Some of this year’s jackets feature clever designs and use of fabrics that allow air to circulate inside the jacket. This prevents overheating during activity but also traps warmth when at a standstill. Regardless of whether a garment uses this technology, insulated jackets offer unparalleled warmth to weight.
Synthetic insulation is durable and will keep the user warm even when it’s wet. It is cheaper, bulkier and heavier than down, but modern synthetic fills are coming close to equaling down in weight and compressibility.
Down offers incredible warmth to weight and will most likely be treated with a hydrophobic coating that will resist soaking and dry more quickly. This means that in wet conditions, down won’t ‘clump’ so easily whilst still offering warmth.
Hoods improve warmth considerably by trapping warm air around your head without blocking visibility. Hoods on alpine or climbing jackets will fit over or under the helmet. Drawcords are often used to tighten the hood but, as with cuffs, elastic hood hems ensure a more snug and warmth-trapping fit.
When choosing a down jacket, note the fill power (FP). This is the volume that one ounce of down fills when full of air and is usually measured between 500 and 800. The higher the number, the greater the warmth and less fill required to achieve it.
Jackets are cut to ensure warm air remains close to the body, which means fabrics will offer some stretch to ensure hems and cuffs don’t rise when arms are outstretched. Articulated shoulders allow greater freedom of movement.
Collars and cuffs
Cuffs keep out wind and prevent trapped warmth from escaping. They can be self-closed or elastic, with the latter being most effective at trapping warmth. Insulated collars should zip up under or just over the chin. They should have a soft comfort lining at the chin.
Two handwarmer pockets are the norm, though some ultralight models may do away with hand pockets. Internal pockets can be used to store items close to your body. Lighter and more compressible jackets will stuff into one of the pockets or a separate stuff sack for transport.
Recycled fabrics are now common. The shell should have a durable water repellent (DWR) coating to increase water resistance and some hard-wearing models even use a waterproof fabric to protect the insulation. Breathable high thread count fabrics prevent down poking through the garment.
Down jackets use baffles to keep the fill from moving around. Some synthetic garments also use baffles to hold the insulation in place, amongst other techniques. Seamless (welded or seam-sealed) construction reduces heat loss through the stitching.
Responsible Down Standard
Most manufacturers using down insulation adhere to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), which prohibits the removal of down and feathers from live birds. Force-feeding of birds is also prohibited.
Rab Valiance $699.95
Designed for cold and wet conditions with waterproof Pertex Shield fabric, YKK AquaGuard zips and hydrophobic 700FP Nikwax hydrophobic recycled down insulation. Synthetic insulation is used in the helmet-compatible hood and the cuffs. There’s two zipped hand warmer pockets and a zipped internal security pocket. Stuff sack included. 735g (m), 682g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz
Rab Electron Pro $599.95
Designed for alpine climbing and year-round mountain use. It has zoned baffles that minimise bulk and cold spots while increasing core warmth. Pertex Quantum Pro ripstop nylon 20D outer fabric, and 800FP Nikwax hydrophobic goose down. Features include stretch-panel cuffs, helmet-compatible hood, YKK zipped pockets, adjustable hem and stuff sack. 523g (m), 459g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz
The North Face Belleview Stretch Down $500
A hiking and travel jacket with two-way stretch and 600FP down in the body and synthetic insulation in the side and underarm panels.
It has a Vislon centre front zip, concealed reverse-coil-zip hand pockets, elastic-bound cuffs, drawcord hem and it stuffs into its pocket. www.thenorthface.co.nz
The North Face Thermoball 50/50 $600
A jacket using ‘50/50’ baffle construction (where a series of fibre-proof baffles are paired with an air-permeable face fabric) that allows heat and moisture to escape during activity. It uses ThermoBall Eco insulation made from recycled polyester and features a three-piece hood, reverse-coil centre front zip and it stows in its pocket. www.thenorthface.co.nz
Marmot WarmCube Active Alt HB $499
Marmot’s WarmCube technology circulates air during movement to prevent overheating and traps heat inside down cubes when stopped. It features 700FP down with hydrophobic Down Defender treatment, elastic-bound cuffs and hem, full-coverage hood with elastic binding, zippered chest and hand pockets, and a gusseted underarm. 375g (m), 365g (w). www.marmotnz.co.nz
Patagonia Down Sweater $459.99
This redesigned 800FP jacket has a ripstop nylon fabric made from discarded fishing nets and uses Responsible Down Standard down. It features patterned quilting for warmth and movement, front zipper storm flap, two zipped on-seam handwarmer pockets, drop-in interior pockets, elastic cuffs, a drawcord hem and an internal zippered chest pocket that converts to a stuff sack. 369g (m), 292g (w). www.patagonia.co.nz
Outdoor Research Helium Down Hoodie $449.99
This 800FP goose down jacket uses abrasion-resistant Pertex Quantum fabric with Diamond Fuse technology. Its hood and shoulders are waterproof, there are internal stash pockets, a chest pocket, hand warmer pockets and it stows into its left pocket. 436g (m/w). www.bivouac.co.nz
Outdoor Research SuperStrand LT Hoodie $399.99
A lightweight and packable synthetic insulated jacket using SuperStrand polyester fibres with the same soft feel and loft as a 700-800FP down jacket. It has a ripstop nylon shell, adjustable hood with Low-Pro binding, zipped hand pockets, elastic-bound cuffs and hem. Stows into pocket. 309g (m), 272g (w). www.bivouac.co.nz
Montane Anti-Freeze Lite $350
This is a lightweight 750FP down jacket designed for fast-paced activities – fastpacking, trail running, tramping – where packability and weight are important. It features HyperDry water-resistant down, an under-helmet hood, elasticated cuff, adjustable hem, YKK front zip, zipped hand pockets and DWR-coated Pertex Quantum Eco fabric. 330g (m), 285g (w). www.furtherfaster.co.nz
Rab Microlight Alpine $399.95
Rab’s classic insulated jacket has been updated to feature zoned micro and nano baffles that increase core warmth. It uses recycled 30D Pertex Quantum ripstop nylon and 700FP recycled Nikwax hydrophobic down. There are three pockets, a down-filled hood with stiffened peak, elastic cuffs, drawcord hem and a stuff sack. 466g (m), 413.5g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz
Rab Xenair Alpine Light $379.95
A versatile lightweight synthetic jacket using weather-resistant Pertex Quantum Air fabric and recycled Primaloft Gold Active+ insulation to maintain heat when at a standstill and allow airflow when active. It has articulated sleeves, a front zip chin guard, elasticated cuffs, YKK zips and a helmet-compatible hood. 293g (m), 263g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz
Kathmandu Heli R Hooded Jacket $249.98
This 600FP Responsible Down Standard duck down jacket uses recycled materials throughout – including zippers and fabric. It features a full front zip with chin guard, elasticated cuffs and an adjustable hem, two hand warmer pockets and two large inner stash pockets. 280g (m), 220g (w). www.kathmandu.co.nz