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Water Resistant Down


We have always loved down for its many outstanding qualities: it’s lightweight, packable, feather-soft, and has a long performance life. The major downside to down, however, has been its loss of performance when it gets wet. Natural down clusters trap air, which is what provides insulation, and when that down gets damp the clusters collapse and clog up, and no longer insulate.

Synthetic insulations, including things like Thinsulate, PolarGuard and PrimaLoft, have served as the alternative to down for many years. They are bulkier and heavier than down, providing much less warmth per weight of the garment, but are still popular due to their water resistant qualities and the fact that they are generally less expensive than down.

The last few years have seen a huge upturn in technology as companies seek a “best of both worlds” option. The one that has gained the most momentum is water-resistant down.

Known by technical trademarked names such as Q Shield Down, DriDown and DownTek, water-resistant down (or hydrophobic down) uses a process that infuses the down fibers themselves with a permanent water repellency so that it will maintain insulating performance even when exposed to moisture. As a result, it absorbs less moisture than down and even when it does get wet it dries significantly faster than down. Washing doesn’t change its water-repellent features.

But does it work? Water-repellent down has now been on the market for several years, and all indications are that it lives up to its promises, with a remarkable improvement over regular down. This fall’s product lines saw a huge increase in jackets, vests and sleeping bags with water-resistant down. We have several Mountain Hardwear jackets with Q Shield, including the Micro Ratio Down Jacket for only $180, as well as some sleeping bags. Several Big Agnes down bags use DownTek as well.

The other alternative being explored by some companies is an improved synthetic insulation, providing more of down’s best qualities in a synthetic. Last fall, The North Face came out with Thermoball, which uses small, round Primaloft fiber clusters that closely mimic down clusters. It is extremely lightweight and compressible, and maintains insulating warmth even in damp conditions. Thermoball was a huge success last winter, and you’ll see more of it in this year’s product line.

Meanwhile, Columbia is truly combining the best of both worlds in its new-for-2014 insulation: Turbodown. Turbodown is a blend of down fibers and Columbia’s Omni-Heat synthetic insulation. The layer of down is stacked on top of the synthetic insulation, so that you gain the best from both products. We have the new Platinum 860 Turbodown jackets for both men and women, which won’s Best In Show award at the winter Outdoor Retailer trade show.

So with a cold winter looming, you have many choices in front of you in your search for a warm winter coat. Come in and check out how these insulation options are combined with other features to best serve your needs. 

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