Synthetic down has traditionally been regarded as a cheaper, less effective alternative to the real thing, but thanks to advances in technology, synthetics have come into their own, rivaling goose down in many areas and even surpassing it in durability and water resistance. Technologies like Polartec’s Alpha fiber, developed for military use, or Columbia’s proprietary TurboDown, a mix of synthetic materials and goose down, are finding their way into a wider range of products. The result of all this innovation is that consumers in 2016 have access to synthetic jackets that are warmer, better ventilated, lighter and more durable than ever. The fake stuff is here to stay, and that’s a good thing.
Additional contribution by Peter Koch and Patrick Lapera.
The North Face Reyes Shirt Jacket
Best Shacket: The North Face blurs the line between shirt and jacket with the Reyes. The jacket can be worn as a layer or on its own thanks to its DWR finish, and the addition of a chest pocket and chambray trim around the collar and cuffs add style and functionality. The Reyes employs the company’s proprietary Thermoball technology, which mimics down by forming small clusters and trapping heat in the spaces between. That means that the Reyes offers the warmth of down and the weather resistance of synthetic.
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
Best for Ski Trips: Head to any mountain town this winter and you’ll probably find half the residents wearing this classic insulating jacket. The Nano Puff is incredibly light and packable, not to mention warm, with Primaloft Gold Eco insulation and a water-resistant, ripstop outer shell that’s made from 100 percent recycled materials. The Nano Puff stuffs into its own pocket when it comes time to pack, but its application is so versatile you’ll find yourself wearing it more often than not.
Outdoor Research Uberlayer
Best for Going Uphill: Outdoor Research’s take on active insulation is the Uberlayer — an award-winning jacket that you’ll never want to take off. A mesh liner interior sends moisture away from your body, through a hardy layer of Polartec Alpha insulation and out through the sturdy nylon shell, keeping you warm going both uphill and down. The functional aspects of the Uberlayer include a drawcord hem, helmet-compatible hood, five pockets and a key clip.
Rab Synergy Pull-On
Best for the Aprés Scene: Some insulating jackets are designed for preventing frostbite during a first ascent and some are designed for staying warm during a frigid walk across town. The Synergy falls in the latter category — it doesn’t save much on ounces, but the pullover style looks great and packs plenty of synthetic Cirrus 3 insulation to keep you nice and toasty wherever your daily routine may take you.
Fjällräven Keb Padded Hoodie
Best for Trekking: Fjällräven is based in Sweden, where cold is a way of life. The Keb is stuffed with Fjällräven G-Loft Supreme insulation, which combines hollow and ultra-thin polyester fibers that form clusters like real down feathers and quickly return to their lofty spiral form after compression. The jacket’s pockets — two for the hands, one on the chest and one inner mesh pocket — provide lots of storage options for the weight-conscious utilitarian.
Black Diamond First Light Hoody
Best for Late-Season Climbing: Adjusting your layers mid climb becomes a lot easier when you don’t have to do it at all. The First Light is another strong contender in the active insulation category, featuring Primaloft Silver Insulation Active, which allows your body to breathe during tough ascents and retains 91 percent of its warmth when wet. Schoeller outer fabric is treated with Nanosphere technology to repel water, dirt and oil. It’s also stretchy enough to accommodate the full range of movement required by any big reaches.
Arc’teryx Fission SL Jacket
Best for Blizzards: Synthetic insulation is impressively water resistant. That being said, even the most hydrophobic fibers need to be wrapped in a waterproof casing for full protection against the elements. Arc’teryx brings together a Gore-Tex shell and its proprietary Thermatek insulation to make the Fission SL the lightest waterproof, insulated jacket in its line. Additional features such as a storm hood, a weather-sealed zipper and underarm zips for venting make this jacket a body shield in mountain conditions.
Mountain Hardwear ZerøGrand Bomber
Best for Cold Commutes: Those averse to the quilted, outdoorsy look often associated with insulation baffles will love the ZerøGrand. This bomber-style jacket has a sleek, unadorned profile, but its insides contain Mountain Hardwear’s Thermal.Q Elite technology, which combines a 3D grid of stiff fibers with softer, more gap-filling fibers for one of the warmest synthetic insulations on the market by weight. On the outside, Dry.Q Active fabric wards off the elements you may encounter en route from A to B.