Breathable Insulated Jacket
Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket
$220, 1 lb. 2 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-XL

Puffy jackets stuffed with breathable synthetic insulation comprise one of the unsung-hero categories of outdoor gear: If you’re seeking nothing more than maximum warmth per ounce in a puffy jacket, sure, high-quality down is still the way to go. But if you want an insulated jacket with versatility across activities—and activity levels—and in all seasons and weather, a jacket with breathable synthetic insulation will usually outperform any feather-filled or synthetic competitor. And the Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket stands out in this niche category for all of those reasons, plus warmth that rivals pricier down jackets. Here’s why.

Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket.
Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket.

I tested the Refuge Hooded Jacket on winter days of backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains and skiing resorts, wearing it as both a middle and an outer layer in a range of temps from the 30s to single digits Fahrenheit, and a variety of weather. I also found it ideal for bike commuting around town in variable winter and spring weather, thanks to its warmth, breathability, and wind and weather resistance. But while it’s an outstanding insulation piece for winter and shoulder seasons, don’t read that as suggesting it’s strictly for winter: Its most notable strength is the ability to cross over seasons, from snow sports to backpacking, climbing, and other mountain activities in summer.

The break-through technology inside the Refuge is OR’s new, proprietary VerticalX synthetic insulation, which has superior stretch, breathability, and warmth for its weight. (And OR says that starting in fall 2019, it will consist of 85 percent recycled material.) According to OR, VerticalX is constructed using pieces of overlapping materials, improving warmth and durability and allowing the insulation to stretch more. OR equates the warmth of the 60g VerticalX to 700-fill-power down. It’s also manufactured without the need for an internal backer material—found in many synthetic insulations—thus eliminating one common impediment to moisture moving through the jacket. When my base layer got damp with sweat from skinning uphill on skis, it would dry out while I skied downhill, a testament to this jacket’s breathability.

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Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket.
Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket.

While high-quality down jackets (think: 800-fill power or higher) are generally warmer per ounce than synthetic insulation pieces, the Refuge packs more warmth per ounce than possibly any synthetic puffy I’ve used, and rivals many down puffy jackets of comparable weight.

The fit is trim, not at all poofy in the chest or waist—an excellent balance between having space for a couple of base layers and/or a light vest without excess bulk or inhibiting movement at all—and it zips up snugly at the neck with soft fabric over the chin. The fully adjustable hood does exactly what a hood should do: close up smoothly around my face to trap heat, delivering an immediate boost in warmth, and move with my turning head.

The Refuge is loaded with features, including three zippered external pockets (one chest, two hand pockets); two internal stuff-it pockets for drying or warming up spare gloves or stashing climbing skins; one internal zippered pocket with a cord port for an electronic device; a brushed tricot lining; and an elasticized, adjustable hem and cuffs that stretch enough to slide over or tuck inside gloves. Plus, the jacket stuffs into the left hand pocket (with some effort), compressing to slightly larger than a liter bottle—very impressive packability for a synthetic jacket that weighs more than a pound and delivers this much warmth.

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The 20- and 30-denier nylon ripstop shell fabric sheds light precipitation and is similar in durability to what you’d find on many puffy jackets—fairly durable, but watch out for sharp edges.

Granted, at over a pound, it’s heavier than most puffy jackets made strictly for three-season adventures—that’s the tradeoff for versatility. But its weight is not excessive if you want an insulated jacket that’s warm enough for nights and mornings near or below freezing—not uncommon, say, in late summer in the mountains or early spring in canyon country—or if you get cold easily and camp in temps around 40° F.

The Verdict

While heavier than most three-season puffy jackets, the Outdoor Research Hooded Refuge Jacket delivers exceptional warmth for its weight, four-season versatility, good breathability, and performance that doesn’t stop when it gets wet—all at a price much lower than many synthetic and down competitors. If you want a warm insulated jacket for any time of year—and warm enough for chilly late summer in the mountains—the Refuge could be the only puffy you need to own.

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See my review of “The 10 Best Down Jackets” and my other reviews of breathable insulated jackets and all of my reviews of insulated jackets and outdoor apparel that I like. See also my reviews of the best gloves for winter, some of which are good for spring through fall, too.

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Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of that story for free, or click here to download that full story without having a paid membership.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza


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