The 8 Best Winter Jackets of 2016 That Aren't Made with Down

Stay warm in all kinds of conditions, with these versatile down-alternative outer and midlayers

Jan 12, 2016
Outside Magazine
The 8 Best Winter Jackets of 2016 That Aren't Made with Down

From left: Eider Pace, Columbia Microcell Hooded, Montane Hi-Q Luxe, and Icebreaker Merino Loft Stratus Long Sleeve Zip Hood jackets.    Photo: Inga Hendrickson

The price of 900-fill goose down has increased by 46 percent over the past seven years, from $55 per pound to $80. But synthetic and wool insulations are cheaper to produce, and their heat reten­tion is catching up to that of down, resulting in more-affordable jackets for the budget conscious. Here are eight of the best.

Arc’teryx Nuclei AR ($399)

  Photo: Arc'teryx

Best For: Fast and light ascents

You don’t have to trade warmth for low weight on your next alpine epic. Arc’teryx stripped away superfluous pockets and adjusters from this seam-taped belay parka, leaving behind a windproof, water-resistant storm shelter that weighs less than a pound and packs into a Nalgene-size stuff sack. Inside, 100 grams of Coreloft insulation will keep you toasty even during the coldest, wettest bivy. 

Westcomb Tango Hoody ($300)

  Photo: Westcomb

Best For: Taking on all tasks

The Canadian-built Tango may be outwardly unassuming—it’s preposterously thin, is short on flashy doodads, and has just two pockets—but the combination of breathable Polartec Alpha insulation and a weather-shedding Pertex shell makes it ideal for a host of cold-weather pursuits. This hoodie is perfect paired with a base layer for trail running or worn under a hard shell for off-piste charging. 

Eddie Bauer Mountain Ops ($249)

  Photo: Eddie Bauer

Best For: Reorganizing the gear shed

While most winter jackets are designed for playing in the snow, this resilient layer is made for getting work done. The tough-as-nails 500-denier Cordura fabric is water-resistant, but it really shines in the face of serious effort—like repairing a snowblower or clearing brush. PrimaLoft Silver Hi-Loft insulation traps plenty of body heat, and articulated elbows open up your ax swing. 

The North Face FuseForm Insulated Dot Matrix ($299)

  Photo: The North Face

Best For: Snowshoeing Hurricane Ridge

The only truly waterproof jacket here, the Dot Matrix offers optimal protection against soggy Pacific Northwest winters. Its HyVent shell easily repels water, and PrimaLoft Silver Eco fill doesn’t wet out in the rain. Pit zips and FuseForm construction—which integrates strong nylon in high-wear zones and breathable polyester through the torso—help keep you dry, too. 

Montane Hi-Q Luxe ($239)

  Photo: Montane

Best For: Besting a down puffy

The Hi-Q is made for big-mountain missions in wild weather. It’s stuffed with Gold Luxe, PrimaLoft’s best synthetic fill yet: it’s nearly as lightweight, warm, and packable as down but still insulates when soaked and dries much faster. Storm-ready features include a baffled zipper flap and an insulated hood that can be rolled and stowed once conditions improve. 

Icebreaker MerinoLoft Stratus Long Sleeve Zip Hood ($300)

  Photo: Icebreaker

Best For: Keeping warm, sustainably

Being eco-friendly doesn’t have to mean settling for second-rate insulation. Icebreaker’s warmest jacket to date packs a 180-gram, water-resistant, recycled-merino blend into a 100 percent recycled-polyester shell. You could make this sharp-looking, weather-shedding hoodie your outer layer, but on winter hikes we like it as a midlayer offering extra protection. 

Eider Pace ($300)

  Photo: Eider

Best For: Big moves, from backcountry to crag

This refined active layer is meant to be worn all day, from dawn patrol straight through to post-climb beers. The stretchy, DWR-coated ripstop shell works in tandem with PrimaLoft’s 60-gram Silver 4Flex insulation to move and breathe like your favorite fleece, but with the warmth and protection of a down jacket. Wear it ski touring or on any intensely aerobic stop-and-go outing. 

Columbia Microcell Hooded ($200)

  Photo: Columbia

Best For: Boosting heat on the chairlift

Like other synthetic puffies, this one keeps insulating when it’s wet. But Columbia’s Omni-Heat lining reflects warmth back at the wearer’s body, so it keeps your temperature up even as the mercury drops. Sport the Microcell around town, layer it under a hard shell, or pack it down to the size of a football and toss it in your go bag for a lightweight insurance policy. 

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