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.
Editor’s Note: We refreshed this article on August 31, 2023, adding information regarding breathability, and slotting one more product into the lineup.
The Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets of 2023
- Best Overall Synthetic Jacket: Arc’teryx Atom Hoody
- Best Budget Synthetic Jacket: Cotopaxi Teca Cálido Hooded Jacket
- Runner Up Best Synthetic Jacket: Black Diamond Vision Hybrid Hoody
- Warmest Synthetic Jacket: Patagonia DAS Parka
- Lightest Synthetic Jacket: Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket
- Best Active Insulation Synthetic Jacket: Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody
- Insulation Coreloft 60 (60 g/m²)
- Weight 13.05 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
- Insulation 100% recycled polyester (60gsm)
- Weight 13.5 oz.
- Key features Colorful funky design, reversible
- Pockets 5 (2 zippered handwarmer, 2 internal drop-in, 1 zippered chest)
- Shell Fabric Repurposed polyester taffeta with DWR finish & 600mm PU backer
- Sleek and stylish with tons of fun color combos
- Reversible with two different styles
- Packs into chest pocket
- Sustainable construction
- Not the most premium insulation
- Not the softest next-to-skin feel
- Subpar mobility
- Insulation PrimaLoft Gold Crosscore synthetic insulation with Aerogel (100% Polyester, 60gsm)
- Weight 15.4 oz. (men’s medium)
- Key features Aerogel technology boosts warmth, over the helmet hood, harness-compatible zippered hand pockets, breathable fabric on underarms and back panels
- Pockets 3 (two zippered handwarmer pockets with left pocket functioning as a stuff sack, one zippered chest pocket)
- Shell Fabric 20 denier Pertex Quantum Air nylon with Liquid Crystal Polymer Ripstop and DWR finish
- Extremely versatile
- Warm yet breathable
- Thoughtful features that boost comfort
- On the heavy side
- Hood is floppy if not wearing a helmet
- Insulation 133 and 40g 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
- 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
- Fabric not super durable
- Boxy, unflattering look
- 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
- Insulation 60g 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
- Insulation 60gsm Primaloft Gold Insulation Active+ through front, back, top of sleeves, and collar; 40gsm Primaloft Gold Insulation Active+ 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Synthetic Jacket Comparison Chart
|Synthetic Jacket||Price||Insulation||Weight||Pockets||Shell Fabric|
|Arc’teryx Atom Hoody||$300||Coreloft 60||13.2 oz.||3||Tyono, 100% nylon shell with DWR|
|Cotopaxi Teca Cálido Hooded Jacket||$150||100% recycled polyester (60gsm)||5||Repurposed polyester taffeta with DWR|
|Black Diamond Vision Hybrid Hoody||$295||PrimaLoft Gold Crosscore insulation with Aerogel||15.4 oz.||3||Pertex Quantum Air with DWR|
|Patagonia DAS Parka||$449||PrimaLoft Gold insulation with Aerogel||19.6 oz.||5||Pertex Quantum Pro with DWR|
|Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket||$185||CLIMASHIELD APEX||8.2 oz.||2||7, 10, or 20 denier options|
|Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody||$285||60g PrimaLoft Silver Active||1 lb. 0.7 oz.||3||Schoeller stretch-woven nylon with DWR|
|Patagonia Nano Puff||$239||60g PrimaLoft Gold Eco||11.9 oz.||3||100% recycled polyester ripstop with a DWR|
|Rab Xenair Alpine Light Jacket||$225||Primaloft Gold Insulation Active+||10.3 oz.||3||Pertex Quantum Air with DWR|
|Patagonia Micro Puff Hoodie||$329||PlumaFill||10 oz.||4||Pertex Quantum with a DWR|
|Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody||$299||Arc’teryx Coreloft||1 lb.||3||Tyono with DWR|
|Mammut Rime Light IN Flex||$249||60g Toray stretch||12.8 oz.||2||20-denier Pertex Quantum Air|
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.
He’s had the chance to test a plethora of different synthetic jackets on these trails and has found synthetic insulation to be the best choice for versatility, breathability, and weather protection on long journeys. He knows what makes a synthetic jacket worth its mettle for various different adventures, and has been quite picky about what ends up in this guide.
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 the two types 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.
Using your synthetic jacket as an element of your layering system, you can weather most conditions with even a more ventilated model. Pairing a breathable jacket with a burly rain jacket or hardshell when Thor’s hammer strikes gives you a power combo of thermal efficiency. If it’s just burly wind you’re worried about, throw a thin windbreaker jacket over your insulator for an ultralight, ultra-mobile barrier against the elements.
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 jacket 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.
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.
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.
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.