Patagonia’s Nano-Air took the active insulation market by storm, designed to be a synthetic jacket that truly can be worn all day through a variety of conditions and activities. After testing the past-generation hoody while ski touring, we took the updated-for-2019 women's jacket backpacking in the mountains of eastern Idaho. In short, despite its lighter weight and slight design changes, the Nano-Air remains one of softest and most comfortable synthetic jackets on the market. Below we break down the Nano-Air’s warmth, breathability, weather protection, weight, durability, fit, and more. To see how it stacks up, see our articles on the best synthetic jackets and best midlayers.
Before diving into the performance aspects of the Patagonia Nano-Air, we’ll start by discussing wearing it casually, which many people do. We purchased a non-hooded version of this jacket right when it was first released and wore it religiously around the Pacific Northwest as our primary outer layer. For months on end, we wore it over t-shirts, during light exercise, and even inside while working on the computer. The softness of the Nano-Air line is unparalleled—it reminds us of our favorite hoody, except with a much cozier and more pillowy feel.
At$249 for the non-hooded jacket and $299 for the hoody, the Nano-Air undeniably is pricey. In addition, we’ve found the super-soft fabric does have a tendency to show wear and scuffs more quickly than we would like, although the recent update did address many of these concerns (more on that in “Durability” below). All in all, this jacket is ridiculously comfortable, breathes and stretches well, and even beads up light moisture with ease. If we had to choose just one jacket to wear on a daily basis and for outdoors activities, the Nano-Air would get the slight nod over another favorite synthetic, the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody, which doesn’t breathe quite as well.
The Patagonia Nano-Air’s wide comfort range is one of its defining features. Starting with aerobic activity, the Nano-Air Jacket is great for cool-weather hiking down to around freezing (depending on your layers and how cold you run, of course). The DWR finish means that you can wear it during light to moderate precipitation, and the 60-gram FullRange synthetic won’t soak up moisture and lose its ability to insulate like down. The jacket also makes a really cozy midlayer for less intensive activities like downhill skiing and camping. I spent a few days along the rocky shore of Upper Palisades Lake in eastern Idaho, where the Nano-Air kept me warm and comfortable on a chilly alpine evening as I cooked dinner at camp. Paired with a light baselayer, the combination was ideal, even when I woke up to a frosty tent the next morning. All that said, I did find myself wishing for a little extra warmth around my head and neck, which is why I’d opt for the hoody next time.
As an active insulation piece, the Patagonia Nano-Air is surprisingly warm. While testing past generations of the hooded version, one of our testers found it to be too warm even for the downhill while ski touring in late winter sunshine. To be fair, snow conditions were poor and the terrain was challenging, but we still found it too warm to wear while seriously moving unless it was colder than about 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 Celsius). In our experience, the ideal temperature band for the jacket as a single layer while ski touring seems to be around 23 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 to -10 Celsius). In warmer conditions, the Nano-Air was simply too much jacket (moving quickly in just a baselayer or a light shell to break the wind was more comfortable). We would often pull out this layer during breaks, and then ski for about ten minutes with the jacket on until we warmed up too much to wear it any further.
One of the big selling points of the Patagonia Nano-Air is breathability (it is categorized as an active insulation piece after all). The jacket is designed to be worn all day without taking off—which is especially helpful for stop-and-go activities. During my backpacking trip in Idaho, I was impressed by how comfortable I stayed wearing the jacket during big temperature swings. I never overheated while running around to complete camp chores, and when I sat down to cook dinner at sunset, I quickly cooled off without growing cold. Another tester had a similarly positive experience while ski mountaineering: on a cold day bootpacking up to the summit, the jacket provided a good amount of insulation without overheating on the climb up. On the summit, he stayed warm and comfortable while others were layering up when standing for photos.
A downside of the highly breathable fabric is the ability for wind to flow through. In the backcountry, I found that the Nano-Air felt noticeably drafty when storms rolled in (and again, the hoody version would have been a better bet). For extended breaks in the wind, I would want to pair this with a hardshell or wind breaker. In colder conditions, wearing a lightweight fleece or added insulation underneath—or opting instead for a slightly beefier midlayer like the Arc’teryx Atom LT, which has a wind-resistant exterior—also could be a good upgrade.
One of the best features of synthetic insulation is that, unlike down, it will continue to insulate when wet. For casual use and hiking in light precipitation, you likely won’t need a rain jacket, especially if you’re not out for extended periods (plus the Nano-Air also dries out very quickly). When camping with the Nano-Air, I came to appreciate this weather protection almost instantly, especially around the cuffs. I hate when cuffs wet out while performing camp tasks in the rain, but the stretchy fabric on the arms stayed bone-dry in light precipitation. The rest of the jacket was equally impressive: water droplets beaded up on the blue fabric and never penetrated the outer layer. When skiing with the hooded version, the jacket wetted out after around two hours of heavy snowflakes accumulating on it. Our tester stayed warm, but we would recommend layering up with a hardshell in prolonged rain or snow.
My women’s medium Nano-Air Jacket clocked in at 10.5 ounces (the listed weight is an ounce lighter for a size small), which puts it on the lightweight end of the synthetic jacket market. Black Diamond’s First Light Jacket (14.6 ounces) and The North Face Ventrix Jacket (10.6 ounces) are heavier, although the BD does utilize a thicker shell material for improved durability. Arc’teryx’s very popular Atom LT Jacket is closer to the Nano-Air at 9.9 ounces, but its shell fabric can’t compete in terms of air permeability. Finally, Patagonia’s own Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket is the ultralight option at 9.2 ounces, but it isn’t as warm (the waffle knit along the back and sides breathes even better, however). In most instances, the Nano-Air’s weight is perfectly acceptable for throwing in a pack on year-round backcountry missions. And if we’re looking to go truly ultralight, we’ll grab a down jacket instead.
The Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket comes with three pockets: two handwarmer pockets and one left chest pocket, all of which are generously deep. In short, I was never worried about an item falling out, even if the pockets were only partially zipped. The chest pocket opening is fairly small, but I was able to stow my smartphone or an energy bar without issue. This pocket also doubles as a stuff sack, and while the synthetic FullRange insulation isn't as compressible as down, the jacket stuffs down into the size of a small melon. I did find it challenging to pack the Nano-Air because of the pocket’s narrow opening, but it’s definitely possible with some patience and effort.
In the past, we found that the Nano-Air’s blanket-like softness translated to premature pilling in high-use areas like the hem and cuffs. However, after heavy use in the newest version, the jacket shows no signs of wear and looks as good as it did on day one. I’ve also found the outer fabric repels stains much better than other Patagonia jackets (for example, my Fitz Roy Down Parka looked as if it had seen an entire year of use after just a single day). In the end, all signs are positive that the Nano-Air will continue to live up to our high standards. And it’s nice that the Nano-Air is easily machine-washable—we’ve done so numerous times without issue.
Patagonia describes the fit as “slim” with the Nano-Air Jacket, and I agree with that designation. For reference, I am 5’5” and 135 pounds, and the women’s medium fit me well overall with a bit of room to spare (I was wearing a heavy baselayer underneath). The trim fit effectively keeps the material out of the way during technical pursuits like climbing or steep scrambling, and it also looks good for around-town use. Further, the bottoms of the cuffs are stretchy and low-profile—I was able to slide a large pair of gloves over the top or slip liner gloves underneath. The arms and body were a bit on the long side for me, but I appreciated the extra coverage.
Compared to the past versions of the Nano-Air, the newest iteration replaces quilted side panels with smooth material all around, giving it a much more streamlined look. Further, Patagonia chose to forego the bottom hem drawcord this time around, instead opting for a slight stretch in the hem with no adjustability (this was an excellent solution, in my opinion). All things considered, I think the fit-related changes were implemented extremely well into the jacket’s design.
Do You Need a Hood?
We tested the retooled women’s Nano-Air Jacket, and Patagonia also released it in a revamped hoody version. In the end, I wish I had ordered the hoody for cold evenings or during breaks—the added coverage would have helped immensely. We’ve tested prior versions of the Nano-Air Hoody and found that it was incredibly well-executed: the close-fitting, scuba-style hood was stretchy enough to put on and off even with the front zipper all the way up. Our only complaint is that the hood didn’t fit well around a climbing helmet, but we would layer up with a hardshell jacket with a helmet-compatible hood in especially stormy conditions.
Other Versions of the Patagonia Nano-Air
As I touched on above, I tested the women’s Nano-Air Jacket, which is joined by a hooded version in Patagonia's lineup. Compared to the past model, the newer Nano-Air is lighter by an ounce and uses an 87-percent-recycled polyester shell and lining. Both the jacket and hoody are available in men’s versions—the men’s Nano-Air Jacket costs the same as the one we tested here at $249 but weighs slightly more at 11.2 ounces and is offered in different colorways. It’s also worth noting that Patagonia sells the Nano-Air Light Hybrid, which has a mesh back and is reviewed here. This is more of a specialized active insulation piece that’s less warm and versatile than the standard Nano-Air.
What We Like
- Super soft and comfortable fabric for wearing all day long.
- Performs as designed for cold-weather aerobic activities such as ski touring, but great for casual use as well.
- Slim fit is great for technical pursuits like climbing or scrambling and looks good to boot.
- Durability and stain resistance seem to have improved this time around. Compared to past versions of the Nano-Air, this one is holding up very well.
What We Don’t
- The jacket doesn’t block wind well, requiring an extra layer when conditions take a turn.
- Narrow opening on the chest pocket (which doubles as a stuff sack) makes it tough to stuff the jacket down.
- We tested the recently updated Nano-Air in jacket form, but we wish we had opted for the more protective hoody (for a $50 bump in price).
|Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket||$249||9.5 oz.||60g FullRange||33D||Yes|
|Arc'teryx Atom LT Jacket||$239||9.9 oz.||60g Coreloft||20D||No|
|Black Diamond First Light Jacket||$229||14.6 oz.||60g PrimaLoft Silver Active||40D||Yes|
|The North Face Ventrix Jacket||$199||10.6 oz.||60g Ventrix||20D||No|
|Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket||$199||9.2 oz.||40g FullRange||20D||No|
We get a lot of questions about synthetic jackets, and some of the most common are about comparing the Nano-Air to the Arc’teryx Atom LT. Both are ultra-popular lightweight synthetic jackets that can toe the line between performance and casual use nicely. To start, the Atom LT Jacket is built differently: the front, back, and shoulders are made with Coreloft insulation and a thin wind-resistant shell, while the sides and under arms are stretchy fleece. As a result, the Arc’teryx offers better weather protection than the Nano-Air as an outer layer, but the insulation and fleece panels can’t keep up in terms of breathability. From our collective experiences, we think both jackets are extremely comfortable and offer similar warmth, but we give the slight nod to the Atom LT for everyday use. On the flip side, those who use their jacket for highly aerobic outdoor activities like ski touring will like the Nano-Air better, and its pillowy feel truly is hard to beat.
Among popular active insulation jackets, the Black Diamond First Light and The North Face Ventrix jackets stand out as strong alternatives. Both jackets utilize shell fabrics and insulation that are optimized for breathability while working hard, and are tailored to the backcountry skiing, climbing, and light mountaineering crowds. Where the Nano-Air has the advantage is weight: the First Light is 5.1 ounces heavier and the Ventrix is 1.1 (and importantly, neither add any warmth with their 60-gram fills—the same as the Nano-Air). The Ventrix also has more of a performance slant with tiny holes under the arms and a thinner mesh lining along the back for venting. In the end, the weight spread and comfort push the Nano-Air ahead for us.
As we touched on above, Patagonia has expanded the Nano-Air line to fit growing demand for lightly insulated and highly breathable jackets. Within the Nano lineup, the Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket uses the same insulation as the standard jacket along the front, but a waffle-style thin fleece on the back for even more breathability (it’s nicknamed the “midlayer mullet”). This brings weight down to 9.2 ounces compared to the standard jacket’s 9.5. That said, the Light Hybrid forgoes a chest pocket (it has two handwarmer pockets) and is only useful when you’re working really hard (running in cold weather is one example). If we were to choose one Nano-Air, it would be the original for its significantly more versatile nature.
Editor’s note: We usually provide a live price comparison table below our outdoor gear reviews, but the recently updated Nano-Air is currently only available directly through Patagonia. You can see the Nano-Air Jacket page here and support us in the process. Thanks!