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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First test: Fjällräven Keb Loft Jacket (2014)

When the thermometer goes negative, down insulation is what most of us turn to. But down loses some of its insulating performance when wet, making it less than ideal for the UK; and it’s pricy.

Recently, outdoor brands have tried to make synthetic insulation as efficient as down, and the latest attempt comes from Fjällräven. G-Loft Supreme is a synthetic fibre that promises to feel like down while offering exceptionally high insulating ability even when wet. It was developed in Austria, and Fjällräven has exclusive use of it until 2024. The unique blend of hollow and super-thin polyester fibres has a natural ‘cluster’-forming ability, similar to that achieved by high-quality down. It is this that allows G-Loft Supreme to create lots of small pockets of air to provide higher levels of insulation than other synthetics. Thanks to the use of 10 per cent recycled material, the fibres also have a good ‘memory’ capacity that allows them to be compressed and then spring back to their fluffy form, say when a jacket is unpacked from a rucksack. Like all synthetic insulation, G-Loft Supreme is also quick-drying and easy to wash, two areas where down is far more challenging to care for.

In the UK G-Loft Supreme is used in the Keb Loft Jacket, inside a polyester inner and outer with Fjällräven’s G-1000 reinforcement around the hem, pocket openings and under the main stormflap for greater durability in these areas. There is a front zip, and that stormflap has press studs to keep it in place. There are two zipped pockets that are large enough for OS maps, although these aren’t high enough to access easily if wearing a rucksack. The cuffs are elasticated and have no adjustment. On the inside are two mesh stretch stash pockets. Our sample weighed 405g (size men’s L), but Fjällräven says the production version will weigh 436g due to having slightly more insulation inside.

The Fjällräven Keb Loft is not the most well-insulated jacket I have worn, making it less useful for really cold conditions than some down jackets. But it does offer a good medium level of insulation for general outdoor use, such as when camping at valley level. I’d want something warmer for sitting around in the snow, but the insulation is ideal for something you’d carry in your pack most days throughout winter in the Lakes and throw it on to take the chill off a summit brew.

I prefer all insulated jackets to have a hood, because if it’s cold enough for extra insulation in winter then it’s cold enough for a proper hood – so it’s disappointing that this model does not have one.

At £195 the Fjällräven Keb Loft Jacket is right at the top of the price range for this type of garment, but it’s a good weight due to the highly efficient G-Loft Supreme insulation.

Specifications:
Outer polyester, G1000 reinforcement
Insulation G-Loft Supreme synthetic
Weight (size men’s L) 436g
Sizes XS-XXL (men’s): XXS-XL (women’s)

Verdict
G-Loft Supreme is a great new insulation, but I’d like to see it featured in a jacket with a hood to make it really useful for colder, breezier UK conditions. If you don’t want a hood the Fjällräven Keb Loft Jacket is a great lightweight product and it compares well with numerous other synthetic insulation jackets.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine December 2014

 



Montane Micro Flux (2014)

Features
There is no hood on the Micro Flux, which for me is a major drawback, although Montane does have plenty of hooded options available, so choose one of them if you love hoods. There are two map-sized pockets and they’re placed high enough to allow access even when wearing a rucksack hipbelt. The cuffs are elasticated and they fitted me fine, but it’s always worth checking this for yourself before buying.
3/5

Fit
Sizes are limited, as while the Montane Micro Flux available in S-XXL for men, there is no women’s option. However, the jacket suited me fine: it was not too baggy or tight or overly shaped, unlike some others.
4/5

Comfort
This wasn’t the lightest model on test at 395g (size M), even without a hood, and the Pertex Classic Eco outer wasn’t as thin as other options. So while this was a comfortable jacket it was slightly bulkier than lighter and softer options with higher price tags. You also don’t get the soft brushed area around the chin offered elsewhere.
3/5

Insulation
Primaloft Silver Insulation Eco provides the insulation and is made from recycled fibres. This offers an ideal level of warmth for year-round backup, or to use with other layers in the depths of winter.  
4/5

Value
Even taking into account the fact that there is no hood, £100 is a great price.
4/5

Verdict
Environmentally friendly materials, a great price and good pockets make the Montane Micro Flux ideal for use all year round. It’s great during winter with other layers, if you can live without a hood.
3.6/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2014

 


Rohan Icepack (2014)

Features
The Rohan Icepack lacks a hood but has other benefits. A soft fleece collar adds comfort, although the fleece doesn’t extend to the chin area. You also get Velcro tab adjustment on the cuffs to lock out draughts. The two main outside pockets are OS map-sized and they’re placed high enough to allow access while wearing a rucksack hipbelt (although the pocket bag still drops to the hem). The front zip runs easily but it lacks an internal stormflap to block out wind
3/5

Fit
The Rohan Icepack comes in S-XXL for men and S-L for women. The medium fitted me very well, being not too close on the body or arms and not too baggy either. Having Velcro adjustment means the cuffs should fit anyone too.
4/5

Comfort
It feels great on, thanks to the soft nylon outer and the even layer of insulation. Some soft fabric at the chin would make it better, but there isn’t a lot else to complain about in terms of comfort. There’s no hood, though, so your noggin won’t be comfortable in cold weather! It’s very light at 344g (men’s M) so you won’t be weighed down by it, even if it’s kept in your rucksack all day.
3/5

Insulation
Insuloft polyester insulation means this was warm enough for spring, summer and autumn, but a little chilly for winter, so you’ll need to use it as part of a layering system with a waterproof over the top in colder weather.
4/5

Value
A good price, but it has no hood and some higher-priced jackets are warmer.
4/5

Verdict
The Rohan Icepack is a great lightweight jacket for stashing in a rucksack at any time of year, but in winter or for bivvies you’ll want something a bit warmer with a hood.
3.6/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2014

 


Mammut Rime Pro Jacket (2014)

Features
Being able to wear a warm jacket over a waterproof can be a real advantage in some situations, and the Mammut Rime Pro Jacket is designed to do just that. It has a hood with a wired peak, and drawcord adjustment at the face and back of head. But all three outside pockets are a bit small for OS maps. However, it has Velcro cuff adjustment, which few jackets here offer.
4/5

Fit
Sizes are men’s S-XXL only, and the fit isn’t as loose as the other jacket here designed to fit over a waterproof. The hood fit is particularly good though. Also, the adjustable cuffs mean you can get a great draught-blocking fit.
4/5

Comfort
The Mammut Rime Pro Jacket is very comfortable when worn over a fleece or waterproof, but it’s quite heavy at 552g (size L) – so rucksack comfort will decrease if you’re carrying it around all day. The hood drawcords are comfortable too, as are those wrist adjustment tabs. A great choice for sitting around a chilly campsite in winter.
4/5

Insulation
This jacket is warmer than the lighter jackets by a noticeable degree, making it better for use in the winter than in the summer. The insulation is Ajungilak OTI Climate, which is a polyester, and that’s protected by Pertex Endurance nylon.
5/5

Value
The Mammut Rime Pro Jacket is relatively pricy, but a warmer jacket with more features than most so not bad value.
4/5

Verdict
The ability to fit over a waterproof and more warmth than most jackets make the Mammut Rime Pro Jacket ideal for chilly winter camping, but it’s a bit heavy to carry in a pack.
4.2/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2014

 


The North Face Thermoball Hoodie (2014)

Features
What a difference a hood drawcord makes – and that’s what sets the The North Face Thermoball Hoodie apart from others. You also get elasticated cuffs where the elastication is tucked inside so the cuff is neater and potentially less draughty. The two main pockets are happily OS map-sized; but, like most, access is obscured when a hipbelt from a rucksack is in place.
4/5

Fit
It comes in men’s XS-XXL and women’s XS-XL sizes. The fit is equal to many, being neither too baggy or too tight. The hood should fit better than most as it has face drawcords; however it does lack a volume adjuster.
4/5

Comfort
The North Face’s Thermoball Hoodie, which weighs 377g (size L) doesn’t hug the body quite so naturally at first, due to the stitched-through design, but it softens with use and becomes comfortable and close-fitting and ideal for wearing under a waterproof. There are hood drawcords, which may not be quite as comfy as elastication, but the hood stays on better
5/5

Insulation
Primaloft Thermoball is used, which is small clusters of synthetic Primaloft captured in a patchwork of stitched-through boxes, rather than a sheet of insulation. This stitching makes the jacket feel a little stiff, but the insulation itself is ideal for general year-round use on camping trips, while in winter it can be used with other layers.
5/5

Value
A higher-than-average price, but you get better hood adjustment and unique insulation.
4/5

Verdict
The TNF Thermoball Hoodie offers great performance for year-round use, with the benefit of face drawcords on the hood, plus unique insulation. It won Trail’s ‘Best in Test’ accolade.
4.4/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2014

 


Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody (2014)

Features
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody has seen a major improvement since Trail reviewed it in March 2013: the hood now has a rear volume adjuster. The two pockets on the body are still just too small to take an OS map, though, and access to these is also slightly obscured by rucksack hipbelts. Like most jackets in our test the cuffs are just elasticated, but a nice fin of material improves the fit.
4/5

Fit
This jacket is available for men in sizes S-XXL and for women in XS-XL. Polartec Powerstretch side panels improve fit and comfort a little, and the wrists fit neater than most. The new hood fits really well too.
5/5

Comfort
Overall the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody is a very comfortable jacket with a good weight (386g size L), nice detailing and those stretch panels. I’d ideally like some soft brushed fabric at the chin to make it super-comfy, and the hood drawcord is less comfortable than would be ideal.
4/5

Insulation
Polartec Coreloft insulation is used, and it provides good warmth for year-round use, when this jacket could be worn on summit evenings around camp, or as part of a layering system in winter. The side panels of Polartec Powerstretch however provide less insulation, so in certain circumstances you may find these areas are not quite warm enough.
4/5

Value
The price is higher than most, which is disappointing.
3/5

Verdict
Great performance overall for year-round use, with the rare feature of an adjustable hood. The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody’s main drawback is the price
4.0/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2014

 


Rab Xenon X Hoodie (2014)

Features
The Rab Xenon X Hoodie’s two main pockets and a chest pocket are all map-sized and have zips, although if you wear this with a rucksack you do lose some access to the lower pockets. The hood is elasticated around the face with no drawcords at all, while the cuffs have no adjustment and are simply elasticated.
4/5

Fit
There is a good size range – XS-XXL for men and 8-16 for women – and the L felt great on me without being too roomy or overly fitted. The hood and cuffs get no adjustment, though, so try before buying.
3/5

Comfort
This feels light at just 361g (size L) and it’s very unrestrictive. The brushed polyester chinguard is nice, particularly in winter, while the softness of the outer and insulating materials feels luxurious. But others are closer-fitting, while hood drawcords would provide more comfort if the hood didn’t fit perfectly.
4/5

Insulation
It’s stuffed with Primaloft One (now renamed Primaloft Gold), a very well-proven synthetic insulator with a great warmth-to-weight ratio for use as a year-round backup. In the depths of winter you might want something warmer, or at least use this as part of a layering system to trap more air. If you add a waterproof over the top it should be warm enough.
5/5

Value
The price is great for a hooded jacket with good insulation and comfort for general hill use.
5/5

Verdict
The Rab Xenon X Hoodie is ideal year-round insulation, whether stashed in your pack in summer for hilltop bivvies or worn with extra layers in winter for chilly summit brews. It won Trail’s ‘Best Value’ award.
4.2/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2014

 


Páramo Torres Jacket (2014)

Features
The moment you reach a summit and want to throw on some insulation, in most cases you have to remove your waterproof before you can add a warm layer – and in the process you freeze. The Páramo Torres Jacket, however, is designed to go over your waterproof. It also has large, well-placed pockets and hood drawcords. The front zip jammed a little too easily though.
4/5

Fit
The Torres comes in XS-XXL in a unisex design, and as it’s meant to be worn over a waterproof those sizes are bigger than normal. But as a warm layer to wear over a waterproof jacket, this novel option fits really well.
4/5

Comfort
The Páramo Torres Jacket is pretty heavy at 670g (size L) so it’s not something you would want to carry ‘just in case’. But in the right conditions the comfort benefit will be far greater than most jackets when used as intended, over waterproofs. Brushed polyester around the chin would have been nice. But very cosy and warm.
4/5

Insulation
This top uses Nikwax Analogy insulation, which is a closely woven synthetic material. It is very warm and certainly better for winter use than most garments here. Indeed, it’s probably too warm for other times of the year, which is just as well as it’s really too heavy to carry around in a rucksack on the off-chance that it might be needed.
5/5

Value
You get more for your money than most here, as the Páramo Torres Jacket is warmer and feature-packed
4/5

Verdict
For some winter users, this unique top, designed to be worn over waterproofs, will be perfect. For others however it simply won’t be what they’re looking for.
4.2/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2014

 


Sprayway Reactor (2014)

The Sprayway Reactor has a nylon shell and Inso/therm insulation, and comes with a fixed hood and two large chest pockets. The pockets are big enough for OS maps and can be accessed while wearing a rucksack with a hipbelt. The hood gets a volume adjuster and face drawcords, but it doesn’t turn with the head as easily as would be ideal. The sleeves are a close fit while the body is a fairly standard fit, and this allows the jacket to be worn over other layers or under a waterproof jacket. The styling isn’t overly mountain-orientated, which arguably makes it more appealing for using off the hill. It’s a little heavier than higher-priced synthetic jackets, but it still keeps you warm enough in milder conditions and works well when worn all day in cold weather or stored in a rucksack just for summit brews. A high-priced down jacket will be warmer, while higher-priced synthetic jackets have performance benefits; but if £80 is your budget you won’t be left out in the cold with a Sprayway Reactor in your pack.

Outer nylon
Insulation Inso/therm (polyester)
Weight 543g (size L)
Men’s sizes S-XL
Women’s sizes 8-18 (Firebird)
www.sprayway.com

 

Verdict

The Sprayway Reactor was the best budget synthetic jacket in our test.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine February 2014

 


Mountain Equipment Bastion (2014)

Synthetic insulation cannot compete with down in terms of keeping you warm in the coldest of conditions, but it’s ideal when you need to stay warm while being active. The Bastion uses Mountain Equipment’s own Polarloft synthetic insulation and this is combined with a Gore Windstopper shell, which provides water and wind resistance. There are stretch side panels where there’s no insulation, and this aids mobility but also means the jacket isn’t as warm as some others. The hood lacks a volume adjuster and doesn’t fit over a helmet, and while it provides good protection it doesn’t turn easily with the head. The two external pockets are map-sized and can be accessed while wearing a rucksack. As it has a water- and wind-resistant outer it can be worn without a waterproof, if there isn’t prolonged heavy rain. There isn’t a huge amount of insulation, though, so the Mountain Equipment Bastion is best used for staying warm while moving in cold conditions.

Outer Gore Windstopper with stretch side panels
Insulation Polarloft Micro (polyester)
Weight 486g (size L)
Men’s sizes S-XL
Women’s sizes 8-16
www.mountainequipment.co.uk

 

Verdict

The Mountain Equipment Bastion was the best jacket for active synthetic performance in our test.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine February 2014

 


Montane Prism (2014)

Synthetic insulated jackets are ideal as year-round garments, and the Montane Prism is one of the best all-rounders out there. It uses PrimaLoft Eco synthetic insulation that includes 50 per cent recycled fibres. The shell is made from Pertex and when combined with the insulation you get a very lightweight option at just 423g (size L). That weight includes a hood with a wired peak and volume adjustment, which fits and moves with the head very well. There are two chest pockets that are ideal for warming hands or stashing maps while wearing a rucksack. The cuffs are only elasticated, though, so they can’t be adjusted as easily as those with Velcro tabs. The cut is quite close on the sleeves while the body is a more average fit. This allows the Montane Prism to work well under a waterproof or over a fleece mid layer. It isn’t as warm as the down jackets, so it isn’t ideal for the depths of winter, but it makes a superb additional layer that can be worn all day or stashed in a pack ready for use. All that for £100 is very good value too.

Outer Pertex Microlight ripstop
Insulation Primaloft Eco (polyester)
Weight 423g (size L)
Men’s sizes S-XL
Women’s sizes 8-16
www.montane.co.uk 

 

Verdict

The Montane Prism was the best jacket for versatile synthetic performance in our test.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine February 2014

 


Montane Alpha Guide Jacket (2013)

The story behind this pretty but initially unremarkable-looking jacket from Montane is the fabric. The Montane Alpha Guide uses the brand new Polartec Alpha, the latest innovation from the Massachusetts-based synthetic insulation wizards who have been keeping us warm and cuddly for over 30 years. The wheeze here is breathability and warmth, together as one in a jacket that – at a push – could be described as ‘puffy’. The result is a light jacket boasting a high inherent warmth and robust water-resistant insulation that cuts down on weight, which can be used for actual hillwalking without you drowning in sweat. The jacket is a hybrid construction, with the insulated areas covering the same core areas a gilet would. A stretchy, smooth-face fleece fabric makes up the arms, underarms and hood, allowing very good freedom of movement and decent reach in the areas where you need it. The insulation is certainly subtle: you wouldn’t know it was there if you couldn’t feel the benefit, or did a thumb-and-forefinger pinch on the insulated area. The outer on this core zone is a Pertex Microlight Stretch shell, which offers decent wind resistance and just a tiny amount of give, making this a particularly subtle, soft-shell-like jacket to wear.

Inside is lined with PEAQ nylon, which is comfortable in use. Wind resistance is good in the core area, and reasonable in the arms. The July heatwave meant that during testing water resistance couldn’t be fully explored, though a later dousing confirmed the Pertex shell was fairly water-resistant. However this makes no claims to be a rain jacket, though helpfully its insulation will continue to work when it’s wet: the big advantage of synthetic over down. Happily the mugginess did allow us to assess breathability, and it was certainly more impressive than other insulated jackets I’ve used before: the only area likely to get overly clammy is the back, so a rucksack with a floating back system is advised. Problems: not many, though the Montane Alpha Guide’s hood is a non-adjustable head-hugging affair that – given it is designed to allow use under a helmet – looks pretty awful without one, though it must be said feels fine, and competitor jackets fare little better looks-wise. Thumb-loops on the sleeves will be a love-them-or-hate-them feature, and highlight the appeal of the jacket for multi-activity users, as does the harness-compatible two-way zip.

Overall though the Alpha Guide is a solid product with some truly useful applications, principally as a fairly light fleece alternative that will keep you warm both in a chilly camp and on the move. Liveried in Montane’s pre-iconic blue/orange combination (though also available in black and yellow for Navy SEALs fans), it cuts quite a dash in the style stakes, too. 

Price £130
Weight (men’s M) 464g
Shell Pertex MicroLight Stretch; Mt Thermo X Stretch
Lining PEAQ Synthetic
Insulation Polartec Alpha
Men’s sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes none
Website
www.montane.co.uk

Verdict
A quietly important debut by a useful fabric in the shape of a jacket that will no doubt become a minor classic. The Montane Alpha Guide is perfect for chillier walks in all seasons.

Review by Simon Ingram
First published in Trail magazine September 2013

 





Sprayway Reactor (2013)

The Reactor, a brand new jacket, is a decent effort from Sprayway, and it hits a number of pleasing chords – the sweetest being in the wallet, as it’s half the cost of the priciest we looked at. An adjustable hood with a stiffened peak and a massive pocket with room for an OS map (one of only two jackets here that do), which also serves as a packaway pouch, are touches with obvious appeal. Reflective decals on the chest and back are useful for winter road-walking, and Sprayway has really piled in the insulation, with areas of the body packed with up to 100g / square metre (gsm) of its InsoTherm polyester fill. Bulk doesn’t necessarily equal warmth any more, and pricier jackets may pack more efficient materials that deliver the same warmth with less fill – but this is still among the warmest jackets here. It’s therefore excellent for rest stops but less so for activity, as the fabric isn’t the most breathable and you may cook. There are also a few finesse issues: sleeve length is stingy, which restricts reach, the hood cords are flappy, and its on-the-heavy-side weight will warrant a moment of consideration to carry along ‘just in case’ – but overall the Sprayway Reactor is a solid jacket at a great price.

Weight 493g (size S)
Outer fabric 100% nylon
Insulation 80-100gsm InsoTherm (100% polyester)
Stuffsack/packable? packs into pocket
Adjustable hood? Yes
Men’s sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes 8-18 (Firebird)
Website www.sprayway.com

 

Verdict

The Sprayway Reactor insulated jacket is too hot for heavy activity, but it’s a great budget throw-over layer.

Review by Simon Ingram
First published in Trail magazine March 2013