The Best Men's Lightweight Insulated Jackets

Dozens of jackets were researched and over 15 individual jackets were received for field testing. In the end, the items chosen for full reviews offer buyers a cross section of what they’ll find on store shelves and online storefronts.

Ten testers were used to put all of the jackets through their paces. There were some questions about what constitutes a “lightweight” insulated jacket, and we landed, obviously, on its general weight, fill power, and marketed intent. To the reasonable buyer, it’s easy to choose between a jacket meant for 60ºF fall mornings and one designed to protect when the temps hit the negatives.

Testers put the jackets through their intended outdoor uses, such as snowshoe treks, ski coaching, backcountry touring, backpacking, and resort days. But we all know these jackets can also serve in our daily lifestyle activities, from shoveling snow to running to the grocery store—we tested in those contexts as well.

Lightweight insulated jackets boast a heavy share of the market, as they provide those who recreate outdoors a wide range of uses, from an outer layer at the resort to morning warmth on cool summer backpacking trips. These jackets have become de-facto mid-layers under hardshells, and as DWR coatings and insulation materials become heartier testers found them adequate temporary protection against summer afternoon rain or quick winter squalls.  

It appears manufacturers are shooting for warmth-to-weight ratios, as many of the subjects in this test are well under a pound and pack snugly into pockets and included stuff sacks.

There’s a range of insulation types found in this test, and when it comes to features, expect to pay more for a hood and sacrifice weight if you want drawcords and extra pockets.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Black Diamond First Light Hoody
88
Best in Class
2018
Materials 8
Weatherproofness 8
Temperature Control 7
Fit/Comfort 8
Features 7

Weather resistance

Breathability

Hem adjustment

Comfort

Versatility

Hood size

Packability

Weight

MSRP
$124.99
BEST DEAL
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
87
Materials 8
Weatherproofness 7
Temperature Control 8
Fit/Comfort 7
Features 7

Lightweight

Warm

Packable

Fit

Water Repellency

Shell-stitch integrity

Wind resistance

Hood size

MSRP
$124.99
BEST DEAL
Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket
86
Durability 7
Breathability 9
Weatherproofing 5
Fit/Comfort 9
Compressability 7
Features 9

Extremely breathable

Excellent mobility

Well featured

Limited wind resistance

Heaviest jacket of the test

Low water resistance

MSRP
$299.00
BEST DEAL
Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
86
Materials 7
Weatherproofness 6
Temperature Control 8
Fit/Comfort 8
Features 7

Warmth-to-weight ratio

Hood

Fit

Packable

Versatility

Price

Shell durability

Zippers

MSRP
$124.99
BEST DEAL
Arcteryx Proton AR Hoody
85
Durability 9
Breathability 7
Weatherproofing 8
Fit/Comfort 9
Compressability 7
Features 5

Impeccable construction quality

High wind resistance

Great freedom of movement

Limited breathability

Pricy

Small zipper pulls

MSRP
$349.00
BEST DEAL
Brooks-Range Mountaineering Alpha Softshell Jacket
83
Durability 8
Breathability 7
Weatherproofing 6
Fit/Comfort 8
Compressability 8
Features 6

Excellent arm mobility

Durable exterior

Asymmetric cuffs offer great coverage

Sleeves offer less warmth relative to torso

Uninsulated hood

Torso short for harnesses

MSRP
$259.95
BEST DEAL
N/A
Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket
83
Durability 6
Breathability 10
Weatherproofing 4
Fit/Comfort 8
Compressability 10
Features 5

Supreme breathability

Lightweight

Extremely compressible

Low water resistance

Low wind resistance

Limited to highly aerobic pursuits in colder climates

MSRP
$199.00
BEST DEAL
Marmot Isotherm Jacket
82
Durability 7
Breathability 7
Weatherproofing 6
Fit/Comfort 7
Compressability 8
Features 7

Good wind resistance

Excellent abrasion resistance

High compressibility

Lightweight

Too warm for highly aerobic activities

Torso too short for harnesses

No hood option in 2017 version

MSRP
$225.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Cotopaxi Fuego LT Down Jacket
82
Materials 6
Weatherproofness 6
Temperature Control 7
Fit/Comfort 6
Features 7

Lightweight

Price

Style

Packable

Fit

Shell fabric

Sleeve length

MSRP
$124.99
BEST DEAL
Marmot Featherless Jacket
82
Materials 7
Weatherproofness 7
Temperature Control 7
Fit/Comfort 6
Features 5

Lightweight

Dries quickly

Layers well

Wind resistance

Fit

Cuff length/design

Breathability

MSRP
$124.99
BEST DEAL
Black Diamond First Light Hoody

The First Light Hoody by Black Diamond is an insulating multi-tool, ideal for a range of conditions on its own, or as a sturdy layer under tougher exterior protection. The jacket is heavy when compared to category competitors but makes up for that weight with moisture resistance and usefulness when active. It feels great to wear, breathes better than its true down competitors, and looks the part in the frontcountry. The hood could use adjustment mechanisms but stays in place when over a helmet. Overall, the First Light Hoody is streamlined and technical, and a top performer in the test.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Gear Coop

Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

The Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody lives up to the hype with which the company has been surrounding it. Crazy warm for its weight, and surprisingly moisture beating, this coat packs a ton of functionality in less than 10 ounces. It’s not as windproof as others in this category, and testers found multiple stitches coming loose, perhaps a result of Patagonia’s unique approach to keeping its PlumaFill synthetic in place. Its overall comfort and fit may be what surprise customers the most, striking an ideal balance between mid- and stand-alone layer. It’s also minimally designed and reasonably priced considering its 4-season functionality.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at GearTrade.com

Marmot Featherless Jacket

The Marmot Featherless Jacket is the most affordable jacket in this category, coming in at well under $200. It did well against the wind and layered well, and at just over 12 ounces, fits squarely in the middle of the test in regard to portability. The 3M insulation doesn’t feel like down or pack as well, but warms true to the 700-fill power down it’s looking to emulate. Breathability and fit issues may be worth tolerating for those cost-conscious buyers looking for a fairly technical insulator that can be used as an everyday option in town or the backcountry.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Sunny Sports

Cotopaxi Fuego LT Down Jacket

The Cotopaxi Fuego LT is a sharp-looking jacket not as suited for technical environments as others in this category. It’s very light at 10.7 ounces, with its stuff sack, and packs quickly, making it a smart option for travel and “always-packed” emergency insulation. The shell material choice and plastic zipper combine to give the Fuego LT an entry-level look and feel, but with 950-fill power down and Polartec Alpha Direct, it’s no doubt a high-end insulator. Cotopaxi could refresh this coat with a more sophisticated shell that focuses on wind resistance, and a slightly more universal fit.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Cotopaxi

See All Men's Lightweight Insulated Jackets Reviews

Lightweight Insulated Jackets for Men Review Results

by: Last Updated:

Patagonia’s most celebrated product of 2018, the Micro Puff jacket, performed well in terms of packability and comfort. However, if not for the extra $50, the Arc’teryx Cerium LT would give it a worthy match in terms of warmth and weight. Competition aside, there isn’t a “bad” jacket in the bunch, only products that testers found better in one way or another.

Marmot’s broad product line tends to hamper their ability to champion one product over another, but the company’s use of 3M Thinsulate Featherless insulation earned it high marks from a tester who was surprised at the material’s quick-dry characteristics.

As evidenced by this test, brands continue to push fabric companies like Polartec, 3M, and Schoeller to invent tougher, lighter, and higher performing fabrics. At the same time, environmental restrictions, self-mandated and industry-driven, are creating pressure on companies to be more transparent in how they source down. Both Patagonia and VF Corp recently faced serious public battles with PETA.

Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when in a few years the majority of lightweight insulated jackets will be filled with synthetic insulation. It just makes sense. It’s very close to as packable, warm, and comfortable as the natural stuff, and will give companies an environmental leg to stand on when they face inevitable scrutiny over their essential use of down in larger, winter puffer jacket lines.

More jackets are being tested as you read this, and will make their way into the test as we evaluate them. Arc’teryx, for example, has a Cerium SL (super light) that is an ounce less than the Patagonia Micro Puff, and REI has a new line of insulators that looks to compete for credibility with the likes of the aforementioned. Marmot, LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, Topo Designs, Big Agnes, and others are in the mix as well.

Materials

Fabric choice varied widely in this test and were highly specialized, such as Black Diamond’s First Light Hoody Nanosphere face from Schoeller. Not only does it repel water to the extent of a soft shell, it also keeps absorbing dirt and oils to a minimum. Arc’teryx uses a nylon shell called Arato and Cotopaxi chose a burly (relatively speaking) 20-denier ripstop to protect the insulation in its Fuego LT, which was a combination of 950-fill power down and Polartec’s Alpha Direct.

The skin and guts of these products are what ultimately defines their performance. Things like hem drawcords and zipper garages play supporting roles in making these jackets as comfortable as possible in uncomfortable conditions.

Patagonia’s Pluma Fill is 100% polyester, but felt the most authentic, more so than Marmot’s 3M-supplied Featherless fill. The First Light’s exterior is the winner here, as it combines softness, good looks, and technical smarts. However, the Pluma Fill is pretty impressive stuff that we’re sure Patagonia will continue to use, and it merited a tie with the First Light.

Weatherproofness

We used this rating to measure how well a jacket’s fabrics and features partnered to repel the environment. Did the shell do its job, and how well was that job supported by things like hood design, cuff closures, and zipper guards? We found that most of these jackets did a decent job of repelling wind; but none of them can replace a true windshell. Of those tested, the Marmot Featherless and Black Diamond First Light Hoody were best against the wind, and the Patagonia wasn’t far behind.

Other factors contributing to how well a jacket fought off the elements include, hoods, chin-zips, cuff design, length, and additional shell treatments such as DWR finishes. The Black Diamond scored highest here, namely as a result of the jacket’s intent to be used as a stand-alone exterior layer in conditions just shy of “very cold and wet.”

Temperature Control

Above all else, these jackets need to keep a person warm. Yet, they can’t be “too warm” either, because sweat and cold don’t make good bedfellows. The Cotopaxi’s side-panel bound Polartec Alpha Direct expelled a good deal of heat during a test that involved snowshoe hill climbs, but had a hard time beating the Arc’teryx and Patagonia entries in overall warmth when stationary. Each of the latter scored above average as the highest mark achieved in this rating.

While the Marmot staved off wind at elevation, one tester had an issue with torso and sleeve fit contributing to cold air intake. The Black Diamond is designed to breathe and insulate while in motion, and in that specific respect, it’s the best of the bunch. However, the majority of buying decisions in this line of goods will be based on general, “standing around” warmth on belays, ski lifts, outdoor events and winter errand running.

Fit/Comfort

There’s nothing overly complex about this rating. In general, is a jacket comfortable? Beyond that, we asked testers to look for nitpicks that evolved over-time. For example, did the sleeves run up the forearm? Or, was a hood too tight? Add-ons such as hood tensioners and hem adjustments play a part, but most people know in the store what a jacket will feel like when worn.

One tester commented that the Patagonia Micro Puff “floated” over him, given its airy materials. However, the Arc’teryx and Black Diamond earned wins in this category with above average scores. The Cerium LT’s European goose down and ideal fit above layers matched the First Light Hoody’s super-soft face fabric and lack of restriction. The Marmot and Cotopaxi scored OK in this criteria. Neither of them are tedious to wear, but suffered from sleeve length issues and how they cooperated with layers.

Features

Brands look to these add-ons to support the overall intent of the jacket. For example, if a jacket includes materials that are clearly designed to keep a person dry, it makes sense to include a hood. Hem drawcords are popular, and the Fuego LT and First Light Hoody used the same locking toggle to secure the cord’s position once pulled tight. The Patagonia was the only coat tested that lacked a way to tighten the waistline; yet, it sports two internal pockets, a hood,
a “storm flap” behind its center zip, and a stuff pocket that is quick to fill.

All jackets scored above average, except for the Marmot, which sat right on what we consider an average set of features with a hem drawcord and mechanism for packing it away. We then looked at cuff design, pocket placement, zipper choices, and other such tools that aid in comfort and weather protection.

Testing Methods

For the 2018 test, jackets were put to the test in a number of conditions in varied locations around the United States, but most of them ended up subjected to a moderate winter in the northern Sierras around Lake Tahoe and Truckee, California.

Testers wore products doing everything from shoveling snow to monitoring ski race courses, and from ski patrolling to backcountry tours. They were also used in spring and summer backpacking and camping trips. Testers were asked to pack them, allow them to get wet, and in general, treat them to the extent their marketing states they can handle. Zippers were pulled on, pockets stuffed, and hem cords yanked tight.

What is a Lightweight Insulated Jacket?

Jackets in this category are those that can be used alone from spring to fall (in most cases), and worn as supportive, layered insulation in the winter months.

They tend to be made of materials designed specifically to be packable and generally easy to wear even in summer, at least for a few minutes each night and morning. This is also the category where manufacturers are getting more ambitious in terms of weight, warmth, and exotic fabric choice, because it’s assumed winter puffer jackets will be heavier, more durable, and not as commonly found hanging from a harness or in the mesh external pocket of a backpack on the AT. Thus, brands can be more lenient about weight and packability, subsequently leaving it to the rest of the year’s product line to demonstrate the technical achievements of shell fabric and insulation advancements, i.e., “How light can we go and still keep a person warm?” Patagonia’s Micro Puff is the ideal example.

Lightweight insulated jackets tend to dominate the market, too. Most brands have multiple examples, perpetuating buyer’s confusion about what’s best for them, and more importantly, forcing outdoor retailers to make tough buying decisions.

There’s been a definite shift toward the cosmetic appeal of insulated jackets. They are almost commonplace in cold midwestern and northeastern urban environs among the “non-practicing” outdoorist. They are fashionable today, without question, and outdoor brands aren’t hesitating to seize the moment of crossover.

Thankfully, this category of insulated jacket remains largely stalwart to its core market: the outdoor recreation market. The versatility and multi-year reliability of most lightweight insulated jackets is hard to overstate, and the selections are only getting better.