When it comes to life’s choices there’s probably nothing more divided than the debate on down or synthetic jackets.
Life is complicated enough with the array of outdoor equipment that’s available. It seems, though, that when it comes to staying warm, jacket manufacturers have decided to throw a spanner in the works by giving us additional choices to make: down versus synthetic.
They both have their advantages and disadvantages but in the end, it all boils down to what type of activity you’ll be doing and what type of jacket will work best for you.
Down is the fluffy undercoating that gives ducks, waterfowl and geese their warmth and it is this down that is used as insulation inside down jackets. The way down is made provides the highest warmth to weight ratio compared to other clothing insulation due to the thousands of tiny air pockets. It is because of this that down is considered the crème de la crème of insulators. While down is efficient at trapping heat, it is also very breathable, allowing any unwanted moisture to escape.
In terms of effectiveness, down is measured by what is known as “fill power,” which is the amount of cubic inches one ounce of down can fill. In most cases, the normal range starts around 450 to 900. For example, if one ounce of down takes up a volume of 650 cubic inches, then it is given a 650 fill power rating. The higher the fill power number, the warmer and lighter it is, but also the pricier. The warmest and lightest down is called high-loft goose down and is the most expensive due to the fact that it is sourced from mature geese. The other types of down are standard goose down, which has slightly less loft, but is priced reasonably. Duck down, which is less fine compared to goose down is, therefore, less expensive.
If properly cared for, down jackets can last for many years and have the ability to hold their shape and loft very well compared to synthetic insulation. As it is easy to compress and is lightweight, it is a suitable choice for those searching for lightweight, but robust clothing. Of course, there are a few downsides. One is the fact that when it becomes wet it loses its insulating abilities, unlike synthetic, and takes a long time to dry out. The second is that down jackets require a lot of maintenance when it comes to cleaning since harsh detergents will simply break down the natural loft.
With all this in mind then, if you’re faced with cold, dry conditions or you don’t think you’ll be faced with wet weather, then a down jacket is the way to go.
Down Jacket from Cabela’s.
Or try this one.
While down jackets keep you warm in dry, cold conditions, it doesn’t do quite so well when faced with wet or humid conditions. This is where synthetic insulation jackets enter the field. Designed to mimic the qualities of down, synthetic jackets go one step further in that they can retain their qualities even when wet. Synthetic jackets are made from polyester fibers, which have been constructed to copy down’s lofty clusters. It is through these fibers that warmth is trapped in the air pockets providing further insulation. However, one downside to synthetic jackets is that they are heavier and bulkier than down for it to achieve the same warmth.
Compared to down jackets, synthetic jackets are much more resistant to moisture. When synthetic jackets get wet, the moisture is simply trapped in the air pockets between the fibers as opposed to in the fibers. Synthetic jackets are able to dry out quicker, usually within a day, and unlike down, synthetic jackets are cheaper, hypoallergenic and easy to care for.
There are, however, a few downsides to synthetic jackets. One is that the synthetic fibers eventually break down no matter how well they are looked after and you may find you are replacing synthetic products more often. Second, compressing a synthetic jacket is not as easy as with down due to its extra bulk. A few common synthetic fill fibers include Polarguard, Primaloft, Thinsulate, and Thermolite.
However, with all these considerations synthetic jackets are the perfect choice if the weather conditions are going to be wet and humid and you want a jacket that will keep you warm when the elements take a turn for the worst.
Synthetic jacket from Cabela’s.
Or try this one.