The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets of 2019

This jacket is breathable and warm  so we could put it on and leave it on during alpine ridge scrambles.
By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Wednesday May 8, 2019
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We've combed the internet for the best insulated jackets you can buy in 2019 and carefully selected 10 models for comprehensive side by side testing. All of the jackets reviewed here retain their insulating abilities even when wet, but each one has different strengths and best applications. The good news is that all the jackets in our review are well constructed, high-quality garments. The better news is that we've found out which ones are the warmest, the most breathable, and the most weather-resistant. Read on so you can do less shopping and more playing outside.

Related: The Best Insulated Jacket for Women Review


Top 10 Product Ratings

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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award    
Price $154.99 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$235.88 at Amazon
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$215.00 at Amazon$299.00 at REI
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$164.73 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Very warm for its weight, stuffs into pocket, wind and water resistantVery breathable, super comfortableWarm, durable, packableSuper durable, very breathable, performs well alone and as a mid layerBreathable, light, great midlayer
Cons Poor breathabilityOffers little wind resistanceHeavy compared with other models, hood doesn't quite fit over a helmetWarmth to weight ratio not as good as the Nano-AirPoor weather resistance
Bottom Line This has the best warmth to weight ratio of any jacket we tested, has great construction, and is very weather resistant.The most breathable and insulated jacket in the line up.This jacket has a great warmth-to-weight ratio; a good option for those who run cold.Arc'teryx's breathable insulator is great choice for folks who are tired of shredding their light weight puffies.This jacket is one of the most breathable models out there.
Rating Categories Rab Xenon X Hoodie Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody Rab Nimbus Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody Ascendant Hoody
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Specs Rab Xenon X Hoodie Patagonia Nano-Air... Rab Nimbus Arc'teryx Proton... Ascendant Hoody
Weight (size small) 11.3 oz 12.3 oz. 14.6 oz. 13.7 oz. 11.3 oz.
Insulation 60/m2 PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Active 60g FullRange insulation Cirrus insulation w/ 3M featherless fibre 65g Coreloft Continuous Polartec Alpha Direct 100% polyester
Outer Fabric Pertex Quantum/ 100% nylon ripstop lining 100% nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum 92% Nylon, 8% Elastane Pertex Microlight 100% 20D Nylon ripstop
Stuffs Into Itself? Yes, clip loop Yes, barely Yes No No
Hood Option? Only hooded Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of Pockets 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 handwarmer pockets, 1 zippered chest pocket

Best Overall Model


Rab Xenon X Hoodie


Editors' Choice Award

$154.99
(34% off)
at Backcountry
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 9
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 9
  • Breathability - 15% 4
  • Style - 5% 7
Weight: 11.3 oz | Number of pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest
Best warmth-to-weight ratio out there
Generously sized storage pocket makes it quick and easy to pack away
Water-repellent
Dries quickly
Doesn't breathe well

Season after season, the Rab Xenon X keeps on delivering the best performance, earning Our Editors' Choice Award again and again. How? By giving us everything we need and nothing we don't. This simple, weather resistant jacket is lightweight and stows away easily in its chest pocket, but still has the little features we love, like ergonomic zipper pulls and a comfy, microfleece-lined collar.

Though tough against the weather, this jacket doesn't breathe as well as models like the Patagonia Nano-Air. Under a shell or as an outer layer, the Xenon X is our go-to synthetic insulator for hiking, climbing, and skiing.

Read review: Rab Xenon X Hoodie

Top Pick Award for Breathability


Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody


Top Pick Award

$235.88
(21% off)
at Amazon
See It

79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Weight - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 10
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 5
  • Breathability - 15% 9
  • Style - 5% 8
Weight: 12.3 oz | Number of pockets: 2 zippered hand, 2 zippered chest
The perfect balance of warmth and breathability
Feels as comfortable as your favorite sweater
Stowaway pocket is too small to stuff the jacket into
Shell fabric prone to pilling

The Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody is one of the all-time most comfortable jackets we've ever put on. Soft and warm, the Nano-Air is also slightly stretchy, ensuring proper fit and mobility. The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody scored higher in the breathability metric, and is lighter weight and more breathable, but our testers still find the Nano-Air Hoody to have the best combination of warmth and breathability.

Since its introduction, Patagonia has made a few tweaks to the Nano-Air, using a thicker denier shell fabric for improved durability and adding an internal zipper to one of the handwarmer pockets to create a built-in stuff sack. Unfortunately, we found that the new material is prone to pilling, and the stuff pocket is too small to store the jacket effectively. Hopefully, these issues are addressed in the next generation of our favorite breathable insulator. For a more durable option, check out the Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody.

Read review: Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody - Mens


Why You Should Trust Us


To evaluate insulated jackets, we enlisted the expertise of Review Editor and Yosemite Search and Rescue member Matt Bento. For the last ten years, Matt has been climbing and living out of his vehicle at climbing destinations all over the country. This way of life means that Matt is outside and in the elements on an extremely regular basis and perpetually putting his gear to the test. With such a constant and varied need for quality gear, Matt has a unique foundation of knowledge from which to test and judge insulated jackets.

With three years of data on many of these jackets and our finger on the pulse of the industry, we have a thorough understanding of the best-insulated jackets on the market and how they have evolved. We've used these jackets side-by-side as mid layers, at frigid belays, on multi-pitch climbs, on ski adventures, and out in the rain. We put them each through the wringer in our lab, testing for loft, weight, storage convenience, and even wore them into the shower. The result is an exhaustive look at the best insulated jackets on the market today and the information you need to choose the right one for your needs.

Related: How We Tested Insulated Jackets

The hood and insulated collar fit comfortably. There is even a tiny bit of microfleece covering the spot where the zipper rests against the skin.
This jacket isn't as stretchy as the Nano-Air  but a great fit and little stretch had us feeling pretty mobile.
The Atom LT has great mobility and breathability for climbing  running and skiing.

Analysis and Test Results


Unless you're hiking around in the sweltering lowlands in the middle of summer, you're going to need an insulating layer for your outdoor pursuits. While down insulation offers an unbeatable warmth to weight ratio, it loses its insulating abilities as soon as it gets wet and takes a substantial amount of time to dry and re-loft. The models in this category all use a variety of synthetic insulation, some optimized for maximum warmth, while others are engineered for breathability. Despite advances in forecasting, we're always rolling the dice in the mountains when it comes to the weather, so an insulated jacket not only needs to be warm, it needs to be light and packable. Additionally we asses each model for its breathability, comfort, style, and overall value.

Related: Buying Advice for Insulated Jackets

With just the right amount of insulation  shady fall climbing can be pretty dreamy. The Rab Nimbus was just what our tester needed on a breezy day in the Sierra.
With just the right amount of insulation, shady fall climbing can be pretty dreamy. The Rab Nimbus was just what our tester needed on a breezy day in the Sierra.

Value


A good insulated jacket is no small investment. To help sort through which jackets offer the best bang for your buck, we compared the overall performance score vs. price of each jacket. The Editors' Choice award-winning Rab Xenon X scores better than any other jacket and is an exceptional value.


Warmth


First and foremost, your jacket, combined with your other layers, needs to keep you warm in the weather you plan to use it in. We've weighted this metric most heavily: 25% of each model's score. As we detailed above, down is warmer by weight than synthetic insulation, though each year, synthetics are catching up to the superior warmth-to-weight ratio of down. However, the scores awarded to the jackets in this review only compare their warmth relative to each other. This review spans thicker pieces that are intended as an outermost layer in frigid weather, breathable models for aerobic activity, and thinner pieces to be used as mid layers. Thinner jackets also make great outer layers for around-town wear in cooler months.


The Rab Nimbus is an excellent option for those who run cold, but still, want a lightweight jacket that stuffs into its own chest pocket. Next in line is the Rab Xenon X our Editors' Choice Award winner for many seasons and our favorite balance of warmth, weight, and weather resistance. The Arc'teryx Atom AR also gets top marks for warmth, with 120g/m of Coreloft insulation in the torso region.

Comparing warmth in lightly insulated models is challenging. Some are designed in whole, or partly to allow wind to blow through for breathability, while others are wind resistant. To pick a comparison point, we rated their warmth as an outer layer when worn over base layers with a light breeze.

The breathable Nano-Air provides plenty of warmth but also keeps you from getting too sweaty while moving uphill.
The breathable Nano-Air provides plenty of warmth but also keeps you from getting too sweaty while moving uphill.

Among the lighter weight models tested, the Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody and Arc'teryx Atom LT stand out for warmth, though the Nano-Air is less wind resistant, due to its breathable shell fabric. Some of the lighter jackets in the review, like the Arc'teryx Atom SL, were the least warm. Light and compressible, this jacket functions as exceptional mid layers, or as a super breathable outer layer for aerobic activities. The Patagonia Micro Puff uses a new insulation called PlumaFill, resulting in extraordinary warmth, despite being the lightest jacket in the review by several ounces. Unfortunately, its super lightweight shell makes it very vulnerable to abrasion from rocks and brush. Additionally, the PlumaFill tends to leak out in long strands once there is a tear in the shell.

A form-fitting lightweight jacket works well as a mid layer.
A form-fitting lightweight jacket works well as a mid layer.

Weight & Compressibility


We find ourselves taking an insulated jacket everywhere, and at OutdoorGearLab, light is usually right. All else being equal, we'll choose the lighter, more compressible model almost every time. The Patagonia Micro Puff takes the lightweight cake, weighing in at a mere 8.15 ounces. The Rab Xenon X, Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, and Arc'teryx Atom LT are the next lightest models. All have outstanding warmth-to-weight ratios when used as a mid layer, and the OR Ascendant Hoody is incredibly breathable. If you prioritize warmth, however, it's hard to beat the Editors' Choice Xenon X for weight. It's less expensive than many of its competitors and significantly more durable than the Patagonia Micro Puff.


We appreciate a jacket that stows away in one of its pockets. This makes just-in-case storage in a backpack easy and keeps the outer fabric clean, protecting its DWR treatment. Most models tested stuff into a pocket or come with a stuff sack. The Xenon X and Rab Nimbus are our favorite stuff-able pieces; all are compact, have a clip loop, and regularly traveled on our testers' climbing harnesses. The Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody doesn't include a stuff sack or a stuffable pocket option. The Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody stuffs down into its pocket. However, it's so difficult to get the jacket to fit in the pocket that we didn't find this feature very useful.

Some of the jackets we reviewed stuff away into an internal pocket. Unfortunately  the stowaway pocket for the Nano-Air (far right) is too small to use effectively.
Some of the jackets we reviewed stuff away into an internal pocket. Unfortunately, the stowaway pocket for the Nano-Air (far right) is too small to use effectively.

While synthetic insulation has become more compressible, long-term durability is still an issue. The fiber's ability to rebound to full loft decreases with repeated compression, and the more tightly compacted they are, the more wear the fiber matrices incur; we recommend that you always store jackets in their uncompressed state.

The Xenon X stuffs and unstuffs quickly for a softer  cozier belay experience.
The Xenon X stuffs and unstuffs quickly for a softer, cozier belay experience.

Comfort


In this category, we assessed each piece's mobility, as well as small details that made each more comfortable. We found that some moved with us better than others, some had features, like fleece-lined chin guards or hand pockets, that deliver happiness for minimal weight. We also note the fit characteristics of each jacket, giving you a better idea of what body types each jacket fits best and helping you choose the correct size.

Let's discuss mobility first; this is a crucial jacket attribute. When you reach overhead while climbing or digging in your pack, a model that stays put (without the waist hem being tugged upwards) is appreciated.


We assessed how well we could move our arms, as well as the hood mobility. Ease-of-use is also a consideration when comparing jackets. Nice zipper pulls, pockets in the right places, and convenient hood adjustments are a few features that contribute to higher comfort scores.

The hood on the Nimbus is a bit too small to fit over a helmet.
The hood on the Nimbus is a bit too small to fit over a helmet.

We loved the comfort of both the Patagonia Nano-Air (a perfect 10!) and Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody. The soft, stretchy fabrics feel great, provide mobility, and wick sweat. The Nano-Air Hoody's hood fits and feels great, and it's the only jacket tested with two exterior chest pockets; a simple but useful feature. The Arc'teryx Atom LT also received high comfort scores. It has low-bulk cuffs, well-shaped zipper pulls, and excellent mobility. The Xenon X scores well for comfort; its light fabrics and lofty insulation feel good. The snug hood, which features microfleece chin and neck patches, was our favorite. The Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody also provided a high level of comfort, thanks to its athletic cut and exceptional mobility.

We enjoy having hoods since they provide a warmth upgrade for little weight. A hood is impossible to misplace, unlike a hat. We wore hoods under and over climbing helmets. Our favorite hood designs featured cinch cords that tightened the hood around the head and not the face. A hood can sometimes get in the way if you're planning to wear your layer primarily under a shell that has its hood. Many hooded models tested are available in hoodless versions.

The majority of the jackets tested tend to feature a slim, athletic fit for ease of layering. The Nano-Air Hoody offers a decent amount of stretch, making it comfortable even though it's form-fitting.

Weather Resistance


We've all found ourselves in torrential downpours and fierce winds despite a bluebird forecast. In these situations, the right insulated jacket could save your life, and they'll always reduce the suffer factor. Most of the products tested are designed to be worn primarily as a mid-layer with a rain jacket or hardshell on top for foul weather. That said, many users employ these products as their outer layer. We wore all the jackets reviewed as outer layers while hiking and running in fall and early winter. We toted many along on climbs for both warmth and wind protection.


Insulated jackets are usually not designed to be waterproof or windproof. If you're looking for a jacket that combines the warmth of an insulated jacket with the weather protection of a hardshell, consider a ski jacket.


Models with a continuous or nearly continuous outer fabric do a better job of stopping the wind. The Xenon X is the most weather resistant of the 60 g/m2 insulated products tested. Its nylon ripstop fabric has a durable water repellent coating that works in light rain and snow, and it is practically windproof. While it is not seam-taped, the design minimizes seams. The Xenon X is one of the two only light models we'd purposefully wear without a shell during a short, light rain, though the Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody, like the Xenon X, also beads water and offers a high level of water resistance.

With the exceptions of the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, all the models tested have a DWR treatment. This causes light rain to bead off the shell and keeps insulation dry. The DWR treatment was impressive on the Nano-Air Hoody, which stayed dry in light rain while being the second most breathable model tested.

A good DWR treatment will keep you dry in light rain so you don't always need to bring a dedicated waterproof shell.
A good DWR treatment will keep you dry in light rain so you don't always need to bring a dedicated waterproof shell.

The medium and heavy insulated models tested all earned high weather-resistance scores - their bulk stops the wind from penetrating. After months of heavy use and exposure to dirt, the DWR treatments begin to lose their effectiveness, but out of the box, water rolls right off.

Hybrid construction jackets present an interesting conundrum in rating weather resistance. Take the breathable The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hybrid Hoodyfor example. The torso has insulated panels on the chest and back that resists light rain and stops the wind. But the breathable underarm and side panels let the wind blow through. The OR Ascendant Hoody makes a wonderful midlayer, but will get soaked quickly in a downpour because of its breathable shell fabric that also lacks a DWR treatment.

Breathability


Breathable insulated jackets are a newish arrival and are designed to regulate temperature and wick sweat during high energy activities in cold weather. The introduction of Polartec Alpha and, more recently, FullRange insulation from Patagonia allows a new approach to breathability. The insulation itself moves moisture better than PrimaLoft and promotes better airflow. The Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody pairs FullRange insulation with stretchy, breathable shell fabric and a moisture-wicking lining to create one of the most breathable models tested. The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody uses Polartec Alpha direct insulation. This insulation is highly breathable, doesn't need an internal liner, and has a fleecy feel against the skin.

The Nano-Air Hoody gets our Top Pick for Breathability because its warmth and weather resistance makes it more versatile than the hybrid version. Not far behind is the Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody. The Proton isn't as light or as warm as the Nano-Air, but it's nearly as breathable and much more durable. For high energy activities, like backcountry skiing and winter running, these two jackets are game changers. Add a light shell, like the Marmot Ether DriClime or the Patagonia Houdini, in case it gets windy.


The long-standing approach to making a Primaloft or Coreloft product better suited to exertion is to incorporate low-bulk, breathable panels under the jacket's arms and on the sides. The Arc'teryx Atom LT and The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hybrid Hoody both take this hybrid approach. Wind-resistant fabric protects your core, while stretchy side panels dump excess heat. These two hybrids earned the next highest breathability scores after the three advanced models above. The medium and heavy models tested were the least breathable, but they work the best as terminal layers, keeping you warm when you've stopped to take a break while hiking, or waiting at a windy belay station.

The BD Access Hoody (center  previously tested) is wind resistant and packable  while The North Face Ventrix Hybrid Hoody (right) is designed to maximize breathability.
The BD Access Hoody (center, previously tested) is wind resistant and packable, while The North Face Ventrix Hybrid Hoody (right) is designed to maximize breathability.

Style


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we've done our best to assign a style score to each piece. Puffy jackets aren't just outdoor recreation items these days, and some products look better than others for around-town wear. Some, like the Patagonia Micro Puff, have quilted stitching in the outer fabric, which creates a distinctive look. Most have a shiny, techy ripstop nylon shell, but the Atom LT, Nano-Air, and Proton LT have a softer, matte look and feel. The Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody earned the only 9 out of 10 in our testing, ensuring that you'll look sleek and clean. Most models are available in a variety of colors, allowing you to be as loud or as subtle as you like.


We like hoods on insulated jackets, as they provide a warmth upgrade, but a floppy hood isn't precisely an out-to-dinner look. Additionally, layer after layer of hoods stacked on top of hoods can be pretty cumbersome and uncomfortable. We tested jackets with hoods and without. Some of the hoodless models don't come in hoody versions, so if having a hood is essential, be sure to investigate further.

Care & Feeding of Insulated Jackets


If your insulated jacket is a workhorse, it will get dirty. As a mid layer, body oils and funk accumulate over time, and when used as an outer layer, it will get all kinds of dirty when you're playing hard. Washing and drying these jackets is easier than caring for down. Always consult the manufacturer's care instructions, but a trip through the washer on cold or warm water with powdered detergent works great. Front loading machines are much more gentle on your technical garments than top loaders with agitators. Throw your jacket in the dryer on the lowest heat setting, and you're done.

Arc'teryx is known for their attention to detail  and the Atom LT is no exception. Fleecy pockets  snug fitting cuffs  and great hood make it one of our favorite jackets to climb in.
Arc'teryx is known for their attention to detail, and the Atom LT is no exception. Fleecy pockets, snug fitting cuffs, and great hood make it one of our favorite jackets to climb in.

All the products reviewed have DWR treatment of some sort on the outer fabric. Often washing and drying will do a good job restoring a DWR coating that has begun to wet out (accumulating a film of water rather than beading it). Try a short dose of medium heat in the dryer.

Eventually, it will be necessary to re-apply DWR treatment to your jacket to keep it beading water. We prefer spray-on products as opposed to the wash-in varieties. We want the outer fabric to resist water well, but we still want the lining to absorb and wick moisture from sweat towards the outside. Wash your jacket, warm it up in the dryer, and spray on your product of choice. We find "baking on" the new polymers with hot air from a hair dryer increases their lifespan. Nikwax and Granger produce lines of fabric treatments, including spray-on and wash-in varieties.

Conclusion


The Hyperpuff is a good choice for cold days  our top pick for warmth.
The Hyperpuff is a good choice for cold days, our top pick for warmth.

With the vast assortment of models available, choosing the best jacket can be tough. We rank warmth, weight, and compressibility high on the list of essential attributes, yet other features, such as weather resistance and breathability, may prove to be significant depending on your use. Remember to ask yourself what you'll be doing in your insulated jacket. Will you be running or ski touring? Then go for something breathable like the Nano-Air Hoody. Want the best compromise of all metrics? The Rab Xenon X continues unchallenged to win our Editors' Choice Award. We hope that our rigorous testing will ease your search for the right jacket.


Matt Bento