Humans were not gifted with tough, warm exteriors that would allow us to brave icy weather in the same manner as, say, wolves or buffalo. However, we do have another useful trait at our disposal that gave us the ability to make up for our physical downsides: our ingenuity. You see, we’ve figured out how to manufacture apparel that increases our survivability in any weather tenfold, and we’ve made strides in improving that apparel greatly over time.
Once relegated to simple animal furs, the development of outdoor apparel and its subsequent technologies is the physical embodiment of mankind’s cleverness. In fact, nowadays, you can wrap yourself in a coat that was developed, engineered, and crafted in its entirety without repurposing any animal parts — and it can potentially keep you warmer than even the most robust of furs, feathers, or otherwise. This guide is dedicated to the aforementioned apparel. These are the best synthetic down insulated jackets you can buy.
Natural vs. Synthetic Insulation
Down With Down
For a very long time, goose down was one of the best insulators known to man — and it remains sought-after to this day. However, emerging technologies have helped many synthetic alternatives eclipse the usefulness of genuine goose down, making synthetics often better overall for insulation purposes for a number of reasons. We’ve outlined some of the biggest impact points below.
Sustainability: It should come as no surprise that, for the most part, synthetic downs to trend in the direction of sustainability in ways that natural goose down simply cannot. After all, these synthetics do not require the raising of an animal, slaughter, and then disposal of the waste afterward — meaning they have a pretty significant leg-up regarding their environmental impact. Even in the case of sustainably-sourced goose down — which often sees manufacturers acquiring goose down as a byproduct of food farming — synthetics still tend to be better for the planet and, therefore, all the creatures upon it. Yes, synthetics can and often do still have major downsides — many of them are petroleum-based and/or utilize potentially harmful chemicals — but if you look at the overall impact of the remarkably damaging animal farming industry (meaning even goose down harvested as a byproduct of meat production) and the overall lack of regulation therein, it’s difficult to make a strong argument against synthetics as a preferable option — especially when you consider that brands are getting better and better at making them sustainably.
Recyclability: To be fair, there are jackets available now that utilize recycled goose down. With that in mind, we want to point out that we’re not suggesting that natural down isn’t recyclable — just that synthetics are more recyclable. This comes down to one major factor: synthetic down tends to be a bit physically tougher than relatively delicate goose down — meaning it will functionally survive a greater period of time. That means more of it can be harvested and utilized in subsequent jackets produced by manufacturers that utilize recycled materials.
All-Weather Warmth: This might be the strongest argument for synthetic down when it comes to the end-user. You see, goose down loses its ability to keep you warm when it gets wet, as it can no longer create the pockets of air necessary for the process. By contrast, synthetics do not necessarily collapse when wet and, often, will retain their ability to keep the wearer warm — even in a significant downpour or snowstorm. And that could make all the difference.
Overall Longevity: This ties into a similar idea as the recyclability factor above but it still needs to be noted. Thanks to the fact that newer synthetic down insulations can be made tougher overall (see: the emergence of Graphene and the development of aerogel) and can do its job even when wet, it also has a longer useful life when faced with more extreme conditions — meaning you can depend on the jacket of your choice for a longer period. This also helps cut down on waste, as users will have less reason to replace the jacket over time. When paired with a durable exterior, this makes synthetic down the clear winner in the longevity category. For reference: in ideal circumstances in which the down is preserved and protected from abuse, down can actually last longer than lower-end synthetics; but, as we know (and especially with apparel), that is rarely ever the case.
Bulkiness: Goose down necessitates a certain amount of bulk (or puffiness) in a jacket, as it needs the space to create pockets of air warmed by the wearer’s body. As such, natural down jackets tend to be puffier. However, synthetics have been engineered and refined to the point where some of them can create/retain the same amount of heat as goose down that’s much thicker — sometimes as much as twice or more. That means synthetic down insulated jackets can be made slimmer overall and they won’t impede your range of motion nearly as much.
Rab Xenon Jacket
While you might struggle to find a real down vest at this price point, you can definitely get a synthetic alternative that may even perform and feel better — like the Rab Xenon you see here. While this looks a bit like a windbreaker or just a shell, it actually has a thin layer of Stratus insulation that will keep you warm when the mercury drops without being too bulky or weighing you down. That also means it’s remarkably packable and can even collapse into itself — doing double duty as a travel pillow in a pinch. That’s not half bad for something so affordable.
Columbia Buck Butte Insulated Jacket
If you like the look of more traditional puffer jackets but you’re not so keen on goose down insulation (for sustainability, cruelty-free, or budgetary reasons), you can still find what you want in the Columbia Buck Butte Insulated Jacket. The shell of this coat is made from 100% nylon and it is stuffed entirely with polyester insulation that will keep you warm in any weather — even when it is a bit damp. Better still, it’s available in numerous colorways so you can pick the one that fits your style best.
Proof Graphene Down Jacket
The thing about synthetic down is that there are always new, interesting materials brands are working with — as is the case with this Proof Graphene Down Jacket. As the name suggests, it is stuffed with Graphene, a carbon-based synthetic that’s incredibly durable (to the point that people often refer to it as “indestructible”), superb when it comes to thermoregulation, and incredibly lightweight. Along with that stuffing, the shell is also double DWR-coated for top-tier water-resistance and stain-resistance. And the whole thing can pack down tight for travel.
Marmot Featherless Hoody
Boasting an ultra-thin, ultralight 3M Thinsulate featherless insulation, this quilted hooded jacket still looks like a traditional puffer but lacks the bulk — giving it a slimmer, more modern silhouette and serving to give you a greater range of motion than its goose down brethren. Furthermore, it will keep regulating your temperature even when wet — a feat goose down simply cannot replicate. It also certainly doesn’t hurt that it looks great in all three colorways offered.
Topo Designs Mid Puffer Jacket
For people that want the warmth and comfort of a puffer jacket without looking like one, you’ll find an excellent alternative in the Topo Designs Mid Puffer you see here. This jacket was made specifically to offer unrivaled warmth in a remarkably lightweight package — and Topo was certainly successful in that endeavor. On top of its great looks, this coat also has PrimaLoft Black Eco Rise Insulation made 100% from recycled water bottles, a recycled nylon shell with a DWR finish, and it comes in four stand-out colors.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow Insulated Hoodie
There are numerous things that we love about the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow Insulated Hoodie. For starters, it does look like a puffer jacket — albeit a sleeker, more aggressively-designed one (like it was designed for intense expeditions). But it also comes with a shell made from 100% recycled ripstop nylon and 80g PrimaLoft insulation crafted from 70% recycled materials. That means, on top of looking and performing incredibly, you can also feel good knowing you’re wearing something that helps reduce waste rather than creating it.
The North Face ThermoBall Eco Jacket
If ever there was a brand that should come as no surprise on this list, it’s The North Face. Iconic in its appearance, the ThermoBall Eco Jacket is an unmistakable TNF design marked by a gorgeous slim silhouette, a 100% post-consumer recycled construction, excellent packability, and unrivaled performance. The North Face even went so far as to offer it in both a classic shiny finish and a more modern matte one. If you’re looking for the industry standard in synthetic down jackets, this is probably your stop.
Arc’teryx Atom LT Insulated Hoodie
Of every big-name outdoor apparel brand out there, Arc’teryx might be the absolute best at cultivating handsome minimalism in over-built outerwear — and the brand’s Atom LT Insulated Hoodie is certainly no exception. In fact, the silhouette is so pared-down and slim, you might not even realize this is an insulated jacket at all. But it definitely is, stuffed with 60g Coreloft Compact synthetic fibers that will keep you toasty warm without weighing you down or compromising your ability to move, and they were designed to stay in place over time, thereby extending the useful life of the jacket. Furthermore, the shell boasts weatherproofing and enhanced abrasion resistance. It’s no secret that Arc’teryx knows what they’re doing and this is just another great example of that.
Helly Hansen Active Puffy Jacket
For those not in the know, Helly Hansen specializes in making outerwear for some of the toughest environments on the planet — like unforgiving Arctic waters. While this puffer jacket isn’t quite up to Perfect Storm-like activity, it’s plenty great for terrestrial adventures in all weather conditions and it has styling based on the brand’s classic and iconic original Puffy Jacket. It’s made entirely out of polyester — the shell, lining, and insulation — which means it’s light, durable, and warm. And, truly, it looks great in every available colorway.
Patagonia Micro Puff Hooded Insulated Jacket
Another staple outdoor gear brand that’s more than earned their shining reputation, Patagonia has not only created a superb synthetic down insulated jacket in their Micro Puff hoodie but they’ve also managed to put a unique stylistic spin on it with its staggered baffling (an element that certainly helps this jacket stand out from the crowd). Alongside its stand-out appearance, this jacket boasts excellent water-repellent properties, a cut that welcomes layering, multiple pockets for everyday carry organization, and more.
Bight Swelter Jacket
A quick glance at the Bight Swelter Jacket might make you think this is little more than a packable windbreaker. But don’t let its svelte silhouette fool you; this is a full-blown snow-ready jacket. In fact, the brand themselves suggests that this is a great go-to ski jacket. It also boasts a DWR coating, puncture and abrasion resistance, a Polartec insulation (great for temperature drops) that’s made up of 80% recycled content, and so much more. Yes, that means that the name is more than just a name — it’s a description of how you may feel in this jacket if you underestimate its ability to retain warmth.
Houdini Add-In Jacket
Houdini’s Add-In Jacket is so thin, the brand actually encourages people to use it as an inner layer in especially cold weather. However, this jacket is also exceptional as a standalone thanks to that thin-yet-toasty-warm layer of Primaloft insulation. On top of that, it is constructed from durable C9 Ripstop fabric, altogether making it ultralight (just over a pound in total weight) and incredibly packable, as well as breathable and comfortable. As an added bonus, the entire thing is recyclable — making this one of the absolute best sustainable options around.
Oros Orion Parka
Oros is definitely not a brand that anyone should be sleeping on. After all, they’re known for their use of aerogel — a synthetic material that’s extremely lightweight yet absurdly durable and makes for unrivaled insulation. It’s also used by the likes of NASA for their spacesuits. So, if it’s good enough for astronauts in the freezing temperatures of space, it’s good enough for whatever earthbound adventures you partake in. With just 2mm of insulation, this jacket is ultralight and still warmer than some of the most formidable puffer jackets around. It’s also waterproof, stretchy, and it looks spectacular.
Fjallraven Yupik Insulated Parka
For anyone with a flair for traditional parka styling — complete with a faux fur-lined collar on the hood — the Fjallraven Yupik is a pretty tough coat to beat. Not only does it boast superb insulation and a durable waterproof external shell, but it also has dual breast pockets, dual bellow pockets, and numerous other compartments in which to store all your everyday carry and adventure gear. If you’re looking for the kind of hefty jacket you can wear winter after winter and never get tired of it, this might be your best bet — at least as far as synthetic insulated jackets go.
Vollebak Indestructible Puffer Jacket
For nearly $1,000, you might be wondering how Vollebak’s Indestructible Puffer Jacket could possibly be worth the investment. Well, for starters, it is rated to allow wearers to survive in temperatures as low as -40°F. It’s also made from a Dyneema fabric that’s practically impossible to cut or puncture — they’ve even made a video of one of their crew unsuccessfully using a knife on it to illustrate this point — and actually gets stronger as it gets colder. On top of being super-warm and 15x stronger than steel, the insulation inside is made from recycled water bottles — giving it an eco-friendly angle, as well. So, yes, it’s expensive. But it is definitely worth it.
The 12 Best Down Jackets For Men
There’s always the possibility that none of the above options spoke to you or you’re still attached to the idea of getting a natural goose down jacket. If that sounds right to you, you’re not entirely out of luck, as we’ve put together an overall guide to the best down jackets that does not exclude the genuine goose down offerings.
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