Whether you’re backpacking, camping, skiing or watching a soccer game on a cool day, finding the right down or synthetic puffy jacket for your needs requires a little understanding of the differences between them. Read on for expert buying tips and top picks.
Choosing an insulated jacket
Understand these differences between types of insulated jackets:
- Standard down feathers will not trap heat once wet, but water-resistant (hydrophobic) down repels moisture, trapping heat when damp and drying faster than standard down.
- Look for a shell fabric treated to repel water.
- Synthetic insulation does trap heat when wet — although the wetter the jacket, the less warm it will feel.
- Down fill power measures the volume, in cubic inches, of 1 ounce of feathers; thus, an ounce of 800-fill-power down occupies 800 cubic inches of volume. Higher fill-power means more warmth per ounce of down.
- Synthetic insulation is generally not as warm or compressible per ounce or as durable as down, although today’s better synthetics have a warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility that compares with mid-grade (700-fill) or better
On a budget? The REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.0 ($100) might provide all you need.
Stuffed with responsibly sourced, 650-fill power down feathers, it’s not as packable for its weight as pricier puffy jackets, but it stuffs into a pocket. While lacking a hood, it delivers enough warmth for summer backpacking trips in the mountains. The windproof shell, made from recycled nylon, repels light precipitation. 11 oz., rei.com
Want a three-season puffy jacket that’s warm, a great value and good for the planet? Get the Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie ($199). Outdoor Research’s VerticalX ECOSR insulation — made from recycled polyester and bio-based Sorona — lofts impressively to trap body heat effectively while ranking among the more packable types of synthetic insulation. The lightweight Pertex Quantum shell fabric with Diamond Fuse technology is more durable than many shell fabrics and sheds light precipitation. 11.5 oz., outdoorresearch.com
Despite weighing barely more than a half-pound, the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody ($299) proves surprisingly toasty for temps in the 40s. Credit Patagonia’s PlumaFill insulation, which delivers the primary benefit of synthetic insulation: trapping heat when wet. The insulation’s continuous-strand construction, combined with a discontinuous quilting design, creates internal spaces that trap heat — mimicking down. The non-adjustable, elasticized hood clings snugly around your face and fits under a helmet. 9 oz., patagonia.com
For three-season backcountry camping, it’s hard to beat the warmth-to-weight ratio and
packability of the Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket ($339). Packed with 900-plus-fill power goose down, the Eos delivers enough warmth for temps down to the high 30s — impressive for just 11 ounces. The elasticized hood stays put on your head even in wind, and the water-resistant Pertex Quantum shell sheds a light rain. 11 oz., featheredfriends.com