Whether it be for a jacket, a vest or a sleeping bag, this question comes around pretty often. Should we go with down or synthetic insulation? What are the pros and cons of each option? Is it only about the price tag? These are all good questions. To help you make a better decision, here are some tips regarding features and technicalities of both sides.
To begin, down is completely natural. We can find it underneath duck and goose wings. It’s one of the best insulator that you can find on the market: no man-made insulation can match down’s superior and natural weight to warmth ratio. Its ability to expand and compress is probably one of its best features, making it very light and easy to carry.
If you need to save space and weight in your luggage while traveling, then down insulation is a very good option for you. The cost is noticeably higher than synthetic – however, if treated with care, a good down jacket (or even a sleeping bag) can last a lifetime.
On the negative side: once it’s wet, it looses all of its capacity. For rainy and humid conditions, it might not be the most reliable option.
The Canadian brand Canada Goose offers a great selection of down jackets. We strongly suggest the Kensington (left) and the Chiliwack (right):
In a way, synthetic is like the man-made imitation of down insulation. Even if its capacities aren’t as efficient as down insulation, it still has very interesting features.
The most important would be that it will keep you warm even if it’s wet or humid. The simple explanation: the moisture gets trapped between the fibers, rather than in them, making it much easier to dry.
On a more negative note, synthetic material is heavier than down, and you will not be able to compress it as much. It’ll take more room in your luggage, if you need to carry your coat around. However, it is definitely more solid and resistant.
The Swedish brand Fjällräven offers amazing synthetic jackets. We strongly suggest the Nuuk (left) and the Yupik (right):
A combination of both…
An interesting option would also be a mix of both materials. Over the past years, some companies decided to combine forces and use the two types of insulators on the same product. By incorporating synthetic fibers in strategic places of a coat mostly insulated with down – for example – we’re able to retain the heat more efficiently, even in spots where humidity and water are normally settling.
To show you the concept in a clearer way, we can take the example of Arc’teryx, who uses the Coreloft technology. They combine both synthetic and down insulation, using synthetic in places where people usually sweat (under the arms), where you get snow and rain (hood) and where a jacket usually wears down first (shoulders; because of a backpack).
Needless to say: there are a lot of choices out there. Shopping for a jacket or a sleeping bag can take time. Some brands are getting more conscious about the ethical factors surrounding down insulation. Other companies are currently developing new products such as waterproof down, or are trying to make synthetic fibres lighter, like the The North Face’s Thermoball technology.
If you want to learn some more helpful tips for winter jacket shopping, read our choosing the right winter jacket guide. With your new knowledge of down and synthetic insulation, you’ll find your ideal winter coat in no time!