If you are super cheap like me, you try to have one item of clothing that is good in all conditions.  This does not always work.  Over the years, I have slowly added to my quiver of gear so that I often have the right item for the conditions I expect. This has made my life much better.

Why and when to use a Down or Synthetic insulation jacket

We looked in on the pros at outdoor gear lab:

The advantages of down, and why most people love it, is that it has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio and it compresses and packs better. The biggest drawback is that if down gets wet it loses its loft, which means it also loses its warmth. Down is typically more expensive.

Synthetic insulated jackets are noticeably heaver at the same warmth, and they don’t squish down as small. The biggest selling point for synthetic insulation is that it keeps much of its loft when wet (but not all), which means it still retains some of its insulating properties and warmth.

Down itself is more durable than synthetic insulation, and can last for 10-20 years, whereas synthetic insulation can pack out and lose its warmth in around seven years. However, synthetic jackets are more resistant to abrasion. If you lean too close to the camp stove and melt a hole in the sleeve (like one of our testers did with the Hi-Tec Timaru) a synthetic jacket is all right, but a down jacket leaks out the insulation.

A down jacket is best for all-around use and trips where weight and pack space is a concern. Synthetic insulated jackets are better for wet conditions, such as skiing or hiking in a wet environment.

Well said indeed.

Depending on where and when I am going I adjust my packing. For example – you are going in the Sierras from the East Side in August.  Forecast is dry for the next week, but it gets cold at night. I would bring my down sweater and a waterproof lightweight shell. My thought is that I can use the shell for any afternoon storms that swing in, but I am probably not going to be wet all day.

If the forecast looks like rain, I am still going out but would bring my synthetic jacket ( I have an older mountain hardware Chugach jacket that is pretty light). I would still have my waterproof shell and maybe the waterproof pants too.

For trail running a down sweater can be awesome.  They are super light and while not great for standing around at really low temperatures, are fine when moving.  Also if you take if off during the run, it packs super small so you don’t have a ton of stuff hanging off of you.

Check out jacket reviews here:

Men’s Down or Synthetic jackets

Women’s Down or Synthetic Jackets

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