If you’re looking for a jacket that offers solid warmth at a good value, synthetic insulation is the way to go. You don’t get quite as high of a warmth-to-weight ratio as down, but synthetic jackets resist moisture, can breathe better, and are more cost-efficient. With the choice of both types in our gear closet, we find ourselves consistently reaching for our favorite synthetic jackets for just about everything but lightweight backcountry pursuits where every ounce counts. Below are our picks for the best synthetic jackets of 2023, from lightweight pieces designed for cool fall and spring weather to winter parkas that can handle the toughest four-season conditions. For more background, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
- Best Overall Synthetic Jacket: Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody
- Best Budget Synthetic Jacket: Cotopaxi Teca Cálido
- Best Active Insulator for High-Output Use: The North Face Summit Series Casaval
- Best Weather-Resistant Synthetic Jacket: Patagonia DAS Light Hoody
- Best Ultralight/Packable Synthetic Jacket: Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
Best Overall Synthetic Jacket
Weight: 13.2 oz.
Insulation: Coreloft Compact (60g)
What we like: Great mix of warmth, mobility, and comfort.
What we don’t: Breathability could be better.
Arc’teryx makes some of the top jackets and shells on the market, and the Atom LT Hoody is perhaps their most well-known model. This synthetic jacket absolutely nails the essentials: you get impressive warmth for the weight, supreme comfort, a useful feature set, and a sleek design. Unlike the Patagonia Nano-Air below that has a softer shell and interior fabric, the Atom is tougher and shows less wear over time. And with its most recent update, Arc’teryx incorporated a more durable face fabric, a longer hem, and improved cuffs, making our favorite synthetic jacket even better.
We’ve worn the Atom LT during all kinds of outdoor activities from hiking and biking to cross-country skiing, so how does it compare? The Arc’teryx isn’t quite as breathable as the TNF Casaval below and other performance-centric synthetic jackets, but the Coreloft Compact insulation and stretchy fleece side panels still work well for active use. Most of all, we love the versatility: the Atom LT works great as an outer layer or midlayer, and it’s one of the best options on this list for everyday wear. And a final note: The women’s version of this jacket is simply called the Atom Hoody, but features the same overall design and materials as the men’s Atom LT Hoody... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody See the Women's Arc'teryx Atom Hoody
Best Budget Synthetic Jacket
Weight: 13.2 oz.
Insulation: Recycled polyester (60g)
What we like: Retro styling, reversible design, and great value.
What we don’t: Other jackets are lighter, warmer, and more breathable.
Based in Salt Lake City, Cotopaxi is a relatively new brand that has quickly risen to popularity in the outdoor world, thanks to their sustainable business practices, positive community presence, and—of course—hard-to-miss colorways. Their Teca Cálido Hooded is case in point: the jacket features a recycled shell, insulation, and lining, and its vibrant color blocking and classy fit and finish make it fun to wear both in the mountains and around town. What’s more, it’s reversible, with a solid interior that showcases retro styling and cool dump pockets, reminiscent of puffer jackets of yore. As with most of their offerings, Cotopaxi did something a little different with the Teca Cálido, and we really like the result.
We tested the Teca Cálido throughout a mild winter, and it became our go-to jacket for daily use. You don’t get a breathable, stretchy shell like the Nano-Air above, and the Cotopaxi certainly doesn’t compete with the Micro Puff below in terms of warmth for weight, but it’s hard to beat for casual use. And if you do choose to test its limits in the backcountry (we did), the Teca Cálido holds up fairly well, with a lightweight and packable build (the jacket stuffs into its chest pocket), relatively durable shell, and gentle elastic bindings on the hem, cuffs, and hood that seal in warmth. All told, the Cotopaxi is not the most high-performance jacket here, but it’s a very versatile pick for everyday wear and a great value at just $150.
See the Men's Cotopaxi Teca Cálido See the Women's Cotopaxi Teca Cálido
Best Active Insulator for High-Output Use
Weight: 12.6 oz.
Insulation: Ventrix (40g & 25g)
What we like: Best-in-class breathability and backcountry-ready athletic cut.
What we don’t: Expensive and not particularly warm.
In the synthetic-versus-down-insulation debate, synthetic fill is the better (read: more breathable) option for high-output pursuits. That said, we still see a lot of variation within the category: Down-mimicking jackets are built to trap heat, while active insulation pieces typically feature stretch-infused shells that prioritize both mobility and air permeability (we break this down further in our buying advice below). For the best in active insulation, we love The North Face’s new Summit Series Casaval Hoodie, which combines zonal 40-gram Ventrix insulation (25g in the arms and hood) with a breathable, sweatshirt-like shell (TNF markets it as “high CFM,” which denotes a low level of windproofing). It all adds up to our favorite synthetic jacket for sweat-inducing activities like backcountry skiing, trail running, and rock climbing.
Aside from the Casaval’s chart-topping breathability, one of our favorite features is fit. With just a thin layer of insulation, the jacket is fairly streamlined (we often tuck it under our climbing harness), and the flat front hem and elastic at the rear offer a tailored look and feel. What’s more, durability is excellent: We’ve used and abused the Casaval on various alpine climbs, backcountry ski outings, and during a 124-mile traverse of the North Cascades, and its fabric has yet to pill or abrade (it has amassed a few minor holes and stains). The primary downside to the Casaval is its lack of warmth (most jackets use thicker insulation and less air-permeable shells), but you’ll likely appreciate this tradeoff when generating your own heat. For a boost in warmth, The North Face also offers the Casaval Hybrid, which uses thicker 60-gram insulation (40g in the hood) with softshell panels along the underarms and hem for added mobility.
See the Men's TNF Summit Casaval Hoodie See the Women's TNF Summit Casaval Hoodie
Best Weather-Resistant Synthetic Jacket
Weight: 11.3 oz.
Insulation: PlumaFill (65g)
What we like: Class-leading warmth and weather resistance in a streamlined build.
What we don’t: Expensive, not super breathable, and lacks a hem adjustment.
Patagonia’s DAS Light Hoody is one of the most impressive synthetic jackets we’ve tested of late, merging design features from two of our favorites for a best-of-both-worlds combination. You get PlumaFill insulation made famous by the brand’s Micro Puff below (billed as one of the loftiest and lightest fills on the market) alongside the Pertex Quantum Pro shell of their winter-ready DAS Parka. The net result is a very capable jacket that can hold its own as a standalone piece in inclement weather while tipping the scales at just 11.3 ounces (while still managing to include features like a helmet-compatible hood and two-way zipper). For weight-conscious climbers and skiers who get out a lot in a range of conditions, it’s a really well-rounded and thoughtfully built design.
While soft and breathable jackets like the Atom LT and Casaval above serve as ideal midlayers during high-output activities, the DAS Light shines brightest as an outer layer in mildly inclement weather. The Pertex shell does a great job repelling light moisture and strong wind and is surprisingly durable despite its thin, 10-denier build (our jacket has no abrasions despite over two years of hard use). On the other hand, we don’t love the DAS Light as a midlayer—breathability is noticeably compromised, even compared to the Micro Puff—and you don’t get the same sweatshirt-like comfort as the aforementioned active insulators. Finally, the DAS Light Hoody doesn’t come cheap at $349, but for the right uses—as a lightweight belay jacket or standalone piece in light to moderate moisture—you’d be hard–pressed to find a better option... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia DAS Light See the Women's Patagonia DAS Light
Best Ultralight/Packable Synthetic Jacket
Weight: 10.5 oz.
Insulation: PlumaFill (65g)
What we like: Impressive warmth for the weight.
What we don’t: Lacks the additional features of the DAS Light above.
Few synthetic jackets, if any, have received the hoopla of the Micro Puff from Patagonia. As has been attempted many times in the past, the jacket’s PlumaFill insulation tries its best to mimic the loftiness and warmth of down. Patagonia has done an excellent job here, and the Micro Puff lives up to its billing: It’s warm, light at just over 10 ounces, well built, and comfortable. The jacket also packs down small for a synthetic, which makes it a nice companion for space-conscious activities like multi-pitch climbing and backcountry skiing. If you’re weighing the options between down and synthetic jackets and looking for the best of both worlds, the Micro Puff is well worth a closer look.
Patagonia recently updated this popular synthetic, with noteworthy changes including a NetPlus shell (made with recycled fishing nets) and a longer, slightly trimmer fit. Our biggest gripe with the previous version was its lack of durability, but the new fabric—although the same thickness at 10 denier—has a stronger-feeling matte finish that’s been much more abrasion-resistant throughout testing (including several days of alpine rock climbing). That said, 99 times out of 100, we reach for the DAS Light instead, which—for less than an ounce more—features a better fit, more weather-resistant shell, two-way zipper, and helmet-compatible hood. But for those prioritizing weight savings above all else, the Micro Puff can’t be beat... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia Micro Puff See the Women's Patagonia Micro Puff
Best of the Rest
Weight: 14.9 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Silver Luxe
What we like: A versatile and mountain-ready synthetic jacket at a good value.
What we don’t: Heavier than most of the competition and runs small.
U.K.-based Rab is no stranger to variable alpine conditions, and their Cirrus Flex 2.0 is a great companion for serious mountain-goers. This mid-range jacket combines thick PrimaLoft Silver Luxe fill (110g) along with a durable 20-denier Pertex Quantum shell, meaning it resists moisture better than the more sweatshirt-like designs here. These two factors (down-like insulation and a 100% nylon shell) don’t add up to great breathability, but Rab tacked on stretchy underarm panels that are very effective at dumping heat. The feature set also includes internal stash pockets and a packable design, both of which we love for more technical activities like climbing and skiing.
At $175, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better value than the Rab Cirrus Flex 2.0 (the non-hooded version is even more affordable at $155), but we hesitate to recommend it as a dedicated high-performance layer. The primary reason for this is its weight and bulk: At 14.9 ounces, the Cirrus Flex is noticeably heavier and less packable than down-mimicking designs like Patagonia’s Micro Puff and DAS Light above. This could very well be a deal-breaker for weight-conscious mountain missions, but you’re unlikely to notice the difference when day hiking, cragging, or walking around town. Finally, keep in mind that the Cirrus Flex runs pretty small—we recommend trying it on before buying, as you’ll likely want to size up. For a step up in durability, Rab’s Cirrus Alpine features a thicker shell fabric (30D) and more insulation but lacks the Flex’s stretchy side panels, weighs more at 18.2 ounces, and costs an additional $25.
See the Men's Rab Cirrus Flex 2.0 See the Women's Rab Cirrus Flex 2.0
Weight: 12.2 oz.
Insulation: FullRange (60g)
What we like: Best-in-class comfort and breathability.
What we don’t: Not as durable as other jackets on this list.
The Nano-Air from Patagonia may not be our top overall pick, but it wins outright in one important category: comfort. This pillowy synthetic jacket is extremely soft, stretchy, and breathable—it feels like a combination of a high-end performance piece and your favorite sweatshirt. Climbers and active folks love its ability to move and breathe (the FullRange insulation and stretchy shell are noticeably more breathable than the Atom LT above), and you won’t find a cozier piece for daily use or travel.
We knock the Nano-Air down a notch because it isn’t quite as durable as we would like for the price. The super-soft fabrics that define the jacket and make it so comfortable have a tendency to show wear with heavy use, and particularly around the sleeves and back of the neck. That said, Patagonia upgraded the shell on the latest version to a stronger 33-denier nylon, so we're optimistic that it will hold up better over time. Additional changes included swapping the quilted side panels for a smoother look (a positive upgrade in our opinion), and Patagonia incorporated an 87%-recycled polyester shell and lining. But the formula largely remains the same, and the Nano-Air still is one of our favorite synthetic jackets... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody See the Women's Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody
Weight: 12.9 oz.
Insulation: Pinecco (60g)
What we like: Performance-oriented warmth and packability at a competitive price.
What we don’t: Not as durable or weather resistant as the Patagonia DAS Light.
Norrøna might fly a little under the radar this side of the Atlantic, but the Norwegian outdoor clothing brand gives names like Patagonia and Arc’teryx a run for their money. From their Falketind mountaineering collection, the Thermo60 is a high-quality synthetic jacket that’s priced competitively at $289. Clocking in at a decently light 12.9 ounces, the Norrøna is ready for the mountains, with windproof and water-resistant protection, a drop-tail hem for added coverage, and adjustable helmet-compatible hood. Further, the 20-denier shell fabric is soft and smooth-moving, and the jacket easily stuffs down into its hand pocket.
Pinecco fill doesn’t have the brand cachet of names like PrimaLoft and PlumaFill, but we’ve found it to be an impressive insulator, offering a nice amount of loft despite the jacket’s competitive weight and packability. In fact, we tested the Thermo60 and DAS Light side by side throughout a fall and winter season, and consistently reached for the Norrøna when we wanted a cozier, loftier jacket. On the other hand, the Patagonia’s Pertex Quantum Pro shell is noticeably more durable and water resistant (despite being thinner at 10D), and we’ve noticed the Norrøna pack out a little over time. But for less than the competition, the Thermo60 has a lot going for it and could be well worth the savings for everything from backpacking to multi-pitch climbing and mountaineering.
See the Men's Norrøna Falketind Thermo60 See the Women's Norrøna Falketind Thermo60
Weight: 1 lb. 0.7 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Silver Active (60g)
What we like: Tough, stretchy, and breathable.
What we don’t: Heavier than the jackets above.
Black Diamond has been making a big push in jackets of late, and the results have been strong. We like their heavyweight Belay Parka for cold weather, but the First Light Stretch is a much more active synthetic that can be worn in a range of conditions as an outer layer or midlayer. To be sure, the designers have ski touring and climbing in mind—they call the First Light an ideal “start-stop” piece, and its build and feature set agree. If you’re in the market for a soft synthetic jacket (much like the Atom LT or Casaval above) but want a bit more of a performance focus, the Black Diamond is well worth a closer look.
Like many active insulators, the First Light Stretch has a softshell-like outer that can take some use and abuse. Sacrifices come with a few ounces of added weight and PrimaLoft Silver Active instead of the more efficient Gold, but we like the helmet-compatible hood and packable design, and the Schoeller face fabric (with DWR finish) provides an added dose of weather protection (especially compared to the Nano-Air above). For casual wear, we prefer the aforementioned jackets—and BD unfortunately no longer offers a women’s version—but for serious skiers and climbers, the First Light Hoody is a top-notch synthetic that is most at home in the backcountry. And Black Diamond also makes the First Light Hybrid Hoody ($265), which adds panels of merino wool for even better temperature regulation... Read in-depth review
See the Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody
Weight: 11.9 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Gold Eco (60g)
What we like: Lightweight feel and a great synthetic jacket for casual use.
What we don’t: Will have trouble withstanding serious cold or wet.
Before the Nano-Air there was the Nano Puff. This versatile synthetic jacket is a nice choice for around-town use, walking and hiking on crisp days, and even as a midlayer for resort skiing. Similar to The North Face ThermoBall below, it feels somewhat similar to a lightweight down jacket but with better wet-weather performance and a lower price. This combination has made it one of Patagonia’s best-selling jackets year after year.
For those deciding between the gaggle of Patagonia synthetic jackets included on this list, here is what you need to know. The Nano Puff is the most casual of the group, has a shell that is more slick than soft, and a roomy yet lightweight build that's made it popular for daily use, travel, and light adventuring. On the other hand, the Nano-Air is softer to the touch and more breathable (a great option for active use), the Micro Puff is very close to a lightweight down jacket in terms of warmth and breathability, and the DAS Light ups the ante with a durable, weather-resistant shell. Finally, Patagonia also offers the Pack In ($189), a casually styled jacket that features 60-gram FullRange insulation and a durable, stretch-woven shell... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia Nano Puff See the Women's Patagonia Nano Puff
Weight: 1 lb. 2 oz.
Insulation: G-Loft Supreme (60g)
What we like: Everyday appeal and premium build quality.
What we don’t: Pricey given its casual slant.
Many of the designs on this list have a performance slant, but few can match the casual appeal of the Keb Padded Hoodie. Simply put, this is one of the best-looking synthetic jackets on the market with the sleek styling that Fjallraven is known for. The insulation is 100% polyester called G-Loft Supreme, and the fibers are hollow and intended to create pockets of air like down (we’ve found that this is executed with varying degrees of success). And we appreciate details like hood and hem adjustments, a two-way main zipper, and ample pockets including one at the chest and one on the interior. Added up, the Keb is a great urban piece that also can work well for light fall and winter adventuring.
Like many Fjallraven gear items, the Keb Padded Hoodie is both expensive and has its limitations. Without a doubt, you don’t get the high-tech active insulation of similarly priced jackets from top brands like Arc’teryx and Patagonia, which means that breathability and packability aren’t as good. And for $250, you can get a nice down jacket that will offer even more warmth. But the Keb will perform better in wet conditions than down, and again, we love the look and build quality of Fjallraven products in general. And a final note: Fjallraven also makes the Expedition X-Latt ($200), which has a much lighter build (11.2 oz.) and is more ideal for active pursuits like hiking and backcountry skiing.
See the Fjallraven Keb Padded Hoodie See the Women's Keb Padded Hoodie
Weight: 10.9 oz.
Insulation: VerticalX SuperStrand
What we like: A lightweight and packable synthetic for over $100 less than the Micro Puff.
What we don’t: Not very warm and shell fabric wets out in light moisture.
Outdoor Research recently released the SuperStrand LT, which caught our eye as a sleek competitor to the Micro Puff above. We’ll start by saying that there is a lot to like about this jacket: The VerticalX SuperStrand insulation does a great job mimicking down, resulting in a relatively lightweight 10.9-ounce build that packs down into its left-hand pocket. The nylon shell is noticeably soft and cozy (we find ourselves reaching for the SuperStrand LT more than almost any jacket in our quiver), and it’s held up decently throughout months of use. And importantly, the price is right at just $219—over $100 less than the aforementioned Patagonia.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more lightweight and packable synthetic jacket at this price point, but the Outdoor Research is not without its compromises. True to the “LT” in its name, the SuperStrand lacks features like a hem or hood adjustment, chest pocket, and internal wind flap behind the front zipper. What’s more, it’s quick to wet out in a light rainfall, and we’ve noticed that the synthetic fill has a tendency to creep out through the seams, resulting in a (forgive the pun) super strandy jacket. Finally, the SuperStrand LT is about the same bulk and weight as the Micro Puff, but definitely not as warm. But if cost-savings is your priority, the OR is a nice middle ground that won’t weigh you down... Read in-depth review
See the Men's OR SuperStrand LT Hoodie See the Women's OR SuperStrand LT Hoodie
Weight: 15.2 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft ThermoBall Eco
What we like: The puffy feel of a down jacket and 100% recycled materials.
What we don’t: A bit heavy, boxy fit, and lacks breathability.
Synthetic insulated jackets have long aspired to mimic down, and the popular ThermoBall from The North Face is one of the most dedicated efforts yet. Created in partnership with insulation wizards PrimaLoft, ThermoBall technology is an efficient insulator thanks to small round clusters of PrimaLoft thermal fibers housed inside brick-like baffles. This gives the jacket a look and feel that emulates a lightweight down puffy but at a lower cost and with superior performance when wet.
The North Face recently updated the ThermoBall Eco, with highlights including recycled materials and a new insulation design that traps heat more effectively. The revamped baffling pattern takes on a more casual look, too, which—along with a boxy fit, hefty weight, and middling breathability—makes the ThermoBall far from our first choice for performance-oriented endeavors like backcountry skiing or alpine rock climbing. But its smooth styling is great for daily wear, and the ThermoBall is both warm and comfortable as a midlayer while resort skiing. Finally, The North Face also offers the ThermoBall 50/50, which packs in more insulation and features a thicker shell for everyday use... Read in-depth review
See the Men's The North Face ThermoBall See the Women's The North Face ThermoBall
Weight: 1 lb. 3.6 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Gold Eco (133g + 40g)
What we like: Impressive warmth and weather protection in a lightweight package.
What we don’t: Overkill for most uses.
Since its debut literally decades ago, the DAS Parka has been a go-to synthetic jacket for winter climbers due to its impressive warmth and weather protection in a lightweight build. The latest model is even lighter and more compressible and takes the cake as the warmest synthetic jacket in Patagonia’s lineup. And with a whopping 133 grams of PrimaLoft Gold Eco throughout and an extra 40 grams in the core, it’s the most insulative option on this list too (which is impressive given its 1 lb. 3.6 oz. weight). In fact, the DAS Parka is so warm that you won’t want to keep it on during any sort of movement, but it’s an ideal choice for cold belays, breaks while skiing, and other low-output activities.
It’s worth noting that the DAS Parka is built with a thin 10-denier shell, but unlike the Patagonia Micro Puff above, is made with stronger Pertex Quantum Pro fabric and topped with a coating for abrasion resistance. It all adds up to a jacket that’s meant to take a beating, and throughout our testing, it has held up very well to wear and tear. But with a price tag nearing $500, you’ll have to ask yourself if you really need the next-level warmth and premium features. For a step down, we highly recommend the DAS Light Hoody above, which swaps in 65-gram PlumaFill insulation (similar to the Micro Puff)... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia DAS Parka See the Women's Patagonia DAS Parka
Weight: 8.4 oz.
Insulation: Climashield Apex (65g)
What we like: Ultralight, warm, and reasonably priced.
What we don’t: Lack of storage, no cord adjustment in the waistband, and the jacket takes weeks to ship.
The majority of the jackets on this list aim to balance performance and casual use, but the Enlightened Equipment Torrid is an outlier. Simply put, this is a true ultralight synthetic-insulated jacket built with serious thru-hikers in mind. It weighs just 8.4 ounces for the hooded version in a men’s medium, is filled with 65g Climashield Apex insulation, and has a 10-denier shell fabric with a DWR finish (to cut even more weight, a 7D fabric option is available). You won’t get fancy logos or much in the way of everyday appeal, but the Torrid is beloved by long-distance hikers.
Another interesting UL option comes from Utah-based Outdoor Vitals. Their Vario Jacket clocks in just a little heavier than the Torrid (9 oz. for the men’s medium) but uses a stretchy and more durable ripstop nylon face fabric that’s similar to designs like the Casaval and Atom LT above. With thinner 40-gram insulation, a more air-permeable shell, and perforated underarm vents, the Vario is a better fit for active pursuits (such as wearing while you hike), but the Torrid remains a more suitable choice for chilly evenings at camp. Most other competitors are ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and various Montbell models, which we don’t recommend in wet or damp conditions.
See the Men's Enlightened Equipment Torrid See the Women's Enlightened Equipment Torrid
Weight: 12 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Silver Hi-Loft Ultra (80g)
What we like: Attractive styling that mimics a down jacket.
What we don’t: Streamlined feature set yet still heavier than the ultralight competition.
Mountain Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer is one of our favorite ultralight down jackets, and their Ghost Shadow follows a similar formula with synthetic fill. This jacket prioritizes a lightweight build above all else, with a trim-fitting, athletic cut that forgoes features like a hood adjustment and elastic at the cuffs. What’s more, the 10 by 10-denier ripstop nylon (the same fabric used on the Ghost Whisperer) is one of the thinnest shells here. It all adds up to a fairly streamlined jacket that slides nicely over a baselayer and offers decent midlayer warmth for activities like backpacking, resort skiing, and more.
But the Ghost Shadow is fairly compromised with little to show for it—at 12 ounces, it’s still considerably heavier than the ultralight competition. With higher quality insulation, offerings like the Micro Puff above (10.5 oz.) manage to pack in much more warmth, and the 11.3-ounce DAS Light is noticeably more durable with its Pertex Quantum Pro shell. Further, the Ghost Shadow isn’t a standout in terms of breathability with its fully nylon exterior and mid-range PrimaLoft Silver insulation. But it’s hard to argue with the price—at just $230, the Mountain Hardwear undercuts the aforementioned Patagonia jackets by a sizable margin. And it doesn’t hurt that you get attractive styling with down-jacket like baffles, making the Ghost Shadow versatile for both performance and casual use.
See the Men's MH Ghost Shadow See the Women's MH Ghost Shadow
Weight: 12.3 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Gold with Cross Core (60g)
What we like: A super versatile jacket for everything from casual use to hiking and skiing.
What we don’t: Fit runs a bit trim.
It’s tough to pin down the Packaway Jacket. On one hand, it looks fairly unassuming and L.L. Bean is known for trending toward the casual end of the spectrum. On the other, it uses high-end PrimaLoft Gold with Cross Core, an advanced technology that is claimed to be 15% warmer without adding extra weight. The result is a jacket that is warm, packable, performs well in the wet and wind, and looks the part for everyday use and travel. Given the very reasonable $179 price tag, that’s a whole lot of bang for your buck.
It’s worth noting that the Packaway Jacket was redesigned for last winter, including the unique PrimaLoft insulation described above, an updated baffle design, and the use of 100%-recycled materials (this is a growing trend in the outdoor industry that is catching on in a big way). Taking into account all of the features including pockets (two hand, one chest, and one internal), a waist cinch for adjustability, and the ability to stuff down relatively small, in many ways the Packaway resembles the popular Patagonia Nano Puff, only cheaper.
See the Men's L.L. Bean Packaway See the Women's L.L. Bean Packaway
Weight: 13.9 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Silver Eco (60g)
What we like: Well priced and a number of performance-ready features.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Cotopaxi and Rab above and doesn’t stand out in any way.
REI’s in-house synthetic insulation has been hit or miss throughout the years, but we’re excited by their most recent offering. Joining their “Flash” lineup of fast-and-light inspired hiking products (including the Flash Air tent, Flash packs, and Flash hiking boots), the Flash Insulated Hybrid is a synthetic jacket built for performance use. The baffled design prioritizes warmth without bulk and stuffs away into its left hand pocket when not in use, and the latest version adds stretchy side panels for greater mobility and breathability. Moreover, it’s windproof and decently water-resistant, which translates to versatility as both a midlayer and outer layer.
But as with most of the Co-op’s products, the Flash Insulated Hybrid doesn’t quite measure up to competition from brands like Arc’teryx and Patagonia. You can expect fairly average warmth and breathability—PrimaLoft’s Silver is a step down in performance from their Gold—and the fit is rather unremarkable, albeit less boxy than you might expect for the price. Finally, at $179, the Flash is more expensive than both the Cotopaxi and Rab above, which outpace it in terms of style and performance (respectively). But the Flash nevertheless is a solid budget piece for light performance use, including cool-weather hikes and camping trips.
See the Men's REI Flash Insulated Hybrid See the Women's REI Flash Insulated Hybrid
|Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody||$260||13.2 oz.||Coreloft Compact (60g)||20D||No|
|Cotopaxi Teca Cálido Hooded||$150||13.2 oz.||Recycled polyester (60g)||Unavail.||Yes|
|The North Face Casaval Hoodie||$300||12.6 oz.||Ventrix (40g & 25g)||20 & 40D||Yes|
|Patagonia DAS Light Hoody||$349||11.3 oz.||PlumaFill (65g)||10D||Yes|
|Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody||$329||10.5 oz.||PlumaFill (65g)||10D||Yes|
|Rab Cirrus Flex 2.0 Hoodie||$175||14.9 oz.||PrimaLoft Silver Luxe||20D||Yes|
|Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody||$299||12.2 oz.||FullRange (60g)||33D||Yes|
|Norrøna Falketind Thermo60||$289||12.9 oz.||Pinecco (60g)||20 & 30D||Yes|
|Black Diamond First Light Stretch||$285||1 lb. 0.7 oz.||PrimaLoft Silver Active (60g)||40D||Yes|
|Patagonia Nano Puff||$229||11.9 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Eco (60g)||20D||Yes|
|Fjallraven Keb Padded Hoodie||$250||1 lb. 2 oz.||G-Loft Supreme (60g)||Unavail.||No|
|Outdoor Research SuperStrand LT||$219||10.9 oz.||VerticalX SuperStrand||12D||Yes|
|The North Face ThermoBall Eco 2.0||$199||15.2 oz.||PrimaLoft ThermoBall Eco||20D||Yes|
|Patagonia DAS Parka||$449||1 lb. 3.6 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Eco (133g+40g)||10D||Yes|
|Enlightened Equipment Torrid||$185||8.4 oz.||Climashield Apex (65g)||10D||Yes|
|Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow||$230||12 oz.||PrimaLoft Silver Hi-Loft (80g)||10x10D||Yes|
|L.L. Bean Packaway||$179||12.3 oz.||PrimaLoft Cross Core (60g)||20D||Yes|
|REI Co-op Flash Insulated Hybrid||$179||13.9 oz.||PrimaLoft Silver Eco (60g)||Unavail.||Yes|
- Types of Synthetic Insulated Jackets
- Water Resistance
- Hood or No Hood?
- Durability and Care
In general, we see two main styles of synthetic insulated jackets: those that aim for maximum warmth at a minimum weight and packed size (similar to a down jacket) and breathable offerings intended primarily for active use. Between these two categories, the key differences include the style of synthetic fill and the weight and makeup of the shell fabric. When considering which synthetic insulated jacket is best for you, choosing between these two categories is a great place to start.
Synthetic insulated jackets that mimic the style and function of down jackets are great for those concerned primarily with maximizing warmth and minimizing weight and bulk. These jackets pair thin, 100% nylon shells with synthetic filaments and fibers that look and act much like goose and duck plumage (Patagonia’s PlumaFill and The North Face’s ThermoBall are two of the biggest names). In most cases, baffles are used to keep the insulation in place. Much like down puffies, jackets in this category aren’t particularly good breathers, but they’re nevertheless great options for low-output endeavors or activities that prioritize weight-savings above all else, including multi-pitch rock climbing and backpacking. Some of our favorite down-mimicking offerings include the Patagonia Micro Puff, the Outdoor Research SuperStrand LT, and The North Face’s ThermoBall.
For high-output activities like backcountry skiing and hiking, we reach for a synthetic jacket in the active insulation category. These jackets feature soft and stretchy shell materials and sheets of synthetic insulation that don’t require baffles to keep them in place (common names include Coreloft, FullRange, and PrimaLoft Silver Active). While this style of insulation doesn’t mimic down plumage, it still does a great job trapping heat—albeit with more bulk and weight. Due to their more sweatshirt-like material, active insulation pieces move and breathe remarkably well but are less wind and water resistant than the all-nylon shells mentioned above. We love jackets in this category for all day wear and active use when comfort and mobility matter more than weight. Some of our favorite active insulation jackets include the TNF Summit Series Casaval, Patagonia Nano-Air, and Black Diamond First Light Stretch.
The single biggest selling point of synthetic fill over down fill is that it retains its ability to insulate when wet. With a down jacket, prolonged exposure to rain or snow will eventually lead to soaked feathers, causing them to lose their loft and warmth-creating potential. Even hydrophobic down technologies eventually give in to sustained moisture. A wet down jacket is heavy, won’t keep you warm, and takes much longer to dry out than a synthetic one. Synthetic insulation resists moisture and water instead sits between the fibers, allowing them to retain their shape, continue to insulate, and dry more quickly. The degree to which synthetic insulation resists water varies by type, but all synthetics repel moisture much better than down.
On both sides of the aisle, gear manufactures are commonly adding a DWR (durable water repellant) treatment to insulated jackets. This helps water bead off the shell instead of collecting and eventually soaking through to the interior of the jacket. DWR treatments do a pretty good job at repelling light to moderate precipitation, but by no means waterproof the jacket. Synthetic jackets do a much better job than down in wet conditions, but for prolonged exposure you will want to consider a rain shell.
Without actually trying on a synthetic jacket, it can be difficult to discern the level of warmth it will provide. The warmth of synthetic fill is measured in terms of the weight of a 1-meter by 1-meter piece: for example, 60-gram FullRange clocks in at 60 grams for the 1-meter-squared piece of insulation. The majority of insulations are around 60 to 65-gram, and in most cases a larger number indicates a warmer insulation. But what this number doesn’t tell you is how much of the insulation is stuffed in the jacket, which can make a sizable difference in warmth. Here, the weight of the jacket becomes our best clue.
There is a significant amount of variation in the warmth of our synthetic jacket picks above. Popular models like the Patagonia Nano Puff and Arc’teryx Atom LT fall into the lightweight category: both weigh around 12 ounces and are designed for cool-weather fall and spring use. Jackets like the Black Diamond First Light Stretch weigh approximately 17 ounces and are more midweight pieces. For freezing winter conditions, parkas like Patagonia's DAS are true winter-weight synthetic jackets. And compared to down, synthetic insulation creates less warmth for its weight. For example, you can expect that a 12-ounce down jacket will be noticeably warmer than a 12-ounce synthetic jacket. However, down-mimicking synthetics in particular do a pretty respectable job in this department and are only getting better.
The breathability of a synthetic jacket comes down to two main factors: the type of fill and the style of shell and lining materials used. Fills that mimic down tend to breathe the least, while active insulations like Coreloft and FullRange do a great job regulating heat. In terms of the shell materials, jackets with stretch-infused or sweatshirt-like fabrics are particularly good at moisture wicking and breathability, while all-nylon shells perform the worst.
If the purpose for your jacket involves movement (like backcountry touring, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing), active insulation pieces like the TNF Summit Series Casaval and Patagonia Nano-Air are great choices. These jackets deftly balance warmth and temperature regulation, and their soft shells keep mobility high. But it should come as no surprise that they are by nature more air permeable, meaning they don’t trap heat as well as down or down-mimicking synthetic jackets. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for all-out warmth (like the heavyweight Patagonia DAS Parka), expect breathability to suffer.
Synthetic insulation doesn’t compress quite as tightly as down, but recent improvements make it more impressive than ever. In general, down-mimicking jackets like the Patagonia Micro Puff and Outdoor Research SuperStrand LT have smaller packed sizes than active pieces like the Patagonia Nano-Air, due to the makeup of both the insulation and shell fabrics. Regardless of their packed size, most of the synthetic jackets on this list either pack down into a pocket or come with an included stuff sack. If packability is your highest priority, we still recommend a down jacket, but for casual use and adventuring when space isn’t at an absolute premium, synthetics aren’t far behind.
Synthetic jackets are comfortable thanks to their ability to regulate your body temperature. They’re the kind of mid or outer layer that you can wear out in the cold and not have to immediately peel off as you come indoors. The same is true when used as an active piece: you’ll find yourself keeping it on for far longer than an equivalent down jacket.
For example, we often put on a jacket like the Arc’teryx Atom LT or Patagonia Nano-Air when we leave the house and can wear it literally all day. We can walk the dog in 45-degree weather, then move indoors to the office without missing a beat. These synthetics are incredibly comfortable and breathe well enough even for indoor use—you feel like you're wearing your favorite hoody or fleece jacket. If we were to put on a comparable down jacket like the Arc’teryx Cerium LT, it would be too warm for physical activity or sitting indoors. So although down undoubtedly is warmer, we save it for uses like backpacking when we really value the warmth-to-weight.
Many of our top-ranked synthetic jackets are offered in either a hoody or non-hoody style. What’s best for you will come down to use: we reach for an insulated vest or non-hooded jacket as a midlayer while skiing or around town, and the hoody is great as an outer layer or if it’s really cold. For stop-and-go cold-weather activities like fall hiking, ski touring, or snowshoeing, a hoody is nice to have for keeping you warm while taking a break. Expect to pay $20 to $50 extra for the hoody version of the same piece. A down jacket purchase shares many of the same considerations, and we’ve covered this question in greater detail in the article: Does Your Down Jacket Need a Hood?
One big selling point of synthetic jackets is that they are easier to care for than down jackets. First, you don’t have to worry as much about moisture and they don’t lose feathers, meaning that you don’t have to be as vigilant about keeping a close eye on your jacket. Second, many synthetic jackets have relatively thick shells with some built-in stretch (including designs like the TNF Casaval and Patagonia Nano-Air), which lends great durability for everyday wear. And finally, most synthetic jackets are machine washable and don’t require special supplies and care for cleaning.
However, it’s important to note that synthetic insulation will break down over time, causing it to lose its loft and ability to trap heat. In this respect, it’s a much less durable product—we have down jackets passed down from our parents that are arguably just as warm today as they were 40 years ago. On the other hand, synthetic jackets certainly have a shorter lifespan and their insulating capabilities will not last throughout generations.
Synthetics have been less scrutinized than down—particularly by animal rights activists—but they have their own set of issues. For one, most are petroleum based, which results in greenhouse gas emissions and potentially unsafe work environments. Many manufacturers have attempted to make their production more sustainable by using recycled materials, which is a great start (in fact, most jackets here are built primarily with recycled shell materials and fill). To add to the debate, some synthetic fills release micro pieces of plastic into the water during each wash, an issue that is becoming more and more of a global problem. In the end, the most sustainable solution is to buy nothing at all and do what you can to extend the life of what you already own. And if you do make a purchase, we encourage you to be a responsible consumer and choose products made with a sustainable ethos.
The synthetic jackets on our list span a large price range, from around $150 for the Cotopaxi Teca Cálido to $449 for the winter-weight Patagonia DAS Parka. Jackets on the low end of the spectrum are great for casual use, but don’t expect them to breathe particularly well or pack down small. The $250 to $350 price range is where we see most jackets, including active insulation pieces like the Black Diamond First Light Stretch ($285) and down-mimicking designs like the Patagonia Micro Puff ($329). Most synthetic jackets priced at $300 or above will be very performance oriented—on our list, this includes both the Patagonia DAS Light and DAS Parka.
In general, it’s cheaper to produce synthetic insulation than to source down, and this is reflected in the price tag. What’s more, the cost of goose down has been going up, further incentivizing gear manufacturers to come up with new and sustainable down alternatives. Look for the synthetic market to continue to evolve, pushing ever closer to a true down replacement at a lower cost.
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