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Best Active Insulation Jackets of 2017

By: Seiji Ishii

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 2017Best Synthetic Sweaters of 2017, along with our insulated jacket testssoftshell jacket tests, and other related hiking and camping gear tests.

Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket

86

2017

Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket

The Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket breathes extremely well when working hard in cold environments, yet insulates just as well when activity ceases, eliminating the need to layer up or down during stop and go adventures. 

Arc’teryx Proton AR Hoody

85

2017

Arc’teryx Proton AR Hoody

The Arc’teryx Proton AR Hoody is a durable, moderately breathable insulating layer with uncompromised construction quality suitable for medium intensity activity in true winter conditions.

Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid

83

2017

Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid

The Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid is an extremely breathable and lightweight layer that prioritizes air permeability and moisture dissipation over anything else. 

Brooks-Range Mountaineering Alpha Softshell Jacket

83

2017

Brooks-Range Mountaineering Alpha Softshell Jacket

The Brooks-Range Mountaineering Softshell jacket keeps core temperatures stable in colder environments while allowing unrestricted arm mobility.

Black Diamond Equipment First Light Hoody

83

2017

Black Diamond Equipment First Light Hoody

The Black Diamond Equipment First Light Hoody is a durable workhorse for alpine environments, providing the right combination of breathability and heat retention for moderately active, start and stop pursuits in winter conditions.

Marmot Isotherm Jacket

82

2017

Marmot Isotherm Jacket

The Marmot Isotherm jacket is an abrasion resistant insulating piece that performs best for moderately active pursuits in freezing conditions.

About the Author

Seiji Ishii

Seiji Ishii

Seiji Ishii works as a trainer to professional supercross/motocross riders, adventure riding test editor at Dirt Rider Magazine and an AMGA certified rock climbing guide/instructor for White Star Mountain Guides/Austin Rock Gym. His personal time is spent rock climbing, any form of dirt biking, cycling, and training for the next mountaineering adventure.

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