Our Guide To Down Jackets And Synthetic Insulation

By Hati Whiteley

Down jackets keep you toasty, warm and dry outside. The first down jacket was made by George Finch for the 1922 Everest Expedition. Reportedly it was mocked at first but won great respect for its performance in mountain conditions.

Since 1922 they have become ubiquitous in the outdoors and a puffer down jacket has become a fashion statement.

In recent years breakthroughs in man-made fibres mean some synthetic insulation now rival down in terms of performance.

In this article we look at types of down and synthetic insulation and also the features to look out for in an insulated jacket. Have a read of our buyer’s guide to help you decide what insulation you need.

  1. What is a down jacket?

  2. What do fill power and fill weight mean?

  3. Types of synthetic insulation?

  4. Which is better down or synthetic insulation?

  5. How warm should my jacket be?

  6. Types of construction: box wall, stitch-through, baffle and micro-baffle

  7. What to look out for in an insulated jacket

What is a down jacket?

Down jackets are jackets that are filled with the light fluffy feathers found under the breast and underbelly feathers of ducks and geese.

They are so warm because they trap warm body air and hold it close to our skin. And because the feathers are so small and airy jackets made from down are lightweight and can be packed incredibly small. This makes them incredibly effective mountain clothing as you can pack it small in your backpack.

Insulation construction: box wall, stitch-through, wide or micro baffles?

Down and down-like insulated jackets and sleeping bags are constructed with pockets that hold the insulation in the place its needed and stop the insulation migrating around.

The pockets are called baffles. And baffles come in various shapes and sizes depending on the purpose and spec of the jacket.

Wider baffles are used for products with a higher fill weight, giving the extra down plenty of space to loft (giving it more insulating capacity) and need less seams. Seams are often stitched through that can create cold spots. A box wall construction overcomes this by creating 3 dimensional chambers within a jacket. Box wall are warmer, heavier and bulkier than stitch through.

Narrower baffles are used when the fill weight is lower, and the down needs less space to loft.

These ‘micro’ baffles are easier to layer, more compressible, and have a low-bulk, slimmer profile that makes them much more suited to active use than wide baffles. However, your insulation has less space to loft and there are more seams, so more cold spots, on your jacket.

Opt for box-wall if… it is exceptionally cold and warmth is a critical factor.

Opt for wide baffles if… warmth is a priority over manoeuvrability, you won’t be moving about much so you’re generating less heat and you’re less worries about freedom of movement. Or if it’s really cold, you’re moving and generating heat but it’s so cold that you need the warmest jacket possible.

Opt for micro-baffles if…

You’re out in UK spring and autumn conditions, or a slim fit for active use is your priority.

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