Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets 2020 | Top 10 - Outdoors Magic

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Down and Insulated Jackets

Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets 2020 | Top 10

Synthetic insulated jackets offer reliable warmth in wet weather, compressibility and a long-lifespan. Here are the best options out there in 2020

The best synthetic insulated jackets are those that are dependable and that will see you through the rough stuff. The first synthetic insulated jacket that I purchased did just that. It was a Mountain Equipment Fitzroy Jacket and it was one hell of a thing. Fit to burst with PrimaLoft insulation, it lived in the bottom of my climbing pack only to be pulled out during cold, wet and windy winter climbing belay stances that you so frequently find up in the Highlands.

The bombproof, heavy and warm style of the Fitzroy was the trend when I bought my first synthetic jacket – it was built to last in the ‘ming’ that you’re so often blessed with in Scotland and it did the job extremely well. To be honest, synthetic insulation was the piece of equipment you purchased because you knew you had to, not because you wanted to – oh how things have changed with recent developments in synthetic fibres.

Synthetic insulation is made from polyester that has been spun into filaments that creates a pocket of air between each fibre. This pocket then warms up from your body temperature and thus, provides warmth. This is exactly the same way natural down can be used to keep you warm.

Down versus Synthetic

We’ve not yet quite mastered a like-for-like synthetic alternative to down – its formation is just too unique – and so there are still some downsides (sorry) to synthetic insulation in comparison to it. That being said, there are also some upsides to using synthetic insulation over down.

Warmth-to-Weight

Down offers the better warmth-to-weight ratio over synthetic insulation materials. Put simply, the unique 3D structure of down creates what is called loft which traps air more effectively than any synthetic fill in production at the moment. We could reach a point soon where synthetic insulation will be able to match up though. PrimaLoft is a good example of a type of fill that is getting very near to hitting that same warmth-to-weight ratio.

PrimaLoft fibres

Wet weather performance

Down doesn’t have a natural ability to repel water (on a goose or duck it’s protected under larger, oily feathers), and so, if it gets wet it will clump together, lose its loft and in turn fail to trap warm air. Synthetic insulation on the other hand won’y collapse when it gets wet to the same extent as down, so in wet conditions you can still count on some insulation value. Bear in mind though, that these days it’s possible to treat down with a solution that gives it hydrophobic properties – so it’s hard to say outright that synthetics are better in wet weather than down! The debate rages on…

Sustainability

Plucking a helpless goose/duck of their lovely insulating down isn’t a very nice thing to do. Fortunately, many reputable outdoor brands these days (though not all of them) take measures to ensure that the down they use is responsibly sourced. This is an argument explored in our best down jackets test.

On the flip side, many are concerned about the impact of synthetic fibres on the environment – they’re normally made from plastic after all. To address this issue, brands like Polartec and PrimaLoft have managed to develop fills that can be recycled. There’s also a fully biodegradable and recycled fibre called PrimaLoft Bio which is due out soon. With these developments in mind, the scale is perhaps tipping in favour of synthetics on this front.

Give our Down and Synthetic Insulated Jacket Buyer’s Guide a read to get a real in depth look into the designs and technologies behind both fill types.

Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets

We’ve had a turbo warm February of 2019, which has stripped much of the crags of their ice and snow. This has made for interesting testing for the heavier-weight jackets in this roundup, but also perfect testing for the more ‘active’ insulation pieces. OM Editor Will has taken a range of jackets out with him in Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons. I took a bunch up to the Highlands and the Alps during some ski touring weekends.

Jordan using the Black Diamond First Light Hoody during a 2700m hut tour.
The Mountain Equipment Rampart providing a shield to blizzard conditions.
OM Editor Will taking the Jottnar Elvar on his 100-mile walk across the Beacon Way.

The jackets in this section of our roundup of the best synthetic jackets are all designed to be thrown on over your outer layers during periods of inactivity. They’re ideally suited towards cold weather climbing where you’re likely to reach a belay ledge and need that extra layer of protection whilst you’re not moving and creating your own warmth.

They’re options that would be suitable to walk all day in when the conditions are extremely cold, and they’d also be great to have in your pack to pull out on the summit or during a lunch stop. These jackets also come with a slightly ‘boxier’ or roomier fit to accommodate multiple layers of clothing.

The North Face Eco Thermoball

Weight: 450g
Price: £180
Insulation: 11g/Ft2 Thermoball in body and 13g/Ft2 in Collar

Recycled insulation, recycled face fabrics and free from any nasty PFC chemicals, there are some solid eco credentials all round from The North Face on this synthetic insulated jacket – that’s why it made the cut in our yearly Green Gear Guide.

The jacket (as the name gives away) houses The North Face’s Thermoball insulation, a synthetic fill that was created in partnership with Primaloft. Thermoball makes use of small, round fibre clusters that trap heat within small air pockets to retain warmth. It’s been a big success; warm, highly compressible and able to insulate even when wet. With the new ThermoBall Eco collection, the fill is now made from 100% recycled polyester, which according to The North Face, has given the equivalent of 3.6 million plastic bottles a second life this year.

It’s a pretty slim fitting jacket that can be purchased in either a hooded, or a hoodless version, complete with elasticated cuffs and draw corded hem to keep all of that heat in.

Full Specifications

Attached, pre-tensioned hood with partial elastic binding / Vislon center front zip / internal chest pocket / zipped hand pockets / stows in hand pocket / elastic-bound cuffs / hem cinch-cord /  ThermoBall Eco insulation.

Find the latest price at:
webtogs.com

Cortazu Mid-Layer (All Season)

Weight: 624g
Price: €165
Insulation: 60g

Another sustainable offering, this time from Netherlands-based newcomer Cortazu who first burst onto the market with a three-layer jacket made from fully recycled and recyclable materials.

This, the ‘Mid-Layer’ from Cortazu features lightweight insulation to provide a nifty balance between warmth and weight for when you’re working hard. Special props have to go out to that Airtastic outer fabric that offers a good level of stretch and a soft touch, giving it a great level of comfort when worn as either an standalone jacket for warmer climes, or part of a layering system during the cooler months.

This time Cortazu’s sustainability is focused on re-greening farming land for countries in need. For every jacket sold, Cortazu are promising to work with Justdiggit to re-green fifty square miles of what was once fertile farmland at the foot of Kilimanjaro – nothing to dislike about that.

Find the latest price at:
cortazu.com

 

Arc’teryx Norvan SL

Price: £350
Weight: 270g
Insulation: CoreloftCompact

If you’re after an insulated jacket made for high intensity activity in conditions that are as rough as they come, look no further than the Norvan SL from Arc’teryx.

The Norvan SL not only makes use of lightweight CoreLoft insulation, but there’s also a ridiculously lightweight and breathable Gore-Tex ShakeDry fabric for full waterproof protection. ShakeDry does away with the traditional face fabric you’d expect on a waterproof jacket, with the membrane instead exposed on the outside, the benefit being that the jacket will constantly bead moisture right off. It also means there’s no need to treat the outer with water repelling (DWR) chemicals.

Just be aware with the exposed membrane that the jacket is going to be at risk of fast wear, especially if you’re frequently rubbing against rocks, or wearing a backpack.

Full Specification

Gore-tex Shakedry eliminates the need for face fabric / slim fit optimises breathability / hood can be rolled and secured with snap when not in use / watertight front zip with chin guard / elasticised bottom hem for secure fit.

Find the latest price at:
arcteryx.com

Patagonia Macro Puff Jacket

Price: £266
Weight: 420g
Insulation: 135g/m2 PlumaFill

We first spotted the Patagonia Macro Puff Jacket at ISPO 2019 and went on to include it in our ‘Best Of ISPO’ round up due to its smart use of their Plumafill insulation and overall lightweight but thermally efficient construction.

So how’s this balance achieved? Well that’ll be through the clever use of offset baffles – just like those found on the lightweight, yet slightly less warm Micro Puff. Offsetting the baffles allows Patagonia to keep unnecessary stitching to a minimum, ultimately saving weight and maximising heat retention. 

As you’d expect from Patagonia, they’ve taken steps to ensure that the Macro Puff leaves a small carbon footprint. We’d still love to see them eradicate the use of PFCs from their fabrics, however.

Full Specification

Recycled nylon ripstop shell / high loft PlumaFill insulation / minimal-stitch quilting construction complements the insulation / alpine helmet–compatible, single-point adjustable hood / extended hem provides extra coverage / two-way center-front zipper allows easy access to belay loop / two handwarmer and one external left-chest zippered pockets / right internal drop-in pocket / packs into separate stuffsack.

Find the latest price at:
eu.patagonia.com

Montane Flux

Weight: 624g
Price: £160
Insulation: 100g PrimaLoft Silver Eco

With a cut designed to be worn over the top of your winter layering system and a no-thrills what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach, British based Montane have shown their heritage with the new Flux which follows the classic Scottish winter belay jacket design.

100g of Primaloft Silver fills the chest and 60g fills the arms and hood. This variation in volume gives you a little more freedom to be able to move, which is further assisted by the loose internal cut of the jacket. It’ll be helpful when you’re sitting there on your belay perch, already caked in layers of wool, PrimaLoft and GoreTex and need to throw something over you quickly for extra warmth.

There are no gimmicks here. The jacket just works, and keeps on working throughout the day. I always appreciate a set of fleece-lined pockets, and the napoleon chest pocket is able to swallow up maps easily. This pocket will prove particularly useful when you need to quickly stuff away gear whilst hanging on by your crampons and a single axe.

Full Specification

Sizes: S – XXL / eco friendly fabric / water resistant eco fill / helmet compatible hood / two-way front zipper / two hand warmer pockets / two chest pockets / stuffs into right hand pocket.

Find the latest price at:
montane.co.uk

Patagonia Micro Puff Storm

Weight: 530g
Price: £430
Insulation: 65g PlumaFill

Patagonia‘s PlumaFill, like PrimaLoft, is designed to replicate the structure of down. It claims to offer the warmth, packability and actual feel of natural insulation, whilst still holding all the wet weather performance of synthetic insulation.

Yeah, you’ve heard all of this before, I know. But PlumaFill, which has been used in various iterations of Patagonia’s synthetic insulated jackets, has had plenty acclaim over the years and we here at OM can vouch for it.

Just like the much-loved Micro Puff jacket, Patagonia has stuffed 65g of PlumaFill insulation into the Micro Puff Storm. But this is just about where the similarities end. That’s because what we have here is a waterproof and insulator combined.

Here, Patagonia’s PlumaFill insulation is housed within their own-brand H2No waterproof fabric. And they’ve combined this with waterproof zips and a huge helmet compatible hood that will happily swallow a climbing helmet for when the spindrift starts piling down on you.

With the recent super-warm February, we’ve sadly never found an occasion to really put this jacket through its paces. The only time was in an attempt to hide out from some relentless Cairngorm winds over on the plateau. Still, this jacket had a real ‘barrier’ feel to it, blocking out all of the nasty weather.

Full Specification

Sizes: XS – XXL / 2-layer H2No waterproof fabric / PlumaFill insulation / seamless shoulder design reduces possible abrasion points / helmet-compatible hood / elasticised internal snow skirt.

Find the latest price at:
patagonia.com

Haglöfs Essens Mimic Hood

Weight: 485g
Price: £180
Insulation: QuadFusion Mimic

Haglöfs seem to have stolen the blueprints for the mid weight stitch-through down jacket here. It’s got an almost identical look and construction, but rather than using natural fill, they’ve stuffed it with their own synthetic QuadFusion Mimic, a 100% recycled fibre that has the light, fluffy and lofty feel of down.

During testing, I found it extremely mobile, particularly when used as a warm midlayer, with the fairly short cut slotting underneath a waterproof with ease. The jacket moved with me well when ski touring and also walking up some steep snow slopes, all thanks, in the most part, to the stretch panels in the armpits. These also add extra breathability in what usually becomes a fairly warm area. Throw in the quality Pertex outer fabric, helmet compatible hood and chest pocket and you’ve got a very useful midlayer for alpine adventures.

Full Specification

Size: XS – XXXL / 30D  wind resistant Pertex fabric / short cut / stretch fleece shoulder inserts / 3-way adjustable hood / two zippered hand warmer pockets / one chest pocket / regular fit.

Find the latest price at:
haglofs.com


Hybrid Jackets and Active Insulation

These ‘hybrid’ or lighter weight synthetic insulated jackets are designed to be used as midlayers, particularly for winter walking, ski touring and winter climbing, where they can be left on while underneath a shell or wind stopper to provide warmth throughout the day.

Due to their lightweight and breathable nature, they should let sweat out much better than their more heavyweight counterparts listed above. Generally the fill weight is lower, and/or will be body mapped, and thinner fabrics will feature in certain places or indeed throughout.

Black Diamond First Light Hybrid Hoody

Weight: 520g
Price: £200
Insulation: PrimaLoft Silver Active – 60g/m2

The Black Diamond First Light is a great option out in this list of the best synthetic insulated jackets if you’re looking for something that’s going to work purely as a mid layer, particularly during high tempo scenarios.

It features a clever zoning of materials to provide insulation and ventilation in all the right places, with 60g/m2 of PrimaLoft insulation on the chest and then a merino wool blend covering the underarms and back – exactly where your body is going to be looking to shift sweat and heat when you’re moving fast. I found this midlayer offered minimal restriction in movement whilst ski touring and winter walking, giving me pretty decent insulation to hold up to a typical winter’s day spent on the Cairngorm plateau.

The insulated sections of the First Light Hoody have been wrapped up in premium Schoeller fabric. This material gives the jacket an extra kick in all-weather performance, as I discovered when caught out in a fairly light rain shower up in the Highlands. All that was required was a quick brush of the jacket and all of the water beads would dissipate – look after this jacket and it’ll keep up this performance.

Full Specification

Size: S – XL / under-the-helmet hood / PrimaLoft Silver Active / underarm gussets for added range of motion / two zippered hand pockets / concealed zip chest pocket / slim fit.

Find the latest price at:
blackdiamondequipment.com

 

Rab Xenon X
Weight: 343g
Price: £170
Insulation: PrimaLoft Gold 60g/m2

Utilising PrimaLoft’s top tier Gold Active insulation, the Rab Xenon X makes for a bridge between the heavyweight and mid weight insulated jackets in this roundup. You’ll be surprised at just how warm this jacket actually is, given it’s weight. It makes for a great super-lightweight Scottish winter belay jacket, particularly if you’re not too keen to bring along one of the extra approximately 200g heavier jackets in this roundup.

The insulation within this jacket is active however, and this means that it will breathe, letting out a bit of warmth and with that, sweat. All-in-all this jacket is a real versatile piece. You’ll find a bit more about it in our editor’s Cambrian Way Kit List report.

Full Specification

Size: S – XXL / Pertex Quantum outer / PrimaLoft Gold Active / under helmet hood / 2-way opening YKK zip / internal insulated baffle / 2 zipped hand-warmer pockets / 1 zipped pocket, doubles as integrated stuff sack / slim fit.

Find the latest price at:
rab.equipment

Forclaz 100

Weight: 335g
Price: £29.99
Insulation: Recycled polyester 100/80gm/2

The jackets in this roundup are averaging around £200 – £250 per jacket and the Micro Puff Storm reaches the lofty heights of £430. This made us keen to include a more budget option. After all, there are many out there who’ll be just getting a feel for winter walking, ski touring or climbing, and it can seem pretty daunting when you see all the fancy technologies and premium price tags that accompany them.

Whilst the Forclaz 100 doesn’t hold half the feature set of many of the other options in this round up of the best synthetic insulated jackets, it does still pack a fair amount of insulation (100g/m2 in the body and 80g/m2 on the hood and arms) for a decent weight (335g). You definitely can’t turn your nose up at these stats given the tiny price tag of £29.99.

Full Specification

Size: S – XXXL / stuffed with recycled wadding / water repellent fabric / easy to roll up and store.

Find the latest price at:
decathlon.co.uk

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