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Down Jackets

Pop quiz! What is down? Down weight is specified in fill-power or cuin, and indicates what volume a certain mass of the substance occupies after a certain period of compression. Down is very elastic... a high-quality down achieves a bulk strength of 700-800 cuin. Commercially, a good jacket or sleeping bag is around 600-700 cuin. The higher the filling force, the higher the insulation value! Down is not compatible with moisture, so always be sure to ventilate thoroughly from both sides. It never hurts to take your down jacket to be dry cleaned by a professional every now and then. Extra credit: in damp, cold areas, wear a down gilet as a warming layer under a hardshell jacket for ideal moisture management.

Main features of down jackets.

Fill-power.

An important thing to note when buying down jackets is its fill power. It is the measure of the volume, specifically the mass that a substance occupies before and after compression. The higher the value, the better the thermal insulation of the down jacket in relation to its packing volume. The unit of measure is known as a "cuin". Good down jackets have about 600 cuin, but fluffiness is not everything: equally important is that the number of feathers in the down of the jacket are evenly distributed.

Where does down come from?

The origin of down is a matter of ethics. To make sure that your down jacket is ethically sourced, it is important to pay attention to the various signs and markings on the labels. In the outdoor sector, there are two relevant certifications: Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS), and the Responsible Down Standard (RDS).

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Patagonia takes their commitment to ethical sourcing very seriously, and have even gone so far as to ground a Recycled Down Program. If you bought a down jacket from Patagonia, anywhere in the world, of whatever style and shape and color, you can return your old jacket to the company, so that its materials (speficially down) can be stripped, reinforced, and reused for new apparel. It doesn't really get better than that!

Feathers for skin.

Feathers have two great features: they keep you warm and are easy to compress. The only disadvantage comes down to dealing with wetness. This means the material of the outer layer is of utmost importance. The most suitable material is nylon that is coated, aka DWR (Durable Water Resistant). Similar to a lotus flower, the water simply drips off of the upper layers. As a result, the jackets are also windproof. It is worth noting that completely water-proof materials are impossible, as the down requires some breathability in order to avoid collapse.

The thirty-six chambers of down.

The down jacket depends on its different chambers. They ensure that the down does not slip, and thus ensures a uniform insulation. By and large, the "stitch-through" technique has been established as a way to sew together the inner and outer fabrics. Of course, the number of chambers has a great effect on the volume and pack size... in theory, the more chambers there are, the better. Good down jackets have neatly stitched chambers that keep the feathers in place for years.

Feather care.

Ducks have it pretty easy. Once you're in the water, all you have to do is shake it off to get dry. Unfortunately, down jackets are not that simple. The jackets should be washed as seldom as possible. If there is no way around it, a special down detergent such as the FIBERTEC: Down Wash Eco is a good choice. Throw two or three colorless tennis balls into the washing machine along with the down jacket. If possible, set the program to delicates with minimal spin, and off you go. The jacket should be refreshed afterward with a waterproofing spray, to make sure it can still do its job.

Tips

A few minor but not insignificant features to look out for when shopping for down jackets include:      

  • an adjustable hood     
  • elastic cuffs     
  • elastic around the hips so that the wind does not blow in from underneath     
  • a snow guard in the lower back area (located on the inside)     
  • robust zipper     
  • a side pocket big enough to stow thick gloves     
  • an inside pocket for the phone (even better when padded)    
  • packable down jackets can sometimes be packaged into itself or into an extra pouch