Down vs. Synthetic Jackets

Down featherWe’ve been having some proper fall weather here in Northwest Arkansas. There’s a chill in the air, and jackets are slowly becoming less optional and more necessary. Choosing the right jacket can be tricky, however. There are many different jackets designed for many different activities.

One of the first things you have to consider when choosing the right jacket is insulation. While some outdoor brands are toying with new types of insulation, and different insulation blends, there are two main categories when it comes to insulation for jackets. Down jackets and synthetic jackets are the two most common jacket types made by outdoor companies.

There are people who swear by down insulation and people who swear by synthetic insulation, which has created a whole down vs. synthetic schism. Is down better than synthetic? Is synthetic better than down? The answer depends on conditions and application.

Here are the benefits of down insulation.

  • While synthetic insulation is constantly improving, down insulation still provides the best warmth-to-weight ratio.
  • Down is incredibly breathable.
  • Down is is compressible.

Here are the disadvantages of down insulation.

  • Down is expensive.
  • Down does not insulate when it is wet.
  • Down requires more maintenance than synthetic insulation. However, if properly taken care of, down will easily outlast synthetic insulation.

Here are the advantages of synthetic insulation

  • Synthetic insulation is relatively affordable.
  • Synthetic insulation is low maintenance and easy to clean
  • Synthetic provides insulation even when it is wet.

Here are the disadvantages of synthetic insulation.

  • Synthetic insulation does not breathe as well as down insulation.
  • More synthetic insulation is needed to provide the same warmth as down.
  • Synthetic insulation is heavier and does not compress as well as down.

When is a synthetic insulated jacket the best option?

Synthetic jackets are extremely versatile and are great for all types of weather conditions. Whether it’s bright and sunny, or the forecast calls for rain, a jacket with synthetic insulation will be able to keep you warm and comfortable in most situations. Synthetic jackets make great, affordable layering pieces. Basically, if you’re going to have one jacket, a synthetic jacket is the way to go.

When is a down insulated jacket the best option?

Down jackets are great for providing maximum warmth in dry conditions, but they’re not nearly as resilient as synthetic jackets. While down can be worn as an insulating middle layer, down jackets are most often worn at basecamp, or for warmth during non-active pursuits. For example, you might want to toss a down jacket in your pack on a backpacking trip to use when yo set up camp each night. If a synthetic jacket is a Swiss-army knife, a down jacket is a filet-knife. In other words, down is specialized, and isn’t going to be a good stand alone jacket. Down is ideal for specific applications, but you will need to have other jackets for other conditions.

Outdoor companies having been trying to blur the lines between down and synthetic insulation, making synthetic insulation behave more like down, and giving down hydrophobic properties of synthetic insulation. Some companies have even started to make jackets that blend both types of insulation. Currently, neither type of insulation has been able to bridge the gap completely, however.

We have both down jackets and synthetic jackets here at Uncle Sam’s. Stop by the store to find the jacket that is right for you!

image from wikipedia

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