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Down Jackets

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Down jackets have been on a market for decades now and only thanking to Eddie Bauer who invented the very first piece of garment filled with Down insulation. Should you ever encounter cold, dry or windy conditions out in the mountains, down is an inherent part of true mountain lover either on summer or winter outings. 

What is a Down jacket?

The main characteristic of a down jacket is its fluffiness or loft. But what is this loft made by? Down insulated jackets are filled with goose or duck feathers or combination one of these with synthetic material also named as Hybrid Down jacket. To put it simply, feather’s characteristic is its loftiness, therefore maintaining the heat in its tiny air pockets is very efficient and keeps the person warm.

Down fill rating – 400 or 950?

What down fill do you need? This comes to very personal preference, and judgement call because everybody runs on different fuel, energy and plays in various weather conditions. And also, for example women run colder than men, hence we opt for a down jacket suitable to our needs. The rating spans from 300 (less warm) and ends at around 950 (warmest). So, what do these numbers mean? In lab conditions it is a measurement of a loft or ‘’puffiness’’ of the down by compressing down by a weight in a glass cylinder and measured in cubic inches per ounce. As the result is calculation of its loft rebound ability as the fill power. In other words, the higher fill power, the warmer and lighter properties will have the down jacket as opposed to lower numbers of down fill.

Hybrid vs Synthetic vs Down

As mentioned above there’s also a fill combination of down and synthetic fibers. When it comes to pure down fill, the main issue is getting the down wet, which results in losing its warmth properties, otherwise it has got great heat retention, it is lightweight and compressible. Whereas the hybrid fill will still help you keep going when wet and is also more breathable than down. It’s is called hybrid because the most abrasion or most exposed areas are filled with synthetic fibers instead of down, such as shoulders due to backpack straps or arm pit areas due to excessive body heat dump, or hood in case of rain or snow. So, in the event of dry and cold days, opt for a down jacket and in wetter or humid days opt for rather hybrid or fully synthetic jackets. Remember, jackets with synthetic fiber fill are generally cheaper and will hold better in wetter conditions but are a lot heavier and less compressible than down.

Construction of down fill jackets: Sewn-through or Box wall?

The main difference in these two constructions is a method of creating chambers filled with down. Sewn-through construction is a technique for creating a warm, yet packable, down insulated jacket. In this method, the face fabric and jacket lining are sewn together at regular intervals to create cylindrical or other chamber shapes for holding and stabilizing the down fill in the jacket. Whereas in box wall construction is used to create a consistent layer of down insulation in a jacket. In this method baffles are sewn between the inner and outer layers of the garment to create 3-dimensional chambers to contain the down. Each chamber allows the down to loft to its full potential and the even thickness eliminates cold spots ensuring maximum thermal efficiency. This method is only accommodated in heavier insulated garments.

Water resistant?

Down jackets are built to keep you warm in dry and cold environment, therefore staying dry in heavy rain, snowfall or blizzard is not an option (if you want to stay dry, put on a hard-shell jacket). Despite the fact these jackets are usually not waterproof, even though there are cases with fully waterproof membrane, they are water resistant and are able to beads off water for some time. The fabric itself is not water resistant but is rather coated with DWR (durable water repellency), which eventually wears off and needs to be re-applied again. The same thing applies to its down fill. Some brands have their down dry treated, which means feathers were soaked into DWR substance in order to prevent absorbing water vapor and ending up with fully wet jacket.

Durability and features

Be aware down jackets are built with a purpose to keep you as warm as possible in the lightest possible way. However, it usually comes with a downside as well. And this would be its durability. In order to cut down jacket’s weight, usually the outer fabric/shell is made of a thinner fabric/denier (i.e., nylon, polyamide) than other winter jackets, hence it’s easier to get it ripped over a rock, by a ski edge, or any other sharp element. Don’t be doubtful though, because down jackets with proper care can also last for decades. As was mentioned before, some technical down for skiing or mountaineering is treated with DWR coating in order to prevent getting jacket damped, besides that hand pockets shouldn’t not be missing on both sides, hood-preferably with synthetic insulation in case of rain and a sack where you can shove your jacket when in your backpack or on your climbing harness.