Mountain garments filled with modern synthetic insulation have many advantages; they are warm, compressible, light and, crucially, still hold some of their warmth when wet. Recently the demand for more breathable synthetic insulation has grown and textile and clothing manufacturers have responded by producing fibres and garments that are breathable enough to use when working hard, as well as during static periods.
The end result should be a very versatile product; something that can be used as an outer layer in place of a softshell and as a midlayer in place of a fleece. The concept works really well for ski touring and splitboarding, so I thought I’d review some of what’s out there in the active insulation segment at the moment.
Patagonia Nano Air
The Patagonia Nano Air Hoody is perhaps the best known and most influential product in this category. The Nano Air’s combination of stretchy, breathable 60gm Full Range insulation combined with stretchy air permeable shell and lining fabrics give it defining levels of comfort on the move. Although It might be a little on the warm side for some, especially during mild temps, the Nano Air Hoody has become very popular amongst ski tourers and splitboarders for use in cold conditions.
The Nano Air Hoody is the classic product in the range but this season Patagonia introduce the Nano Air Light Hybrid Jacket, which looks like a winner. Super thin 40gm insulation in the front of the torso is combined with a waffle knit polyester down the sides and on the back. This is designed to provide warmth and protection to the front of the jacket and extra breathability and mobility at the rear where it’s required. The Nano Air Light Hybrid looks great for touring use within a layering system for anyone who prefers a lighter garment without a hood.
Rab Alpha Direct Jacket
Polartec effectively pioneered active synthetic insulation when they developed Polartec Alpha some years ago. Alpha is high loft fleece trapped between a shell and liner. It’s breathable, warm and packable. Last winter garments using Polartec Alpha Direct started to appear. Alpha Direct is basically Alpha but without the lining and really blurs the lines between fleece, softshell and traditional synthetic insulation.
The Rab Alpha Direct Jacket is a lightweight hoody designed to offer the user really great versatility in the mountains. The Alpha Direct fabric provides warmth during periods of rest yet keeps air flowing through the fabric during active periods too. The hood fits under a helmet, 3 pockets provide storage and the trim fit layers easily under a shell.
Black Diamond Deployment Hybrid Hoody
The Black Diamond Deployment Hybrid Hoody achieves a high level of breathability by combining areas of more air permeable merino wool fabric alongside synthetic insulation. The merino is placed over the lower torso and under the arms where airflow is appreciated. The areas of warmer synthetic insulation sit on the chest, upper arms, shoulders and hood.
The Deployment Hybrid also uses a particularly breathable Schoeller stretch woven shell fabric over the Primaloft insulation, along with a mesh lining underneath it. This combination increases breathability considerably over the ripstop nylon and polyester fabrics traditionally used in these areas. Check out our full review of the Deployment Hybrid Hoody here.
Arc’teryx Proton AR and LT
Arc’teryx introduced their version of active synthetic insulation last winter. The Proton series features Coreloft Continuous insulation; a very air permeable synthetic insulation that comes in two weights – 65gm and 90gm. The lighter weight is used in the Proton LT, the heavier weight in the Proton AR. Both weights of garment have a breathable nylon shell and lining that is designed to offer a decent amount of weather resistance, along with alpine specific features like a helmet compatible hood and a trim fit.
Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody
Probably the lightest weight garment here, the Deviator Hoody is made from a combination of Polartec Alpha insulation and Polartec Power Grid fleece. The Alpha is placed in the torso and shoulders to hold in warmth and provide some wind resistance to the front of the garment. The Power Grid covers the hood, arms and back and provides extra mobility and a huge amount of breathability. The Deviator Hoody looks amazing for just about any cool or cold weather activity, including ski touring, alpine climbing and even running.