10 Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets for Backpacking in 2021

10 Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets for Backpacking

An insulated hoodie or lightweight synthetic jacket can be used for hiking or backpacking as a warm outer layer or mid-layer during spring and autumn when mornings and nighttime temperatures stay cool. Our preference is to use jackets that have hoods because we think that’s a must-have layering feature for hikers and backpackers. This lets you use them in camp or for extra warmth at night under a quilt or sleeping bag. Here are synthetic jackets we recommend across a variety of price points. Be sure to check out our buyer’s guide and recommendations below, so you choose the right synthetic insulated jacket for your needs.

1. Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie

Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie
The Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie is a warm, windproof, and water-resistant synthetic hoodie that looks good on the hill or in town. It’s also made with 100% recycled materials including Primaloft Gold Eco insulation with a 100% recycled polyester shell and lining. The hood is designed to be worn under a helmet, so it’s less awkward and oversized than on other jackets. It comes with two zippered handwarmer pockets and an internal zippered chest pocket which serves as a stuff sack. A drawcord hem and drop-tail hem seal in the heat. A women’s model is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry | Patagonia

2. Arc’teryx Atom LT Insulated Hoodie

Arcyeryx Atom LT Insulated Hoodie
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Insulated Hoodie is a lightweight insulated jacket that can be used by itself or as a mid-layer. It’s insulated with Arc’teryx’s Coreloft non-woven polyester insulation which dries quickly and retains warmth when it gets damp or wet, with stretch polyester fleece side panels for increased mobility. The Atom LT has a volume adjustable, helmet-compatible hood, two handwarmer pockets, and an internal zippered chest pocket. It has stretch knit cuffs and a drawcord hem to seal out drafts. The cut is slim. A women’s model is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry 

3. Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow Insulated Hoody

MH Ghost Shadow Insulated Hoody

4. Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket

EE Torrid Jacket
The Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket is a purpose-built synthetic jacket made for hiking and backpacking. It is insulated with Climashield Apex, which is also used by Enlightened Equipment to insulate its synthetic quilts. The Torrid has two zippered handwarmer pockets, elastic wrist cuffs and an adjustable hood opening to block side drafts. The construction is not sewn-thru to eliminate drafts through needle holes, which is a significant enhancement and departure from the norm for jackets in this class. Its raglan sleeves are designed to be used with a backpack and its ultralight nylon exterior fabric has a durable water repellent finish to repel mist and light precipitation. A women’s model is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Enlightened Equipment

5. Kuiu Kenai Hooded Jacket

Kenai Hooded Jacket
The Kuiu Kenai Hooded Jacket is a lightweight insulated jacket designed for ultralight backpack hunting where adventurers travel off-trail in wilderness areas for days at a time. This jacket is insulated with Kuiu’s siliconized polyester which is highly water repellent and so quiet that archery hunters recommend it. The hood has a swept-back design, so it doesn’t block your peripheral vision, an elastic front with a visor, and a back adjust cinch. There are 2 pit zips for ventilation, 2 zippered handwarmer pockets and a zippered chest pocket, 2 interior drop pockets, a hem cinch, and elastic cuffs. Raglan sleeves make it comfortable to wear with a backpack and the exterior is treated with DWR for water resistance. Men’s sizes only. Non-camo colors are also available.

Check for the latest price at:
KUIU

6. Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie

OR Helium Insulated Hoodie
The Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie is a lightweight jacket insulated with OR’s VerticalX ECO SR insulation which is a mix of recycled polyester and Sorora, which is a plant-based insulation. It has an adjustable volume hood, elastic cuffs, and a drawcord hem. There are two zippered handwarmer pockets, set high to make them compatible with backpack straps, and the shell is made with a more durable form Pertex Quantum made with OR’s new Diamond Fuse technology. A women’s version is also available. 

Check for the latest price at:
Backcountry | Outdoor Research

7. The North Face Thermoball ECO Hoodie

8. Montbell U.L. Thermawrap Parka

 
The Montbell UL Thermawrap Parka is a parka that’s misnamed (in our opinion) because it’s best used as a mid-layer or outer layer down to freezing and not for full-on winter use. It’s insulated with Montbell’s lightweight synthetic insulation and has two zippered handwarmer pockets and an external chest pocket. The hood has an elastic opening with a slight front brim and a rear volume adjuster. Elastic wrist cuffs and hem adjusters hidden in the pockets are included. A women’s model is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Montbell

9. Mountain Hardwear Compressor Insulated Hoodie

MH Compressor Insulated Hoodie

10. LL Bean Primaloft Packaway Hoodie

LL bean Primaloft Packaway Hooded Jacket
The LL Bean PrimaLoft Packaway Hoodie is made with 100% recycled polyester shell and lining and insulated with a mixture of PrimaLoft Gold insulation and aerogel, an exceptionally lightweight insulated developed by NASA for astronauts. It has a non-adjustable elastic hood and wrist cuffs, two zippered handwarmer pockets, an external zippered chest pocket, and an internal media pocket with an audio port so you can drown out scary outdoor sounds while you hike. A drawcord hem seals out cold drafts while the jacket packs easily into its own pocket. A women’s version is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
LL Bean

Synthetic Insulated Hoodie and Jacket Buying Guide

Best Use: Mid-layer vs Outer-layer

As a hiker or backpacker, you’re likely to use a lightweight synthetic jacket while eating dinner in camp, at night as secondary insulation in a sleeping bag or under a quilt, or as a warm layer when you stop to take a hiking rest break during the day and feel a chill.

Many manufacturers will try to sell you on the idea that these jackets can be used as a mid-layer under a shell. While that may be true if you’re standing around waiting for the ski gondola or belaying a climbing partner, but you’ll sweat too much, and soak your baselayers, if you try to wear them under a rain jacket/shell while you’re hiking vigorously. You need to keep in mind that most outdoor clothing is not designed for hiking and backpacking, but for downhill skiers, climbers, and more casual use.

When hiking or backpacking vigorously, you’re really better off using a fleece mid-layer under a shell because it is so much more breathable and wicking, moving the perspiration away from your body, while still trapping warm air.

Polyester Insulation

Most of the synthetic insulation used in the jackets above is polyester, although it can differ in form. Some manufacturers try to mimic the compressibility of down with it by combining different lengths of polyester in a single garment while others simply sew bats of it in between the outer fabric and jacket liner. In general synthetic insulation is less compressible than down, but it maintains its warmth better when it gets damp or wet. However, polyester does break down faster than down with repeated stuffing (compression).

Thermal Insulation Value

Unlike down insulation, it is very difficult to compare two lightweight synthetic jackets in terms of warmth because most manufacturers use their own proprietary insulation and don’t tell you how much of it has been used to insulate the jacket. Manufacturers do tend to assign temperature ratings for their jackets, which can be somewhat helpful in determining their relative warmth although there is no standard method for assigning these either. When reading jacket specs, many manufacturers will list the weight of the insulation they use, as in 40 grams/sq meter and so forth. This reflects the weight of the insulation when sold in bulk, not the actual amount of insulation in the jacket, and is pretty meaningless from a consumer standpoint.

Sewn Thru vs Baffled Construction

With very few exceptions, lightweight synthetic jackets and hoodies have what is called a sewn-through construction where the front and back of the jacket are sewn together, mainly for appearance’s sake, although it can prevent certain types of polyester insulation from shifting. However, warm air can leak through the needle holes resulting in a slightly cooler jacket.

Shell Fabrics and DWR

Most of these jackets have nylon shells that have a DWR (durable water repellent) coating applied to them to repel mist and light rain. Where they differ is in the thickness of the external fabric, expressed in denier. Generally speaking, a 20D nylon fabric will be more durable than a jacket with a 10D shell fabric. While a 10D will be lighter weight and more compressible, it’s likely to hole more quickly or show wear and tear, particularly at the wrists cuffs than a jacket made with heavier fabric.

Hood Controls

The hoods on many lightweight or ultralight synthetic hoodies and jackets are quite rudimentary, with elasticized hood openings that may be too large to prevent cold drafts from entering around your ears. It really depends on the size of your head and the specific jacket. Hoods that are 1-way adjustable have volume controls in the back that let you shrink the size of the hood to provide a better fit. Hoods with 2-way adjustability go one step further and add neck cords that allow you to size the opening to just fit your face and block out any drafts. This level of function is pretty rare on lighter-weight synthetic jackets and hoodies, though.

Pockets

When shopping for lightweight insulated jackets, you’ll want a pair of zippered handwarmer pockets at a minimum for storing gloves and other items you want close-to-hand. A chest pocket is also desirable if you use a Smartphone for navigation. While it’s nice to have a pocket that you can stuff your jacket into, it really is a nice-to-have, that’s more useful for climbers to attach to a sit-harness than backpackers or hikers who have backpacks to carry stuff.

Hoodies, Jackets, Sweaters, Anoraks, and Parkas

Manufacturer product names are very inconsistently applied when it comes to lighter-weight down hoodies and jackets. In general hoodies, sweaters, anoraks, weigh close to or slightly over one pound. Look for ones with hoods, as they provide the most head and neck insulation. When it comes to jackets, some are lightweight and some are heavier and meant for winter use in harsh conditions. You really have to look at the overall jacket weight to determine which is which. Anything up to or slightly over 16 oz will be good for transitional weather in spring or autumn down to freezing by itself or layered under a shell, while heavier jackets will be more appropriate for winter use. Parkas are almost always intended for very cold winter conditions.

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