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Need an insulated jacket but not sure if you should get a
down or synthetic jacket? Both down and synthetic jackets will keep you warm and
toasty by holding the warmth in but are suited to different conditions. One is
not strictly better than the other, but one may suit your needs more than the
This article can help direct you to the right insulated jacket for your needs.
Down insulation is made from goose or duck plumage – the lofty, fluffy stuff underneath the feathers. It is an undercoating, or a natural mid-layer. The structure of down provides warmth by trapping thousands of tiny air pockets. Down is also incredibly breathable, which allows unwanted moisture to escape.
Down is measured by ‘Fill power’. Fill power measures how many cubic inches 1 oz. of down can fill inside a lab container. Typically, fill power will range from 450 to 900, with 900 being the warmest and lightest, but also the priciest. The quality of the down is directly related to its fill power rating, the higher the fill power, the better the down will insulate, because there is less chance of cold spots forming.
In recent years, water-repellent down has become available, this is down treated with a molecular-level polymer that can withstand mist or light moisture. That’s a big plus, but you still shouldn’t let it get soaked.
Natural down is also incredibly resilient and if properly cared for it can be used for many years.
Synthetic insulation is designed to replicate the qualities of down, but retain them even when wet. Synthetic insulation is essentially polyester threading that is molded into long single threads or short staples to mimic lofty down clusters. Thinner and lighter threads fill voids and trap warm air more effectively, while thicker strands sustain the loft and durability.
In addition synthetic insulation has a slightly higher weight-to-warmth ratio than down, meaning it needs to be heavier to achieve the same warmth as down. The upside to synthetic insulation is that it is much more resistant to moisture, and when it does get wet it dries faster. Synthetic insulation also tends to be friendly on the wallet and is naturally hypoallergenic.
Down is Mother Nature's best insulator. It works well for almost everyone providing incredible warmth with minimal weight. It’s also highly compressible and has good longevity if properly cared for. Down is great in cold, dry conditions however; if you expect wet weather synthetic insulation may be a better option.
Synthetic insulation is better in wet conditions and is easier to clean. It is a good choice for casual outdoor enthusiasts who only use their gear a few times a year.