User Review: Patagonia Men's Puffball Sweater
Fabric: 1.3 oz Ripstop Nylon
Price Paid: $55 on sale
Synthetic insulated jackets of this type (others are made by Marmot, TNF, Moonstone) really should be considered a third grouping (along with fleece and down) rather than a substitute for either.
Compared to fleece, they are lighter and far more compressible for the same warmth. Because of the nylon shell, they block the wind better, and tests in the washing machine show that they dry slightly quicker.
However, they are not nearly as durable as fleece (the Puffball outer fabric tears quite easily), and do not breathe as well.
Compared to down, they are cheaper, but not nearly as warm or as breathable for the same weight. However, the Puffball is less affected by wet weather--although a down jacket with a good outer fabric (it doesn't even have to be DryLoft) is not nearly as sponge-like as some claim.
The Puffball (since replaced by the upgraded FireBall) has a ridiculously small zipper pull, a very nice inner mesh pocket for drying gloves and hats, and not much else.
I've found it's best used when space is tight in a pack, or when multiple layers of fleece are too restrictive--downhill skiing at below 0 F.
A medium weight capilene shirt, an expedition weight shirt, a retro pile jacket, a puffball--all under a storm parka--works well when it's really cold.