When it comes to choosing a good jacket for travel, there’s an important factor you should consider alongside color and style—is down or synthetic insulation better? The answer to that question really depends on your travel style and preferences.
All of the products featured in this story were hand-selected by our travel editors. Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them.
What’s The Difference Between Down and Synthetic Insulation?
Down insulation is made from feathers sourced from birds, ducks, or geese.
Down Insulation Pros:
- Lightweight and compressible
- Provides a lot of warmth
Down Insulation Cons:
- Created from animals; not always ethically sourced
- Does not perform well when wet and takes a long time to dry
- Can trigger allergic reactions in some people
Synthetic insulation comes under many different brand names (such as Thinsulate, PrimaLoft, Omni-Heat, etc.) and is generally made from polyester. Higher-end synthetic insulation technology has advanced to provide similar compressible properties as down.
Synthetic Insulation Pros:
- Water-resistant and can provide warmth and insulation even when wet
- Good quality synthetic insulation can be as lightweight and compressible as down
- Less likely to shift and create cold spots
- Less expensive
Synthetic Insulation Cons:
- Warmth and weight can vary widely depending on brand and quality of insulation
Synthetic insulation has come a long way since it first hit the market, and there are plenty of brands that offer down-like feel and properties without the feathers. Here are our top picks for synthetic jackets.
The Best Synthetic Jackets for Travel
Featuring high-tech insulation, these synthetic jackets will keep you warm without adding weight.
Patagonia DAS Parka
Designed to withstand ultra-cold weather, Patagonia’s DAS Parka uses PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco with Cross Core. This technology utilizes an aerogel fill that feels (and compresses) like down, but performs well in wet weather like synthetic insulation. In the DAS Parka, extra insulation is built into places (like your core) where you need the most warmth.
The DAS Parka is perfect to pack for active adventures, with a helmet-compatible (and adjustable) hood. It’s also flexible enough that it won’t restrict your movement.
Although the jacket is lightweight, the lightweight nylon fabric has a water-resistant endurance coating that repels water and snow, and the two-way front zipper features an internal wind flap to help keep in heat.
When you’re ready to fly home, the DAS Parka packs down into its own stuff sack for easy transport.
Helly Hansen Senja Insulated Winter Parka
For winter trips that involve outdoor activities and urban exploration, you need Helly Hansen’s Senja Insulated Winter Parka. The Senja features stylish touches like an adjustable cinched waist, faux fur hood, and sleek fabric exterior—and it’s available in five classic colors.
Weighing just over 3 lbs., this parka is surprisingly lightweight for the amount of warmth it delivers. The synthetic insulation is 100 percent recycled, yet feels just like down. The hand pockets have a soft brushed lining interior to help keep hands even cozier.
Fully seam-sealed and outfitted with Helly Hansen’s patented Helly Tech Protection system, the Senja is waterproof and windproof while still being breathable.
PrAna Alpine Air Jacket
Need a lot of warmth but don’t have a lot of space? PrAna’s Alpine Air Jacket can pack down into its own built-in pocket and go practically anywhere you do. The 60 grams of PrimaLoft P.U.R.E. Black synthetic fill synthetic insulation provide just the right amount of warmth for fall hikes—or use it as a midlayer under a heavier jacket when temperatures go below freezing.
Zippered hand pockets help keep keys or phones secure while the water-repellent exterior deters rain and snow. Made from bluesign-approved materials and recycled content, this is a jacket you can feel good about buying.
Arc’teryx Atom Heavyweight Hoody
Lightweight, but warm enough to be used as a standalone jacket or a midlayer, Arc’teryx’s Atom Heavyweight Hoody is a versatile option that will work on any trip. The Atom Heavyweight uses a trademarked Coreloft synthetic insulation that will keep you warm even if it gets wet. Fortunately, the exterior shell is water- and wind-repellent, so getting wet won’t be a big concern.
An insulated, helmet-compatible hood makes this jacket a great choice for ski trips or other active pursuits.
Bonus: The Atom Heavyweight comes in four fun colors, so you can go with classic black or a more fun bright pink depending on your style.
Patagonia MicroPuff Hoody
For serious warmth without the weight, Patagonia’s MicroPuff Hoody offers one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios on the market. The MicroPuff just weighs 9 oz., so when you put it on, it’s hard to believe it will fend off the cold. However, as soon as you take it outside, you’ll be impressed by the heartiness of this jacket.
The MicroPuff uses a lightweight PlumaFill insulation that mimics the structure of down (which helps make it packable). Combined with a unique quilting construction, this jacket will keep you from freezing even as the temperatures drop. The jacket’s shell is made from a windproof material (that’s created from recycled fishing nets) and treated with a PFC-free DWR finish to keep you dry.
You Might Also Like:• TSA to Test Self-Service Screening Lanes
• 5 Packing Resolutions to Make This Year
• Amazon Prime Offers $25 Flights to Students This Holiday Season
• I Travel for a Living. Here’s Why I Let a Professional Plan My Vacation
• The Ultimate Packing List for Pets
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.