Down jackets: for a long time they were the next big thing, and then all of a sudden no one was wearing them. We’ve probably all walked round resembling a fluffy Michelin Man (how down vests and jackets typically look like) at some point or other. Meanwhile, the plush feathers are once again in high demand, particularly as an insulation layer for outdoor clothes. The topic of the advantages of down compared to the much cheaper synthetic fibre arises once again when buying a coat. A good question! We’ve got the answer...   Both down and synthetic fibres are very light and keep your body warm thanks to tiny air pockets and wind proofing against the cold. Nevertheless, the two isolation materials do differ considerably in certain aspects: In general, down costs more than synthetic fibre. However, it is a natural product and as a result it generates more warmth – just like merino wool. In addition, it is extrememly compressible (meaning it has a small pack size) so you’ll be able to carry it in your rucksack and take it out when needed without a problem. If you want to get a bit technical, then we’ll talk about the relationship between the down and feather insulators. It just doesn’t work without the stabilising feathers (96:4 is “ideal”, 80:20 is also acceptable) – and the fill power, which determines how springy the down is after it has been compressed; a 600 cubic inch loft is good, 900 cuin is unbelievable.
Primaloft
Photo: © Primaloft
Synthetic fibres however have a decisive advantage: they are less sensitive to moisture. Down clumps together when it’s wet and loses its warmth; synthetic fibres like Primaloft. The hollow polyester fibres insulate even in wet weather and also dry quicker.   So you’ve got an answer to the question: Anyone who’s planned an expedition in cold, yet dry weather is better suited to a down jacket. If you’re going to expose yourself to rain then you should wear synthetic fibre.  

Insulation jackets and the onion principle

Down and synthetic fibre winter jackets insulate, but they’re quite susceptible to the weather and not very breathable. We therefore recommend that you’re always dressed in line with the onion principle, with a functional baselayer and a waterproof hard shell jacket    

Care & storage

You can wash and dry synthetic fibre to your heart’s content, but you should only wash down jackets very infrequently, as the feathers lose a bit of their natural fluffiness and fill power with each wash. After a wash (please only use special detergent) the jacket has to be hung up and unclumped by hand.  

winterjacke-vergleich-daune-kunstfaserAt a glance: down vs synthetic fibre

  • Down: very warm, soft and compact, but sensitive to moisture
  • Synthetic fibre: cheaper, less insulation but better with moisture and dries quicker
  • Both are suitable as a mid layer