Synthetic insulation might not offer quite the warmth-to-weight ratio of down, but it resists moisture, breathes better, and is more cost-efficient. With the choice of both types of jackets in our gear closet, we find ourselves consistently reaching for synthetics for performance use, including alpine climbing, ski touring, and wet-weather hiking and backpacking. Below are our picks for the best synthetic insulated jackets of 2023, including casual offerings, minimalist down-mimicking designs, and active insulators built for breathability. For more background, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks. Of note: This article includes picks for both men and women, but we’ve also written a dedicated round-up on the best women’s synthetic insulated jackets.
- Best Overall Synthetic Jacket: Arc'teryx Atom 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: 13.1 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 Hoody (previously called 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—including an adjustable insulated hood and stretch-knit cuffs—and a sleek design. Unlike Patagonia's Nano-Air below that has a softer shell and interior fabric, the Atom is tough and shows less wear over time. And with a just-right fit and articulated patterning that boosts mobility, it works great both as an outer layer or midlayer.
We’ve worn the Atom 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 jackets like the Casaval or Proton Lightweight below, but the Coreloft Compact insulation and stretchy fleece side panels still work well for active use. On the other hand, it can't match the light weight and packability of the down-mimicking pieces here, but we still don't hesitate to bring it along on most backcountry outings. Most of all, we love the versatility: The Atom is no slouch when it comes to performance, but it’s also one of the best options on this list for everyday wear... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Atom 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 TNF Casaval below, and the Cotopaxi certainly doesn’t compete with the Micro Puff (also 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 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 is 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. The Casaval is also no longer available in a women’s version. For something a little different, The North Face offers the Casaval Hybrid in both men’s and women’s, which uses thicker 60-gram insulation (40g in the hood) with softshell panels along the underarms and hem for added mobility.
See The North Face Summit Series 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 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 just a few abrasions despite over three years of hard use). On the other hand, we don’t love the DAS Light as a midlayer (breathability is noticeably compromised and the fit is rather roomy), 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 many brands have attempted, 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, and compresses quite small for a synthetic, which makes it a nice companion for space-conscious activities like multi-pitch climbing and backcountry skiing. And with a recent update, the jacket now features a more durable NetPlus shell (made with recycled fishing nets) and a longer, slightly trimmer fit that slides well under a hardshell.
The Micro Puff has a lot of similarities to the DAS Light above, including their PlumaFill insulation, 10-denier shells, and very packable designs. But the two jackets have quite different uses in our arsenal. While we love the DAS Light as an outer layer, the Micro Puff is the better midlayer thanks to its trimmer fit and increased breathability (it lacks the DAS Light’s Pertex Quantum shell). It also comes in a non-hooded version, which can be great when pairing the jacket with a hooded hardshell or rain jacket. On the other hand, the DAS Light is the more versatile design, with a more accommodating fit, 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 $165), 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: 14.1 oz.
Insulation: FullRange (60g)
What we like: Best-in-class comfort.
What we don’t: Doesn’t excel in any performance category.
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 feels like a combination of a high-end performance piece and your favorite sweatshirt; it’s extremely soft, stretchy, and breathable. Climbers and active folks love its ability to move and breathe (the FullRange insulation and stretchy shell are noticeably more airy than the Atom above), and you won’t find a cozier piece for daily use or travel. Back when the jacket was introduced, Patagonia marketed it with a “put it on, leave it on” campaign, which is a great synopsis of the Nano-Air’s strengths.
The Nano-Air was updated for 2023, and the latest version features a regular fit (the outgoing model was slim-fitting), a slightly lighter and 100%-recycled face fabric, extra chest pocket, and adjustable hem. But despite having a price tag that rivals many of our top picks, the jacket doesn’t shine in any performance category. It’s fairly heavy and bulky at 14.1 ounces, isn’t particularly weather protective (you do get a PFC-free DWR), and with thicker insulation and roomier dimensions, it can’t compete with the Casaval for active use. But for daily wear, casual backpacking, and even resort skiing, you won’t find a more comfortable jacket. It’s also worth checking out Patagonia’s Nano-Air Light Hybrid ($299), which uses 40-gram FullRange insulation at the front and patterns more breathable fleece at the back and under the arms.
See the Men's Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody See the Women's Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody
Weight: 12.1 oz.
Insulation: Octa Loft
What we like: Trim-fitting, moderate warmth for active pursuits; exposed insulation boosts breathability.
What we don’t: Not as warm as most jackets here.
The North Face’s Casaval above is our top pick for high-output activity, but there’s no shortage of competition in the active insulation space. Arc’teryx’s Proton Lightweight is another premium option: Like the Casaval, the Proton Lightweight is designed to move and breathe with the body, thanks to its soft and supple shell fabric and trim fit. But the inside is where things get interesting, with exposed Octa Loft insulation (which looks a bit like fleece but with more heat-trapping and moisture-wicking fibers) and a linerless design that boosts breathability by a noticeable margin. All told, the Proton Lightweight offers an ideal combination of insulation, wind- and water-resistance, and breathability for truly heart-pumping activities like ski touring, Nordic skiing, and winter running.
We’re big fans of the Proton Lightweight’s linerless design: It’s ridiculously breathable, very soft next to skin, and packs down small. But those features do mean that the jacket doesn’t trap warmth quite as well at rest (we don’t recommend it for non-active use), and we have durability concerns with the exposed Octa Loft insulation. What’s more, you can save a lot of cash by opting for a technical fleece instead—Patagonia’s R1 TechFace Hoody costs $189, for example—which will provide similar levels of weather resistance and warmth. But we love the mobility and packability of the Proton Lightweight (a fleece will be bulkier and more restrictive), and $260 isn’t unreasonable for a synthetic jacket. It’s also worth taking a look at the standard Proton Hoody, which features a more traditional synthetic build (with 60 and 80g Coreloft Compact) but retains the focus on breathability.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Proton Lightweight See the Women's Arc'teryx Proton Lightweight
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: 14.3 oz.
Insulation: PrimaLoft Gold Active
What we like: A stretchy and breathable insulator, purpose-built for skiing and climbing.
What we don’t: Not quite as durable as the Nano-Air above.
Black Diamond specializes in climbing and skiing, and their jacket collection reflects this expertise with a number of purpose-built offerings for everything from expedition use to heart-pumping dawn patrols. 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 jacket’s 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 Nano-Air 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 soft, supple face fabric that can take some use and abuse and holds up decently to light rain or snow (thanks to a PFC-free DWR). And with a recent update to PrimaLoft Gold Active insulation (along with a baffle-free design), the current jacket is both lighter and more efficient than the outgoing model. It's a tough call between the First Light Stretch and the aforementioned Nano-Air: The Patagonia has thicker face fabric (30D vs. 20D) and an extra external chest pocket, while the Black Diamond is slightly more trimmed down for performance use (and over $30 cheaper). In the end, both are great active insulators that will get the job done both in the mountains and around town. Finally, it's also worth checking out the First Light Hybrid Hoody ($275), which adds panels of merino wool at the back and sleeves for even better temperature regulation.
See the Men's BD First Light Stretch Hoody See the Women's BD 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 Micro Puff 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 Light Hybrid 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... 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 ($205), 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 $235—almost $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 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: 13.4 oz.
Insulation: ThermaCloud AF
What we like: Attractive styling that mimics a down jacket.
What we don’t: Heavier than the ultralight competition.
Mountain Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer is one of our favorite ultralight down jackets, but—as we know—down has its limitations. For wet climates, their new synthetic insulated Ventano is a much more reliable option. The Ventano retains the look and feel of a down puffy, with lofty ThermaCloud AF fill, horizontal baffles, a thin (15D) ripstop nylon shell, and a packable design that stuffs into its hand pocket. But unlike the minimalist Ghost Whisperer, it tacks on a number of useful features, including three external pockets, dual hem adjusters, and a hood cinch.
Down-mimicking jackets are often our go-tos for weight- and space-conscious endeavors, but the Ventano isn’t as streamlined as our top picks. At 13.4 ounces, it’s significantly heavier than Patagonia’s DAS Light and Micro Puff (11.3 and 10.4 oz., respectively) and doesn’t pack down quite as small. What’s more, the jacket’s simple nylon shell can’t match the weather resistance of the DAS Light’s Pertex Quantum Pro. But it’s hard to argue with the price—at just $250, the Mountain Hardwear undercuts the Patagonia jackets by a sizable margin. On top of that, its attractive styling is arguably more versatile for wearing around town. For an active insulator from Mountain Hardwear similar to the likes of the Nano-Air above, check out their new Kor Stasis Hoody ($275).
See the Men's Mountain Hardwear Ventano Hoody See the Women's MH Ventano Hoody
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
|Arc’teryx Atom Hoody||$300||13.1 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||$329||14.1 oz.||FullRange (60g)||30D||Yes|
|Arc’teryx Proton Lightweight||$260||12.1 oz.||Octa Loft||20D||No|
|Norrøna Falketind Thermo60||$289||12.9 oz.||Pinecco (60g)||20 & 30D||Yes|
|Black Diamond First Light Stretch||$295||14.3 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Active||20D||Yes|
|Patagonia Nano Puff||$239||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||$235||10.9 oz.||VerticalX SuperStrand||12D||Yes|
|The North Face ThermoBall Eco 2.0||$230||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 Ventano Hoody||$250||13.4 oz.||ThermaCloud AF||15D||Yes|
|L.L. Bean Packaway||$179||12.3 oz.||PrimaLoft Cross Core (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% 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 Gold 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 Arc'teryx Atom, TNF Summit Series Casaval, and Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody.
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 represent the middle ground: Both weigh 13 to 14 ounces and are designed for cool-weather fall and spring use. Jackets like the Casaval and Proton Lightweight use lighter insulation (the former features 40- and 25-g Ventrix) and are ideal for active use, but might not provide enough warmth for everyday wear. 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 Arc'teryx Proton Lightweight 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 Arc'teryx Atom, 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 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 Patagonia Nano-Air and Black Diamond First Light Stretch), 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 ($295) and down-mimicking designs like the Patagonia Micro Puff ($329). Most synthetic jackets priced at $350 or above will be very specialized—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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