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.

Make / ModelInsulationWeightGender
Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated HoodiePrimaloft Gold Insulation Eco12.8 ozM | F
Arc'teryx Atom LT Insulated HoodieCoreloft Compact13.2 ozM | F
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow Insulated HoodyPrimaLoft Silver Hi-Loft Ultra11.7 ozM | F
Enlightened Equipment Torrid JacketClimashield Apex8.4 ozM | F
Kuiu Kenai Hooded Jacket3DeFX+15.5 ozM
Outdoor Research Helium Insulated HoodieVerticalX ECO SR, Polyester Insulation11.5 ozM | F
The North Face Thermoball ECO HoodieThermoball ECO15.9 ozM | F
Montbell UL Thermawrap ParkaStretch Excelloft9.3 ozM | F
Mountain Hardwear Compressor Insulated HoodieThermal.Q Elite14.8 ozM | F
LL Bean PrimaLoft Packaway Hooded JacketPrimaloft Gold, aerogel15 ozM | F

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
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow Insulated Hoody can function as an outer layer on chilly days or as a layering piece when the weather gets colder. It is insulated with Primaloft Silver Hi-Loft Ultra insulation (70% recycled) with a PFC-free recycled nylon shell. The jacket has two zippered handwarmer pockets and stuff into one of them. It has elastic wrist-cuffs and a simple stretch hood with a single-pull hem drawcord to seal in the heat. A women’s model is also available. 

REI | Mountain Hardwear

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

The North Face Thermoball ECO Hoodie is made with 100% recycled fabric and Thermoball polyester insulation. It’s pretty basic with two zippered handwarmer pockets, an internal zippered chest pocket, a nonadjustable hood, and elastic wrist cuffs. It is sized for layering. A women’s model is also available. 

Backcountry | The North Face

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
The Mountain Hardwear Compressor Insulated Hoodie is a lightweight insulated with Mountain Hardwear’s Thermal.Q Elite polyester insulation which is 85% recycled. It has a volume adjustable hood and velcro wrist cuffs to seal out the cold in addition to two zippered handwarmer pockets, a zippered chest pocket, and an internal drop pocket. A woman’s version is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Mountain Hardwear

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. 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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14 comments

  1. I’ve been really impressed with the Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket. It weighs roughly 1 oz more than the Mt. Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, but is leaps and bounds warmer. It won’t win any fashion awards and doesn’t have any bells in whistles, but it is very warm, very lightweight, and is not down, which is all I need it to be. It’s also pretty cool that you can “design it” yourself with whatever colors you prefer.

  2. I loved my Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex jacket on my thru hike of the Colorado Trail this summer. My only suggestion is to make the zipper a little more rugged.

  3. CAPT Gary Andres USN ret

    Wow. I’m a bit surprised that neither the Rab Xenon X nor the Patagonia Micro puff hoody made the list , both of which I own and both have performed admirably (in early spring and late fall backpacking adventures). Especially as the Atom LT was considered (I own that one, too), and I’ll choose both the Micro Puff or the Xenon over the Atom LT. I could go on and on about the positive aspects of the Micro Puff and Xenon X….and have been nothing but disappointed in the Atom LT….so much so, it is going into my “used gear back to REI for credit” pile, after only a few uses. Still Phillip, I know it’s hard to consider all possibilities in these lists…..which I continue to appreciate and value.

    • The Rab Xenon X is a very warm, durable, and excellent jacket. I use it as my dead of winter Wyoming fly fishing jacket. I don’t use it for backpacking though because it is 50% heavier and a fair amount bulkier than the Torrid. Other nice synthetics that I have are Montane Prism (best hood, but not quite as warm as Xenon X or Torrid) and the Berghaus Reversa (most stylish and somewhat more versatile, but not nearly as warm).

  4. My 5 year old North Face Thermoball hoodie is 2-3oz lighter than this new one. It has always kept me warm.

  5. NormallyI really like LL Bean clothing. It is well made and just lasts and lasts. But the fact they are using Primaloft of ANY type puts me off because of my bad experience of Primaloft’s rapid loss of – well, loft.

    Climashield Apex has the distinction of standing up to repeated stuffings better than other synthetic insulations, as the Us military has discovered inter testing at their Nautick Labs.

  6. BTW, KUIU is new to most backpackers but not to hunters. KUIU uses a lot of fabrics, insulation and DWR treatments from TORAY Industries of Japan, a top flight outdoor materials company.

    While I have not owned any KUIU clothing I know two hunters who have and they rave about how well made and warm KUIU clothing is. All their down is TORAY DWR treated 850 fill “Quixdown”. Pit zips, 2-way adjustable hoods and other features make their down clothing more comfortable.

  7. Torrid! For me, hands down, er, hands synthetic!

  8. I have been a big fan of the LLBean Primaloft jackets. One jacket survived my getting hit by a car while bicycling. My femur didn’t. One very important feature is the extended sizes. I’m petite and really appreciate clothing that actually fits. there are also sizes for those needing larger sizes. I don’t think any other company has the extensive size range. And price-wise their products tend to be less expensive. I have worn my jacket as a primary outer layer or under a shell and bicycle year round in NYC.

  9. Hi Philip,
    liked your opinion on breathable fabrics, first bought Goretex in the 70s’ it is still the best of the breathables. After all this time I still prefer a breathable shell over as many layers underneath as the temperature dictates. Used to live in Guadix,Spain behind the Snowy mountains/sierra Nevada in Andaluz. The Tierra Malas/Badlands where a lot of the brilliant spaghetti westerns were made, altitude 900M. In winter very very cold first thing but by midday you could be in shorts, so a jacket with a warm lining is a no-no. OK if the lining is removable, otherwise not.

    You visit Scotland so know how bloody miserable and dangerous near freezing rainy weather can be – could you do a piece on cagoules/ponchos big enough to cover a rucksack. If it is has vents at the back does a lot to let steamy heat escape. Most hooded jackets don’t allow easy movement of the head, so a waterproof sou’wester is way better.

  10. “…since I don’t write fiction…” Exactly Phillip, that’s why I subscribe to Section Hiker.

  11. Why did you not include Decathlon’s jacket in the review? They have a great warm synthetic jacket that goes to -10 to 10 and is compressible and costs only 35-50 Euros?

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