Best Synthetic Insulated Jackets for 2018
Synthetic jackets have become popular again for many reasons. Depending on where you live, they’re extremely versatile and better suited to the elements than down (think: wet down. Gross.). As the outdoor industry has become more ethics-conscious, driven largely by Patagonia’s work in this area, many people are moving to synthetic for ethical reasons.
Whatever your reason for moving to or investing a synthetic insulated jacket, we applaud you. We love down puffies (see our Best Puffy Jackets article), but recently have tested out a few awesome synthetic jackets as well. So here are our recommendations for the best synthetic insulated jackets for this year.
In no particular order, our choices are:
- The North Face Ventrix
- Patagonia Stretch Nano Storm
- Arc’teryx Atom LT
- Outdoor Research Ascendant
- Black Diamond First Light
The North Face Ventrix
The North Face’s Ventrix is a mid-weight 80g 100% polyester fill synthetic jacket. I personally have the hooded version, which The North Face sent me to wear and review.
This jacket is fantastic in the right conditions. I’ve worn it from hiking in the Appalachians in Virginia in approximately 40F weather and was super comfortable the whole time, including on the uphill when I usually get very warm. The Ventrix ventilated extremely well, as it is meant to do with perforations on the sleeves and on your back where heat tends to build.
I have also worn it around Spain, Switzerland, and in Chamonix France as a mid-layer underneath my now-retired Arc’teryx Alpha AR shell, and once again it kept me warm but not overheating.
This jacket is not heavy enough to wear on a cold day (a synthetic jacket normally isn’t, so opt for a puffy like the Morph on really cold days), but in the TNF black the Ventrix can be a great around-town (like Denver) jacket or worn as a mid-layer will keep you quite comfortable.
Retails at $199.
Patagonia Stretch Nano Storm
The Patagonia Stretch Nano Storm is the newest addition to my outer layer quiver, which I must say is starting to get a bit ridiculous with all the jackets I’ve reviewed here on Single Geared.
I snagged the Stretch Nano Storm at 50% off from Patagonia. I had been looking for a new shell for a while to replace my decade-old Arc’teryx Alpha AR, so when I saw the Stretch Nano Storm come on at a great discount I grabbed it. Boy am I glad that I did.
I’ve only had a few days out with it so far, but this jacket is fantastic for its stretch ripstop breathable liner (!!), 60g polyester insulation to keep you warm (slightly less insulation than the Ventrix), and its weather-shedding abilities. The hood is just big enough to cover my Giro helmet, and with the front storm guard up over my lower jaw there is no way weather is getting to me.
One thing I really like about this jacket as well is that it is long enough. I’m only 5’9″, but I have a long torso and shorter legs. This means that many shells are quite simply too short on me, but this one comes a few inches below my waist in a Medium. That said, I also don’t look like a snowboarder with a jacket down to my knees.
This jacket moves well, feels great, and protects me. I love it.
Retails at $449.
Arc’teryx Atom LT
You know Arc’teryx is a brand to be trusted. It’s a premium brand, and their Atom LT hoody (and non-hooded) is a premium 60g Coreloft synthetic insulated jacket that they market as a “mid layer”, which I would say is accurate and very similar to the Ventrix.
The Arc’teryx Atom LT is a great jacket, to be sure. It has Polartec Powerstretch on the side panels and underarms to allow for range of movement, a hood that fits over a climbing helmet (though not a ski helmet), and can be stored inside its own pocket down to about the size of a football which is not something many synthetic jackets can claim!
I am also impressed by this jacket because it retails for $259, which is only $60 more than the Ventrix jacket. It is a bit less insulated than the Ventrix, but the technical aspects are top notch and I have no doubt this piece would last you for many years.
Retails at $259.
Outdoor Research Ascendant
The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody is a 95g Polartec insulated jacket covered in a ripstop shell.
Outdoor Research has become an incredibly well trusted brand in the outdoors world, and as Outside Magazine said “This Seattle brand may just have perfected the midlayer.”
The Ascendant is a bit heavier than the other jackets on this list, coming in at 95g, but that means it can keep you a bit warmer than the others but with its breathability that rivals the Ventrix you shouldn’t overheat. It is wind resistant, moves well with your body, has the standard drawcord around the waist and stretchy cuffs. This jacket will keep you warm, protect you, and on really brutal days can be layered under a more technical shell.
Retails at $249.
Black Diamond First Light
Black Diamond started as a technical gear company in Yosemite Valley, and they haven’t let up on that. While they are known for their hard goods like carabiners and other climbing equipment, their soft goods like the 60GSM polyester insulated First Light stand up to the challenge as well.
The First Light is very comparable to the Atom LT and Ventrix in that it is a solid mid-layer that bills itself as breathably insulated. It is great for hut trips and days on the skin track and fits well under a technical shell for the blustery days and steep descents. It has the typical waist cinch, underarm gussets for better range of movement, an internal chest pocket, and more. The First Light also has an internal pocket that you can clip to your climbing harness to keep it in place. Amazing.
Retails at $249