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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive
The latest in down and synthetic blend technology.
Some background: Down prices have skyrocketed by as much as 30% in the last three years, according to our sister publication, SNEWS. This price increase is a bummer, and it has caused a lot of ripples in the outdoor industry. The good news is that it’s also sparked some innovation, as companies look to deliver high-end performance without the sticker shock. Some examples:
1) It’s forced a lot of companies to start using less expensive duck down (rather than goose down) in their sleeping bags and puffy jackets. Why is duck down cheaper than goose? Its simple: All down is a by-product of the food industry, and we humans eat more ducks than geese. Geese are bigger birds than ducks, so their feathers are larger, loftier, and warmer. And they’re more durable over the long term, according to our sources at IDFL (International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory) in Salt Lake City.
But all down is rated to the same standards: it’s all about fill-power. (Read this for a quick fill-power tutorial). 700-fill down is 700-fill down, whether it comes from a duck or goose, which is why many companies are opting for the cheaper birds. Still, the really premium stuff—850-fill power down and higher—always comes from geese. In fact, only one company I know of—Sierra Designs—claims to have scored 800-fill duck down. Most down experts believe that 800-fill duck down simply doesn’t exist.
2) It’s inspired some creative body mapping designs that blend down in some areas and synthetics in others to achieve the best results, which using less of the pricey feathers. We’ll be testing several interesting options in the coming month: the Marmot Megawatt, which uses 800-fill down in the core and hood, with highly breathable Polartec Alpha elsewhere, and Columbia’s TurboDown (above), which layers down on top of continuous filament synthetic insulation (lined with their heat-reflective OmniHeat fabric).
3) PrimaLoft, one of the biggest and best in the synthetic insulation market, has started blending their short staple fill with down feathers to create a whole new category of hybrid insulation, which they claim will have all the benefits of both and synthetic. We are currently testing jackets by adidas and Sherpa that use PrimaLoft Blended Down (below).
\All in all, it’s shaping up to be a cozy winter, despite all the snow and record lows. Stay tuned for results at the end of the season once our testing is complete.