Best Synthetic Jackets for Backpacking of 2020
While down insulation still owns the field for thru-hiking jackets, synthetic-filled layers are making a dent in the category. As synthetic technologies continue to be more eco-friendly, have a higher warmth-to-weight ratio, and maintain insulating properties even when wet, there are dozens of options for synthetic-filled jackets on the market. Synthetic jackets can also transition from an active layer to a warm layer for camp. Many models are built with breathable, wicking materials in the face fabric, lining, and insulation, allowing the wearer to use it as a breathable mid-layer without drowning in a puddle of sweat and decimating the insulating properties.
Specs to Look For
Weight: Under 16 ounces
Fill: Blown insulation is the closest to down—PrimaLoft has a variety of fill levels and weights, as well as plenty of eco-friendly options. Look for something breathable and wicking.
Fit: A medium fit is your best bet for this layer. You should be able to fit a base layer and/or a fleece layer underneath, and a shell on top. It’s common to hike / be active in a synthetic jacket, so be sure you can move freely in the garment and the shoulders don’t restrict range of motion.
Shell Fabric: A durable, DWR-treated shell is optimal, as are reinforced cuffs and hem.
Features: At least two hip pockets, which should be placed high enough to be accessible under a hip belt. Look for a model with a form-fitting hood that won’t eliminate your peripheral vision.
Note: This list is A) not in order and B) will continue to evolve as more products are released and tested.
Best Synthetic Jackets for Backpackers of 2020
Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Jacket
Weight: 7.75 ounces
Fill: Climashield Apex synthetic insulation
Enlightened Equipment dialed down the ounces while still packing this jacket with enough synthetic insulation to make it comparable in warmth to down models like the Patagonia Down Sweater and the Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody, both of which I have taken on many chilly trips. This jacket weighs several ounces less than my down-insulated jackets, while still maintaining warmth when damp. The Torrid Apex fits true to size while being roomy enough for layering underneath, and comes with two zippered hand pockets, a high collar, and a deep hood. The face fabric is tough and has a DWR finish, and the Torrid Apex clocks in with the greatest warmth-to-weight ratio on this list. Somewhat amazingly, it’s also the least expensive jacket on this list. -Maggie Slepian
Patagonia Micro Puff
Weight: 8 ounces
Fill: 65g PlumaFill polyester fibers
At 9.3 ounces the Micro Puff is lighter than many down jackets. The jacket is extremely pared down, with no drawstrings for the hood or the waist and no chest pocket. The Micro Puff has two zippered pockets at the waist and two zipper-less pockets on the inside… that’s it. The shell is DWR-treated Pertex Quantum, and the unique baffle patterns keep the insulation in place with minimal stitching and minimal cold spots. The hood is snug, with elastic taking the place of drawcords. while the face fabric is treated and durable, this is definitely better as a mid layer instead of an outer layer when the weather gets wet. Read our full review here. –Editors
Arc’Teryx Atom LT Insulated Hoodie
Weight: 12.7 ounces
Fill: Coreloft synthetic fibers
Patagonia Nano Air
Weight: 11.6 ounces
Fill: 40g FullRange® polyester stretch
The Patagonia Nano Air fits into its own pocket, with a wicking face fabric and breathable insulation—ideal for wearing during higher output activities. It weighs less than 12 ounces, with durable construction and synthetic sheet insulation that makes it easier to wash and care for in the long term. The Nano Air’s insulation and 60-g FullRange fabric provides warmth without overheating, and dumps heat to avoid moisture buildup. Stretchy side panels help with range of motion as well as avoiding sweat buildup under your arms. –Editors
Rab Xenon Jacket
Weight: 12.7 ounces
Fill: 60g Stratus recycled polyester
This baffle-free construction on the Rab Xenon Jacket has a sheet-like insulation, helping eliminate cold spots. The Stratus insulation is covered in a DWR-treated, durable ripstop fabric. This jacket stands up especially well to wind, with an insulated baffle protecting the zipper where wind can sneak in. The internal zippered pocket acts as a stuff sack, and the insulation is recycled… bonus points for environmentally friendly material sourcing. While this jacket is warmer than others on the list, the face fabric and insulation is less breathable than others on the list, which makes it a better choice for camp and less so for activity. –Editors
Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody
Weight: 11.3 ounces
Fill: Body: Coreloft Compact 80 polyester fibers
The Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody is another jacket that gets top marks for breathability. This is a piece you can feel confident hiking in and throwing on for an insulation layer at camp. Jacket is built with Fortius Air 20 face fabric that works to balance air permeability along with weather resistance, and is packed with Coreloft Compact 80 insulation to keep you warm at camp. The Proton can stand up to light snow and dampness, and the slim fit is an ideal mid layer. –Editors
Weight: 21 ounces
Fill: Cirrus blown 3M featherless insulation
The Rab Nimbus uses blown synthetic insulation, which is about as close in feel and performance to natural down as it gets. This is a slim-fit insulation layer with narrow quilted baffles, a deep hood, and a high collar for wind protection. At 21 ounces, this is one of the heavier layers on the list, but also provides a serious hit of warmth when paired with an outer shell. Shell is made from the ubiquitous Pertex Quantum, which is durable and DWR-treated, and the lining is breathable and won’t saturate from sweat-induced exertion. –Editors
Patagonia Nano Puff
Weight: 10.8 ounces
Fill: 60-g PrimaLoft Gold Eco
The Patagonia Nano Puff is built primarily from eco-friendly materials, including a recycled polyester ripstop shell and packed with PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco, which is made from more than half post-consumer recycled content. This jacket isn’t the warmest on the list, but has a neutral fit for layering over and under. The hood is form-fitting, the face fabric is abrasion resistant and highly durable, and all materials are weather-resistant as well as being reasonably breathable for use as a mid-layer on the go. –Editors
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