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Time to get a new winter jacket? Down, Synthetic? Some tips b4 you buy

Michael aka Mac

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Michael aka Mac

So for whatever reason, you have decided to buy a new winter jacket and are now wondering what should you buy, a down or synthetic jacket. This thread is to help you decide by explaining some of the pros and cons and revealing some of the hidden questions that you should be asking your sales rep.

Ounce per ounce Down insulation is the warmest and lightest compared to its synthetic counterparts. It is also extremely packable being able to compress its size greatly to fit in your pack.  Unfortunately the outer shell of a majority of Down jackets are water resistant and not waterproof. Once wet your down jacket will lose its loft and warmth and be considerably more heavy from water weight.  Not to mention it takes a lot longer to dry Down gear and in addition, if left  slightly wet or fully soaked, this will result in an ungodly order that can be extremely hard if not impossible to get out.(using 1-2 cups of  white vinegar in the when washing can help with the odor) 

Types of Down and Fill power explanations with regard to warmth

Many people when they think of down they think of feather pillows.  Down is actually under the outer feathers of the bird, in which lies the true warmth.  Some jackets use a combination of Down and feathers (percentage of each varies with each Jacket/Brand Name), while others are pure Down and no feathers.  The Down insulation is rated by Fill Power. Lower end Down jackets may range from 400-600 Fill power while Mid range will be around 600-800 fill power with the high end Down jackets ranging from 800-1000 Fill power.

A common misunderstanding about Down fill power is when comparing it to a heavier Jacket at lower fill power. Let my clarify on that.  For arguments sake lets say you have a Down jacket with  1 lb. of 800 fill power and you are comparing its warmth to a 1lb. 650 fill power Down jacket. The 800 fill power Down will be considerably more warm and lofty then the 650 fill down jacket. Now though lets say you are comparing a 800 fill power jacket with 1 lb of Down to a 650 fill power Down jacket but with 2 lbs. of down. Now in this instance the 650 fill power Down jacket will be warmer then its 800 fill power counterpart.

Think of the Fill power as how much loft the down has and how much it insulates and space it takes up . One would need more down at a lower fill power to be as efficient at a higher fill power.   

Tricks for washing & drying Down Jackets and sleeping bags:

When washing you can add oxy clean and or 1 cup of white vinegar to remove unwanted orders.

To dry your down gear add 3 brand new tennis balls to the dryer and turn inside out for half the cycle then reverse  for the remaining time for the cycle. The tennis balls bouncing back and forth against your Down gear in the dryer will make your Down gear to regain its loft.

Last there is something known as high quality Down. This usually refers to Goose down vs. Duck Down.

(some companies such as Rab use recycled Down  a more eco friendly and more  humane 


A great alternative to Down are synthetics.  Unlike its' Down counterpart, synthetic Jackets and Sleeping bags are designed to be able to retain its warmth much better in wet conditions, and are often able to dry much faster as well.  There have been many advancements over the years with different companies making their own type of patented synthetic Down alternatives.  Primaloft for example is not too far behind Down's warmth.  Again, just because one has a good synthetic insulation such as Primaloft, the amount of the synthetic is (weight) will greatly increase its warmth.

For example I have an EMS Primaloft Heater Jacket (synthetic) that is compared to a 650 fill power jacket. Yes it is the equivalent to 650 fill power but the lack of quantity of the Primaloft insulation means that this jacket, one will start getting chills around 50 degrees F. The more weight of Primaloft one adds the better it will do in insulating.

For both Down and synthetic gear, more insulation weight equals more warmth.

When I bug a jacket I buy it during the season that I will be using it in. I will literally stand outside (with the companies approval) to test how warm the jacket is over a course of 15 minutes or so.  This practice has save me countless trips to return gear

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