Down and synthetic are two of the most commonly used insulators in jackets. Since you mostly have to choose between them when buying a jacket for the cold months, you need to understand their differences between down vs synthetic jackets, and the benefits they offer.
Generally, a good quality jacket with insulation not only offers the best protection against the cold but also adds to your style. But what about the price? Ever thought about the level of comfort? Did you even consider the warmth-to-weight ratio, water resistance, and overall thermal performance?
Simply put, you need to look into a lot of different factors when buying an insulated jacket. To make it easier for you, we will provide you information about down, as well as down and synthetic jackets.
What Is Down?
Many people don’t have much knowledge of down, and that it is used in jackets as insulation. For most people, leather comes to their mind whenever they hear about a quality jacket. Leather is expensive, though, and often adds weight to the jacket, making it uncomfortable for some people.
As a great alternative to leather, down is now mostly used by modern manufacturers for jackets, as well as sleeping bags and vests. Down not only makes the product lightweight but also offers perfect warmth for a colder climate. Additionally, the jackets made of down are also compressible, which is often not the case with most synthetic jackets or leather jackets.
So what actually is down? Down insulation is obtained from duck or goose. It is the fluffy layer right under the feathers of those birds.
The layer does the same job for the birds as jackets do for humans, and that is to provide warmth. In fact, down is kind of an undercoat on these birds, so it is often called nature’s best insulator.
Since there are a lot of misconceptions regarding down, here are some essential bits of information you need to know:
- Some think down is not warm enough. This is untrue as it offers a better warmth-to-weight ratio than any other form of insulation.
- Down is among the most breathable insulations used for jackets.
- The lifespan of down jackets is not standard. They are not long lasting if the jacket is used under the rain repeatedly. On the contrary, if you take care of the jacket, it may last for decades.
- Since down is sourced from birds, most people wonder if down jackets promote animal cruelty. Well, no, since all popular brands use RDS-certified (Responsible Down Standard) down. RDS certification makes sure that the down is sourced using ethical ways, that is, no live plucking.
What Are Down and Synthetic Jackets?
For an informed decision, let us take a closer look at both of these jackets.
Most down jackets are sourced from geese, but there is also a rise in the number of jackets made from duck down, as it is cheaper. Thus, you can find a price difference based on the source of down. Performance-based, geese down are rated better since it has a higher fill-power.
Here are some key features of down jackets, and the reasons why more and more jacket manufacturers are switching to down insulation.
- Loft Rating or Fill Power
Loft rating also called fill power, is the measurement of the thermal performance a down jacket offers. The rating gives you a numerical figure that measures the amount of down to fill a cubic inch of area.
So what does this number tells you about the jacket? Well, the rating range starts from 450 and climbs to 900. The higher the rating, the lighter and warmer the jacket is, but as the loft rating increases, so does the price.
To put it simply, loft rating tells you about the quality of the down jacket you are buying. If the loft rating is around 900, you are purchasing the best quality jacket, but of course, you also have to pay the premium price. On average, jackets with an average rating of 700 provide you a right balance between price and quality.
- Down Ratio
Some down insulations don’t contain 100% down but are combined with other materials, especially feathers. For such jackets, you need to learn about the down ratio, which is the ratio of down compared to other materials used in the same insulation.
In most cases, the down-to-feather ratio is visible on the product tag. The higher the down ratio of the jacket, the higher the price and quality, as feathers are cheaper.
The most common down ratios are 70:30 and 80:20. Some premium quality jackets also come with a 90:10 ratio.
- Water Resistance
One of the main concerns about down jackets is their lower resistance against water. As technology advances and manufacturers are using new high-tech methods to improve water resistance, such an issue has almost been resolved.
Today, most down jackets contain water-repellent down. This new type of down can easily repel light moisture or mist and can perform better in damp conditions. Even though the new methods improved water resistance efficiency, synthetic jackets are still better for areas with a lot of rain.
Different Types of Down Jackets
You can find various types of down insulations available in the market. They differ in price, comfort, warmth, and quality.
Apparently, the most expensive down jackets are made of high-loft goose down. It is considered as the highest quality goose down available, offering you the best warmth-to-weight ratio. It is also the most durable and gives the premium quality jacket that can last for decades.
The other two types are standard goose down and duck down. They both are almost the same in features and quality but goose down are rated slightly better with a higher price tag.
How to Take Care of a Down Jacket
Down jackets are generally durable and long-lasting; in fact, good quality down jackets can last for a lifetime. But that is only if you can take proper care of them. Hence, washing down jackets comes with certain precautions.
Even if most modern down jackets are machine washable, you can’t use harsh bleaches and other chemicals, stain removers, and fabric softeners. It is recommended that you use only soap when washing a down jacket. Keep in mind also that down jackets take a lot of time to dry.
Additionally, you should not dry clean or iron your jacket since it can ruin the down. Some people use tennis balls for tumbling dry the jacket, which can be a good idea to bring back the loft as the balls fluff up the clusters.
Also, keep in mind not to leave a wet jacket compressed on bundled up; instead, make sure to hang it properly. This way, you can maintain the loft and can distribute the insulation evenly throughout the jacket. Simply put, down jackets require a little more care compared to synthetic jackets.
Let’s talk about another most popular insulation in jackets: synthetics. One of the prime reasons why these are popular among users is the price tag, as synthetic jackets are more affordable than down or leather jackets. The value offered for the price is also good, which makes them a budget option for many.
In most cases, synthetic insulation is made of polyester, which is inexpensive, durable, and offers excellent warmth. Even when synthetic jackets are cheaper compared to down jackets, you also have to replace them more often compared to down, so in the end, down may be more cost effective as it can last for a long time.
- Short-Staple Insulations
When buying a synthetic jacket, you need to check the type of insulation the manufacturer uses, which can be short-staple or continuous filament. The most popular option is short-staple insulation, which contains densely packed short strands of filaments. As they are compressed together, the heat loss is minimal.
The filaments also make the jacket flexible and soft, and they offer comfort along with warmth. That is why short-staple insulation is also a popular option for synthetic sleeping bags. Just like a down jacket, these synthetic jackets are also compressible.
That being said, short-staple synthetic jackets are not as durable as down jackets or continuous-filament synthetic jackets. In time, the short-staple filaments leave their place and create cold spots, so you may not feel warm enough after some time.
- Continuous Filament
Compared to short-staple filaments, the continuous filament insulation is thicker, making your jacket durable and lofty. Unfortunately, they are expensive, less compressible, and have a stiffer feel, which may not be as comfortable for some when compared to short-staple insulations.
Different Types of Synthetic Fills
As synthetic fills are man-made, you can find a large variety of these fills available in the market. Different manufacturers use different synthetic fills, and you can even find a new type after every few months as manufacturers are competing for better quality fills.
Some of the most common kinds of synthetic fills are Polarguard, Primaloft, Thinsulate, Thermolite, Dryloft, Hollofil, Liteloft, Quallofil, MicroLoft, and Thermoloft. Most of these derive from polyester but often differ in features.
Down vs Synthetic Jacket: Which One Is Best for You?
The truth is choosing between down, and synthetic jackets depends on your personal needs and the climate of where you live in currently.
In simple words, for some areas and climate, synthetic may work better than down jackets, while for others, down can perform better. On the other hand, in terms of the number of benefits each insulation type offers, down wins by a comfortable margin.
To help you decide better, let us look at the pros and cons of each.
Down jackets are the most lightweight jackets available in the market. They are also easy to compress, making them easier to store and move. Additionally, they are breathable, as well as long-lasting if you take proper care as down is rated as resilient textile.
Down jackets are also warmer compared to synthetic jackets. Likewise, they retain their shape easily.
The water resistance of down jackets is not as good as synthetic jackets. They also take a long time to dry if they get wet or when you wash them.
Similarly, when you clean them, you need to take extra care, especially since they are more expensive than synthetic jackets. Another thing to note is that some people may have allergies with down.
Synthetic jackets have excellent water resistance, dry quickly, and offer warmth under wet and damp conditions. They are good for people with allergies (hypoallergic) and are inexpensive when compared to down jackets. They are also easier to maintain since they are machine washable.
Synthetic jackets are bulkier, heavier, and not as easy to store or move around as down jackets. Their weight-to-warmth ratio is also not as good as down. Lastly, they are less durable, as insulation power decreases with time.
What About the Down Synthetic Blends?
If you can’t make up your mind between a down or synthetic jacket, here is good news. You can also buy down synthetic blends which offer you benefits of both. You can find some brands offering jackets combine the water-resistant synthetic insulation with comfortable and long-lasting down padding.
Ultimately, when buying a jacket, you have to look into a lot of other factors. For example, what is your budget? Are you comfortable with a heavy jacket? Do you live in a rainy area?
Your final decision must be based on those, as different insulations work best for various conditions.
If we have to give our recommendation, down is still a better option compared to synthetic jackets. As we compared down vs synthetic jacket, there is no doubt that down wins on most of the features you expect from a quality jacket.
It offers you better warmth, portability, excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, compressibility, and durability. Do keep in mind though that they are expensive, so make sure you save before buying one. Once you bought and own a down jacket, ensure that you take good care of it properly.