Synthetic insulation is an alternative to natural down feathers used in insulated jackets. It has several advantages over down feathers that we will go into below. Synthetic insulation has for many years been considered inferior to down due to its weight and larger pack size, this year however most brands have really pushed the material and thanks to innovations by Arc’teryx, Rab and Primaloft it can almost go toe to toe with down insulation.
Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
Primaloft Gold Eco recycled insulation.
What Is Synthetic Insulation?
Synthetic insulation is essentially polyamide plastic that has been shredded or teased out into thin fibrous sheets (imagine cotton wool). This lightweight and high loft material forms a layer of mostly air which is what traps the warmth next to your body. There are now loose fill versions of this material which many brands have taken advantage of for its reduced pack size.
Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody
Coreloft Compact, breathable and packable insulation.
Why Choose Synthetic Over Down
Synthetic insulation now has many advantages over natural down feathers. At facewest.co.uk we are at the end of the day performance orientated and fans of Scottish skiing and winter climbing so the number one advantage is:
- Performance when wet. Synthetic insulation will continue to keep you warm, even when its wet. Unlike down which clumps up and absorbs water, synthetic insulation keeps its lofted shape when wet so will maintain that air filled barrier between your body and the elements. This can literally be a lifesaver.
- Ethical considerations. Down feathers, are just that, feathers, from a bird, which hopefully was killed before it was plucked. No animals are killed in the making of a synthetically insulated jacket. Plus many types of synthetic insulation are now made from recycled plastics.
- Versatility. Synthetic insulation can be produced in a bewildering array of thicknesses and densities so can be used in a range of applications. From heavyweight bomb shelters like the Mountain Equipment Citadel Jacket, to light and breathable wear all day items like the Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody.
- Product care. In most cases you can wash your synthetic insulated jacket at 30 degrees in your washing machine at home, then once its dry its ready to go. Down however is a whole new world of faff when it comes to washing. Involving tennis balls and driers.
Mountain Equipment Citadel Jacket
PrimaLoft Gold ultrafine packable insulation.
But What About The Downsides?
Synthetic insulation has always been considered less warm for weight and less packable than down feathers. In recent years the gap in performance here has really narrowed. In the past it has been difficult to make direct comparisons as brands would use down and synthetic insulation in different applications. This year however Rab have made a synthetically insulated direct comparison to their iconic down filled Microlight Alpine jacket. The Cirrus Alpine uses loose fill Cirrus insulation so the two jackets look almost identical and offer a similar amount of warmth. The down filled Microlight Alpine weighs 455g and the synthetic Cirrus Alpine weighs 516g, only 61g between the two. For wet UK conditions the Cirrus Alpine offers worry and faff free performance, no matter what the weather.
Rab Cirrus Alpine
Synthetic Cirrus Insulation made from recycled polyamide.
If you are looking for a durable and faff free insulation layer then synthetic insulated is the way forward. Especially in unpredictable UK conditions. Down still has a place if you are looking for absolute maximum warmth for weight as its still just edging ahead of synthetic insulation, but synthetic insulation is so much more versatile.