Whether you use it for skiing, hiking or even just commuting, an insulated jacket is an investment you’ll turn to again and again. It’s important to remember, though, that there are different types of insulation – and not all types are created equal. We’ve created this buying guide to explain the difference between insulation types and jacket constructions, and help you to choose the perfect insulated jacket for your needs.
Down vs Synthetic
The biggest consideration when choosing an insulated jacket is whether to choose down or synthetic insulation. Both types have advantages and disadvantages, so the conditions in which you will be wearing your jacket determine which type is best for you.
Down comes from ducks and geese, and is the warmest form of insulation, whilst still being very lightweight and compactable.
Down is the best option for cold, dry conditions; in wet conditions, down’s effectiveness decreases significantly. Down saturates very easily, and will flatten when it gets wet, leaving it unable to insulate. A down jacket can take up to a day to dry and regain its effectiveness, and depending on how wet it got, may never return to its original state.
The quality of down is measured in fill power. The higher the fill power rating, the higher the quality and the warmer the down jacket will be. Because high fill power down is more effective at trapping air, the jacket will also be less filled, and will be more compactable.
Synthetic insulation is made from polyester, which is spun into filaments to create pockets of air between the fibres. Whilst not as warm or as compressible as down, synthetic is a far better choice for wet conditions, as it resists water for longer and still provides insulation when saturated, making it more reliable when you get it out there. For this reason, it also dries more quickly and is easier to care for. Synthetic insulation is also less expensive than down.
Synthetic insulation is measures in grams per square metre: take care not to confuse this with the weight of the whole jacket. As a rule of thumb, 50g-100g of insulation is a good choice for spring or autumn, or as a technical mid-layer, whilst jackets with 100-200g of insulation are ideal for colder conditions.
A water-resistant down which has been treated with a hydrophobic coating at the molecular level. This process helps the down to better maintain its loft and insulation and ability in wet and humid conditions.
Less common and highly technical, a hybrid jacket combines the strengths of down and synthetic insulation to maximise functionality. It’s most common to find synthetic fill in the jacket’s shoulders and arms, which are most likely to get wet, while the core body is filled with down for warmth and compressibility.
Baffle Size and Construction
Baffles are the individual sections of insulation that keeps the materials evenly distributed. The size and construction of the baffles have an impact on the effectiveness of the insulation. There are two types of baffle construction: ‘stitched through’ and ‘box wall’. ‘Stitched through’ insulation keeps the material nearly sectioned, however, the stitching can lead to heat loss. ‘Box wall’ insulation allows the material to loft, which traps more air, and less heat is lost.
WIDE VS NARROW
Wider baffles offer better warmth, as they contain more grams of down and can be constructed with fewer seams, so less heat is lost. However, wider baffles make the jacket more bulky and less compressible. Conversely, narrow or micro baffle jackets work best for warmth in spring or autumn, or as technical mid-layers, but compress excellently to be packed away when not needed. They’re also the more stylish option if you’re looking to wear your insulated jacket around town as well as on the slopes.
Insulated jackets are available with or without hoods, and which you go for depends on your individual needs. A hood can add valuable warmth, and protection from rain in the case of synthetic or hydrophobic down jackets, but does slightly affect compressibility and may get in the way if you’ll be using it as a mid-layer. Some hoods are made to fit snugly to your head, while others have more room to accommodate a helmet, so it’s important to consider your needs and ensure your jacket’s hood is compatible.
Style is obviously a personal preference, but is often a trade off with functionality. Ensure the jacket you choose is warm enough for the conditions you will wear it in, and has the right type of insulation for you, then decide the most stylish option from there.