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 the 2021-2022 season, 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.
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, it’s tougher and shows less wear over time. And last fall, Arc’teryx updated the Atom LT with 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 Patagonia Nano-Air 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. For a similar jacket with more warmth, the Arc’teryx Atom AR uses thicker 120g Coreloft insulation around the core... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody See the Women's Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody
A Close Second (With Greater Breathability)
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-percent-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
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 Imitation of a Down Jacket
Weight: 9.3 oz.
Insulation: PlumaFill (65g)
What we like: Warm, light, packable, and resistant to moisture.
What we don’t: Expensive for a synthetic jacket and has a thin shell.
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 9 ounces, well-built, and comfortable. We also like that it packs down small for a synthetic, much like your favorite down jacket would.
Our issues with the Micro Puff are that it’s expensive and not super versatile. For $300, you could buy a premium down jacket like the Feathered Friends Eos that is similar in weight but warmer, although the Patagonia wins out in wet conditions (down will lose its loft and stop insulating). Additionally, the thin 10-denier shell fabric makes it one of the most fragile synthetic jackets on this list—we’ve put a number of holes in ours—and limits its everyday appeal (for a step up in durability, check out Patagonia’s DAS Light Hoody below). But we do love the warmth and packability of the Micro Puff, and it’s a fun lightweight piece for the right uses. And if you’re on the hunt for more insulation, Patagonia also makes the winter-ready Macro Puff (15.3 oz., $399)... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia Micro Puff See the Women's Patagonia Micro Puff
Best of the Rest
Weight: 14.7 oz.
Insulation: Coreloft Compact (60 and 80g)
What we like: For high-output activities, the Proton LT is significantly more breathable than the Atom LT.
What we don’t: Built for the cold and you can overheat in mild conditions.
One knock we have against our top-ranked Atom LT is breathability, which Arc’teryx’s more performance-oriented Proton line seeks to remedy. The Proton LT is a superb active insulation jacket, with 80-gram Coreloft Compact in the body and 60-gram in the hood (Coreloft Compact is more breathable and packable than the regular version used in the Atom). As expected from Arc’teryx, you also get a premium finish and fit, excellent mobility, and a stretchy face fabric that is both comfortable and durable. In practice, this jacket is a great match for high-output use in cold conditions and has become our go-to midlayer for backcountry skiing and other winter adventuring.
Why isn’t the Arc’teryx Proton LT ranked higher? At the end of the day, it’s a targeted piece that is most at home in the cold. If you’re really working hard in conditions above freezing, the Proton simply can be too much jacket and we’ve had a tendency to overheat and start sweating (when sedentary like sitting around camp, it can be good up to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit). On the other hand, it can't compete with the light weight and packability of down-mimicking jackets here, which is especially important for multi-pitch climbers and weight-conscious backpackers. But for active insulation that you can put on and keep on, the Proton LT is a top performer... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Proton LT See the Women's Arc'teryx Proton LT
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 trio of Patagonia synthetic jackets included near the top of 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 its lightweight and comfortable feel have made it popular for daily use, travel, and light adventuring. The Nano-Air is softer to the touch and more breathable, making it the performance pick of the group and a great option for active use. Finally, the Micro Puff is very close to a lightweight down jacket in terms of warmth and breathability, but it’s much more fragile and expensive than the Nano Puff. And new for 2021, Patagonia also offers the Pack In ($179), 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: 15 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 slightly more casual look, which, along with a boxy fit and middling breathability, makes it far from our first choice for performance-oriented endeavors like backcountry skiing or alpine rock climbing. Also, we’ve found TNF’s weight listing to be pretty far off: Our men’s medium ThermoBall Hoodie weighs 1 pound 0.5 ounces, so we’d expect the non-hooded jacket to be around 15 ounces (far more than the claimed 9.5 oz.). All that said, the ThermoBall’s smooth styling makes it a strong option for daily wear, and it’s both warm and comfortable as a midlayer while resort skiing... Read in-depth review
See the Men's The North Face ThermoBall See the Women's The North Face ThermoBall
Weight: 11.3 oz.
Insulation: PlumaFill (65g)
What we like: Class-leading warmth and weather resistance in a lightweight and packable build.
What we don’t: Expensive, not super breathable, and needs 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 the PlumaFill insulation of the Micro Puff above (billed as one of the loftiest and lightest fills on the market) alongside the Pertex Quantum Pro shell of the winter-ready DAS Parka below. The end 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 (and it still manages to include features like a helmet-compatible hood and two-way zipper, which the Micro Puff omits). For weight-conscious climbers and skiers who get out a lot in a range of conditions, it’s hard to beat.
It should come as no surprise that the DAS Light’s biggest competition comes from Arc’teryx in the form of their Nuclei FL below. For just a fraction of an ounce more, the Nuclei FL tacks on an adjustable hem and internal dump pockets, which are conspicuously omitted in the DAS Light’s design. But the Arc’teryx’s Arato shell is no match for the Patagonia’s Pertex Quantum Pro, which offers far more durability and protection than its 10-denier thickness would suggest (and a dramatic upgrade from the Micro Puff’s 10D nylon). We’ve tested this shell in a variety of conditions ranging from heavy rain to strong wind and have been blown away by its impermeable nature (which notably comes at the cost of some breathability). At $329, the DAS Light Hoody isn’t cheap, but the class-leading protection will be well worth the investment for many... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia DAS Light See the Women's Patagonia DAS Light
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 (and it's worth noting that BD also offers the First Light Hybrid, which has merino around back for even more breathability).
In the mold of Arc'teryx's Proton line, 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 added mobility and performance hood. For casual wear, we prefer the Atom LT or Nano-Air, but for serious skiers and climbers, the First Light Hoody is a top-notch synthetic jacket that is most at home in the backcountry... Read in-depth review
See the Men's BD First Light Stretch See the Women's BD First Light Stretch
Weight: 1 lb. 0.7 oz.
Insulation: VerticalX Eco SR (60g)
What we like: Solid warmth, great fit, and clean looks.
What we don’t: Heavy and lacks performance-oriented features.
For fall 2021, Outdoor Research replaced their Refuge with the new Shadow Hoodie. We’ll start by saying that there is a lot to like about this jacket: it’s comfortable for around-town wear with a pillow-y layer of VerticalX Eco SR insulation, which is now built from recycled and bio-based materials. Both the interior and exterior of the jacket have a nice soft feel with a light stretch, and the fit is just about perfect for both standalone and midlayer use. Last but not least, the Shadow offers a healthy amount of weather protection from both wind and water.
The Shadow Hoodie is most comparable to a jacket like the Patagonia Nano-Air above, with a sweatshirt-like shell that breathes well and is cozy enough to wear for lounging around the house. But unlike the Nano-Air, which is styled well for performance uses like climbing and skiing, OR is clear with the Shadow’s casual intentions. The jacket lacks a helmet-compatible hood, is on the heavy side at over a pound, and does not include a stuff pocket. But for casual applications like walking the dog, biking to the climbing gym, and resort skiing, the Shadow looks great and is priced well at just $199.
See the Men's Outdoor Research Shadow See the Women's Outdoor Research Shadow
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 $249. 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 (akin to that of the Nuclei FL), 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 $50 to $100 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: 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 ultralight synthetic jacket comes from Utah-based Nunatak with the PCT Pullover. The customization options are endless, from back and sleeve length to pockets and the actual amount of insulation. The PCT is warmer and heavier than the Torrid and built to handle tougher conditions, and both use continuous filaments for added durability. In terms of competition, that mostly comes from ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and various Montbell models, but the Enlightened Equipment and Nunatak prove that synthetic insulation is a real option for hardcore hiking and backpacking.
See the Men's Enlightened Equipment Torrid See the Women's Enlightened Equipment Torrid
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. Retooled last year, 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 warmest option on this list too (which is impressive given its 1 lb. 3.6 oz. weight). In fact, the DAS Parka is so insulative 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, Patagonia also released their DAS Light Hoody above, which features 65 grams of PlumaFill insulation (similar to the Micro Puff) in a more durable, weather-resistant, and slightly heavier build... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia DAS Parka See the Women's Patagonia DAS Parka
Weight: 11.5 oz.
Insulation: Coreloft Continuous (65g)
What we like: Excellent wind resistance and warmth despite its minimalist design.
What we don’t: Heavier than the Micro Puff above.
Arc’teryx is no stranger to synthetic jackets: their versatile Atom LT remains an industry standard, while their Proton series (seen in the LT above) is active insulation at its finest. Another pillar of their synthetic collection is the Nuclei FL, a lightweight and packable hoody designed for fast-and-light alpine pursuits. Arc’teryx accomplishes this with the thin shell fabric, minimal feature set, and compressible insulation with remarkable loft. It all adds up to a jacket that is warmer than the Atom LT and a better option for weight- and space-conscious alpine climbers and skiers.
The Nuclei FL takes direct aim at Patagonia’s Micro Puff (also $299), but despite similar intentions, the two jackets have some key differences. First off, Arc’teryx’s jacket lives up to its windproof designation with a virtually impermeable shell fabric, while the Patagonia gives up a lot with its highly baffled design. On the other hand, the Micro Puff is more than 2 ounces lighter, which is significant. Both jackets suffer in the breathability department and have painfully thin shells (the Patagonia is slightly less durable)... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Nuclei FL See the Women's Arc'teryx Nuclei FL
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 (9.3 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 $220, 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 percent 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 $169 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-percent-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: 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.
See the Fjallraven Keb Padded Hoodie See the Women's Keb Padded Hoodie
Weight: 9.5 oz.
Insulation: Coreloft (40g)
What we like: Lightweight with a great mix of protection and breathability.
What we don’t: Minimal insulation.
Arc’teryx’s Atom SL is one of the least insulated designs on our list but arguably one of the most versatile. This lightweight hoody excels during high-output activities like backcountry skiing, climbing, and even cold-weather running thanks to its excellent mix of protection, targeted warmth, and breathability. For insulation, you get a modest 40-gram Coreloft fill around the torso, while the side panels and underarms feature a thin fleece. Additionally, the shell and liner nicely balance wind and moisture resistance with enough air permeability to stay comfortable when working hard (it’s become an all-time favorite of ours while skinning). Last but certainly not least, its ultralight weight (our men’s medium is 9.5 oz.) and compressible build make it easy to squeeze into just about any pack.
The flipside of the Atom SL’s high-output performance is that it’s not very warm. Simply put, this relatively thin jacket shouldn’t be your only form of insulation if temperatures dip below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it far less of an all-rounder compared with our top picks above in terms of shoulder-season use around town or as your midlayer in the cold. That said, the SL fits nicely under a warmer jacket thanks to its slim cut and minimalist hood (you can even roll the hood up and secure it to the collar). In the end, its combination of a relatively steep $229 price and limited warmth makes the Atom SL a bit of a niche piece, but for the right user and temperature range, it’s a near-perfect active layer... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Atom SL See the Women's Arc'teryx Atom SL
Weight: 11.3 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Silver Eco (60g)
What we like: Well priced and a number of performance-ready features.
What we don’t: 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 new Flash hiking boots), the Flash Insulated is a lightweight jacket built for performance use. The baffled design prioritizes warmth without bulk, stuffs away into its left hand pocket when not in use, and clocks in at a respectable 11.3 ounces. 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 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 from a budget piece. And at the time of publishing, the Flash comes in a non-hooded version for men and a hooded version for women ($159), which limits your options. But dollar for dollar, the Flash is a solid budget jacket for light performance use, including cool-weather hikes and camping trips.
See the Men's REI Flash Insulated See the Women's REI Flash Insulated Hoodie
|Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody||$259||13.2 oz.||Coreloft Compact (60g)||20D||No|
|Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody||$299||12.2 oz.||FullRange (60g)||33D||Yes|
|Cotopaxi Teca Cálido Hooded||$150||13.2 oz.||Recycled polyester (60g)||Unavail.||Yes|
|Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody||$299||9.3 oz.||PlumaFill (65g)||10D||Yes|
|Arc'teryx Proton LT||$299||14.7 oz.||Coreloft Compact (60g & 80g)||20D||No|
|Patagonia Nano Puff||$199||11.9 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Eco (60g)||20D||Yes|
|The North Face ThermoBall Eco||$199||15 oz.||PrimaLoft ThermoBall Eco||20D||Yes|
|Patagonia DAS Light Hoody||$329||11.3 oz.||PlumaFill (65g)||10D||Yes|
|Black Diamond First Light Stretch||$260||1 lb. 0.7 oz.||PrimaLoft Silver Active (60g)||40D||Yes|
|Outdoor Research Shadow Hoodie||$199||1 lb. 0.7 oz.||VerticalX Eco SR (60g)||20D||Yes|
|Norrøna Falketind Thermo60||$249||12.9 oz.||Pinecco (60g)||Unavail.||Yes|
|Enlightened Equipment Torrid||$175||8.4 oz.||Climashield Apex (65g)||10D||Yes|
|Patagonia DAS Parka||$449||1 lb. 3.6 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Eco (133g+40g)||10D||Yes|
|Arc'teryx Nuclei FL||$299||11.5 oz.||Coreloft Continuous (65g)||10D||Yes|
|Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow||$220||12 oz.||PrimaLoft Silver Hi-Loft (80g)||10x10D||Yes|
|L.L. Bean Packaway||$169||12.3 oz.||PrimaLoft Cross Core (60g)||20D||Yes|
|Fjallraven Keb Padded Hoodie||$250||1 lb. 2 oz.||G-Loft Supreme (60g)||Unavail.||No|
|Arc'teryx Atom SL Hoody||$229||9.5 oz.||Coreloft (40g)||20D||No|
|REI Co-op Flash Insulated||$149||11.3 oz.||PrimaLoft Silver Eco (60g)||20D||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-percent 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 and Nano Puff, the Arc’teryx Nuclei FL, 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 Patagonia Nano-Air, Arc’teryx Proton LT, 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 Patagonia Nano-Air and Arc’teryx Proton LT 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 Arc’teryx Nuclei FL 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 outerlayer 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 outerlayer 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 Patagonia Nano-Air and Black Diamond First Light), 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 $300 price range is where we see most jackets, including active insulation pieces like the Black Diamond First Light Stretch ($260) and down-mimicking designs like the Patagonia Micro Puff ($299). 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.
Back to Our Top Synthetic Jacket Picks Back to Our Synthetic Jacket Comparison Table