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The Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets

This jacket is breathable and warm  so we could put it on and leave it on during alpine ridge scrambles.
Monday November 4, 2019
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Looking to stay toasty on your next adventure? Over the last 7 years, we've tested 45+ of the best insulated jackets. For our recent update, we purchased and tested 13 top models for extensive side by side testing. Our experts ran trails, hiked, backpacked, ski toured, and sent their climbing objectives, year after year. These jackets utilize synthetic insulated, which allows for exceptional breathability, warmth, and loftiness with wet. After evaluating each one based on a series of metrics, we've highlighted the top performers for comfort, warmth, and budget.

Related: The Best Insulated Jacket for Women of 2020


Top 13 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award 
Price $163.44 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$208.93 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$149.50 at Patagonia
Compare at 3 sellers
$279.95 at Backcountry$215.00 at Amazon
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Pros Lightweight, warm, great wind protection, sheds water well, affordableWarm, good water resistance, comfortable, excellent mobility, stylish, durableComfortable, very breathable, light, stylishVery breathable, super comfortable and mobile fit, stylishWarm, affordable, good wind resistance
Cons Doesn’t breathe well, fit isn’t very athleticExpensive, annoying hem cinching buckles, not the lightestHard to get the proper fit, expensive, poor weather resistance, thinDoesn’t stuff into pocket, not the lightest, relatively expensiveHeavy, not very breathable
Bottom Line An ideal outer layer for throwing on during windy and cold days outside.Comfortable, mobile, and stylish, this jacket is ideal for any use.A thin, lightweight insulating layer for days when you don’t stop moving.One of our favorite mid-layers that also protects reasonably well from a wind.A great outer layer for staying warm at belays, rests, or on cold winter days.
Rating Categories Rab Xenon Hoodie Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody Summit L3 Ventrix 2.0 Hoody Rab Nimbus
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Specs Rab Xenon Hoodie Arc'teryx Proton... Patagonia Nano-Air... Summit L3 Ventrix... Rab Nimbus
Measured Weight (size) 11.0 oz. (L) 14.5 oz (L) 12.5 oz (M) 15.5 oz. (L) 17.0 oz. (L)
Manufacturer Stated Weight (size) 12.7 oz. (L) 13.2 oz. (M) 12.2 oz. (M) 15.16 oz. (L) 17.8 oz. (L)
Insulation 60g Stratus Coreloft Compact 80 60g FullRange insulation 60 G Ventrix - 100% Polyester Stretch Synthetic Insulation Cirrus insulation w/ 3M featherless fibre
Outer Fabric Atmos ripstop Fortius Air 20 (84% nylon, 16% elastane) 100% nylon ripstop 40D x 30D + 20D 92 g/m² 94% nylon, 6% elastane Pertex Quantum
Stuffs Into Itself? Yes, clip loop No Yes, clip loop No Yes, barely, clip loop
Hood Option? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of Pockets 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 2 zippered chest pockets 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal

Best Insulated Outer Layer


Rab Xenon Hoodie


Editors' Choice Award

$163.44
(16% off)
at Backcountry
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 8
  • Breathability - 15% 5
  • Style - 5% 5
Weight: 11.8 oz. (L) | Number of pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest
Lightweight and compact
Excellent wind resistance
Affordable
Solid at repelling water
Fit is large
Doesn't breathe well
Not an ideal mid-layer

With optimal performance in nearly every test that we conduct, the Rab Xenon is the best insulated outer layer you can buy. This jacket is lightweight and stuffs easily into its own pocket for throwing it into a pack. It is surprisingly warm given how thin it is, and its slippery Atmos face fabric blocks the wind better than any other. Think of it as a heavily insulated windbreaker. The very tight weave of this fabric combined with a fantastic DWR coating also sheds water about as well as you can expect for a non-waterproof membrane, and even if some rain does soak in, the synthetic insulation keeps you warm even when it's not perfectly dry. To top it all off, this jacket is considerably more affordable than virtually every jacket you read about here, and we would happily recognize it as the best value purchase if we didn't already recognize it as simply the best!

As with any product, there are a few downsides. With a highly wind-resistant shell, the trade-off is much poorer breathability compared to its stretchy counterparts. We also found the fit to be quite large and borderline baggy, so consider sizing down if you fall between sizes. The large fit makes it easy to layer over other layers, but also prevented us from wanting to use it as a mid-layer very often. However, as a wind-resistant, insulating outer-layer, this jacket cannot be beaten for almost any cold-weather activity — hiking, biking, climbing, running, or whatever you like.

Read review: Rab Xenon

Best Insulated Active Mid-Layer


Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody


Editors' Choice Award

$208.93
(30% off)
at REI
See It

69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 6
  • Weight - 20% 6
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 6
  • Breathability - 15% 7
  • Style - 5% 8
Weight: 14.5 oz. (L) | Number of pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest
Comfortable
Stylish
Breathable but also warm
Expensive
Doesn't offer great wind resistance

In recent years, the synthetic insulated jacket market has come to be dominated by the stretchy, active mid-layer. Nearly every major outdoor brand has at least one of these types of jackets in their line-up, and the one we like best is the Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody. This jacket fits like a dream and is made with stretchy fabrics and insulation that move perfectly as you do. It isn't at all tight or restricting, yet lives close enough to the body to not get in the way while climbing, and it's also a cinch to layer over. Like all active mid-layers, it's highly breathable, so you can simply leave it on while skinning uphill, rather than having to stop all the time to mess with your layering system. It is also slightly thicker, heavier, and warmer than most that we compared it to, which we appreciated for temperatures colder than freezing. Finally, it's stylish enough to be worn out for dinner and drinks in any of your favorite mountain towns.

As with most Arc'teryx clothing, the number one downside is the price. This jacket tops the charts, and rules it out as a budget purchase, although in its defense, there are plenty of other similar jackets with high price tags as well (looking at you Patagonia Nano Air Hoody). Since its fabrics are designed to be air permeable so that they breathe well, they also provide impressively poor wind resistance. That's why this jacket makes for a better mid-layer than outer-layer, and we would consider it essential to pair it with a shell over the top if heading out in the mountains in winter. When working hard and with light winds, this jacket is more than enough for cold winter sports like uphill skiing, but a shell is mandatory for standing still, heading downhill, or when the winds start to pick up. We also love it as the perfect shoulder season garment before the temps have really dropped — a great choice for fall rock climbing.

Read review: Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody

Best Bang for the Buck


Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata Hoody


Best Buy Award

$129.98
(41% off)
at Backcountry
See It

66
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 5
  • Weight - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 5
  • Breathability - 15% 8
  • Style - 5% 8
Weight: 13.0 oz. (L) | Number of pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest
Great active mid-layer
Affordable!
Comfortable
Stylish
Thinner and not as warm as other similar designs
Poor water resistance

Do you love the look and performance of the top active insulated mid-layers like the Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody or the Patagonia Nano Air Hoody, but simply don't want to pay the high price to own one? We hear you! We like the Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata Hooded. Built with the exact same design and function in mind, this jacket performs almost identical to those others, but is priced like it is on closeout. It is thin, yet still warm, fits close to the body to minimize dead space and also make it easy to layer over, and stretches easily as you move. It breathes well to help you ditch extra heat once you build up a sweat, and also looks stylish enough to be worn out on the town. In almost every way this jacket performs just as well as the others in this review; it simply has a different brand name on the label and thus can be purchased for a lower price.

Of course, it also has the same downsides as you would expect for an active mid-layer. It doesn't keep out the wind worth a darn, so it needs to be layered over in windy conditions. The DWR coating also wasn't the best in our performance testing, so while the synthetic insulation will still work to keep you warm if it's wet, rest assured that it will get wet if you get rained or snowed on. Compared to some of the slightly heavier options, it is a bit thinner and, therefore less warm, although that means it's also lighter. Overall it performs almost exactly the same as most of the other stretchy mid-layers but simply costs less, making it an ideal Best Bang for the Buck winner.

Read review: Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata Hooded

Warmest Insulated Jacket


Rab Nimbus


Top Pick Award

$215.00
at Amazon
See It

67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 10
  • Weight - 20% 6
  • Comfort - 20% 5
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 7
  • Breathability - 15% 4
  • Style - 5% 6
Weight: 17.0 oz. (L) | Number of pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal
Very warm
Good wind and water resistance
Affordable
Heavier and bulkier than active layers
Doesn't breathe very well

Synthetic insulation is a fantastic alternative to down and has the capability of providing just as much warmth, while typically costing less. The Rab Nimbus is a perfect example, as it's the warmest jacket in this review, and also one of the least expensive. While the active mid-layer has become the most popular style of insulated jacket, the Nimbus is a straight-up "puffy", complete with overstuffed horizontal baffles designed for maximum heat retention. It does a good job cutting the wind and shedding a light drizzle and is the jacket you would throw on to trap the heat once you stop moving in the mountains, for long belays, or for chilling around the campfire or shoveling the driveway.

The principal downside to this jacket is that it is relatively heavy, a price you pay when choosing synthetic insulation instead of down. A comparable down jacket could easily way half as much, and stuff down smaller as well for stowing in a pack. But not everyone wants, needs, or can afford, down insulation. For them, we recommend the Rab Nimbus, our Top Pick for Warmth, which also comes at a nice price point.

Read review: Rab Nimbus


Throwing sticks for the dog Rishi at North Mathieu Lake along the PCT in Oregon on a November day before the snows come and the lake freezes  we enjoyed having our warm Nimbus that we layered over the top of a lighter mid-layer to stay warm in the wind.
Throwing sticks for the dog Rishi at North Mathieu Lake along the PCT in Oregon on a November day before the snows come and the lake freezes, we enjoyed having our warm Nimbus that we layered over the top of a lighter mid-layer to stay warm in the wind.

Why You Should Trust Us


This review is a collaboration between two of our top reviewers — Andy Wellman and Matt Bento. Andy is a former climbing guidebook publisher who has spent many years reviewing down jackets for OutdoorGearLab, before switching over to cover insulated jackets. As a lifelong and obsessive climber, backcountry skier, backpacker, and mountain town liver, Andy has spent pretty much his whole life wearing insulated jackets, of both types, for comfort and out of absolute necessity. He is joined by 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 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.

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 looks equally at home at the crag as it does out on the town  and according to our experts is one of the most stylish choices you can buy.
The Atom LT has great mobility and breathability for climbing  running and skiing.

With 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

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 jackets tested in this category all use a variety of synthetic insulation; some are 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. Beyond these two critical components, we chose to assess each model for its breathability, comfort, style, and overall value, described in greater detail.

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. While one of the principal advantages of choosing synthetic insulation over down has long been the lower cost, those savings have slowly evaporated with the rise in popularity of the active mid-layer. 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 scores better than any other jacket and is an exceptional value. The Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata Hooded provides the best value among the more expensive active insulated mid-layer genre of jackets, while the Rab Nimbus also presents fantastic value and is one of the warmest choices in this review.


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, not compared to down jackets. 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. It is one of the warmest we tested. The Arc'teryx Atom AR also gets top marks for warmth, with 120g/m of Coreloft insulation in the torso region. The REI Groundbreaker, although lacking a hood, is the thickest and most heavily insulated contender. It is a decent choice for those who don't need an outdoorsy technical jacket, and simply want to keep warm.

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 baselayers with a light breeze.

Standing still outside playing with Rishi during the first major snowstorm of the winter in Oregon  testing the Summit L3 Ventrix 2.0 for warmth compared to its competition. We found it to be relatively warm for a thin  breathable active layer  although of course nowhere near as warm as fatter puffy jackets.
Standing still outside playing with Rishi during the first major snowstorm of the winter in Oregon, testing the Summit L3 Ventrix 2.0 for warmth compared to its competition. We found it to be relatively warm for a thin, breathable active layer, although of course nowhere near as warm as fatter puffy jackets.

Among the lighter weight models tested, the Arc'teryx Atom LT, Rab Xenon, and Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody struck us as the warmest choices. Some very light jackets can still be impressively warm. For instance, 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


Since we find ourselves taking an insulated jacket pretty much everywhere, 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 is the next lightest choice, while the Patagonia Nano Air Hoody and Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata Hooded are both close behind. All have outstanding warmth-to-weight ratios when used as a mid-layer. If you are looking for the perfect balance between warmth and weight, it's hard to beat the Editors' Choice Xenon. 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 and Rab Nimbus are our favorite stuffable pieces; all are compact, have a clip loop, and regularly traveled on our testers' climbing harnesses. While it is a top scorer, the Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody, unfortunately, doesn't include a stuff sack or a stuffable pocket option. The Patagonia Nano Air Hoody stuffs down into its pocket, except that it's so challenging to get the jacket to fit in the pocket that we didn't find this feature very useful.

Five jackets that stuff into one of their own pockets for easier transport  as well as a nalgene bottle for size reference. On the top left in black -- BD First Light Stretch  Center Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata  Right -- Patagonia Nano-Air. On the Bottom is the Rab Xenon (blue) and Rab Nimbus (orange).
Five jackets that stuff into one of their own pockets for easier transport, as well as a nalgene bottle for size reference. On the top left in black -- BD First Light Stretch, Center Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata, Right -- Patagonia Nano-Air. On the Bottom is the Rab Xenon (blue) and Rab Nimbus (orange).

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 Kor Strata is a good looking  very comfortable  and super breathable jacket that performs very similarly to others of its kind  while simply costing quite a bit less  which is why we recommend it to you. It is also lightweight and compact  easily stuffing into one of its pockets for easier transport.
The Kor Strata is a good looking, very comfortable, and super breathable jacket that performs very similarly to others of its kind, while simply costing quite a bit less, which is why we recommend it to you. It is also lightweight and compact, easily stuffing into one of its pockets for easier transport.

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 also assessed how well we could move our arms, as well as the hood mobility. Ease-of-use is another 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.

Three jackets stood out above the rest when it came to comfort, usually due to a combination of unobstructed mobility, perfect fit, and soft, comfy fabrics. These were the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody, and The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix 2.0 Hoody. The Arc'teryx Atom LT also received high comfort scores. It has low-bulk cuffs, well-shaped zipper pulls, and excellent mobility. The Xenon 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.

A nice touch on the inside of the collar is this strip of soft grey fabric that feels nice where it rubs against our chin and effectively covers up the zipper.
A nice touch on the inside of the collar is this strip of soft grey fabric that feels nice where it rubs against our chin and effectively covers up the zipper.

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, although more and more hoods are being designed with only elastic to secure the facial opening. While this design is lighter and simpler, it lacks the ability to adjust depending on your own head shape, or the weather. A hood can sometimes get in the way if you're planning to wear your layer primarily under a shell that has its own hood. Most hooded models tested are available in hoodless versions, which we noted in our specs table.

The majority of the jackets tested tend to feature a slim, athletic fit for ease of layering.

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 if the conditions aren't too severe. We wore all the jackets reviewed as outer layers while hiking and running in fall and early winter. We also toted many along on climbs and days out at the crag 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 Rab Xenon 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 is one of the 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, also beads water and offers a high level of water resistance.

Testing water resistance and DWR coatings by spraying with the hose  we were very impressed with the performance of this jacket  as well as all the other Arc'teryx models  which had the most effective DWR coating.
Testing water resistance and DWR coatings by spraying with the hose, we were very impressed with the performance of this jacket, as well as all the other Arc'teryx models, which had the most effective DWR coating.

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, as long as it is effective (not all are). The most impressive DWR treatment was very surprisingly found on the REI Groundbreaker, a warm jacket that we wouldn't carry out on serious missions with us. The treatment on the Proton LT was the most effective of those found on stretchy, breathable face fabrics. The DWR treatments on other lightweight jackets, like The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix 2.0 and the Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata Hooded was far less effective.

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. 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 and promotes better airflow. Perhaps the most popular and recognizable of these jackets, 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.

Running uphill repeats on a hot day to test and compare the breathability of our test group  we found that running in the Nano-Air was far more pleasant than some of the options that didn't breathe well  cementing its place as the best choice if you want breathable insulation.
Running uphill repeats on a hot day to test and compare the breathability of our test group, we found that running in the Nano-Air was far more pleasant than some of the options that didn't breathe well, cementing its place as the best choice if you want breathable insulation.

The Nano-Air Hoody is the most breathable option according to our testing. Not far behind is the Arc'teryx Proton LT Hoody. The Proton isn't as light as the Nano Air, but it's nearly as breathable and much more durable. Other companies have also begun imitating this style of jacket, and The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix 2.0 and the Mountain Hardwear Kor Strata are similarly breathable as the two listed above. For high energy activities, like backcountry skiing and winter running, these style of 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 takes this hybrid approach. Wind-resistant fabric protects your core, while stretchy side panels dump excess heat. This hybrid earned solid breathability scores. 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 Summit L3 Ventrix 2.0 uses very cool ventrix technology to breathe better when you are moving and thus stretching the jacket  while trapping warm air more effectively when you are standing still. Here on a fall hike in the Three Sisters Wilderness  OR.
The Summit L3 Ventrix 2.0 uses very cool ventrix technology to breathe better when you are moving and thus stretching the jacket, while trapping warm air more effectively when you are standing still. Here on a fall hike in the Three Sisters Wilderness, OR.

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 active mid-layers have a softer, matte look and feel, that makes them seem more suited to daily casual wear. The Patagonia Nano Air Hoody earned the highest 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.

Conclusion


Out for a hike after the first snow of the season falls on South Sister in central Oregon. The Xenon kept us toasty warm in the cold and wet forests we walked through.
Out for a hike after the first snow of the season falls on South Sister in central Oregon. The Xenon kept us toasty warm in the cold and wet forests we walked through.

With the vast assortment of choices available, choosing the best jacket can be tough. We rank warmth, and weight 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 light and breathable. Want the best compromise of all metrics? The Rab Xenon continues unchallenged.


Andy Wellman & Matt Bento