PART 1 – The Great Down Debate! Tips for Choosing your Insulation – DOWN
Down is one of the most common materials to fill insulated jackets and gear. Down is actually the fluffy undercoating on the bird, not the feathers, and it is a lot of tiny interlocking fibers that trap body heat. Down has the highest heat to weight ratio of all insulation and is breathable, wicking away moisture. These properties make down a great choice for activities where we generate body heat, like skiing or snowshoeing. To trap warmth the down needs room to expand, this is loft. Never machine wash your down and always follow care label instructions. Down retains its shape and loft fairly easily and with proper care down can last a lifetime. However, when down gets wet it loses its loft and it also loses its heat catching properties. Additionally, it is also very slow to dry. We never recommend taking a down sleeping bag on a trip where it may get soaked, you will be cold! Down is recommended for trips where you are looking to pack light and stay dry.
So what’s the deal? Duck Vs. Goose
High loft goose down are very tiny fibers and is the warmest of insulation because it traps the most air. You will find high loft goose down in sleeping bags rated to very low temperatures and expedition-wear. Goose down is very fine and slightly less lofted. This is what we find in most down gear, and is less expensive. Duck down is the least fine down and less expensive. Essentially it will take more duck down get a temperature rating than goose down or high loft goose down.
Many people wonder what the “Fill” means on their sleeping bags. We see that an 800 fill down sleeping bag is more expensive than a 650 fill bag, but what does that really mean? Down is rated according to fill. If one ounce of down takes up 800 cubic inches than it is rated 800 fill down. High quality down has a higher fill power and loft, because the weight needed to keep you warm is less.
The bottom line is, down is mother nature’s best insulator. For fall/winter clothing and camping, down will keep you warm, is highly packable and super lightweight. Whether your jacket is goose or duck, you will be warm. But, if you are watching your budget or the forecast says rain, you might want to go with synthetic insulation.
The Game Changer?
I love down in almost every situation, but if it gets wet, you get cold. Up until now, most down products were encased in waterproof, or resistant fabric to try and prevent a cold river trip or frozen day on the slopes. But, new technology is now working to make the down fiber itself water resistant. Without getting a guest post from a nano-technology scientist, the way we understand it is, the down has a micro- polymer coating that resists water and skin oil. The coating is applied near the end of manufacturing after the down has been washed. According to Sierra Designs, this will keep your down dry seven times longer than untreated down. We have seen tests of the feathers in water – and they do stay lofted. If these new down coatings really do resist water and decrease drying time, it really could be a game changer!
Stay tuned for part two, as we discuss the pro and cons of synthetic insulation, next week!