In the outdoor world this decision is becoming increasingly harder to make and when brought up for debate, often becomes quite divisive.
Whether you’re looking for a warm jacket for extremely cold conditions or the warmest sleeping bag to see you through the night, you are going to be presented with an important choice…which insulation do I choose, down or synthetic?
Pound for pound the warmest and lightest insulator around. Down insulation offers incredible lofting ability, giving it great warmth to weight ratio, which cannot be matched by synthetic insulation.
Due to the small amount of down actually needed for good insulation, it has a great ability to be extremely compressible, allowing you to compact your down products away into a very small size. However, down is not cheap, and if it gets wet the feathers will lose loft, become sodden, heavy and very quickly a bad insulator. Down will also take a long time to dry out and therefore be rendered useless until drying is complete.
Man-made fibres engineered to mimic the properties of down. Synthetic insulation has water-resistant properties, so it performs better than down when wet. The synthetic fibres don’t absorb any moisture and therefore won’t lose their loft – this means it can still provide a good level of insulation to keep you warm.
The drying time is also improved, the fibres do not absorb any moisture so will dry out a lot quicker and be ready for you to use again. It’s cheaper and easier! Synthetic insulated products are generally cheaper than down ones and therefore will appeal to anyone looking for a more affordable product. Being a man-made product it also requires limited care to keep it at its best.
But wait! As good as synthetic appears to be, it doesn’t match the warmth to weight ratio of down, so will require more insulation to generate the same level of warmth. This could mean you either compromise on weight by using a lot of insulation or compromise on warmth, by using less to save weight.
And the winner is…
Well it’s not that simple! Personally, if you have the money, and you’re certain of dry conditions, then down takes the win every time. There’s just no competition for the warmth it provides and the performance it shows.
But, if you have any doubts about the weather and how dry you’ll be able to stay, then maybe synthetic insulation is the way to go. You may sacrifice a little warmth, but you’ll feel safe in the knowledge that if it does get wet, there’s no risks and it will continue to keep you warm through the rest of winter.
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