Updated October 2017
Tis the season for pumpkin spice and all things nice. Fall brings new colors to some models, but few changes in the products themselves. We've scoured the ends of the earth to ensure that this review is up to date, adding in the Patagonia Micro Puff, one of Patagonia's newest offerings, and guaranteeing that our award winners remain the big cheeses. We've added charts and tables to help you select the one that excels in the metrics you care about.
Best Overall Model
Rab Xenon X Hoodie
Outstanding warmth-to-weight ratio
Stows away into chest pocket
Season after season, the Rab Xenon X
just keeps on delivering the best performance, earning Our Editor's 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. 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
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
Lightweight at a low price
Stows away in its chest pocket
Little wind protection
Not very water resistant
Looking for high performance without a high price tag? Check out the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
. This jacket is the fourth lightest in our review, and even breaths well due to thin, stretchy side panels that also increase the jacket's mobility. Though inexpensive, the Cathode still offers similar features to it's higher priced cousins like a stowaway pocket, drop-in glove pockets, and an exceptional hood. If you're on a tight budget, but you don't want to compromise check out this Best Buy Award Winner.
Read review: Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
Top Pick Award for Breathability
Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody
The Patagonia Nano
breathes so well you can you don't ever take it off, plus it offers plush, sweater-like comfort, all while keeping you warm without turning you into a sweaty mess, earning it our Top Pick For Breathability. Soft and stretchy fabrics make it an incredibly mobile and durable piece for climbing and skiing, and our testers loved that they could put it on and leave it on for hours of fun and warmth without overheating.
Read review: Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody - Mens
Top Pick Award for Warmth
Patagonia Hyper Puff Hoody
Warmest Jacket tested
Great for unplanned bivys
The most weather resistant jacket in its class
The Patagonia Hyper Puff
proves to be the warmest jacket in the synthetic category. This windproof, water-resistant outer layer is the Jacket you want for those just-above-freezing days when snowmelt and freezing rain will render your down coat useless. A stiff brim keeps the precip out of your face while two internal mesh pockets hold your water, gloves, or climbing shoes toasty warm. Our Top Pick for Warmth, the Hyper Puff is most at home on frigid ice climbing belays and winter camping trips.
Read review: Patagonia Hyper Puff Hoody
Analysis and Test Results
An insulated jacket is an essential layer for colder weather. We spent several chilly months testing these products across a spectrum of performance metrics. We discuss how we assessed each model in the various metrics below, as well as identifying top performers per category. We recommend focusing on the key areas of performance that matter most to you and your needs when making purchase decisions. For an overview of how the contenders stacked up against each other, though, see the table above.
Here we have 9 of the 11 jackets. Some are designed for movement and breathability and others are made for hunkering down in cold, wet weather. Read on to learn which is right for you.
First and foremost, your jacket, combined with your other layers, need 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. 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 excellent outer layers for around-town wear in cooler months.
One product used significantly more insulation than the rest of the field. The Patagonia Hyper Puff
- our Top Pick for Warmth - is the warmest model tested, as well as the heaviest and least compressible. It is a perfect belay jacket for ice and winter climbing. It also has several climbing-oriented features, including large interior mesh pockets and a two-way zipper that also opens from the bottom up. Next on the warmth continuum is our Editors' Choice Award Winner, the Rab Xenon X
, followed by the Arc'teryx Atom AR
. With 60g/m2 PrimaLoft Gold insulation, the Xenon X
is nearly half the weight of the Hyper Puff
. We feel they are comparable because of their similar constructions, and for the weight, the Xenon X
is phenomenally warm. This model is an outstanding outer layer, with its continuous windproof Pertex shell and water-resistant DWR finish. While not as warm as the Hyper Puff
, we found the Xenon
to be an essential piece for alpine rock climbing.
Loft equals warmth, and the DAS Parka is by far the loftiest jacket in our review.
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. When you visit each product's review, we compare each model's warmth to the most similar products.
Fast and light, the Xenon X kept our tester warm on an afternoon scramble, even as the sun went down. This jacket has the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any jacket we tested. It is also very weather resistant.
Among the lighter weight models tested, the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
and Arc'teryx Atom LT
stand out for warmth, though the Nano Puff
is less wind resistant, due to its quilted construction. Some of the lighter jackets in the review, the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
and Arc'teryx Atom SL
, were the least warm. Light and compressible, these jackets function as exceptional mid layers. The Patagonia Micro Puff
Uses a new insulation called PlumaFill, resulting in extraordinary warmth, despite being the lightest jacket in the review, but it's super lightweight shell makes it very vulnerable to abrasion from rocks and brush.
On super cold days, the Nano Air functions as an excellent mid layer under a more wind resistant model like the Xenon X, pictured here.
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. Our scores for weight and compressibility contribute 20% to overall scores. The Patagonia Micro Puff takes the lightweight cake, weighing in at a mere 8.15oz
. The second lightest, most compressible jacket tested is the Arc'teryx Atom SL
. It uses 40g/m2 of Arc'teryx's Coreloft insulation exclusively in the torso. The Rab Xenon X
, Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
, 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 Atom LT
and the Cathode
have a breathable hybrid construction. If you prioritize warmth, however, it's hard to beat the Editors' Choice Xenon X
for weight. It's barely heavier than the Cathode
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 Nano Puff Hoody
are our favorite stuff-able pieces; all are compact, have a clip loop, and regularly traveled on our testers' climbing harnesses.
On the other end of the spectrum, the big, heavily insulated Patagonia Hyper Puff Hoody
doesn't compress well, and the Arc'teryx Atom AR
is on the heavier side of the spectrum. It's designed for warmth and uses a type of PrimaLoft insulation known for its loft rather than its compressibility. Expect the Hyper Puff
to take up space in your pack, about as much as a small sleeping bag.
Some jackets stuff away more easily than others. Read on and find out which jackets are the most compressible. Here you'll find the Patagonia Nano Puff, Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket, Outdoor Research Uberlayer, North Face Thermoball, Patagonia DAS Parka
Five competitors are pictured stuffed above. The Xenon X
and Nano Puff
are similar in size when stowed in their pockets, the Xenon X
could compress even smaller, while the Nano Puff
is packed in tightly. While not as low-profile as the Nano Puff
, we loved how simple it was to stow the Xenon X
, allowing for more climbing and less stuffing. The Thermoball Hoody
and the Cathode Hooded Jacket
stuffed away easily.
The Xenon X Stuffs and unstuffs quickly for a softer, cozier belay experience.
We found the Outdoor Research Uberlayer
challenging to stuff into its stowaway pocket. While synthetic insulation has become more compressible, long-term durability is still an issue. The fibers' ability to rebound to full loft decreases with repeated compression, and the more tightly compacted they are, the more wear the fiber matrices incur. Always store jackets in their uncompressed state.
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. Let's discuss mobility first; this is an important jacket attribute. When you reach overhead while climbing or reach 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. Each product's review provides a rundown of the small details that stood out. Ratings awarded for comfort contribute 20% of each model's score.
Comfort is in the the fit. We like it when our jacket fits snug enough that it insulates properly, but still allows us to stretch and move around. The Atom SL is offers great mobility with an athletic cut and stretchy side panels.
We loved the comfort of both the Patagonia Nano Air
(a perfect 10!) and Outdoor Research Uberlayer
. The soft, stretchy fabrics feel great, provide mobility, and wick sweat. The Nano Air
'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
also 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 Atom AR 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.
We've all been caught out in howling wind or unexpected rain. Most of the products tested are designed to be worn primarily as a mid layer with a rain jacket
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. We weighted weather resistance as 15% of overall scores.
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, be sure to check out our ski jacket for men review.
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 Pertex Quantum 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 Cathode Hooded Jacket
and the Outdoor Research Uberlayer
, all the models tested had 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 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.
The medium and heavy insulated models tested all earned high weather-resistance scores - their bulk stops the wind from penetrating. The heavily insulated Patagonia Hyper Puff
is built with a PU-coated shell fabric; overall, the Hyper Puff
is very water resistant and completely stops the wind. Hybrid construction jackets present an interesting conundrum in rating weather resistance. Take the Best Buy winning Cathode
, for example. The torso, shoulders, and top of the sleeves have water-resistant Pertex Quantum fabric. This resists light rain well and stops the wind. But the breathable underarm and side panels let the wind blow through.
The DAS Parka was the heaviest jacket we tested. It's an excellent belay parka for putting on over all other layers.
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
pairs FullRange insulation with stretchy, breathable shell fabric and a moisture-wicking lining to create the most breathable model tested. Not far behind is the Outdoor Research Uberlayer
. The warmer Uberlayer
uses similar fabrics paired with heavier Polartec Alpha insulation. For high energy activities, like backcountry skiing and winter running, these two jackets are game changers. Add a light shell, like the Rab Windveil
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 t. The Outdoor Research Cathode
and Arc'teryx Atom LT
both take this hybrid approach. Wind-resistant fabric protects your core, while stretchy side panels dump excess heat. These two hybrids (which both have traditional insulation) earned the next highest breathability scores after the three advanced models above. The medium and heavy models tested were the least breathable.
The holy grail of warm jackets for high energy adventures is breathability and temperature regulation. The OR Uberlayer seen here, and the Patagonia Nano Air are game changers for wintertime trail running and backcountry skiing.
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 theThermoBall
, 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 Uberlayer
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. You will find photos of each product in their reviews, including close-ups of their outer fabric, as well as front and back views. Style ratings contribute 5% to overall scores.
We like hoods on insulated jackets, as they provide a warmth upgrade, but a floppy hood isn't precisely an out-to-dinner look. 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 check out the "other versions" section of each review to see if there is a hooded version. All test pieces were size smalls (with a few mediums scattered in) and the Style
section of individual reviews is where we comment on the size and fit of each.
Care & Feeding of Insulated Jackets
If your insulated jacket is a workhorse, it will get dirty. As a mid layer, body oils and funk accumulated 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. 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.
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
produce lines of fabric treatments, including spray-on and wash-in varieties.
With the large assortment of models available, choosing the best jacket can be tough. We rank warmth, weight, and compressibility high on the list of important attributes, yet other features, such as weather resistance and breathability, may prove to be important depending on your use. We hope that our rigorous testing will ease your search for the right jacket.