So What’s Better – Down, Synthetic or Both?

When it comes to your technical clothing and outdoor gear, you probably know if you have a synthetic or down filled product, right? What you may not know is the real difference between the two, and a third option that you haven’t even considered.

We’ve laid out what you need to know about the insulation in your products, and why it matters.

Down  

Down has been the go-to clothing insulation choice for centuries, and it’s not hard to see why. Down clusters provide the best warmth-to-weight ratio available, period. It provides much greater insulation per weight, meaning for equal weight, you can have a garment or product that is as warm but lighter, more compressible and longer lasting than synthetic options. Since the early 20th century, down use and sourcing methods have improved tremendously, and when properly cared for, can maintain loft for far longer than synthetic materials.

Another perk of choosing down as your garment and bedding insulator is its carbon footprint. Down and feathers are a by-product that would otherwise be refuse. It is all-natural, 100% recycled and recyclable, and leave a far smaller impact than their synthetic counterparts.

A visual comparison shows down versus synthetic insulation options.

A visual comparison shows down versus synthetic insulation options.

While there are many perks to choosing down products, even down has an Achilles heal. If down gets wet, it can clump and lose its ability to provide warmth until properly dried. There are water resistant down products out there, and Allied Feather & Down’s water resistant technology, HyperDRY™, is changing the way down is used by providing a hydrophobic coating that does not compromise the down’s texture or color.

Synthetics

The good news – synthetic insulation is naturally water resistant and will continue to provide some warmth when wet. It even dries faster than standard down as water is trapped between the synthetic fibers instead of soaking the fibers themselves.

Manufacturing synthetic down does require the use of non-renewable oil sources (not an ideal choice for eco-conscious shoppers). While Allied has been a leader in responsibly sourcing down, a steady decrease in its supply combined with the fact that it is a by-product causes the price of down to potentially fluctuate. As costs can be inconsistent, synthetic down can provide decent insulation at a more reliable and often lower price where performance and life-expectancy of the product are less of a concern.

In terms of quality, synthetics have the potential to be as warm as down, but they are heavier and bulkier. In products such as bedding, synthetic fill can perform admirably to down where bulk and weight are less of an issue. For those who are weight conscious when it comes to their gear, it’s important to note that synthetics are heavier and wear out more quickly than the down alternative. A few ounces can really make a difference when packing up for a long backpacking trip, and the longer you can hold on to your gear, the better.

Blends

Both down and synthetic insulation have some great perks, and when combined can have fantastic results. While blending the two can be a great alternative, it’s important to note that not all blends are created equal. Most synthetic fibers aren’t capable of blending evenly with down. Common synthetics tend to wrap around down clusters, causing them to clump and lose fill power – ultimately preventing the materials from offering the incredible warmth of pure down. If you’re shopping for a product with a down blend, you want to make sure the quality stands up to the hype!

Allied has created a new blend that acts and feels like down that provides superior warmth and retains its loft after washing. These unique synthetic fibers were specifically created to blend successfully with Allied’s down and feathers. For more information on Allied’s F X Down™ is available HERE.

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Research.

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Research.

When shopping for your next insulated product, take note of some of the things you’re looking for. If cost is an issue and you’re not too concerned with some added weight – a synthetic fill may be for you. If you want the lightest, warmest, environmentally responsible product that is sourced in a sustainable way – then down is a great choice. No matter what you choose, it’s important to know that it’s what’s inside that counts.

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