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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Regatta Breaktrail (2015)

Features

The Regatta Breaktrail’s biggest benefit here is the price of just £25, but at such a low cost it isn’t surprising to find that hillgoing features are limited. There’s a short front zip, only one pocket and no hood. But the zip does have an inside baffle to block wind and prevent chin scraping. The pocket is large enough for a small guidebook, GPS receiver or compass. 3/5

Fit

The Breaktrail is available in S-XXXL for men and 8-20 for women, which is a very wide size range compared to most other options. The fit is close rather than tight or baggy, and is well-sized for wearing over a base layer or under a soft shell or waterproof jacket as part of a layering system. The elastication at hem and cuffs has no adjustment but fitted well. 3/5

Comfort

The Regatta Breaktrail’s material is a soft 200 series polyester fleece that offers excellent breathability while providing good windproofness and insulation for general year-round use. Thermally this is ideal over a base layer all year round, but in winter you might want to add an extra layer under or over it for the chillier days. As the front zip is short you can’t vent it too much. 4/5

In use

I like to have a pair of large chest pockets and a hood on a fleece, which the Regatta Breaktrail doesn’t have. So for me this is either something to wear under a waterproof or other fleece jacket, or for use as a main fleece for moving fast when you don’t want pockets or hoods. The chest pocket is too small for OS maps. 3/5

Value

The value is superb but you aren’t getting many features, so you must decide if it offers enough for your needs. 5/5

Verdict

The Regatta Breaktrail is low-priced with minimal features that are great as part of a layering system, but as a main fleece others have benefits. 3.6/5

Review by Graham Thompson

First published in Trail magazine March 2015

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Sprayway Cerberus (2015)

Features

The Sprayway Cerberus has instant hill appeal, thanks to a hood and two large pockets on the chest with easy access even when wearing a rucksack with a wide hipbelt. The front zip is full-length and gets a baffle on the inside to block draughts while the top of the zip is protected to prevent chin scrape. Thumb loops are provided at the cuffs, but there is no hem drawcord. 4/5

Fit

The Sprayway Cerberus comes in S-XXL for men and 8-18 for women. The fit isn’t as close and neat as higher-priced equivalent designs. It’s longer than many fleece jackets and the hood fits reasonably closely despite the fact it has no drawcords. The slightly loose fit allows this to be worn over other insulating layers, while also being comfortable under a waterproof jacket. 4/5

Comfort

This fleece is made from Exotherm 100 polyester, which is a very closely woven material, so it blocks a little more wind than some other more open fleece options. It’s not quite as thick as some fleece jackets, but still offers a good year-round comfort level. Not having a hem drawcord is a drawback, though, as it potentially makes this area draughty. 4/5

In use

The ‘two chest pockets with a hood’ design is perfect. You can put guidebooks or maps in those pockets and maintain access to them easily even while wearing a rucksack with a wide hipbelt. The hood works well and some people will like the thumb loops. My only niggle is that the lack of a hem drawcord, plus a slightly

baggy fit, equal draughts. 4/5

Value

This is a great price for the features and design, and while not perfect it offers a great value-for-money option. 5/5

Verdict

The Sprayway Cerberus is a very practical fleece jacket for the hillwalker. While not perfect it’s easily the best option here if you can’t pay more than £75. 4.2/5

Review by Graham Thompson

First published in Trail magazine March 2015

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Vaude Basodino Hooded Jacket (2014)

The Vaude Basodino Hooded Jacket is made from Bluesign-approved fabric, which means the material is environmentally friendly. The fabric is also nice and stretchy and provides a good level of insulation, which makes it ideal for hillwalking. Put the jacket on and it instantly feels comfortable and really hugs the body, but without being restrictive. There are three pockets. The small chest pocket is placed quite high, so if you put a large item in here it does run the risk of sneaking under your rucksack shoulder straps, which is uncomfortable. The hip pockets are OS map-sized, but access to them is easily obscured as soon as a rucksack with a hipbelt is worn, making them rather useless compared with better-designed pockets on other jackets. The hood doesn’t get any drawcords or adjustment, but it fits okay and moves well with the head. As someone who does rate eco values highly I therefore found this jacket rather frustrating as it’s great in terms of worldly goodness, but when I’m on the hill the pockets would drive me insane. However, for the price of £75 you could just pretend the pockets are not there and still have a good jacket, which could be viewed as a better option than choosing other less eco-friendly products with perfect pockets.

Specifications:

Material Meryl Bluesign-approved
Men’s/unisex sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes none
Weight 569g (size L)
Hood yes
External pockets 3
Website www.vaude.com

 

Verdict

Winner of Trail’s ‘Best Value’ award, the Vaude Basodino Hooded Jacket has environmental credibility and a great price – but is that enough to compensate for pockets you can’t use easily on the hill?

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine March 2014

 


Rab Shadow Hoodie (2014)

The Rab Shadow Hoodie is made from Polartec Windpro, which is four times more wind-resistant than traditional fleece, but it doesn’t have a membrane inside – and so retains enough air permeability to allow water vapour to escape, thus preventing condensation building up. This fabric is therefore ideal for windier conditions, in places that will still necessitate a waterproof jacket regularly to combat heavy rain, such as on mountain trips in the UK. The fabric also has Hardface Technology, which means it’s more durable and more water-resistant than standard fleece, which is just the job for mountaineers. The jacket itself is designed with two chest pockets that are ideally located for easy access while wearing a harness or rucksack. The hood has no adjustment, but it did fit me fine. There are thumb loops on the cuffs too. The main zip also gets an internal flap to keep the wind at bay. Overall the Rab Shadow Hoodie had a closer fit and warmer comfort level than say the Mountain Equipment Shroud, but for me it can feel too warm sometimes, so this isn’t necessarily an advantage. Ideal for cold temperatures or those who feel the cold a little more. It’s higher in price and heavier than the Shroud, though.

Specifications:

Material Polartec Windpro
Men’s/unisex sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes 8-16
Weight 603g (size L)
Hood yes
External pockets 2
Website www.rab.uk.com

 

Verdict

The Rab Shadow Hoodie is an ideal fleece jacket for colder or windier conditions, but as the hood has no adjustment make sure it fits before buying.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine March 2014

 


Patagonia Piton Hybrid (2014)

Although I’d always choose a fleece with a hood, some folk will prefer a non-hooded fleece that allows them to wear a separate hat. If that’s you then out of the jackets received for our test, the Patagonia Piton Hybrid was the best option in terms of its features and design. It is made from Polartec Windpro, which is four times more wind-resistant than traditional fleece; and as it does not have a membrane inside, it is ideal for wearing under a waterproof jacket. The Hardface Technology of the fabric makes it more durable and more water-resistant than standard fleece, which is just the job for mountaineers. In terms of features you are not getting much here, as there is no hood, no cuff adjustment, no hem drawcord and no wind baffle behind the front zip; but what you do get is all very well-designed. The two main pockets are placed so their contents can be easily accessed while wearing a rucksack hipbelt or climbing harness. There is a third small chest pocket for a GPS receiver or compass. The collar has no drawcord, but it does have high cut and a neat lining. The overall cut of the Patagonia Piton Hybrid is a slim climbing fit, which is ideal for those being active, or for wearing under a waterproof.

Specifications:

Material Polartec Windpro
Men’s/unisex sizes XS-XL
Women’s sizes XS-XL
Weight 363g (size L)
Hood no
External pockets 3
Website www.patagonia.com/eu

 

Verdict

The Patagonia Piton Hybrid lacks features and so the price is very hard to justify, but the fabric and the design of the features you do get are spot on. More features are available on some lower-priced jackets.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine March 2014