Gear

ThermoBall vs Nano Puff: What’s the Best Synthetic-Insulation Jacket?

by Mac Misseldine

thermo ball vs nano puff
Photo: The North Face

When you’re in the market for a synthetic insulated jacket, there’s really only two choices: The North Face ThermoBall and the Patagonia Nano Puff.

There are a number of synthetic insulation jackets vying for your attention, but few can compete with the ThermoBall and Nano Puff jackets. They’re a little pricey, but you’re paying for a premium quality jacket from a top-tier outdoors brand. In a world where you get what you pay for, these jackets absolutely deliver.

So, which jacket reigns supreme? Let’s take a closer look.

The North Face ThermoBall Jacket

THE NORTH FACE MEN’S THERMOBALL™ JACKET

The ThermoBall Jacket from The North Face is a staple in the modern hiker’s wardrobe. Whether you’re taking in the sights on a day hike or spending a week on the trail backpacking, it’s a solid pick that’ll keep you warm in cool climates. When used as mid-layer insulation under an outer shell, it can take on some seriously cold winter weather.

The North Face developed their proprietary ThermoBall insulation in partnership with PrimaLoft, an innovative manufacturer at the forefront of synthetic insulation. Unlike traditional continuous-filament synthetic insulation, ThermoBall insulation is made up of small, rounded synthetic fiber clusters that mimic down clusters. The clusters trap your body heat in small air pockets to retain warmth, providing the same level of insulation you’d expect from 600 fill-power goose down.

What does all that synthetic fiber jibber jabber mean? In short, ThermoBall combines the best features of synthetic and down insulation. It’s just as warm, lightweight, and compressible as down, but it’s water resistant and can retain heat even when wet.

The ThermoBall Jacket utilizes an innovative bottleneck quilt pattern that minimizes cold spots and boosts the jacket’s durability. The 15D ripstop nylon shell has a DWR finish to repel water, and it’s wind resistant.

The ThermoBall Jacket features an internal secure-zip chest pocket, covered secure-zip hand pockets, and an exposed Vislon center front zip. The cuffs have internal elastic bands, and you can cinch the hem to lock out the cold. When the trail warms up, the jacket stashes into the hand pocket for convenience and portability.

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Tech Specs

  • Fabric: 15D ripstop nylon with DWR finish
  • Insulation: 13g PrimaLoft ThermoBall synthetic fibers
  • Weight: 12.3 ounces

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

Patagonia Men's Nano Puff

The Nano Puff Jacket from Patagonia is another popular synthetic insulation jacket that’s engineered for the outdoors. It’s specifically designed for climbers and skiers to maximize arm movement, though it’s equally popular with hikers and backpackers.

The Nano Puff Jacket uses 60g PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco, a 55% post-consumer recycled synthetic fill. It delivers an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, is highly compressible, and miraculously maintains 98% of its heat-retaining capacity when wet.

The PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco is wrapped in a 100% recycled polyester ripstop shell and lining with a DWR finish. Patagonia employs a brick-quilted pattern with horizontal quilt lines on the side panels to stabilize the insulation, and extra-durable thread for improved abrasion resistance. The result is a ruggedly tough jacket that’s lightweight, warm, water resistant, and windproof.

The Nano Puff Jacket’s center-front zipper includes a moisture-wicking interior storm flap and a zipper garage at the chin to avoid irritating your throat. To keep chilly drafts at bay, the Nano Puff Jacket features elasticized cuffs and a drawcord-adjustable drop-tail hem.

The jacket features two zippered handwarmer pockets with zipper garages, and a zippered internal chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack. For convenience, there’s a reinforced carabiner clip-in loop where you can connect the stuff sack to your belt or backpack.

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Tech Specs

  • Fabric: Recycled polyester ripstop shell with DWR finish
  • Insulation: 60g PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco polyester
  • Weight: 11.9 ounces

Winner: Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

The ThermoBall Jacket has superior insulation that’s slightly warmer, but the Nano Puff Jacket is fully windproof. We prefer the versatility over a barely noticeable heat difference. The windproof rating means you can wear the Nano Puff Jacket solo, whereas you’ll need to throw on an outer shell with the ThermoBall Jacket any time the wind picks up.

The Nano Puff offers a slimmer fit, so it looks a little more sleek and is easier to layer underneath a winter coat. It’s also more eco-friendly, with 55% recycled insulation and a 100% recycled shell — and we’re all about sustainability.

We’re basing this determination on the standard price, though. If a compelling sale comes along that makes the ThermoBall Jacket significantly more affordable than the Nano Puff Jacket, we’d go for the ThermoBall in a heartbeat.

Alternate Pick: Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody

Patagonia Men's Micro Puff® Hoody

Looking for a synthetic insulation jacket without the quilting? Check out the Atom LT Hoody from Arc’teryx. It’s just as warm as the ThermoBall and Nano Puff jackets, but with a more modern, slim-fit styling that looks super sleek.

The Atom LT Hoody features a high performance, minimalist design that’s durable for its weight. The synthetic Coreloft insulation wrapped in a 20D taffeta shell delivers the warmth and comfort of a sleeping bag while feeling weightless on your body.

The Atom LT Hoody is designed to wear as a mid-layer for insulation from the cold, but it’s windproof and water-resistant with a DWR finish so you can wear it as an outer layer in high winds and light precipitation.

The smooth-faced, air-permeable fleece stretch side panels help to regulate your body temperature while you’re moving, so whether it’s a mid-layer or outer layer you won’t have to worry about overheating.

The Atom LT Hoody is a little pricier than the ThermoBall and Nano Puff jackets, but it’s a worthy upgrade for those who prefer the modern styling over classic quilted jackets.

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Upgrade Pick: Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

ATOM LT HOODY MEN'S

If you really want to splurge on a synthetic insulation jacket, you can’t top the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody. It’s unbelievably lightweight at under nine ounces, giving it the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any jacket in the Patagonia lineup.

The Micro Puff Hoody uses revolutionary PlumaFill insulation to replicate the structure of genuine down with continuous synthetic material. Patagonia wraps the toasty-warm insulation in an ultralight nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum shell that’s water-resistant, windproof, and treated with a DWR finish to repel rain and snow.

Try on this luxury jacket and you’ll quickly see that it delivers more loft and comfort than the Nano Puff Jacket thanks to an innovative stitching pattern. It also comes with a hood to keep your noggin warm, which fits comfortably under your helmet when your climbing or skiing.

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More Gear Recommendations

Before you head out for your next adventure, check out our favorite outdoor apparel. We’ve got the lowdown on the best merino wool T-shirts, trail running shoes, lightweight rain jackets, hiking pants, hiking hats, and American-made hiking boots.

We’ve got you covered for backcountry gear, too. Check out our guides on the best camping hammocks, ultralight sleeping bags, double sleeping bags, waterproof backpacks, trekking poles, waterproof duffel bags, backpack coolers, backpacking headlamps, backpacking stoves, and backpacking tents.

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