“Down”, whether synthetic or natural, works well to provide incredible warmth for the wearer whilst keeping the weight low. This makes it great for insulating outdoor clothing, that and the fact that it is highly compressible means you can compress your down garment and put it in your pack when it’s not needed. Down is designed for dry, cold conditions and works to trap warm air around the body. Down leakage from jackets is not to be expected, but it can happen – so don’t worry if a few feathers come out of your new insulated coat. So here goes… is synthetic “down” as warm as warm as natural down?
Down Insulation Unwrapped
Natural Down: Underneath the feathers of ducks and geese is an undercoating or mid-layer of lofty, fluffy stuff that we call “down”. Down works to insulate the body by trapping warm air in tiny pockets, keeping the core body temperature stable. With all this air trapped, your body is able to breathe and unwanted moisture can escape.
Down is measured by ‘Fill power’ which can range from 450 to 900, with 900 being the warmest and lightest but the more down, the more money you are going to have to spend. The higher the fill power, the better the down will insulate, because there is less chance of cold spots forming. Down Fill is measured by how many cubic inches 1 oz. of down can fill the inside of a container.
Synthetic Down: If you’re not looking for animal down but still want the insulation properties then synthetic down may be the thing you’re looking for. Synthetic down mimics the qualities of feather, trapping air in pockets, but can also, unlike down, retain these key features when wet. The hypoallergenic synthetic material is thinner and lighter, which means voids are filled more easily, and the polyester fabrics do well to mimic long threads of lofty clusters.
Synthetic insulation has a higher weight-to-warmth ratio than down, so to achieve the same warmth as down it needs to be slightly heavier. This type of synthetic down is much more moisture resistant so if it gets wet it will dry faster and retain it’s loft, staying “warm when wet”. Synthetic down is more budget friendly than down but again you get what you pay for.
Modern Day Down
New to the modern outdoor market is water-repellent down which is treated with a molecular-level polymer that can withstand mist or light moisture. This type of down is great if you’re a high mountain, morning scene see-er and wants to stay warm and dry at the same time. Washing and caring for down these days couldn’t be easier! Click here to head over to Youtube and see How to wash your down jacket.
|Natural Down||Synthetic Down|
|Warm when wet?||No||Yes|
|Water Resistant||Not Usually||Yes|
|Ave Fill Power||300-900||400-800|
|Warmth||Lower Weight - Warmth Ratio||Higher Weight - Warmth Ratio|
|Retains Shape / Loft||Well||Average|
|Longevity||Decades if cared for well and treated regularly||Fibers gradually break down so may need replacing more regularly|
|Budget / Price||Average to Extortionate||Cheap to Expensive|
|Natural Drying Time||1-2 Days||Up to 24hrs|
|Care / Cleaning||Moderately Difficult||Medium|
Though synthetic insulation is heavier and bulkier than down, requiring more weight and volume to keep you in the comfort zone it still has the same amazing properties of natural down and a few more added in! It may be a cheaper alternative to down but it certainly isn’t half the product and performs just as well as natural down when out in extreme environments. Are Insulated jackets are more ethical than Down feather? Click here to read our unpicking the facts blog.