Down Vs Synthetic

In Canada, we know the importance of a warm insulated jacket, but there is no shortage of varieties to choose from so how do you make sure you get the right jacket for you? Lets start with the biggest choice you have to make: down vs synthetic insulation?


This warmth-to-weight ratio is something to smile about


The low down:

  • Absolute best warmth-to-weight ratio possible
  • Instant comfort
  • Extremely compressible and packable
Things to consider:

1. Down isn’t made for wet climates unless the outside layer is built as a completely waterproof shell. Once the down insulation gets wet, it will not keep its insulating properties, as the loft is gone. Outdoor Research makes a down jacket that is in their Pertex Quantum fabric (aka waterproof). Best of both worlds! Find it here.

2. Not all down is gathered ethically. If this is a concern to you, you may want to research what brands source their down with ethical practices in mind. Try Patagonia, their ethical practices are well respected in the outdoor community.


A waterproof down jacket is perfect for west coast soggy snow

3. What are you wearing it as? We often use down layers under our shell, as it is not water resistant enough for our mild wet climate. But there are many jackets that are designed to be used in all environments. Look into what material the outside is made from. Is the fabric durable enough to wear with a backpack? Are you looking to wear it around town? You don’t always need the lightest one out there, find a range of versatile down jackets here.

4. Technology and research are still progressing the down jacket. The down clusters are separated in the jacket by baffels so the insulation doesn’t pool at the bottom of the jacket. One thing to consider with baffels is if they are sewn through the jacket (as in pinched together), sewn as boxed baffels (typically seen more in sleeping bags), or the seams fused together. If the down has feathers, feathers may escape the holes that the seams make.


Contemplating life – or maybe whether I should wear down or synthetic


The low down:

  • Insulating when wet
  • Durable and easy to care for
  • Breathable
Things to consider:

1. Weigh the options. Synthetic insulation’s warmth-to-weight ratio is not as good as down’s. It bulkier and does not compress as easily.

2. Sweat happens. Synthetic insulation can get wet and it will still keep you warm, even if you sweat a lot! On the west coast, it is also realistic to expect precipitation. A synthetic layer is much more practical in this sort of (wet) climate.

3. What is it labeled as? Just like down, synthetic insulation comes with different ratings/thickness of warmth. In the description of the jacket, it will often say mid-weight or lightweight. For example, Arcteryx’s Atom jacket comes in a LT (Lightweight) or AR (Allround).

4. What else is it made of? Some synthetic jackets will have side panels for mobility, thicker material on the shoulders to prevent a backpack from wearing through, or fleece lining for extra warmth and comfort.

How To Measure Fill Power

Fill power is the volume in cubic inches occupied by one ounce of down.

Fill Power


How To Recognize Synthetics

Manufactures use a wide variety of branded synthetics. Some are their own; some are industry-wide. Just a few examples include:

  • PrimaLoft®
  • Thinsulate™
  • Polarguard®
  • Heatseeker™ (The North Face)
  • OmniHeat™ (Columbia)
  • CoreLoft™ (Arc’teryx)
  • Climapro™ (Salomon)
  • Thermal Q™ (Mountain Hardwear)
  • Thermal R Eco® (Marmot)

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