This is the golden rule of insulation: Down is warmer and lighter; synthetic is more breathable and works better in wet conditions. The rule has demanded a give and a take--you can have one, or the other, but not both--and outdoorspeople have been weighing the pros and cons between synthetic and down puffies in the fitting rooms of ski shops and the virtual shopping baskets of REI for years.
But this week, after nearly a decade of insulation R&D, Patagonia finally put an end to this debate with the launch of their new Micro Puff Hoody, a synthetic-insulation jacket that has unmatched warmth for its light weight. It is also the lightest, most packable jacket the company has ever made.
"We were looking to solve the Achilles' heel of each type of insulation, and we ruled out dozens of technologies before getting to PlumaFill," said Jenna Johnson, Patagona's VP of technical outdoor in a statement. With PlumaFill (a synthetic insulation made with ultrafine, heat-trapping filaments), Patagonia found a way to combine the "warmth and packability of down" with the "warm-when-wet performance of synthetics." A patent-pending construction technique--where the baffles are stitched in an offset, discontinuous pattern that reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle--ensures the insulation stays evenly distributed and doesn't clump. Patagonia finishes the jacket with an ultralight nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum GL shell and a DWR finish. The result is a puffy that feels like down in that it's lofty and light--it clocks in at 9.3 ounces, about two-thirds the weight as a can of beer--but by using synthetic insulation, it will breathe and keep working in wet conditions--which sounds ideal for skiers.
For all the buzz surrounding the jacket, it remains to be seen how warm it is as a layer during a storm day, when temps are cold but your body is generating heat from skiing laps in deep snow and wet conditions. That said, I can attest that it’s been a sweet jacket to take on summer camping trips. When temps dipped down to the 40s or 50s at an exposed ridgeline camping spot, the Micro Puff was all I needed for a layer over a t-shirt to stay perfectly warm. And I didn't think twice about packing it in my bag, since it's so light and compressible. The material is a bit shiny, so it looks very tech-y, which it is, but ultimately, it's a step forward for insulation for those that spend their days in the mountains.