In the topsy-turvy world of insulated jackets, synthetic fills have improved markedly in recent years and are now nearly as warm, and almost as compressible and light, as down insulation. Meanwhile, down treated with a hydrophobic coating is edging out the synthetics’ warm-when-wet advantage.
Want to see updated models? Read our 2019 guide to insulated jackets.
Once bulky and non-compressible, synthetic insulation has come a long way and now offers similar performance to down insulation. At the same time, down is being treated with hydrophobic coatings which prevent it from clumping so it dries more quickly and can still perform, sub-optimally, when wet. Overall, down still offers superior warmth to weight.
When choosing a down insulated jacket, take note of the loft, or fill power (the volume that one ounce of down fills when full of air) – it is usually measured between 500 and 800: the higher the number, the greater the warmth with less fill required to achieve it.
Down jackets use baffles to keep the fill from moving around. Some synthetic garments also use baffles as well as other innovative techniques like quilting and tuck stitching to hold the insulation in place. New seamless baffles reduce heat loss through stitching.
Insulation-filled hoods trap warm air around your head without blocking visibility. Jackets suitable for climbing will have hoods that can be worn over or under a helmet.
Collars and cuffs
Cuffs keep out wind and snow and can be self-closed or elastic. Insulated collars should zip up under or just over the chin. Some are lined with a fleece-like fabric for comfort and house the zip in a ‘garage’.
Two handwarmer pockets and a chest pocket are the norm. Some jackets have internal organiser pockets. The lighter, more compressible jackets will stuff into one of the pockets when transporting.
The shell fabric should have a durable water repellent (DWR) coating to increase water-resistance. Breathable high thread count fabrics prevent down poking through the garment. Some are windproof to better trap warm air inside.
All insulated jackets – whether down or synthetic – should be stored out of their stuff sacks to encourage maximum loft and long-term performance.
Where down insulation comes from
Most of the world’s down comes from China, where feathers are collected as a by-product of the meat industry. Once birds are slaughtered for food, their feathers are removed and cleaned for use in products such as clothing and bedding.
Some companies claim to only use down which can be traced from farm to feather. Patagonia uses what it calls the ‘Traceable Down’ method, and The North Face, Arc’teryx, Outdoor Research and Montane partner with Allied Feather and Down, which follows the Responsible Down Standard, auditing each step of their supply chain to ensure animal welfare.
Macpac and One Planet use the International Down and Feather Laboratory to audit their down and assure it is ethically-sourced. Cactus Outdoor’s down is ethically harvested from Germany, while Earth Sea Sky and Marmot source their down from China.
Now you know what to look for, it’s time to choose a jacket
Montane Icarus Jacket $299
Down-mimicking PrimaLoft ThermoPlume synthetic insulation is equivalent to 550+ fill power down, quick drying, micro baffle construction for close body fit and freedom of movement, articulated arms prevent hem lift, insulated hood, zippered pack-friendly hand pockets, concealed chest pocket, stretch bound cuffs, elasticated hem. 581g. www.furtherfaster.co.nz
Marmot Alassian Featherless Jacket $399.95
A heavyweight cold weather jacket with 3M Thinsulate Featherless loose-fill synthetic insulation equivalent in warmth to 700-fill power down, woven baffles remove need for stitching, zippered hand-warmer pockets, elastic cuffs, drawcord hem. 706g (m); 604g (w). www.marmotnz.co.nz
Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody $379.99
With 60g of hydrophobic PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco (55% recycled), windproof recycled ripstop shell with DWR coating, under-helmet elasticated hood, zippered hand-warmer pockets, zippered internal chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack with a reinforced carabiner clip-in loop, drawcord-adjustable drop-tail hem. 337g (m); 284g (w). www.patagonia.com.au
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody $349.99
Combining water- and wind-resistant Pertex Microlight stretch fabric with quick-drying Polartec Alpha insulation. Adjustable helmet-compatible hood, internal thumb loops, storm flap, drawcord hem, zippered chest pocket, hand-warmer pockets. 369g (m); 310g (w). www.bivouac.co.nz
The North Face Ventrix Jacket $390
With 80g of Ventrix synthetic insulation and perforations in key areas that expand and dump heat or contract and retain heat as you move. Higher-denier fabric on forearms for durability, concealed chest and hand pockets, elastic-bound cuffs, hem cinch-cord. 420g (m); 400g (w). www.thenorthface.co.nz
Arc’teryx Men’s Proton LT Hoody $499.99
Climbing jacket with Coreloft synthetic insulation. Wind- and water-resistant, breathable, abrasion resistant, articulated elbows and gusseted underarms, insulated helmet compatible hood with drawcords, stretch knit cuffs, drawcord hem, zippered chest pockets and insulated hand pockets. 420g. www.bivouac.co.nz
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody $459.99
Patagonia’s best warmth to weight jacket features 65g of warm-when-wet PlumaFill insulation, ripstop Pertex Quantum shell with a DWR finish, zippered hand-warmer pockets, internal drop-in pockets, under-helmet hood, elasticated cuffs and hem, stuffs into pocket. 264g (m); 227g (w). www.patagonia.com.au
Marmot Featherless Hoody $399.95
Water-resistant loose-fill 3M Thinsulate Featherless synthetic insulation is equivalent in warmth to 700-fill power down, attached insulated hood with elastic binding, zippered hand pockets, elastic cuffs, inside zip stuff sack pocket, drawcord hem, Angel-Wing movement. 476g (m); 380g (w). www.marmotnz.co.nz
One Planet Inversion $579
Expedition jacket with 280g of 800-850 loft DWR-treated duck down enclosed in lightweight, water-resistant Pertex Endurance fabric. Box-wall baffles used on the body, down-filled helmet-compatible hood, zippered hand-warmer pockets, internal zippered pocket, mesh stash pockets, soft-touch chin guard, Velcro cuffs and a drawcord waist. 610g. www.oneplanet.com.au
The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoodie $650
Alpine jacket with 800-fill down, pre-tensioned helmet-compatible hood with elastic binding and rear adjustment, exposed reverse-coil centre front zip, zippered hand pockets, stuffs into the pocket, stretch knit cuff with DWR finish, hidden hem drawcord adjusted through hand pockets. 380g (m); 320g (w). www.thenorthface.co.nz
Macpac Supanova Hooded Down Jacket $499.99
Lightweight Pertex Quantum 15D nylon shell with DWR treatment for water resistance, 102g (96g – women’s) of 800-loft HyperDRY water-resistant goose down fill insulates in damp conditions, down-filled hood, zippered hand warmer pockets, elastic-bound cuffs, packs into own pocket. 280g (m); 260g (w). www.macpac.co.nz
Cactus Outdoor Down Jacket $599
A tough 220D nylon shell protects 277g (men’s medium) of 750-loft white European goose down. Adjustable insulated and removable hood, nylon taffeta lining, two internal chest pockets, two external fleece-lined hand pockets, fleece lined cuffs. 1100g (m); 910g (w). www.cactusoutdoor.co.nz
Earth Sea Sky Zero Jacket $899
Water-repellent down and a seam-sealed waterproof and breathable outer fabric provides warmth and protection in cold and damp conditions. 240g of 700-loft duck down, water-repellent YKK front zip, tuck-away hood, down-lined hand warmer pockets, two internal storage pockets. 730g (m); 640g (w). www.earthseasky.co.nz
One Planet Dumper $309
Hard-wearing 20D down-proof and water-resistant Vapour Vent fabric holds 180g (170g – women’s) of 700-750 loft DWR-treated duck down. Tight weave fabric keeps down in but is breathable and allows water vapour to escape, high collar, hand-warmer pockets, internal zipped compartment, chin guard. 430g (m); 400g (w). www.oneplanet.com.au