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 gives 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 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, their slaughter, and the 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 will often 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 their job even when wet, they also have 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.
Adidas Terrex Multi Hybrid Insulated Jacket
adidas’ outdoor sub-label made one of the best synthetic down jackets for hiking, and at an insanely affordable price. For starters, it filled its Multi Hybrid Insulated jacket with different recycled materials, which have been body-mapped for performance and quilted to seal in warmth. Reflective for nighttime safety and ventilated for more strenuous adventures, the recycled polyester shell has been given optimal seam placement that favors movement when hiking.
Fill Material: Unspecified synthetic
Shell Material: 100% recycled polyester fleece with 100% recycled polyester ripstop overlay
Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket
Weighing just 7.6oz in its smallest size, Enlightened Equipment’s ever-popular Torrid Jacket is the perfect choice for those embarking on long treks on a budget. Seemingly translucent, the water-repellant nylon shell is stuffed with CLIMASHIELD APEX insulation — one of the warmest continuous filaments available and is breathable even when it’s damp. Even the hood gets the insulated treatment, as well as a shock cord for adjusting. Other features include the raglan sleeves for extra mobility, elastic wrist closures for windy outings, and zippered hand warmer pockets (also insulated).
Fill Material: CLIMASHIELD APEX
Shell Material: Nylon
Rab Xenon 2.0
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 100% post-consumer recycled PrimaLoft Silver 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.
Fill Material: 100% post-consumer recycled PrimaLoft Silver
Shell Material: 30D Pertex Quantum ripstop
The North Face ThermoBall Eco Jacket 2.0
If ever there were a brand that should come as no surprise on this list, it would be 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 polyester construction, excellent packability, and unrivaled performance. Updating its classic silhouette, The North Face even went so far as to offer it in both a classic shiny finish and a more modern matte version. If you’re looking for the industry standard in synthetic down jackets, this is probably your stop.
Fill Material: 11g/ft² ThermoBall Eco 100% post-consumer recycled polyester
Shell Material: 100% recycled nylon
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow Hoody
There are numerous things that we love about the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow Insulated Hoody. 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.
Fill Material: Mapped synthetic insulation (80g for body and sleeves; 60g for hood and side panels)
Shell Material: Whisperer 10D x 10D ripstop nylon
KUHL Fleece-Lined Kollusion Jacket
Sometimes you want the capabilities of a down jacket without all the spectacle. KUHL offers just the coat for those who desire versatility in their winter closet. With a waxed cotton shell, high-pile Italian fleece lining on the inside of the shell and the hood, and taffeta-lined sleeves, the Kollusion has the function of a technical jacket but also can be worn out on a Friday night. Four large, double-buttoned pockets on the front keep your gear nice and safe, while the body-mapped construction optimizes both warmth and comfort.
Weight: 2 lbs 6 oz
Fill Material: Polyester
Shell Material: Waxed 62% cotton, 27% polyester, and 11% nylon
Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket
Another staple outdoor gear brand that’s more than earned its shining reputation, patagonia has not only created a superb synthetic down insulated jacket in their Nano-Air but they’ve also managed to make it look understated for those days you don’t want to wear something so puffy. Yet another example of a jacket that looks more windbreaker than it does a puffer, the Nano-Air is made for outdoor treks that require an outer garment from beginning to end. The stretchy FullRange polyester insulation keeps you warm when needed but also removes excess heat when you really work up a burn.
Fill Material: 60g FullRange 100% polyester
Shell Material: 100% polyester plain-weave
Arc’teryx Atom LT Insulated Hoody
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 Hoody 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.
Fill Material: 60g Coreloft Compact synthetic fibers
Shell Material: Tyono 20 fabric (94% polyester, 6% elastane), lined with Dope Permeair 20
Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody
This award-winning, weather-resistant hoody from Black Diamond can give you maximum performance whether you’re hitting the slopes or climbing in the backcountry, and with an understated silhouette to boot. Insulated with PrimaLoft Silver and coated with Eco-Repel Bio DWR tech, the First Light Stretch weighs just over a pound and offers an incredible stretch thanks to the breathable Schoeller nylon fabric and stretch woven polyester lining, and won’t become cumbersome as an outer layer on your adventures.
Fill Material: PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Active 100% polyester
Shell Material: Schoeller face fabric nylon with Eco-Repel Bio DWR
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. Combining polyester and recycled polyester insulation, Helly Hansen’s sustainable down jacket is made for some of the most daring treks you could take. And, truly, it looks great in every available colorway.
Weight: 2 lbs 3 oz
Fill Material: 60% Polyester, 40% Recycled polyester
Shell Material: 100% Polyester
Bight Gear 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 coat. The brand itself 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, including cuffs that stretch to fit over your gloves and a longer torso to keep your rear dry. 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.
Weight: 1 lbs 2.72 oz
Fill Material: 100g Polartec Power Fill
Shell Material: 20D nylon ripstop with DWR finish
Fjällräven Nuuk Parka M
For anyone with a flair for traditional parka styling — complete with a faux fur-lined collar on the hood — the Fjällräven Nuuk is a pretty tough coat to beat. Not only does it boast superb insulation and a durable waterproof and windproof external shell, but this 4-pound coat 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.
Fill Material: 250g Supreme Microloft 100% polyester
Shell Material: 100% polyamide with Hydratic 100% polyurethane membrane
Vollebak Indestructible Puffer
Built with a Dyneema shell, Vollebak’s Indestructible Puffer is easily the most durable on this list by design, even if it clocks in at around $1,000. Claiming only to yield to bullets and flamethrowers — they’ve even made a video of one of their crew unsuccessfully using a knife on it to illustrate this point — the jacket can survive in -40°F temperatures anywhere on Earth. Made with the strongest material known to man, the coat actually gets stronger as it gets colder. On top of the puncture-proof shell, 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.
Weight: 4 lbs 6.4 oz
Fill Material: 760g recycled plastic bottles
Shell Material: 100% Dyneema
The Best Winter Hiking Boots
If you want some solid insulation for your feet as well, check out our guide to the best winter hiking boots.