The big test: Insulated jackets reviewed (2018)

If you want to stop on a mountain to drink in the view, an insulated jacket will take away the chill – but should you choose a fleece jacket, a down jacket or a synthetic insulated jacket? Trail headed to the hills to find out...

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The runners up


Haglofs Heron Hood £100

Tester: Tim Butcher

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  • Material Pontetorto Technostretch fleece

  • Men’s S-XL

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Weight 425g (men’s XL)

The fleece fabric on this jacket has a good abrasion-resistant finish on the outside, while on the inside it’s quite fluffy to add more warmth. The hood was the best fitting out of the fleece jackets that I have used too, and so overall it feels very comfortable and ideal to wear as part of a layering system. However it is quite a lightweight fleece, so its use is limited to that of a mid layer in warmer weather. On cold days or for winter in Scotland I’d need either a thicker main insulation layer or an additional insulation layer to stay warm. I also noticed the wind driving through this layer easily. The price makes it feel like a luxury for something that won’t keep you warm year-round. But this lightweight fleece is ideal for walking in the UK from late spring through to early autumn.

Pros

Price, weight, packed size, great hood, works well as a warm-weather mid layer.

Cons

Not warm enough for colder spring or autumn days and so extra layers will be needed regularly and more so in winter.

Buy it if

You want an excellent fleece jacket for walking in warmer conditions.


Rab Alpha Flux £140

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Materials Polartec Alpha synthetic insulation

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 328g (M)

Polartec Alpha insulation has a core of lofted knit fibres, so it traps more air than fleece, and offers far more insulation, which makes it ideal as an additional layer to throw on over other layers when the temperature dips. It’s also exceptionally breathable, therefore it works well under waterproof layers. This jacket also gets stretch side panels, giving it a closer fit than other jackets and again making it ideal as part of a layering system. I also liked the way the hood fitted and moved with my head. It’s not the warmest option though. Yes it is great as an additional layer when moving, which is what it is designed for, but when sitting around I’d need extra insulation on colder days. It’s not that windproof either, so expect to need a wind or waterproof shell over the top to stay warm.

Pros

Weight and packed size, price, great hood, works well as part of a layering system when moving.

Cons

Warmer than fleece, but you’ll need extra insulation in cold weather, especially if not moving.

Buy it if

You want extra insulation to wear as part of a layering system while moving.


Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody £270

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Materials 850 fill power down, Coreloft synthetic insulation on shoulders and cuffs

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s XS-L

  • Weight 236g (men’s L)

A new jacket using very efficient 850 fill power down, which ensures you get an extremely low weight. But importantly you also get synthetic Coreloft insulation in areas that may collect moisture, which would impact on the down performance, so this is placed on the cuffs and shoulders and also at the top of the front zip. Another huge benefit of this jacket is that you get rear cord volume adjustment on the hood, so it fits really well and moves effortlessly with the head. There is a hem drawcord too – a feature many jackets lack. You also get two main pockets. The main drawbacks are the price and it’s not quite the warmest option. But if you can afford it (and another jacket for colder winter days) this is a great jacket for year-round use.

Pros

Weight and packed size, warm enough for mild conditions, great hood, additional synthetic insulation.

Cons

Price, not quite warm enough in winter, no cuff adjustment, slightly short body compared to others.

Buy it if

You want a very lightweight insulated jacket for spring to autumn and on the mildest winter days.



The top three


Berghaus Privitale 2.0 Extrem Fleece Hoodie £90

Tester: Tim Butcher

This is a modern, practical fleece jacket, but is it warm enough to beat the chill you’ll experience at the lofty heights of a mountaintop lookout?

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  • Material Stretch polyester fleece

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s n/a

  • Weight 593g (XL)

It’s good

The Privitale is an immensely comfortable and warm jacket at a great price for what you get. Its stretch polyester fleece fabric has a tight knit on the outside to improve wear, while inside the looser knit increases warmth and comfort. The fit is close but as the fleece is very stretchy it does not restrict movement. The hood is particularly well-designed with a close fit, and turns with the head easily. The baffle behind the zip, long sleeves with thumb loops and generous back length protected my 6ft 2in body well to keep out draughts and retain body warmth. A great benefit over many jackets is that the pockets are large and easily accessed while wearing a rucksack. Also as fleece is very breathable this works great under a waterproof jacket as part of a layering system. The Privitale is versatile enough to be worn over a base layer and under a waterproof jacket, so it can be used as your main insulated layer or as back-up insulation.

However

Whilst I’d be happy with this as my only mid-layer on most hill days, I’d still want something a little warmer and with more wind resistance, such as a down or synthetic insulated jacket, for back-up in autumn or winter, particularly for camping on the hill or for bothy nights or for really snowy Scottish mountains days. While I like the price tag, I’d be happy to pay a few extra pounds for a hem drawcord to lock out drafts and retain the great fit if I was lucky enough to lose a few pounds in weight on a trip. But the main drawback here is the weight and bulk of this jacket compared to warmer jackets, as any back-up jacket that is spending much of the day in the rucksack needs to be as light and compact as possible, and others are better in this department. Sadly there is no women’s option either.

Verdict

For me it’s the perfect mid layer, providing reassuring warmth and ease of movement at a great price, but others are lighter and offer more weather resistance.

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 3/5

  • Weatherproofness 3/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 76%


Montane Icarus / Phoenix £150 

Tester: Jon Bennett

Does the latest Primaloft Thermoplume insulation make this jacket ideal for taking on the hill when extra warmth is needed at a reasonable price?

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  • Material Primaloft Thermoplume

  • Men’s S-XXL (Icarus)

  • Women’s 8-16 (Phoenix)

  • Weight 605g (M)

It’s good

New for 2018 and made from the latest Primaloft Plume insulation, which is said to offer similar levels of performance to 550 fill power down. Not surprisingly perhaps, this was very warm – in fact the warmest jacket we tested. The outer Pertex Quantum Eco nylon shell fends off wind and moisture well, and is also reasonably breathable so you don’t get sweaty. This jacket feels pretty warm and cosy, with a good length, well-insulated hood, and elasticated cuffs and hem to lock out draughts. The two main handwarmer pockets are well placed to allow access even when a rucksack is worn, and there’s a third useful GPS receiver-sized zipped chest pocket. So this jacket is ideal for stopping for a brew on the hill or sitting around a bothy or campsite, with the added bonus that the synthetic insulation won’t be impacted by dampness as much as a down jacket. It’s as warm as a down jacket too, but with a far less chilling price.

However

It costs more than a fleece and is quite heavy and bulky too. So while great in terms of warmth, you may think twice about carrying it regularly in your rucksack. It’s not as breathable as a more open-knit fleece either, so isn’t so great for walking with. Also, while the fit was good, the hood doesn’t move quite as well with my head as the hoods on some other jackets, and the cuffs didn’t fit as neatly as they could. As there is no Velcro adjustment on the cuffs there is no way of tightening or loosening the fit here to allow the cuff to fit over gloves. The hem is elasticated, but again has no additional adjustment. This jacket is great in terms of warmth but it could be too warm for mild autumn days, so with its extra weight and bulk this is one for colder days only.

Verdict

Great for stopping out on a cold, British winter mountain, with a price that’s more attractive than a down equivalent. But the weight and packed size are drawbacks.

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 3/5

  • Weatherproofness 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 80%


Mountain Equipment Arete Hooded £160  

Tester: Graham Thompson

Down insulation is extremely efficient, so is this lightweight jacket the best option for stashing in your rucksack as a back-up jacket?

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  • Material 700 fill power down

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16 

  • Weight 370g (M)

It’s good

The use of 700 fill power down inside this jacket ensures that it is very lightweight. It also packs down small, and both of these features make it great for stashing in a rucksack just in case you need it on the top of the mountain. The level of insulation is less than the heavier, synthetic Montane jacket featured here, but more than fleece, making this a great general-purpose jacket for autumn and spring. And for me it is just about warm enough for mild winter conditions too. The outer is a lightweight Helium 20 nylon which fends off wind better than fleece and keeps some moisture away from the down. The hood and cuffs are only elasticated, but you do get a hem drawcord so you can fine-tune the fit more easily than some others. There are just two main pockets and these are placed low to make them good for hand-warming. The price is also more attractive than some other down jackets you could consider!

However

For the depths of winter you may need something even warmer if camping in snow or sitting around for long periods high on a snowy mountain. As the Arete uses down, lots more care is needed to ensure this jacket stays dry, as its insulating performance drops off dramatically if it does get wet. Also, of course, this is not as breathable as a more open knit fleece, so it’s not one for wearing while walking. While the fit is okay, the hood disappoints in this area and did not turn easily with my head. Also some adjustment on the hood and cuffs would be a real benefit. The pockets are okay, but again on other jackets these are placed higher or are bigger or there is a third chest pocket. There are some niggles with this jacket and you can get lower-priced fleece or synthetic jackets if cash is tight. 

Verdict

Ideal for stowing in a pack year-round just in case it gets chilly, but some lower-priced jackets are warmer or perform better if damp.  

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 4/5

  • Weatherproofness 4/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Haglöfs Geko Hood (2013)

The Haglöfs Geko Hood is Bluesign-approved, which means 95 per cent of the materials used meet the environmental standards set by Bluesign (a Swiss-based body of private textile experts), so in short it is better for the environment than most other jackets. The fabric is Haglöfs’ own brand of soft shell material, which allows a little more air to flow through it than ‘windstopper’ fabric. This is a good thing as it means the Geko can be worn under a waterproof jacket without reducing the breathability of your clothing system. The design is quite suitable for hill and pub without excelling in either area. So you get two pockets that are large enough for maps and can be accessed while wearing a rucksack hipbelt, but the pocket extends to the hem, so items can easily get trapped below a rucksack belt. The Haglöfs Geko Hood has an additional small chest pocket that is great for a GPS receiver (for example). The hood is not as elaborate as other designs but it is reasonably functional thanks to a volume adjuster at the back, allowing a good fit around the hood along with good movement. But there is no peak on the hood, and the fabric bunches when the face drawcords are adjusted. The cuffs have internal cuffs with thumb loops, so you can customise the fit of this area a little, but not as well as you can with Velcro adjusters, for instance.

Material FlexAble (85% polyamide, 15% elastane)
Weight 620g (size L)
External pockets 3
Internal pockets 1
Pit zips no
Men’s sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes XS-XL
Website
www.haglofs.com

Verdict
The Haglöfs Geko Hood is an eco-friendly, general-purpose soft shell that is adequate for hillwalkers, but higher-priced options offer far more hill-specific performance.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2013

 


Haglöfs Bungy Q Zip Hood (2012)

The Haglöfs Bungy Q Zip Hood is a lightweight yet durable fleece that has all the features you’d want for winter walking, scrambling and mountaineering. It’s made from Polartec Power Stretch, which gives light (342g, size UK12) but warm insulation, wicks sweat quickly and provides excellent freedom of movement for all cold-weather activities. The tighter outer weave has some wind resistance while the inner is soft, comfy and warm next to the skin. The arms are long enough to reach for scramble holds and the thumb loops fit well, with a more durable, low-bulk soft shell section under the thumb making for a close, comfy fit that also helps retain heat nicely. The two side pockets are high enough to access when wearing a hipbelt, while the smaller arm pocket is handy for lipsalve or an iPod. There’s a hem drawcord to complete the neat fit, and there’s an easily adjustable hood – the best here for all head shapes and sizes. Better still, when you pull the elastic tight it forms a small peak at the forehead for further protection from the elements. The Bungy Q Zip is also Bluesign-certified so you know it meets high environmental and health and safety standards.

Weight 342g
Pockets 2 side, 1 arm
Material Polartec Power Stretch
Thumb loops yes
Hood yes
Men’s version yes
Website www.haglofs.com

 

Verdict

The Haglöfs Bungy Q Zip Hood is an excellent, fully adjustable, warm yet lightweight fleece with all the right features. Perfect for the hillwalker, scrambler and mountaineer, it won our ‘Best in Test’ accolade.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Haglöfs Pelamis (2102)

The Haglöfs Pelamis is made from Gore Windstopper, which is an extremely popular soft shell fabric, particularly for more general use on and off the hill. The fabric comprises of a Windstopper membrane sandwiched between a stretchy, abrasion-resistant soft shell outer and a softer inner for insulation. The fabric is not classed as waterproof but it does resist water very well and it is the seams that leak rather than the fabric in general use. To help improve condensation control you get a pair of very long pit zips so you can vent condensation out of the jacket, and as the pockets are mesh-lined they also allow increased airflow to the body. The two hip pockets are large enough for OS maps and are also suitable for handwarming. There is an additional chest pocket with a mesh lining and this is ideal for a GPS receiver or compass. There is no hood so you’ll need a hat when it does rain, but as this is a great jacket for climbing and scrambling, when used for this application much of the time you would be wearing a helmet anyway. In addition, the Haglöfs Pelamis’ more general design makes it ideal for casual as well as general hill use.

Material Gore Windstopper soft shell
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s Pelamis Q)
Weight 600g (size men’s L)
Website www.haglofs.se

 

Verdict

The Haglöfs Pelamis is the best choice for general use among the soft shells jackets we looked at.

 

Review by Graham Thompson

First published in Trail magazine August 2012


Haglöfs Viper II Hooded 2010

The Haglöfs Viper II Hooded is very stretchy 3-season lightweight jacket intended for use in a wide variety of activities from climbing to hill-walking.  It uses a non-membrane fabric for improved levels of breathability while maintaining a degree of water resistance.

Design
Unlike most soft shell jackets, the material in the Haglöfs Viper II Hooded does not include a membrane. This allows the fabric to be far more stretchy, which should make it ideal for more active sports, but means it is less water-resistant. The increased level of air permeability should also make it more breathable, allowing it to be comfier when worn both on its own over a base layer and under a waterproof. The design is relatively simple with just a front zip, hood and a couple of pockets. The fit is closer and shorter than some, with drawcord adjustment at the hem and elasticated cuffs along with a hood that has face drawcords and a volume adjuster.

On the hill
The Haglöfs Viper II Hooded’s fit was great; it felt comfortable worn under a rucksack and it was particularly good for scrambling, climbing or bending over bike handlebars. The fabric is not as water-resistant as others, so it is not ideal in snow or wetter conditions, but you can wear a waterproof over the top. For walking in a mix of wet and dry weather this is a good option, but the more water-resistant fabrics of others would be better for wearing in heavier showers. The hood was excellent, although an ability to fasten it down when not in use would be useful. The pockets would be even better if they did not extend quite so low, as a rucksack hipbelt did obscure access a little more than is ideal.

In the lab
With a TOG value of 0.56, the Haglöfs Viper II Hooded is not as warm as my old Haglöfs Triton Hooded fleece, which provided 0.65 TOGs according to a past Trail test. But it is far more wind-resistant at 1.79 cm3/s/cm2 so it could be warmer in windier conditions. It is also more breathable than many other soft shells, which means it will perform better under a hard shell by, allowing the waterproof to breathe out sweat, keeping you more comfortable.

Fabric 90% nylon, 10% spandex, non-membrane Flexable soft shell
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s)
Weight 522g (size L)
Made in Vietnam
Stores in the UK 50
Stockist details – tel. 0845 602 7343; www.haglofs.se

The Haglöfs Viper II Hooded plus points include stretch fabric; very breathable; better than most for wearing under a waterproof jacket. But it’s not as water-resistant, windproof or warm as others. It’s an ideal spring / summer / autumn soft shell that works well under a waterproof  as well as over a base layer, and it won ‘Best Value’ in our test.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine September 2010


Haglöfs Neo Short Sleeve 2010

The Haglöfs Neo Short Sleeve is made from quick-drying, recycled polyester that promises not to pong after a few days thanks to its Active Odor Control materials. A zipped chest pocket with mesh lining is both secure and aids venting. It won’t be what you want to wear up a hill, but it looks stylish enough for a full day’s yomp around exotic cities.

Review by Matt Swaine
First published in Trail magazine April 2010


Haglöfs Lute Q 2010

I expected the Haglöfs Lute Q top to be far prettier than it turned out to be once on. It looks rather like a bowling shirt and the shape didn’t flatter – but that might not be the case for you. The material is suitably cool and comfortable, and it comes with Polygiene odour control to keep you relatively fresh even after a long day’s walking. There are two open pockets with extra venting at the sides but no secure stowage, and the sleeves are too short to protect against the sun in really hot countries.

Review by Clare Savage
First published in Trail magazine April 2010


Haglöfs Barrier Windstopper Hoodie 2010

A jacket that is designed to be very warm while also fending off wind and water, the Haglöfs Barrier Windstopper Hoodie has a hood and chest pockets as well as the highest TOG value of those we tested. This is clearly a jacket for the worst of winter weather when snow, wind and water are your enemies.

Design
The insulation is Thermolite, a very compressible and warm microfibre. The chest area of this jacket uses a thicker version of Thermolite that weighs 150g/m2, while the sleeves use a lighter 100g/m2 version. This insulation is sandwiched between a polyester lining and a Gore Windstopper shell that benefits from DWR treatment. This appears to be very water-resistant. The design is extremely practical for the hill as it has two large chest pockets that can be easily accessed while wearing a rucksack. Also the hood has a very good volume adjuster to allow a close fit. The cuffs are made from Polartec Powerstretch to give them a comfortable, close fit that locks out draughts.

On the hill
Compared with the other jackets on test, the Haglöfs Barrier Windstopper Hoodie is the most bulky so it takes up a little more room in a rucksack. This is a drawback if you are after a jacket that you are likely to only wear occasionally. However I did enjoy wearing this all day during the December snow in the Lakes, when standing around rather than walking uphill. A down insulated equivalent would be lighter but more expensive of course. The design is extremely practical though, as the two large chest pockets can be easily accessed while wearing a rucksack and the hood provides a good close fit yet moves with the head easily. The body felt slightly shorter than I would have liked, but I’m 6ft tall, so shorter walkers may find this acceptable. It is warm, cosy and ideal for sitting around camp. I’m just not too keen on carrying it in my rucksack due to its weight and packed size. The high price tag limits its desirability further.

In the lab
The Haglöfs Barrier Windstopper Hoodie provided 3.6 TOGs of insulation, which is the highest value in the test, meaning it is the warmest here. The insulation is protected by Windstopper fabric, so it should be able to maintain this level of insulation in the UK’s inevitably damp conditions reasonably well as the material Haglöfs use is very water-resistant. The hood and sleeves are also well-insulated.

Fabric outer: Gore Windstopper; lining: plain polyester
Insulation body: Thermolite Micro 150; sleeves and hood: Thermolite Micro 100
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s)
Weight 644g (size men’s L)
Made in China
Stores in the UK 30
Stockist details – tel. 0845 602 7343; www.haglofs.se

Verdict
The Haglöfs Barrier Windstopper Hoodie was the warmest insulated jacket on test; very water-resistant outer material; hooded; excellent pocket access. But it’s not as breathable as other jackets, so not ideal if worn under waterproofs; relatively heavy and bulky so not ideal for stashing in rucksack; high price tag. In summary, it’s very warm, which makes it ideal for colder base camping but heavy, bulky and with a high price tag.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine March 2010


Haglöfs 021 Zip Polo 2009

The Haglöfs 021 Zip Polo base layer weighs 186g (men’s S); closer fit; excellent wicking performance so good for hot weather; thumb loops; Polygiene odour control; cut to prevent cold spots; excellent zip; comfortable collar; warm; longer cut. But it’s covered in visible seams (though they are off the main chafe zones); only available in black, so heats in the sun; closer fit than most, so try first.

0845 602 7343; www.haglofs.se

Verdict: The Haglöfs 021 Zip Polo base layer is a well-engineered synthetic technical top, good at sweat control, but check fit and freedom of movement.

 

Review by Simon Ingram
First published in Trail magazine October 2009


Haglöfs Massif 2008

This soft shell jacket weighs just 608g; Gore Windstopper fabric is very wind- and water-resistant; insulated lining; durable; very long side/pit zips; Velcro on cuffs; lined collar with useful drawcord . But small chest pocket; hip pockets easily obstructed by hipbelts or harness; no hood.
Verdict
Useful fabric for Alpine and winter use, but pocket access is limited with harness or rucksack belts, making it a more general-purpose top.

First published in Trail magazine September 2008