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The 11 Best Synthetic Down Jackets of 2020

Synthetic insulation rivals down in warmth and surpasses it in durability and water resistance.

a man wearing a blue patagonia puffy jacket on a blank background
Chandler Bondurant

Last Updated December, 2019: We’ve updated our guide of the best synthetic down jackets with the 13 best picks for Winter 2020. Prices and links have also been updated.

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 2020 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.

The 11 Best Synthetic Down Jackets of 2020

    Synthetic Insulated Jackets 101

      Patagonia Macro Puff

      Editor’s Choice

      It was challenging to decide which of Patagonia’s PlumaFill-filled jackets we like best. In the end, the newer Macro Puff takes home the honor, unseating the Micro Puff as our choice for the best synthetic insulation jacket. The key difference between this jacket and that? The Macro has more of it.

      The results of that change might be obvious: the jacket is both bigger and warmer. We were concerned that it would be too warm for daily wear, but after testing it through autumn’s shifting temperatures, we were surprised to find that isn’t the case. PlumaFill has proven itself yet again to be remarkably versatile insulation.

      The Macro Puff is different from the Micro in a few other important ways. The most impactful of those is that it has an entirely different fit that’s less athletic (meaning, it’s looser and longer). That might make it more appealing for people who plan to wear it as an everyday jacket around town or as an outer layer during activity when the weather allows for it. The Macro Puff also has two drop-in style interior pockets in addition to its dual hand and single chest pocket, which are great for stashing bulkier items like winter gloves or a hat.

      Weight: 13.2oz
      Fill Material: 100% polyester PlumaFill
      Shell Material: 0.8oz 10-denier 100% recycled nylon ripstop
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $349

      Arc’teryx Atom LT

      Best Do-It-All Jacket

      The Atom LT is made with breathable Coreloft insulation, which functions better than down when placed under a shell. Combined with a hydrophobic finish, it does a lot to keep the wearer from getting damp from either weather or exertion. Polartec stretch side panels keep the LT flexible. It’s lighter, snugger fitting, and less bulky than other jackets on this list, which makes the LT an ideal middle layer.

      In design and function, the LT is about as simple as it gets, but that’s a good thing. It’s a no-frills insulating layer that’s there when you need it and doesn’t look half bad if when you move from outdoor adventure to local watering hole. The side panels breathe exceedingly well thanks to the aforementioned Polartec stretch panels. We’ve used this jacket for everything from travel, to rock climbing, to snowboarding, to hiking and it still looks the exact same as the day we bought it.

      Weight: 13.4 oz
      Fill Material: 60g Coreloft
      Shell Material: 20D Tyono, Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology (88% polyester, 12% elastane)
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $239

      Rab Xenon X

      Best No-Frills Jacket:

      UK-based Rab Equipment is a mountaineering brand to its core, but that doesn’t mean its innovative technical outerwear can’t be leveraged for use closer to sea level. The Xenon X is the brand’s premier synthetic insulated jacket and it’s dead simple. It’s an insulated jacket with a water resistant shell and that’s it. But it’s also one of the warmest jackets we tested thanks to a hefty serving of Primaloft Gold. The fit can be a bit boxy if wearing on its own, but if you tend to layer over a fleece or other bulky base and midlayers, go true to size.

      Weight: 14oz
      Fill Material: PrimaLoft Gold
      Shell Material: Pertex Quantum
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $146

      Patagonia Micro Puff

      Best Ultralight Jacket

      The Micro Puff the lightest jacket Patagonia has ever made. On the outside, it looks just like any other synthetic insulation jacket, with just a little extra sheen. The outer shell is constructed from a super lightweight, water-repellent ripstop nylon called Pertex Quantum. Instead of using horizontal baffles, as it does with many of its down jackets, or the quilted design exemplified in its Nano Puff, Patagonia applied a unique stitching pattern to create a mostly-continuous maze of channels that prevent the insulation from bunching. The real innovation is on the inside: Patagonia developed a new type of insulation called PlumaFill that’s made up of down-mimicking polyester fibers that are secured together in one continuous, fluffy line.

      The result is a jacket super lightweight jacket that doesn’t quite feel like an “ultralight” jacket — it still has two zippered hand pockets and two interior mesh pouch pockets. Jackets that spare no detail when cutting back on weight don’t have these useful everyday features. The Micro Puff is slightly pricier than Patagonia’s other synthetic puffies, but if you’re looking jacket that’s exceptionally lightweight and warm at the same time, this is a great option.

      For a more detailed description of the Micro Puff Hoody, read our in depth review.

      Weight: 9.3oz
      Fill Material: 65-g PlumaFill, 100% polyester
      Shell Material: 10-D nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $299

      Bight Swelter

      Best Heavy Jacket

      Bight Gear, formerly known as MtnLogic, takes a group approach to designing and building outdoor gear. That team consists of the 60-plus guides who work at Rainier Mountaineering Inc., the guide service that’s affiliated with the company. Many of these guides spend more than half the year on mountains, and their collective knowledge and preferences are reflected in each piece that Bight produces.

      As a product of that process, the Swelter Jacket is designed as a super-warm insulating piece that can be used as a mid-layer during outings that involve lots of exposure to the elements or as an outer layer in more mild conditions. The guides’ input contributed to many of the features that make the jacket great (even when you’re not attached to a rope on a glacier). One such feature is a slightly longer length that prevents cold spots between upper and lower layers, as well as the inclusion of stretch panels on the cuffs that let you throw the jacket in quickly without taking gloves off. The jacket is filled with Polartec Power Fill, which is made up of 80 percent post-consumer recycled materials and makes this jacket one of the warmest on this list.

      Weight: 18.7oz
      Fill Material: Polartec Power Fill
      Shell Material: 20d ripstop nylon
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $329

      The North Face Ventrix Mid Layer

      Best Mid Layer

      Inside the Ventrix Mid Layer is Ventrix, The North Face’s proprietary active insulation. We’ve been fans of Ventrix insulation since it came out in fall 2017, and it’s been a staple on this list since. Here’s how it works: like other types of active insulation, Ventrix is highly breathable, but unlike those other fills, it has laser-cut perforations that open and close with motion. When you’re idle, the perforations remain closed, thereby trapping heat. When you’re active, the perforations stretch open to release heat.

      The Mid Layer is one of The North Face’s newer implementations of Ventrix. It’s a crewneck pullover with a polyester shell that isn’t overly technical — it doesn’t have the sheen that many insulated jackets have, and it doesn’t have stitched baffles. That makes it great for wearing as a warm indoor layer, but thanks to Ventrix insulation, it’s perfect for things like ski touring and hiking.

      Weight: 11.3oz
      Fill Material: 100% polyester stretch Ventrix
      Shell Material: nylon ripstop, recycled polyester, elastane
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $199

      Houdini Add-In Jacket

      Best Jacket for Cities

      The Add-In Jacket’s longer cut gives cold weather warmth a stylish edge that makes it perfect for life in towns and cities. The jacket’s hem falls roughly at mid-thigh, so it isn’t as long as a trench coat but still provides a crucial extension of insulation below the beltline. But the best thing about the Add-In isn’t style; it’s versatility.

      Houdini designed the Add-In as a layering piece that could handily accompany other jackets like its One Parka or awesomely weird Cloud. As such, the Add-In contains a Goldilocks-sized fill of Primaloft Gold Active+ insulation, which you might otherwise find in jackets for activities like skiing or hiking. It keeps the Add-In from becoming bulky and makes it perfect for cool to cold temperatures, which, for many, will make this jacket appropriate for all but winter’s worst days.

      Weight: 16.4oz
      Fill Material: PrimaLoft Gold Active+
      Shell Material: polyester
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $350

      Norrøna Røldal Thermo100

      Best Insulated Hoodie

      There aren’t many insulated hoodies out there, and Norrøna made it easy to choose the best with its Røldal Thermo100. The jacket is packed with many of the same technical features present in Norrøna’s mountain outerwear. For example, PrimaLoft Gold insulation, a water-resistant nylon shell, stretchy cuffs and two-way side zippers that make the Thermo100 easy to get into and also act as vents. It’s the warmest hoodie we own.

      Weight: 27.3oz
      Fill Material: PrimaLoft Gold
      Shell Material: polyester
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $299

      Outdoor Research Vigor Hybrid

      Best Lightweight Active Jacket

      There is such a thing as too much jacket. For instance, when you’re running, hiking, climbing or mountain biking. That’s why Outdoor Research made the Vigor Hybrid an active-use jacket that limits its insulation to key zones — the rest is grid fleece — to keep the body warm while allowing it to breathe.

      The Vigor’s insulation is noteworthy by itself. It’s called VerticalX Air, and it’s made up of vertically oriented fibers that are better at transporting moisture away from the body than typical synthetic insulation. The fibers also trap air, which equates to warmth. The Vigor is probably too light for an around-town jacket, but it’s perfect for high-output activities. (If you need a little more heat, check out Outdoor Research’s Refuge Air Jacket, which also has VerticalX Air.)

      Weight: 12oz
      Fill Material: 100% polyester
      Shell Material: nylon, polyester, spandex
      Waterproofing: none

      Buy Now: $179

      L.L.Bean Packaway Jacket

      Best Budget Jacket

      In the synthetic jacket category, L.L.Bean’s Packaway is cheap, but that doesn’t mean it’s low quality. The jacket is filled with PrimaLoft Gold insulation — the same stuff found inside Patagonia’s ever-popular Nano Puff Jacket — that’s enhanced with Cross Core technology, which was initially developed for NASA and uses aerogels to increase warmth without doing the same to weight. It’s water- and wind-resistant, with a recycled polyester shell and two hand warmer pockets as well as exterior and interior chest pockets. All this makes for a jacket that’s just as warm, packable and fully-featured as many others that are so often called best, but for half the price.

      Weight: n/a
      Fill Material: 60-gram PrimaLoft Gold with Cross Core technology
      Shell Material: 100% recycled polyester
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $169

      Hill City Thermal Light Shirt Jacket

      Best Insulated Shirt Jacket

      When Gap Inc. launched its new men’s brand Hill City, everyone (including us) was quick to boil it down to a male version of the company’s women’s athleisure brand, Athleta. It is that in many ways, but in testing out a sampling of the collection in New York’s Adirondack Park, we discovered that it’s also highly-considered and in many cases highly technical. One of our favorite pieces is the Thermal Light Shirt Jacket.

      Unlike the rest of the jackets on this list, Hill City went with more of a style angle here. The shirt jacket closes with snap buttons and has a collar that lies flat and away from the chin. But in every other regard, the Thermal Light is built like a synthetic jacket: it has a stretchy water-repellent exterior made of nylon and spandex and is filled with warm PrimaLoft Gold Active+ insulation. It’s lightweight and scrunches up into a backpack at the end of the day. It’s not what you’d wear to the top of a mountain, but that’s precisely why we like it.

      Weight: n/a
      Fill Material: PrimaLoft Gold Active+
      Shell Material: 87% nylon, 13% spandex
      Waterproofing: DWR finish

      Buy Now: $158

      The 11 Best Synthetic Down Jackets of 2020

        Synthetic Insulated Jackets 101

          Explanations of common tech specs you might find when comparing and purchasing winter gear.

          What to Know Before You Buy a Synthetic Down Jacket

          Down vs. Synthetic

          The best insulating piece, whether it’s a jacket or a sleeping bag, must be warm, light and easily packable. Down and synthetic-filled products both offer these qualities, but there are pros and cons to each.

          Down comes from the layers under protective exterior feathers of geese and ducks — it works for them while they float and fly around every winter, so of course, it keeps us warm as well. But when natural down gets wet, it clumps and loses a lot of its heat-retaining ability. Also worth noting: although big efforts have been made by a lot of brands and outfitters such as Patagonia and The North Face, not all down is sourced ethically, and animal cruelty can become part of natural down insulation’s production chain.

          Synthetic insulation is our attempt to mimic natural down’s insulation power with polyester fibers arranged in different sizes that cluster and trap heat much like the real thing. Synthetic down really does insulate well, without losing packability or the light weight of natural down — not to mention it’s hypoallergenic. One trade-off is that synthetic down weighs slightly more by volume (and insulating ability) than natural down, so synthetic-filled gear tends to be marginally heavier and more bulky. On the flip side of the coin, synthetic down is less prone to clumping when it gets wet, so in mixed weather conditions it might be a safer bet.

          In terms of labeling, if a jacket just says “down” it’s definitely natural down insulation. You might see fancy terms added in, like Mountain Hardwear’s proprietary Q.Shield waterproofing treatment, but if it’s “down,” it’s still the real deal. You should also know that although the industry is still improving and innovating ways to make down more water-resistant, no feathers are truly waterproof. Synthetic insulation goes by a lot of names, depending on the brands associated with it, but synthetic down insulation will never be labeled as down unless it’s a clearly labeled mixture of real and synthetic materials

          Not sure which is right for you? If you’re going somewhere cold but mostly dry, natural down is probably the way to go, but it will probably be more expensive. Go for synthetic if there’s a fair chance of getting wet, or if your true first concern is getting a break on the price.

          Active Insulation

          Until Patagonia released its Nano Air Jacket in 2014, active insulation flew below the radar (the concept was first introduced by Polartec in late 2012). Now there are enough companies making apparel that’s both warm and breathable that active insulation can officially be considered as its own category.

          Technically, active insulation is a type of synthetic insulation, (a water-resistant alternative to down), but because of some fundamental differences that make it unique, active should be considered on its own. The technology draws its name from its intended use — active insulation garments are insulating pieces that are meant to be worn during activity (unlike, for example, a down jacket one might throw on after activity, once the body starts to cool down).

          Every active piece has one feature in common: they’re incredibly breathable. How this is achieved depends on the insulation used in the jacket, and every company uses a different version. Some are proprietary, like Patagonia’s FullRange insulation, and some, such as Polartec’s Alpha insulation, which was originally developed for the US Special Forces, are sourced by a range of companies.

          As with other types of synthetic insulation, active insulation is highly water-resistant and compressible. In comparison to regular synthetic insulation, active is the most breathable form of synthetic insulation available today thanks to a construction that prevents the migration of fibers within the piece while allowing for extra stretch and superior moisture management. Many active pieces are designed with an exterior shell that’s also more breathable but is often softer and less water-repellent than what’s found in other synthetic apparel.

          All active insulation, no matter the brand, is designed to prevent lots of layer swaps so that it can be worn throughout the entirety of an activity like hiking, climbing or skiing.

          How To Wash Your Synthetic Down Jacket

          Most people take their synthetic down jacket for granted, expecting it to perform the same, year after year without any maintenance. Over time though, your jacket becomes compacted and dirty, which inhibits its loft and makes the jacket less warm. To clean your jacket, revitalize its warmth and get it ready for all your adventures, follow our simple guide.

          Put your jacket into a washing machine without an agitator. It is easiest to do this at a laundromat, but if your home washer is of the large, front-loading variety, feel free to toss it in there. If you use a washing machine with an agitator, you run the risk of tearing open your jacket — so avoid agitators at all costs.

          Wash with Nikwax Tech Wash. Though there are other good tech washes out there (namely Granger’s), we recommend using Nikwax’s Tech Wash. Add the Tech Wash directly into the washing machine, using about three ounces. Follow the directions on the care label of your jacket for specific temperature and cycle settings.

          Switch your jacket to the dryer and add tennis balls. Move your jacket over to the dryer, but before you turn it on, add in a package of new tennis balls. As the drier spins, the tennis balls will bounce around inside the drum, breaking up any clumps of insulation and helping dry the jacket completely. This also helps to restore the loft in the synthetic fibers. As for dryer settings, low heat for a long period of time is the name of the game.

          Pause the dryer and manually break up any clumps. Every twenty minutes or so, pause the dryer and manually work out larger clumps of insulation. While the tennis balls work well to help break up clumps, you’ll need to put some extra effort in to break them up completely.

          Tumble dry until the jacket is completely dry. Dry the jacket until it is dry the entire way through. While moist synthetic insulation still functions well, it’s prone to mold, which will lead to a stinky jacket.

          The Gear You Need

          Nikwax Tech Wash $10

          Tennis Balls $10

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