Most jackets use either natural down (from ducks or geese) or synthetic fibres (and sometimes a hybrid of both). Synthetics have come a long way in recent years, rivalling the warmth and packability of down, while the water resistance of hydrophobic down has also improved. They may only ever come out in winter, but when they’re needed, you’ll be glad you’ve got one in your walking wardrobe. When the combination of a thick fleece and a waterproof just isn’t up to the job of keeping you warm, it’s time to donan insulated jacket – the toastiest layer around. In conditions of extreme cold, they can be a real lifesaver.
But what’s the right jacket for you? There are plenty to choose from – a baffling array of insulating materials, styles and prices. Do you go for a jacket using synthetic fibres or one stuffed with natural insulation, like down or merino wool?
Then there’s a range of designs to get your head around, with baffles of all shapes and sizes, some jackets with hoods and others without. Their fit, breathability and weather-proofing can make all the difference when you’re active in the outdoors.
Our buying guide to insulated jackets cuts through the technical jargon to explain what it all means, making it easier for you to make the right choice.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING AN INSULATED JACKET
Most jackets use either natural down (from ducks or geese) or synthetic fibres (and sometimes a hybrid of both). Synthetics have come a long way in recent years, rivalling the warmth and packability of down, while the water resistance of hydrophobic down has also improved.
To maximise breathability, few insulated jackets are completely waterproof, but most have a water-resistantand windproof outer shell.
These are the chambers containing the insulating filling. Heavy-duty jackets for the coldest conditions tend to have bigger baffles, but you’ll also find more sophisticated designs ‘body-mapped’ to provide insulation where it’s most needed.
Lighter and thinner jackets are generally much easier to stow away in a rucksack, but in the case of more substantial garments, compressed down takes up significantly less space than synthetic fibres of equal warmth. A stuff sack lets you stow it even more compactly.
Go for a jacket that doesn’t just feel good to wear when you’re standing still, but is comfortable on the go.Articulated arms, fitted hoods and longer hems and cuffs allow for free movement without pinching or riding up.
A heavy jacket isn’t always going to be a warmer jacket – down and smarter synthetic insulators have a much better warmth-to-weight ratio than cheaper alternatives. It’s also worth considering how often you’ll be wearing the jacket and whether it’s versatile enough to be comfortably worn outside winter too.
HOW TO LOOK AFTER YOUR INSULATED JACKET
STAYING WARM WHEN WET
Most insulated jackets aren’t waterproof, and while synthetic insulation retains most of its heat-trapping loft when wet, down absorbs moisture and loses a lot of loft. Hydrophobic down is treated to provide water resistance, not only retaining loft, but drying out faster too.
SHOP ETHICALLY AWARE
If you’re concerned about where the down in a jacket comes from and want to be sure it comes from a cruelty-free source, always look for independent certification of its traceability, like the NSF and Responsible Down Standard.
HOW TO CLEAN A DOWN JACKET
Down doesn’t take kindly to a spin in the washing machine – so clean it sparingly, following label directions and only use dedicated products, like Nikwax Down Wash. Better still, seek out a dry cleaner who specialises in down garments.
HOW TO STORE YOUR JACKET
Insulated jackets are perfect for stuffing tightly into a rucksack as an extra layer. With a quick shake, they’re ready to use again. But don’t store them compressed at home. Down and synthetic fibres keep their loft better when stored loose.