level of warmth.
Do I Need a Synthetic Jacket for Skiing?
Many skiers wear synthetic insulated jackets as a midlayer beneath their waterproof outer shells. On cold days at the resort, a warm and puffy jacket can be the difference between comfort and misery.
For backcountry skiing, breathable layers are the way to go. During uphill hikes along the skin track, you’ll want layers that can let some of your body heat escape in order to stay cool and prevent sweating.