Fabrics for puffy jackets have never had much need to stretch or give. For the most part, people wear thick jackets when they aren’t particularly active, so they aren’t creating much body heat and every vestige of warmth needs to be retained. That’s why a high level of protective insulation is needed.
But let’s say you’re a ski racer. Going down the mountain, all you wear is a skintight suit to minimize wind resistance as you strive for that fraction of a second faster time. Your body is working hard so you don’t need much insulation. And even if you are cold, it’s only for a short time, and the brief chill is worth the aerodynamic benefit.
But once you reach the finish line, or while you’re waiting for the start, your idle body doesn’t generate much heat. And while you may not be doing much aerobic movement in your comfy down jacket, you do need to bend over to buckle your boots or adjust something, and it gets very frustrating when your jacket inhibits that process.
That is exactly what Phil Shettig, CEO of Sync Performance, witnessed in the lift line as a ski racer fought against the restrictiveness of her puffy jacket. The observation led Shettig to design a warm jacket that allowed freedom of movement. Later, Shettig worked with a textile manufacturer to develop the stretchy Motion 360 knit fabric, which is incredibly soft to the touch. The fabric first came to market in Sync’s Stretch Puffy jacket for the 2015-16 season, but Shettig continues to optimize the product. The company offers a men’s and a women’s version of its Stretch Puffy in various colors with PrimaLoft synthetic-down insulation.
“We have already tweaked the fabric for durability over what was used in 2015 for the 2016-2017 season,” he says. Sync maintains a one-year exclusive on each iteration of the stretch fabric, but after that window, the textile mill can sell the fabric to other manufacturers.
A season behind Sync, Mountain Hardwear is introducing its StretchDown jackets for the 2016-17 season. Its Dynamic-Stretch Knit fabric comes in three versions—standard, Plus, and RS (ripstop) for men and women—and in various colors.
Sync’s fabric is the stretchiest, followed by Mountain Hardwear’s standard and Plus versions. The RS version has better durability but does not have nearly the same give as the other jackets.
Sync’s men’s hooded jacket, with reinforced shoulders and chest pocket with snap, has a more stylized look with a Western feel—but it is the heaviest at 1.5 pounds, as weighed on my own scale. The Mountain Hardwear jackets lack definitive style but are lighter than the Sync jackets. Mountain Hardware’s standard StretchDown hooded jacket weighs 1.1 pounds, and the RS version is the lightest at 0.9 pound—likely the best for backcountry adventurers who prize lightweight warmth and durability.
All of the jackets weighed were size medium with hoods. I did not have a Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Plus version to review, but the manufacturer claims it has more fill for colder conditions, and at 1.3 pounds it is lighter than the Sync product.
Is a stretchy puffy in your future? Do you see this as a must-have for your cold-weather adventure wardrobe?
Adventure correspondent Cameron Martindell travels the world seeking beautiful destinations and amazing adventures to document in photos, prose, and video. These adventures provide plenty of opportunities to break gear, all in the name of the testing process. He maintains his own adventure website at offyonder.com and can be followed on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, as well as on Snapchat as @offyonder. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.