Featherless is Marmot's entry into this winter season's "next big thing": synthetic down-like insulation. Last winter seemed to be about synthetic insulation that was breathable; this year it is all about getting as close to down's insulating properties as possible without actually causing the demise of any waterfowl, all the while retaining the traditional advantage of synthetic insulation - its resistance to moisture.
Featherless has been developed in collaboration with the multinational 3M and their Thinsulate line. There are different products available under the Thinsulate name, going right back to 1979, but 3M and Marmot say Featherless is the most compressible synthetic insulation, with the best warmth-to-weight ratio, that they have ever made. Marmot claims Featherless is comparable to 700 fill-power down. By way of comparison, decent manufacturers of down gear use down with fill-power ranging from 650 to 850 for clothing (actually up to 1000 in the case of PHD). This is worthy of note because it suggests at least theoretically that the Featherless Hoody should be slightly warmer than an identical jacket stuffed with the same amount of 650 fp down. OK, it's not claiming to go up against the higher quality down used in premium gear. But until the recent crop of down-like fills came out, I don't remember any manufacturer claiming they had synthetic insulation that worked better than down of any sort. So does it? Well I'm afraid it's hard to say!
It is of course very difficult to quantifiably test these things in real life. I only have the Featherless Hoody to use, not a down-filled twin to compare it to. When I first took the jacket out of the bag my first thought was: "it doesn't actually feel very light". A few days later I was climbing with an old friend and chucked it to him. He caught it and immediately said: "it's not that light is it?" But the strange thing is that at 480g (my post scales agree exactly with Marmot's stated weight - well done Marmot!) it isn't actually that heavy at all, particularly not for the generously sized medium that mine is.
The best anecdotal comparison I can come up with is with my much loved Jottnar Fenrir down jacket. This is less than 100g lighter than the Featherless Hoody and is a much trimmer fit (hence just smaller), has fewer pockets, and uses just 112g of 850 fill-power down for its insulation. The two jackets feel roughly equal in the amount of insulation that they offer although the Featherless Hoody is easier to pull on over the top of other layers, being a looser fit, and has become the jacket I've grabbed for all belaying and camp duties through autumn 2017. The Featherless insulation does seem untroubled by moderately wet conditions. It is definitely superior to untreated down in the damp and, this is more of an impression than a provable fact, also seems better than down with modern hydrophobic treatments.
It's worth noting that we've been unable to ascertain exactly how much fill, by weight, is used in the jacket. We are still waiting on this info from Marmot, but in the meantime suffice to say this is a light-midweight jacket with what feels like a 'medium' amount of fill. Neither superlight on the one hand, nor mega-warm on the other, it occupies the middle ground in terms of the insulation on offer, and I think this helps make the Featherless Hoody a versatile layer for all-round use.
The insulation has plus points, but by its nature it also imposes certain limitations on the jacket design, and here my feelings are more mixed. The insulation is loose, like real down, and just like down (and unlike traditional synthetic fill, which comes in sheets) it has to be blown into the jacket and held in place with stitching. This means lots of small baffled pockets, hence the quilted look to the Featherless Hoody. Aesthetically I think it looks fine, but it is worth bearing in mind that this is a stitch-through construction, and with the sheer amount of stitching you have plenty of possibilities of cold spots. While micro-baffled jackets have been quite fashionable in recent years, thanks to all that stitching they are actually much more efficient at insulating you when under another layer like a hardshell, and less so when worn on top - especially in windy weather. I can get a shell over the Featherless Hoody but the cut doesn't seem ideally designed for that, with both the arms and the body being reasonably relaxed in fit. I doubt that I would fit in a size small, and the arms would be too short, but in medium the Hoody goes over a chunky fleece more easily than it goes under a well cut shell jacket.
Outer fabric and build quality
The outer fabric is not branded, but is simply a light ripstop Nylon (1oz/ yd in old fashioned parlance). It feels pretty windproof, and tough enough for general outdoor wear and tear. I've seconded a few grit routes wearing it with no problems, on top of use camping and hiking.
In terms of shower resistance, it beads up nicely, so at least while the jacket is still fairly new the DWR is working well. I have used it casually in the drizzle with no ill effects, and when it's been out on days or overnights, it's been in snow and sleet, which the shell deals with well.
The main zip is a mid-weight YKK reversed coil zip and there is a good baffle behind it. I haven't noticed any cold spot on the zip. Overall the Featherless Hoody continues with Marmot's high standards of well-made and well-finished clothing.
This jacket could be described as "mid-length". The rear hem isn't lower than the front, so on me in size medium it doesn't fully cover my bum. I have climbed in the jacket but it does noticeably pull up when you raise your arms - meaning it works better for hiking and belaying in than actually climbing in. When climbing I've mainly worn it belay jacket-style over a harness; if you put a harness over the Featherless, or indeed a pack waist belt, you cannot fully open the zipped pockets on the front of jacket. Overall the cut and fit of the Featherless make me think that the designers have intended it to be used a general pull-over piece, whether that be on a chilly belay or while putting your tent up on a cold night when you've finished hiking. I can easily pull the medium jacket on over, say, a micro fleece and shell jacket. If it was a jacket for more athletic use in colder weather, climbing in, or perhaps skiing or similar, I would expect a more tailored cut. But actually the roomy fit is great - I can never hike in an insulated jacket without overheating. I use winter jackets like the Featherless Hoody when I stop being active and need to stay warm - it fitting over other layers is therefore a plus for me. A female-specific version is also available.
While the stitch-through design makes it less suitable as a winter belay jacket, the hood of the Hoody seems like it was designed with that in mind. It is big, and easily goes over a helmet. Being a climber who wears a helmet for everything, I normally like that on a jacket, but the hood is also non-adjustable, just having an elasticated trim. When wearing the hood over a hat or nothing at all it is loose, so that when you turn your head you tend to turn inside it, meaning that it can greatly impede your vision. In addition, as a blowy day on Snowdon proved, the lack of any wired or laminated brim means that when the wind is high enough it will simply blow the hood off your head - not ideal for a UK winter. If you are wearing a helmet, or even a hood of a shell jacket under the Featherless Hoody, this doesn't happen, but when hill walking sans casque it definitely does!
The Featherless has two decent sized handwarmer pockets and an inside chest pocket - great for a phone or similar. One of the handwarmer pockets doubles as a stow pocket - the jacket packs neatly into it, zips closed and Marmot have thoughtfully provided a hanging loop meaning the packed-up jacket can be clipped into the back of your harness for pulling out later to belay in - a nice touch.
Overall the Marmot Featherless Hoody is an interesting insulated jacket that shows just how far water-resistant synthetic 'down' has come. As a jacket I think it currently falls between two posts: while its design is decent as a general, outdoor kickabout coat for chilly camps, summit sandich stops and dreich days at the crag, for winter mountain use it could be a bit more fitted, and would really benefit from an adjustable hood. If you're using the Featherless Hoody for belay duty I'd say it is more of a crag jacket than a winter climber's weather refuge. The down-like nature of the fill imposes certain design limits, necessitating a lot of stitching that rather undermines the jacket's foul weather performance. If Marmot were to find a way to use this excellent fill in a more winter-climbing-oriented design, could the outer layer be a light hardshell of some type? This would do away with the cold spot worries but the water resistance of the Featherless insulation would allow it to work even if you had been working hard and building up a bit of fug inside. Just a thought...
Light as a feather no longer applies. Marmot's Featherless Hoody helps redefine the phrase with its new revolutionary loose-fill 3M™ Thinsulate™ Featherless synthetic insulation. Matching the warmth of your traditional 700-fill-power down jacket, but more water resistant, this featherless phenom has a functional, mobile design, elastic cuffs for comfort and in-pocket stash-ability for convenience on the move.
- Price: £180
- Weight: 480g (size medium)
- Sizes: S-XXL (men) XS-XL (women)
- Fill: 3M™ Thinsulate™ Featherless Insulation
- Fabric: 100% Nylon Double Mini Rip 1.0 oz/ yd
- Attached Hood with Elastic Binding
- Zippered Hand Pockets
- Elastic Bound Cuffs
- Inside Zip Stuff Sack Pocket
- Elastic Drawcord Hem
- Angel-Wing Movement™
For more info see marmot.com
Nice review. I wish companies would move away from this whole down imitation thing though, as your photo showed the stitch through method is just BS. I bought a Mountain Hardwear synthetic down stitch-through jacket recently and in the crook of the arms there was a 2/3 square inch gap of insulation (sent it back). What we really need is to go back to continuous filaments and make proper synthetic jackets that don't have huge cold spots and actually last more than 1 season. I don't really need it to compress into a potato, I just want it to be warm, reasonable weight, not fall apart when it gets wet, and be worth the stupid amount of money we spend on gear. Most modern synthetic jackets these days care more about looking fashionable then any reasonable science backing their functionality.
I agree. The last couple of these reviews of other brands equivalents have basically Said The same thing. I think the RAB Xenon is one of the best synthetic lightweight pieces as it has very minimal stitching so wind and water/snow resistance is much improved.
Toby, for me, one of the big advantages of synthetic over down is that it is easier to wash (& especially to dry), have you washed your test jacket yet ?
That's a really good thought Doug - and actually I haven't need to wash it yet so it hadn't crossed my mind. I just went and looked at the label and you can wash it at 30 and even tumble dry on cool, so should it get grubby (we've had a pretty wintery start to winter in the hills even down here south of the border - so it has stayed pretty clean) you can wash it easily.
It's the way most down clothing is made too. I guess they could box wall for synthetic down also, but cost is clearly high for that construction.
It's an odd thing, it is not the case that stitch-through simply doesn't work - this jacket does keep you decently warm, just like the stitch-through down jackets I've used. But it's clearly not as efficient as it could be, but perhaps even despite this, it's enough for most people? And people don't want to pay super high prices for box wall jackets?