Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets 2024 - Outdoors Magic

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Down and Insulated Jackets

Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets 2024

Synthetic insulated jackets offer reliable warmth in wet weather, compressibility and a long-lifespan. Here's what to look for and the best options out there.

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 precisely 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.

Some factors that make a good synthetic insulated jacket. Pictured: the Black Diamond Vision Hybrid

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’t 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 now available in some jackets. 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

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. Many of the items featured here were actually good enough to be selected for our Green Gear Guide and Outdoor 100, meaning they past our gear team’s rigorous selection processes.

  • Best Overall Synthetic Insulated Jacket: Black Diamond Vision Hybrid Hoody

    There are some incredibly impressive materials that are used in this and the result is something with an impressive warmth-to-weight, durability and wet weather warmth. Our testers loved it and decided it was well worthy of being selected as the best overall synthetic insulated jacket.

  • Best Value Synthetic Insulated Jacket: Keela Talus

    £140 represents excellent value for a jacket of this standard. It’s super cosy and has impressive details, including a protective hood with a big moldable peak.

  • Best Synthetic Belay Jacket: Arc’teryx Nuclei

    The Nuclei all the small details you’d want from a synthetic jacket for climbing and then that all important cosy warmth when you’re static for long periods.

  • Best Breathable Synthetic Insulated Jacket: The North Face Summit Casaval

    We used this in Northern Italy and really liked the fact this creates a warm and dry climate around your body during activities that could typically work up a sweat.

  • Best Lightweight Synthetic Insulated Jacket: Patagonia Nano Puff

    The Nano Puff is a great jacket – albeit one that’s quite thin. As such, we found it to be the best option for those who want a light and thin layer that won’t weigh their pack down – and that’ll fit comfortably under most waterproof jackets too.

 

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.
Best Overall Synthetic Insulated Jacket

Black Diamond Vision Hybrid Hoody

OM writer Jordan Tiernan wearing the Vision Hybrid under the north face of Ben Nevis

Price: €280
Weight: 430g
Best for: climbing, backcountry skiing, hiking and hillwalking
Key attributes: breathable, durable

This is a hugely innovative jacket, one that’s designed for people who need insulation while partaking in high aerobic activities like backcountry skiing, alpine climbing and hillwalking. The idea is that it provides the insulation you want when you’re slowing down and the breathability and ventilation you want when you’re working hard, ultimately saving you from having to take the jacket on and off all the time. 

To achieve this, Black Diamond haven’t just deployed the lightweight, warm-when-wet qualities of PrimaLoft Gold, but they’ve also added a touch of Aerogel – that’s right, the stuff that NASA developed to put into their space suits. The silicone-based solid material is incredibly insulating but it’s also super light. In fact, 99.8% of its volume is empty space and is regarded as the world’s lightest solid. 

As for the features, you’ve got two harness-compatible zipper hand pockets, internal drop pockets for gloves, zippered chest pockets, a neat single pull helmet compatible hood, and elastic cuffs. Heat can also be trapped within the jacket through a handy integrated ‘hem gasket’. That’s essentially an extra bit of fabric that drops below the hem and features its own elasticated hem as a way to prevent drafts of air travelling up through the jacket.

This performed excellent in our tests and we loved the innovative fabrics and neat design details. As such, we picked this as our best overall synthetic insulated jacket.

Full Specifications

Insulation: 60g PrimaLoft Gold with Cross Core Aerogel / Outer: 20D Nylon with Liquid Crystal Polymer ripstop and a 20D stretch nylon / harness-friendly pockets / stow pocket / zippered chest pocket / internal drop pocket / elastic cuffs / toggled hood / available in S-XL.

Read our full Black Diamond Vision Hybrid Hoody review.

BUY NOW: BLACKDIAMONDEQUIPMENT.COM

 

Best Value Synthetic Insulated Jacket

Keela Talus

The Keela Talus used on a wet day in Wales by OM tester Callum

Price: £140
Weight
: 600g
Best for: hiking, hillwalking, mountaineering
Key attributes: durable, warm, excellent value

The Keela Talus is the best value insulated jacket around. Having tested it thoroughly, we’ve can vouch for this as being perfect for anyone who tends to venture into cold and wet places. It features 60gsm of PrimaLoft Gold synthetic fill, bringing lightweight warmth and insulating performance even in wet conditions. What’s more, at least 50% of this fill is made from recycled content, more specifically, plastic bottles diverted from landfills. 

Then there’s the outer shell fabric which is both lightweight and durable thanks to the Cordura fibres that make up the ripstop thread within it. Stretchy fleece-lined panels then line the sides of the torso and under the arms to add a bit of extra comfort and to aid the overall temperature regulation as well. 

Features include an external zipped pocket on the chest, a zipped pocket on the inside and then two handwarmer pockets which are large enough to take an OS map. There’s also elasticated cuffs, an adjustment on the hem in the form of a glove-friendly cinch and an adjustable hood. Speaking of the hood, this has a malleable wired peak to keep the rain off your face and it’ll fit comfortable underneath a climbing helmet. 

Full Specifications

60gsm PrimaLoft Gold synthetic insulation / insulation made from 50% recycled content / summer and winter compatible / Cordura ripstop fibres in the outer / stretchy fleece-lined panels on torso sides and underarms / external zipped pocket on chest / zipped pocket on inside / two handwarmer pockets / elasticated cuffs / adjustable hood with malleable wired peak  

Selected for the 2021/22 Outdoor 100 – Read our full Keela Talus review.

BUY NOW: KEELAOUTDOORS.COM

 

Best Breathable Synthetic Insulated Jacket

The North Face Summit Casaval

Will testing out the Casaval in Italy. Photo: Aaron Rolph

Price: £235
Weight: 357g
Best for: Hiking, mountaineering, general day-to-day wear
Key attributes: Close fitting and comfortable under most shell layers, breathable

We tested this out in a range of conditions, including on a ski touring trip in northern Italy, and it impressed us with its breathable warmth.

It uses an insulation system that The North Face calls Ventrix and the idea behind this is that it keeps you warm when you’re taking it easy and stops you from getting clammy when you exert yourself. It aims to achieve this through the use of little holes that open up when the material is stretched – say when you’re reaching up for a hold or swinging your arms while ski touring uphill. 

Does it work? From our experience, yes, because it’s a jacket that always seems to feel comfortable. In chilly conditions, it’s not quite thick enough to serve as your main layer of insulation, but it’ll work well as part of a system – say, with a baselayer and shell layer over the top. It’s cut nicely too, so you can wear most shells over this without feeling too squeezed in. 

It’s worth noting that, while The North Face lists this as being “made from recycled materials” it actually only uses recycled content and there are some virgin materials present. 

Key Specifications

Available in men’s and women’s versions / 100% recycled nylon shell, 88% recycled nylon hood and sleeves / 80% recycled polyester insulation in the body / 41% recycled polyester in the hood and sleeves / 40g insulation in the body, 25g insulation in the good and sleeves / concealed hand pockets and one chest pocket / PFC-free DWRs.

BUY NOW: ALPINETREK.CO.UK

 

Best Lightweight Synthetic Insulated Jacket

Patagonia Nano Puff

Hamid out with the Nano Puff on one of our Snowdonia test trips

Price: £180
Weight: 337g
Best for: day-to-day wear, summer backpacking
Key attributes: light, packable, eco-friendly

The new-and-improved Nano Puff jacket now uses PrimaLoft’s innovative 100% post-consumer recycled polyester insulation made with P.U.R.E. (Produced Using Reduced Emissions) technology. It’s still the same high-performance 60gm PrimaLoft Gold Eco fill used in previous iterations, but with even less impact on the environment. Specifically, this innovative process reduces carbon emissions by a whopping 70% by altering the way the synthetic fibres are bonded together.

The Nano Puff also has a 20-denier 100% recycled polyester shell and lining, while the jacket is Fair Trade Certified sewn. And of course, it comes with all the traditional benefits of synthetic insulation – it offers decent warmth for weight, it’s hard-wearing and compressible, and boasts excellent moisture resistance.

The feature set is relatively simple but practical. It includes a full zip with a soft chin guard, two zipped hand pockets and an internal zipped chest pocket. There are elastic-bound cuffs and a hem drawcord. The hoody version also includes a snug elastic-bound hood. The fit is fairly accommodating, and if you hover between sizes, we’d tend to recommend going for the smaller size. But all in all, it’s a very comfortable jacket to wear.

Full Specification

Light and packable / 20-denier 100% recycled polyester shell and lining / 60gsm PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco made with 100% post-consumer recycled polyester / lower carbon footprint due to P.U.R.E. technologies / PFC-free DWR finish / bluesign approved.

Selected for the Green Gear Guide 2021/22 – Read our full Patagonia Nano Puff Primaloft P.U.R.E. review.

BUY NOW: ELLIS-BRIGHAM.COM

Best Synthetic Belay Jacket

Arc’teryx Nuclei FL

Mike Brindley showcasing the Nuclei when we had to take our annual Test Trip indoors in 2020.

Price: £250
Weight: 325g
Best for:
belaying, hiking, backpacking, mountaineering
Key attributes:
lightweight but warm, lofty

Built for climbers and mountaineers, this is spot on as a belay jacket; it’s the thing that won’t weigh you down or take up much space in your bag when you’re moving fast and light, but then, when you’re paused and your heart rate is slowing, it’s the jacket you’ll want to pull on for that guaranteed warmth, even in wet and miserable conditions.

The fill used in the Arc’teryx Nuclei FL is the brand’s own CoreLoft insulation. In terms of the way it’s structured, CoreLoft is very comparable to Polartec Alpha, its fibres are tangled into pillow-like sheets in each chamber. These sheets all manage to suck in air, giving the jacket a very lofty feel. It doesn’t feel quite as lofty and down-like as PrimaLoft Gold does but then on the other hand, it feels thicker and more durable.

80g of CoreLoft insulation is used in the body and then there’s 60g in the side panels and sleeves, making for an overall warmth that packs a punch. At just 325g overall the Arc’teryx Nuclei FL is by no means a heavy jacket either. One of the main contributing factors here is the outer shell, which is made from a fully windproof 10D nylon with a ripstop weave. It feels very, very thin. Not so thin that you’d need to worry about the fabric on the shoulders when wearing a heavy-loaded pack, but you’d want to be careful picking through any thick brush in it.

Full Specification

Sizes: XS-XXL / windproof / great warmth-to-weight ratio / compressible and packable / durable / water-resistant / trim fit for athletic performance / articulated patterning for unrestricted mobility / gusseted underarms for mobility and comfort / helmet compatible and adjustable hood with soft brim / full front zip with wind flap / elastic cuffs / slight drop hem / two hand pockets with zippers  two internal dump pockets

Read our full Arc’teryx Nuclei FL review

BUY NOW: ELLIS-BRIGHAM.COM

 

Best of the Rest

 

Cortazu Mid-Layer

OM tester Giles out on the blustery Scottish coastline

Price: €149
Weight: 624g
Best for: casual wear, hiking
Key attributes: lofty and warm

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.

BUY NOW: CORTAZU.COM

 

Orvis Pro Insulated Hoody

OM editor will using the Orvis Pro on a hike up Ben Nevis in Scotland

Price: £179
Weight: 440g
Best for: hiking, hillwalking, fishing
Key attributes: durable, warm

This impressed us for both its lofty, cosy insulation and for its durability. OK, this is primarily made for fishing and country pursuits but we found it holds up superbly as a jacket for hiking and general outdoor activity. 

The insulation in this jacket is all body-mapped: your core, arms and head are kept toasty by soft, water-resistant, 45% recycled PrimaLoft Gold Active insulation. We’re huge fans of this stuff here at Outdoors Magic; it’s light, it’s lofty, it’s super warm and it’s also brilliant at insulating even when it’s wet. Then, in the side panels and under the arms, there’s Polartec’s Alpha Insulation (another material that insulates even when wet). This is housed in a stretchy, breathable polyamide which has what feels like a light PU coating on the outside. This adds that durability to the material that we mentioned and it also forms an extra wind and moisture blocking layer. 

The jacket is quite thick, so you would only really be able to get a loose and large waterproof jacket comfortably over this. On the flip side, we found that we could wear a light mid layer underneath it without thing feeling tight or restricted. 

Finally, as well as two very cosy fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, there’s also a zipped chest pocket that doubles as its stuff sack. 

Full Specifications

Insulation: 80g PrimaLoft Gold Active (45% recycled content) / 80g Polartec Alpha (55% recycled content) / shell: 20D stretch ripstop polyamide shell / available in S-XXL. 

Read our full Orvis Pro Insulated Hoody review.

BUY NOW: ORVIS.COM

 

Montane Phoenix Stretch

Catrin using the Phoenix Stretch on an autumn hike

Weight: 470g
Price: £125
Best for: casual wear, hiking, backpacking, climbing
Key attributes:
lightweight, dynamic, good value

The Phoenix family of well-priced synthetic insulated jackets (Icarus for men) has been around for a few years now. We’ve seen a lightly insulated version, a heftier one, now we have this new one with super stretchy side panels and a nice new Pertex Quantum Eco face fabric. For just £125, you get “active insulation” with this jacket, providing breathable warmth.

This is how it works. There’s narrow baffles and a down-like synthetic fill for warmth, but then big stretchy panels under the arms that will let some hot air escape while also giving you a nice range of movement as well. With all that in mind, it’s going to be climbers who’ll get the most out of this jacket – it’s the kind of thing you could wear on the crag during those colder climbs from early spring through to autumn. But it’ll appeal to backpackers, hikers and bikepackers too.

There are excellent eco credentials. Montane have used a bunch of recycled fabrics in this jacket. You’ve got the outer Pertex Quantum Eco which is made from a 50% recycled polyester, the inner liner which is 100% recycled and then a PrimaLoft Silver synthetic fill on the shoulders and hood that’s made from 100% recycled materials as well. As for features, there’s everything you need: a water-resistant and windproof outer, internal storm flap underneath the main zip, deep hand-warmer pockets and a snug hood which is designed to fit comfortably under a climbing helmet.

Full Specification

Sizes: 8 – 16 women’s /  Pertex Quantum Eco 50% recycled outer with DWR / PrimaLoft Black ThermoPlume insulation in the core body and over arms / PrimaLoft Silver 100% recycled insulation in the hood and over shoulders / 100% recycled PEAQ Synthetic Eco lining / insulated under-helmet hood / full-length YKK front zipper with internal storm flap / two zippered hand pockets / pre-elasticated cuffs

Read our full Montane Phoenix Stretch review

BUY NOW: BLACKS.CO.UK

 

Haglöfs L.I.M Mimic Hood

OM testers Holly and Will with Haglofs LIM Mimic jackets on the Cumbria Way. Photos: Joe Whitmore

Price: £210
Weight
: 370g
Best for: hiking and backpacking
Key attributes: light and packable, excellent warmth-to-weight

The fill Haglöfs have used here is called Mimic. It’s a mix of synthetic fibres that are designed to look like, feel like and perform like down, with the added benefit that they won’t lose their insulating properties when they get wet. These clusters are even blown into the jacket’s baffles following the same process used in down garment manufacture.

There’s more though, because these synthetic clusters also have a graphene filament mixed into them and the benefits of this are actually quite remarkable. Graphene, you see, is a material that’s mainly heralded for its remarkable low-weight, high-strength ratio, but it’s also a super conductor of heat too. That means it’ll take heat from high warmth areas, like your arm pits, and spread it throughout the jacket.

Details include deep handwarmer pockets, an elastic-rimmed hood that’s comfortable underneath a climbing helmet,  elasticated cuffs and that’s about it – not much in the way of details but, as they say, Less is More (LIM).

Full Specification

Climate neutral company / 100% recycled polyamide outer and inner fabrics / 100% recycled polyester fill / PFC-free water-repellent treatment / Mimic synthetic fill / deep pockets / elastic-rimmed helmet-compatible hood / elasticated cuffs.

Read our full Haglöfs L.I.M Mimic review

BUY NOW: ALPINETREK.CO.UK

 

Rab Vapour-Rise Summit Jacket

Will testing the Rab VR Summit in Scotland. Photo: Dave Macfarlane

Price: £196
Weight: 352g
Best for: hiking, climbing
Key attributes: excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, good breathability

This is a mid weight synthetic insulated jacket that has a lot of versatility. In our tests, we noticed it had good wind resistance, cosy warmth and also impressive breathability too, with enough permeability for hot, moist air to escape when you’re working up a sweat. It’s also amazingly light; when we weren’t wearing it, it was no inconvenience to carry in a pack. 

The insulation inside it is very similar to Polartec Alpha. What we mean by that is that it’s made up of hundreds of fleecy tufts that are organised to form an insulating liner within the jacket. 

After a whole winter of testing, we’ve noticed that the little bit of stretch that fabric has makes it capable of fending off abrasion. If super tough durability is paramount to you however, you might want to look for a jacket that has a higher denier rating than this one has. 

Full Specifications

Available in men’s and women’s versions / 20D Pertex Quantum Air with fluorocarbon-free DWR / VR Warm lining (83gsm) / helmet compatible hood / two harness friendly handwarmer pockets / 1 zipped chest pocket / hem adjustment.

BUY NOW: RAB.EQUIPMENT

 

Outdoor Research Shadow Insulated Hoody

Our tester Jordan using the jacket on the Cumbria Way in October

Price: $249
Weight
: 473g
Best for: high aerobic activities
Key attributes: sustainably made

The Outdoor Research Shadow Hoody is a synthetic insulated puffer that is sustainably crafted with recycled and bio-based materials, but also comes in muted contemporary colours and looks pretty stylish. However, when you need technical performance, it’s also cosy and packable, offering excellent warmth for weight.

The headline material here is OR’s VerticalX Eco SR insulation. This combines Repreve recycled polyester fill with Sorona, a renewable plant-based fabric that is particularly hard-wearing. The result is a highly compressible fill that offers excellent warmth for weight, a soft down-like feel and good performance even when wet.

The jacket’s hood is insulated and adjustable for an easy fit. An elastic drawcord hem and elastic cuffs with thumb loops hold things in place as you reach, stretch, and move around, whether you’re on the mountain or off it. There’s also plenty of mechanical stretch in the fabric itself. Combined with a soft feel, it makes for an exceptionally comfortable, easy-wearing jacket.

Full Specifications

VerticalX Eco SR insulation / bluesign approved 20D nylon and elastane blend for outer fabrics and linings / insulated and adjustable hood / elastic drawcord hem / elastic cuffs with thumb loops  / two zipped handwarmer pockets / interior stash pocket.

Selected for our Green Gear Guide 2023 – Read our full Outdoor Research Shadow Insulated Hoody review.

BUY NOW: OUTDOORRESEARCH.COM

 

Cotopaxi Teca Cálido

Raji wearing the Cálido during our test trip in the mountains of North Wales

Weight: £78
Price: 350g
Best for: casual wear, hiking and backpacking
Key attributes:
good value, sustainably made

The Teca Cálido jacket has been built with sustainability in mind, with a shell that’s made from a repurposed polyester taffeta and a fill that’s 100% recycled polyester.  

This insulating performance is helped by a snug, elastic-bound hood, hem and cuffs plus two cosy handwarmer pockets and it’s packable enough to stuff inside its own chest pocket. 

This thing’s reversible too. On one side you get that funky colour-blocked design with two zipped handwarmer pockets and then on the other you get more muted navy styling, with square stitch-through baffles, a zipped chest pocket and two drop-in lower patch pockets. 

Full Specifications

Colour-blocked design / face fabric panels and shell made from repurposed taffeta with DWR finish and PU backer / 60gsm 100% recycled polyester stuffing / elastic-bound hood, hem and cuffs / two handwarmer pockets / stuffs inside its own zipped chest pocket / certified B-corp / 1% of brand revenue goes towards charitable initiatives / reversible / square stitch-through baffles / two drop-in lower patch pockets.

Selected for the 2021/22 Outdoor 100 – Read our full Cotopaxi Teca Cálido review.

BUY NOW: UK.COTOPAXI.COM

2024 updates made by Will Renwick

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