Synthetic jackets are hot ticket items these days, and the buzz has been particularly strong around Patagonia’s Micro Puff. Taking the polyester fill game in a different direction than their Nano-Air, which is a highly breathable performance piece, the Micro Puff sets out to emulate all the benefits of a down jacket. The results are mixed: the new hoody is lightweight, packs small, and even has the lofty feel of down, but it falls short in terms of durability and is rather pricey at $299. Below we break down the Micro Puff’s weight and packability, warmth, weather protection, durability, fit, and more.
A jacket must be light to be considered a true down alternative, and the Micro Puff Hoody delivers in this regard. The women’s model weighs in at 8 ounces (and on our scale, the men’s hoody in a medium size is 9.2 ounces), which frankly is pretty amazing. For reference, Patagonia’s popular synthetic Nano Puff Hoody is 10.8 ounces, and their top lightweight down jacket, the Down Sweater Hoody, checks in at 13.1 ounces. Widen the field to the larger synthetic market, and it’s clear the Micro Puff is in a league of its own—leading hooded options like the Arc’teryx Atom LT (11.6 oz.) and The North Face ThermoBall (14.4 oz.) don’t come close. You have to sacrifice warmth significantly with a design like the Arc’teryx Atom SL (8.3 oz.) to match it. To be sure, Patagonia nailed the warmth-to-weight part of the equation.
The Micro Puff also wins in terms of packability. The jacket stuffs easily into its left hand zippered pocket and can be scrunched to an even smaller size when squeezed into a loaded backpack or with a compression sack. Its built-in carabiner loop makes it equally convenient to hang on a harness for use as a belay jacket on multi-pitch climbs. Again, the Micro Puff’s a standout in the synthetic market where limited compressibility often means that these jackets get left at home on fast and light trips. You technically could compress a superlight, premium down jacket to a smaller size, but you’re risking damaging the down clusters in the process—and for many, down is just too finicky for mountain environments due to concerns over wet-weather performance. Realistically, the packed size of the Micro Puff should please even the most discerning ULers and climbers.
Our initial impressions of the Patagonia Micro Puff were very strong, but we were a little less enthused once it came to cold weather testing. Wearing it back-to-back with a range of jackets, including the The North Face Ventrix, Patagonia’s Nano-Air and Nano Puff, and a host of lightweight down pieces, the Micro Puff offered decidedly less insulation. The 65-gram PlumaFill synthetic has the puffy feel of premium goose down or duck clusters, but you just don’t get nearly the same cozy warmth. For comparison’s sake, we rank the jacket’s overall warmth at a little less than the Patagonia Nano Puff, which features 60-gram PrimaLoft. And held up to the standards of down jackets like the Arc’teryx Cerium LT or Feathered Friends Eos, the warmth of the Micro Puff comes up well short.
It’s always difficult to assign a temperature range for an insulated piece, but we found the Micro Puff kept us reasonably comfortable into approximately the mid 40s Fahrenheit with a thin baselayer underneath. This makes it a suitable option for use around camp on lower elevation summer backpacking or biking trips, as a belay jacket for summer alpine climbing, and some mild weather shoulder season adventures. In theory, you could wear the Micro Puff in colder temperatures when working hard, but for a true leave-it-on active layer, the Patagonia Nano-Air is a far more breathable option. In short, for everything but the most light-and-fast endeavors, we would trade another ounce or two in total weight for a boost in warmth.
That said, fast-and-light endeavors are the bread and butter of the Micro Puff, and the reason for its creation. Despite our qualms about its warmth, it is important to remember that the Micro Puff is dramatically lighter and far more packable than the competition. Quite simply, its warmth-to-weight ratio is unparalleled by all but ultralight down jackets, which are unrecommended for the rigors of wet alpine environments. As proof, we know of experienced climbers whose layering system for the mountains consists of two Micro Puffs (no hardshell or heavier down layer)—a true testament to the jacket’s warmth-to-weight prowess, as well as its weather protection (more on this below).
One advantage of synthetic insulation over down is its ability to insulate when wet. The Micro Puff Hoody has a leg up on a down jacket in this respect, and it also includes a shell with a DWR coating that sheds light to moderate rainfall surprisingly well. We even gave the Mirco Puff the shower test and it was quite impressive. The DWR is fresh, so that certainly helped, but we can see why so many brands turn to Pertex fabrics. Wind protection also is strong, aided by the windproof nylon Pertex Quantum, minimalist stitching, and continuous insulation design that limit vulnerabilities for gusts to cut through.
The Micro Puff is not, however, a full-on rain jacket. In heavy rain or on backcountry jaunts, we’d be reaching for a waterproof shell to stay dry whether we were wearing the Micro Puff or a down insulator. But if you like the security blanket of synthetic fill, then this is one of the Micro Puff’s biggest upsides over a down piece. It feels like down, yet won’t soak up water in the same way.
Features: Pockets and Hood
From a features standpoint, we really like the decisions Patagonia has made with the Micro Puff. You get two hand warmer pockets that are comfortable, generously sized, and offer warmth and wind protection, along with two simple drop-in style pockets along the interior. The pockets mirror each other in size and share stitching to keep weight to a minimum. Those that love big chest pockets may be disappointed, and we’re honestly surprised Patagonia didn’t place the hand warmer pockets a bit higher to make them more accessible while wearing a backpack or harness. Other than those small gripes, we have little else to complain about with respect to storage.
The hood also is functional and thoughtfully designed. While it doesn’t include a rear cinch to make adjustments, you get excellent coverage along the sides of the face and top of the forehead, and the elasticized band and tall collar keep everything securely in place. For climbers and skiers, we’ve found the hood fits nicely underneath a helmet without bunching, and stays in place surprisingly well when stretched overtop a helmet too. Going without a toggle and cord on the hood often is a red flag for windy conditions, but we think Patagonia pulled this off very well.
Every piece of ultralight gear or apparel compromises in durability, so it shouldn’t be shocking that the 8-ounce Micro Puff has a thin and delicate shell and lining. We’ve had varying experiences with this fabric—our hiking testers found the 10-denier Pertex Quantum fabric to be reasonably strong relative to its weight, while our rock climbing tester is convinced that it tears just within the presence of granite. But the proof is in the pudding: after a year of climbing with the Micro Puff, our tester’s jacket now sports more than 30 patches keeping the synthetic fill from exiting the jacket’s myriad abrasions. As a layer designed for the rigors of alpine climbing, we’re overall disappointed in the shell fabric’s lack of durability.
We love insulated layers that can be worn every day of the week, but the Micro Puff simply isn’t one of them. At first glance, the jacket fits the bill for wearing around town—plenty of storage, smooth and comfortable fabric, good Patagonia looks and comfort, and a nice fit—but upon closer look it is a true niche piece. The limited durability of the paper-thin shell has a large impact on usability, in addition to the concerningly flimsy front zip. Those who don’t mind a heavily-patched jacket will find no reason to be economical with its use, but for most, this expensive jacket is likely to be kept on a hanger in between backcountry trips.
A number of insulated Patagonia jackets leave something to be desired from a fit perspective, but we like what they’ve done with the Micro Puff. Our two testers got their typical sizes and found the Micro Puff wasn’t as bulky in the shoulders or midsection as the Nano Puff or Down Sweater. And while it’s not slim like many Arc’teryx midlayers, it hits a happy medium that allows for good range of motion and enough space to wear a thick baselayer underneath. The hem isn’t adjustable, but the jacket is plenty long, stays put under a harness, and the stretchy waistband has a lot of give. And as touched on above, the hood is well designed and provides excellent coverage.
Other Versions of the Micro Puff
We tested the women’s and men’s versions of the Micro Puff, both in hoody form. Patagonia has since expanded the line-up to include an ultralight vest (5 oz. for the women’s) and standard, non-hooded jacket (7.3 oz.). Of the three designs, we think the hoody still makes the most sense considering the Micro Puff’s goal of maximizing warmth relative to weight, but the vest and non-hooded jacket are easier to layer under a shell. And a final note: Patagonia has recently announced the Macro Puff jacket for 2019, which offers a serious boost in warmth via 135-gram PlumaFill synthetic insulation (compared with the Micro Puff’s 65g) in the torso.
What We Like
- Amazing warmth-to-weight ratio: about 3 to 5 ounces less than comparable lightweight synthetic hoodies.
- Packs down as small as a down jacket but offers more protection and warmth in inclement weather.
- Great-fitting hood and a well-rounded feature set for performance and everyday use.
- Nice fit that trims some of the boxy-ness away from other Patagonia pieces.
What We Don’t
- Less warm than a down jacket of a similar price and weight.
- The thin shell fabric tears very easily.
- Expensive at $299 for the level of warmth and usability.
|Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody||$299||Synthetic||8 oz.||PlumaFill (65g)||10D||Yes|
|Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody||$249||Synthetic||10.8 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Eco (60g)||22D||Yes|
|Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody||$259||Synthetic||11.6 oz.||Coreloft (60g)||20D||No|
|Feathered Friends Eos||$309||Down||9 oz.||900-fill down (3.7 oz.)||12Dx20D||Yes|
|Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody||$379||Hybrid||9.9 oz.||850-fill down & Coreloft||10D||Yes|
Patagonia’s latest addition to their impressive fleet of insulated jackets is likely their most interesting yet. The Nano Puff set the standard for lightweight synthetics years ago, and the more recent Nano-Air was a big jump in active insulation technology. The Micro Puff is impressive in a lot of ways, but it’s the most niche option of the three. The Nano Puff is more affordable and practical for everyday use—although the Micro Puff’s slimmer cut is a nice upgrade—and the Nano-Air is the one we’d wear while working up a sweat in the mountains. But having discontinued their Ultralight Down jacket, the Micro Puff is now our preferred insulator for backpacking or climbing trips.
Stacked up against leading synthetic jackets, the Micro Puff makes a pretty strong case for weight-conscious outdoorspeople. Models like the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody, The North Face ThermoBall, and Rab Xenon X are similarly warm but 3 to 5 ounces heavier and not nearly as compressible. If you’re set on synthetic fill and want the lightest option around, the Micro Puff could very well be the ideal choice. But it does come at a premium price—at $299, the Micro Puff is $40 more than the already-spendy Atom LT and it doesn’t have the cozy, stretchy feel or everyday functionality of that Arc’teryx piece.
The ultimate test of the Micro Puff is within the lightweight down jacket category. There are a number of quality options, including the Arc’teryx Cerium LT and Feathered Friends Eos. The Micro Puff wins out in weight, packed size, comfort, and price (barely), and it gets the advantage in wet weather performance with its synthetic fill. But it just can’t compete in terms of warmth—the Arc’teryx and Feathered Friends options weigh less than 2 ounces more than the Micro Puff, but are far more practical for keeping you comfortable in the cold. In the end, we found the Micro Puff to be a great study in the potential for a light, packable, and warm synthetic, but it hasn’t knocked down jackets off their pedestal just yet.
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