I first saw the inov8 Performance Hybrid Jacket as a prototype when I visited inov8 HQ in Staveley, Cumbria, earlier this year. I must confess to being a bit excited by it and made it clear that if an opportunity arose to test one, I’d jump at the chance. I’ll try and explain where my uncharacteristic enthusiasm came from.
I once spent a week of my life trudging up a wintery Pennine Way on the Spine Race, and part of the layering system I used was a hoodie made from PRIMALOFT® ACTIVE. For those of you not familiar with this fabric it is, in its most basic form, like a modern day string vest. Rather than being a full closely formed fleece it is knitted in rows. Gaps in the rows allow more air to be trapped which body heat warms meaning it has excellent thermal properties.
However, unlike traditional fleeces which struggle to vent excess heat, this fabric will allow heat to escape easily. The hoodie I wore undoubtedly helped saved me from perishing in the elements, but to get its full benefit in those conditions the hoodie required another layer over the top to keep warmth in and this shell needed unzipping or removal to exhaust excess heat.
As I was dragging myself northward on that event, I mused that it would be really useful if the PRIMALOFT® ACTIVE fabric could be bonded to its own shell so that you didn’t need to fiddle with zips to regulate temperature. Low and behold, my visit to inov8 revealed that they had attempted to do just that, a PRIMALOFT® ACTIVE lining in a Pertex® Quantum Air shell. So, the question then remained whether my theory born in the depths of sleep deprivation and the inov8 design team were right.
My main area of interest was whether having an integrated outer shell would either positively or negatively affect the ability of the PRIMALOFT® ACTIVE to retain and vent heat. Any outer shell would need to be breathable enough to allow heat out, but not so breathable that it didn’t retain much needed warmth.
It’s worth looking at the advertising brief on the inov8 website to gauge where they are pitching this garment. It’s claimed to be for “walking, hiking, running and outdoor activities on cooler days” and “worn on its own as an outer garment or layered under a waterproof jacket”. So how does it fair?
I should imagine trying to design a jacket for multiple sports is quite a challenge, the amount of heat you generate when running is obviously greater than that you would when you are hiking and therefore to work out a garment that meets these basic requirements takes some thinking about.
The Performance Hybrid Jacket manages to address these by having the fleece panels strategically “mapped” to areas of need across the body and hood. The torso, back and upper arms all receive PRIMALOFT® ACTIVE coverage and the rest of the areas have just the Pertex ® covering. The hood can be neatly rolled down and secured by a popper and strap which adds additional warmth to the neck area.
Pertex® Quantum Air is a stretchy fabric that adds an added element of comfort, and the back of the jacket extends down over your bum which eliminates any gaps around your waist where the top of your legwear (waterproof or otherwise) meets your base layer, meaning no cold midriff. Cuffs are comfortable and tightly secure over the wrists and, if you’re wearing gloves there’s a snug seal here. If you’re not, then don’t worry there are thumb holes to shield your hands from the elements. This is just one of a couple of nice touches which indicate the inov8 Performance Hybrid jacket has been designed by people who know what it’s like to be in the great outdoors.
I have already mentioned the hood storage, but there is also a separate compartment inside the front pockets which mean you can store your small items separately without losing them when you remove your favourite woolly hat. Top tip though, lay your phone sideways in this compartment to avoid bounce. As you would expect from inov8 it retains the same quality as all of their jackets and compresses into its own pocket for easy storage, very handy indeed when packing for long expeds when bag space is at a premium; oh and it’s light too 337g (men’s medium).
Warmth wise the jacket performs even better than my hoodie and separate shell combo I experimented with on the Spine. I tend to “run hot” so when running at zero degrees Celsius I only needed a long-sleeved tee shirt under the jacket. Hiking above the snow line at -2 degrees a thermal base layer and just the jacket were all that I required. In short, it’s a toasty bit of kit, but as discussed that’s only one part of the equation, does it allow heat to escape with the same effectiveness as the fleece on its own?
Surprisingly it does, although unsurprisingly it does take a little while longer. Heat escapes through the Pertex ® fabric really rather nicely. However, PRIMALOFT® ACTIVE® on its own, when exposed to the elements, loses warmth quite quickly. Sometimes this is required, sometimes it’s not and you then have to add your layers back on. With the Performance Hybrid it’s a more gradual process, which once you’re accustomed to is very easy to manage by opening or closing a zip.
One look at the Pertex ® website shows how the combination of the Quantum Air fabric with the PRIMALOFT® ACTIVE lining is a match made in heaven. It’s designed to be more air permeable, exactly what the lining needs to regulate temperature and is wind resistant to ensure the cold air doesn’t get in. The shell is shower proof so venturing out in a light rain or snow will cause no issues. However, if you’re out in a monsoon, then pull on your full wets over the top and you’ve got a very, very effective layering solution indeed.
Looks wise, I think this jacket is actually quite understated, it only comes in black and doesn’t have any of inov8’s bright coloured detailing on the zips, but you know what? I like that about it. In fact, I like this jacket a lot, priced at £175 (November 2023) it’s going to be valuable addition to your outdoor wardrobe.
Robin Bush is the co-owner of RunUltra. He’s an experienced mountain runner, who has run many of the classics including the Dragon’s Back and The Spine.
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