Best Active Insulation Jackets of 2017
Active Insulation is trendy and for good reason; this category attempts to address an issue all active people in the outdoors have reluctantly accepted since the advent of the layering system—donning and doffing layers as activity levels change in cold conditions. The premise is to put a breathable shell around breathable insulation, thus allowing air permeability to remove both heat and moisture when the activity levels rise, but while still providing enough insulation and wind resistance when things slow down or stop. Ideally, this layer could be left on the entire day, the one “do it all” layer, saving the time and hassle normally associated with layering up and down.
Brands have executed this to varying degrees of success, their developments working across different temperature, wind, and activity level ranges. Various shell fabrics, construction techniques, and insulating materials have been mixed and matched to create jackets that do indeed work as intended, morphing breathability with protection. The one true, all-encompassing layer has yet to be realized, but these modified “puffies” do a remarkable job of handling varying degrees of heat and moisture output in finite ranges of activity level and weather conditions.
The Outdoor Research Uberlayer was crowned the category champion as it worked across the widest range of activity level and weather conditions. Although it was the heaviest jacket of the test, it also had the most features and scored high across almost all of our test criteria.
Other jackets veered towards the ends of the breathability vs weather protection scale, making them better for various exertion levels or weather conditions. The Patagonia Nano Air Light Hybrid was the most extremely skewed in the direction of higher intensity aerobic activities and warmer climates while the Black Diamond Equipment First Light Hoody, Arc’teryx Proton AR, and Marmot Isotherm Jacket landed on the side of less intense activities and colder conditions. The Brooks-Range Mountaineering Alpha Softshell Jacket, with it’s insulated core and soft shell arms, straddled the middle, just not as well as the Outdoor Research Uberlayer.
For more reviews beyond this 2017 test, check out our Best Softshells of 2017, Best Synthetic Sweaters of 2017, along with our insulated jacket tests, softshell jacket tests, and other related hiking and camping gear tests.