Winter's here and that means insulation, and this year more than ever it means innovative insulation. As traditional down ups its game with hydrophobic coatings and big players Primaloft have launched a new blown synthetic that mimics down in its fill method Patagonia have thrown their hat in the ring with a new synthetic hoody that's lighter than their existing down or synthetic alternatives.
What the manufacturers say:
It’s lofty for sure, but the Micro Puff™ Hoody delivers the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any jacket we’ve ever created. The unprecedented combination of warmth, minimal weight, and compressibility—even when wet—offers the versatility of synthetic without compromising the benefits of down. The revolutionary PlumaFill insulation (65-g 100% polyester) is featherlight and compressible, offering down-level warmth that still traps your heat when it’s wet. A nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum® shell, with a DWR (durable waterproof repellent) finish, blocks wind and snow. The garment’s design maximizes performance and minimizes useless fluff. Features: zippered handwarmer pockets (the left pocket doubles as a stuffsack with a reinforced carabiner clip-in loop), a pair of sleek internal drop-in pockets (made without excess, using the backside of the handwarmer pocket bags), a light and simple under-the-helmet hood, and elasticized cuffs and hem.
- Ultralight nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum® shell is water-resistant, windproof and treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish
- Revolutionary PlumaFill insulation replicates the structure of down in a continuous synthetic insulation material, offering the warmth and packability of down but with the warm-when-wet performance of synthetic insulation
- Innovative quilting construction complements the insulation by stabilizing and maximizing the loft of the PlumaFill strands with minimal stitching
- Center-front zipper has wicking interior storm flap and zipper garage at chin for next-to-skin comfort
- Two welted zippered handwarmer pockets; left pocket doubles as a stuffsack with a reinforced carabiner clip-in loop
- Under-the-helmet hood construction is light and simple
- Elasticized cuffs and hem seal in warmth
- 264 g (9.3 oz)
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody on test:
The Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody is distinctive from the moment you open the packaging; It's shiny, bears a strong resemblance to a bin bag and weighs less thasn the packaging does. In terms of selling points this observation highlights both the good and the bad pints that will stick in your memory. Some people will be put off by the shiny outer fabric but the weight is both a revolution and a revelation.
It's a revolution because in the Micro Puff Hoody Patagonia have produced a synthetic jacket that's lighter than their most popular lightweight down hoody, the Ultralight Hoody, while matching it for warmth and compressibility. On our mini digital scales the Micro Puff weighed in at a ridiculously low 261g, but it fits inside its own left pocket.
To achieve this level of minimalist weight and compressibility Patagonia have filled the Pertex Quantum with 65g of 100% polyester in the form of a new "feather boa" style synthetic insulation they call PlumaFill.
When it comes to synthetic insulation we've seen it in sheets, to prevent migration, in a blown form with Primaloft's new ThermoPlume and now in a continuous snake-like construction. When it comes down to buying and wearing a synthetic jacket, however, I've yet to hear of anyone asking for a specific type of fill; what matters is the balance in the magic triangle of Weight, Warmth and Compressibility. The ability of the jacket to handle rain is taken for granted with it being sysnthetic.
In terms of balancing this triangle of properties Patagonia has come as close to down on weight and compressibility as to make the difference almost imperceptible. Yes you could probably compress a specialist lightweight down from the likes of PHD but down is a more fragile component than polyester and if I was spending the kind of money needed to compete with the weight and compressibility of the Micro Puff Hoody I'd be a bit reluctant to risk damaging the fibres of a down product.
If you look closely you'll see the outer fabric has thousands of minute but visible holes, but the Micro Puff is still capable of resisting a shower thanks to its DWR coating. Much more than a shower and you've got the choice of slipping a shell over the top - and slip is the correct terminology given the slick surface of the Pertex Quantum outer, or accepting that warm is about to become warm but damp.
In terms of wind resistance the Micro Puff Hoody relies primarily on the Quantum outer for protection, and combined with a minimalist level of stitching and the continuous lengths of PlumaFill in each baffle, the hoody does a decent job even soaring at 4000m over Zermatt.
or tackling an alpine singletrack in October.
While the Micro Puff Hoody is a real breakthrough in compressibility and weight you do have to remember it's a mid layer rather than an outer layer. We don't like definitive temperature recommendations given that everyone is different but used as a mid layer with a medium base-layer underneath we found it more than adequate down to around 5C and combined with a Berghaus or Rab mid layer hoody to -10. With elasticated cuffs and hem and an elasticated, under the helmet, hood there's very few places for heat to escape from and close examination will show that despite the minimal weight Patagonia have somehow managed to manufacture a micro-sized storm flap behind the main zip.
A micro-sized storm flap sits behind the main zip.
You get two decent sized hand-warmer pockets on the Micro Puff Hoody with an additional two on the inside. Interestingly the internal and external pockets match up perfectly, using the same stitch lines for both to keep weight down. While the outer pockets have micro-zips the internal ones are drop-in style with a minimalist elastic hem to keep the general shape of the pocket intact. In practice the accessibility of these internal pockets, particularly with gloves on, made them especially useful.
With a list price around £250 the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody isn't cheap; ground-breaking technology rarely is. For the same price you could buy a, slightly warmer, lightweight down mid layer and although the Quantum outer layer is ripstop you can't help but feel a bit paranoid over how thin it is (just 15-denier). Despite these limitations, though, you get the unquestionable wet-weather insulation of a synthetic fill without having to compromise on weight or compressibility. As a mid layer it's ideally suited to use around camp and with the addition of a lightweight shell over the top it's hard to find anything that can compete with it on equal terms.