The weather in the mountains is an unpredictable thing. Even in the summer in the Carpathians you can be sprinkled with snow grit, and certainly in the fall just a fleece jacket is not enough, you need a warm jacket. And a warm jacket for tourism is, of course, down jacket.
It would seem that humanity has invented spacesuits for outer space, deep-sea suits, and augmented reality helmets. Is there no synthetic insulation that would allow us to leave the geese alone? Alas, there still is. And here are the main benefits of natural down:
But there are minuses, of course. Completely wet down does not warm at all. But, if you dip a jacket on PrimaLoft in water (and this insulation has the best insulation performance when wet), it will not keep you warm either. And so the only critical difference is that a wet down jacket takes longer to dry. In wet conditions, it is likely that attempts to dry synthetic and down jackets will be about equally futile. But modern technology, along with experience and common sense, makes it possible to keep your jacket dry even in rainy countries. Therefore, the use of synthetics has clear advantages under very limited conditions.
So, we have already decided that we need down. But there are so many different models on the market, each manufacturer praises its magic technology, every year there is another “revolution and innovation”. To give money for quality, not advertising, you need to understand a little bit of it yourself. First we will briefly go over the properties of down, run through the fabrics and designs, and then from these characteristics we will “assemble” our best jacket for the right conditions.
In laboratories, down has many different parameters investigated. But we, as buyers, are limited to the information indicated by the manufacturer. Most often it is a label or a picture of this kind.
What does the inscription on it mean?
The fill power, a.k.a. f.p., a.k.a. cuin. This is the “fluffiness” of the down. The same mass of down (approximately 30 g = 1 ounce) is placed in a glass cylinder and measured in cubic inches (hence cuin – cubic inch). The better the down, the more volume it takes up for the same weight, the lighter and warmer things will be.
The next part of the inscription is usually “Goose Down” – goose down or “Duck Down” – duck down.
There is a popular myth among tourists that duck down is worse than goose down. There is some basis for it – the duck down premium 850 f.p. and above is almost never found. But if you’re facing duck and goose down of the same quality, such as 750 fill power, there’s no difference between them. Yes, they differ in the structure of the down at the micro level, may differ in the average size of the down. But you as a consumer will not notice it when using the jacket in any way, neither in terms of warmth nor in terms of durability. If you find a good jacket at a good price, but you are confused by the inscription “Duck Down” – feel free to buy. It’s the same with white and gray goose down: as a consumer you can’t tell them apart with the same Fill power. (Let me tell you a secret: gray down on thin light fabrics is translucent stains, which is why it is cheaper).
Eiderdown is very, very rare. It is collected by hand from the nests of the polar duck. It costs space money. The main difference is that its fluff is tenaciously held together and is less likely to bunch.
Also, the manufacturer often writes numbers like 80/20 or 90/10. This is called the down to feather ratio, which is not exactly true. The first number really shows the percentage of large fluff. The second number denotes everything else, and it’s not just feathers, but also fine down lint, fluff, etc. Yes, and the feathers in a down jacket, of course, are not the same as those in a peacock’s tail – there are fine feathers.
For good jackets, a ratio of 80/20 is used. A good ratio is 90/10, and above 95/5 is very rare.
“Hydrophobic impregnation”, “water repellent impregnation”, “siliconization”, “waxing”, “plasma” and more. All of these are different names for the same thing: treatment to make down absorb water more slowly. The lack of such a treatment is not a reason to throw away the jacket. After all, they do not give full protection against water, just that the down will absorb moisture more slowly. Nevertheless, their use in clothing is very justified.
It is important to understand that down impregnation is not forever, but until the first normal wash. So if you want to take advantage of hydrophobic treatments, stock up on special detergents and impregnators for down. Better yet, wash your jacket as infrequently as possible. At home it is almost impossible to restore the “factory” impregnation. In general, it’s more a matter of personal preference. For me, ease of washing is more important, and I walk perfectly well with ordinary down in a variety of conditions.
As buyers, we have very limited options when it comes to evaluating fabrics. First, many manufacturers do not provide accurate information about the fabrics, writing the manufacturer’s commercial names or something like “20 denier fabric. This number only tells us that nine kilometers of thread weighs 20 grams, and nothing more. The type and density of the weave, the structure and strength of the fibers themselves, the wind-permeability – all of this makes a huge difference. A fabric with the same description can actually have very different properties. For example, nylon (polyamide) is considered better than polyester, but a polyester fabric made of good fibers and a tight weave will be much better than a low-quality nylon of the same weight. Fortunately, unlike down, we can feel them with our hands before buying.
Focusing on weight, we can distinguish these types of down fabrics:
Membrane fabrics should be mentioned separately. On the one hand, they protect the down from moisture from the outside. On the other hand, membranes are less durable and breathe worse than conventional fabrics (no matter what the manufacturer says). For myself, I have come to a combination of down with a lightweight storm jacket. In case of rain you throw it on top, and if there’s no precipitation, just go with a jacket. However, a down jacket with a membrane fabric is not completely useless, it comes in handy in near-zero temperatures with a high probability of rain or wet snow.
Most often jackets use through seams. When two layers of fabric, outer and inner, are stitched through with one seam. This is where the “cold bridge” is formed. While in sleeping bags the use of through seams is highly undesirable, in jackets it is not so critical. Often the manufacturer adds a lining to compensate for warmth, but this increases the weight.
Seams with baffles. This design is much rarer, it is much more difficult to make, but with the same amount of down such a jacket will be warmer.
Separately, I want to talk about different “seamless technology”, “welding” “down pipes” and so on. For the most part, this is all marketing and an attempt to somehow stand out from the competition. If you extol another nanotechnology revolution priced under a thousand dollars, ask about laboratory measured index clo (coefficient of thermal insulation) of this miracle design, and how it differs from hanging next to a jacket four times cheaper. (Note that manufacturers very rarely write this figure).
Very, very conventionally we can distinguish these types of puffballs. They are established names rather than strict frameworks.
Yes, it’s not a jacket, but it’s my favorite and probably the most underrated piece of clothing by our hikers. And the set “fleece + down vest + thin membrane jacket” in my experience is the lightest and most versatile for summer hikes, when the temperature can drop to +10 … +5. Weighs only 100-300 grams, and adds a lot of comfort.
Lightweight, very compact and not restricting movement. As a rule, its outer fabric is thin and not designed to meet rocks and knots. Almost always the seams are through. In recent years popular down pouches with very frequent stitching, the width of down pouches is only a few centimeters. Yes, it looks nice and fits very comfortably, but not the best effect on warmth. Some hikers even completely replace them with fleece jackets, but do not forget about the risk of getting wet, you must have a good storm clothes. Because of their comfort and beauty, almost all hikers use them for everyday wear as well.
[blockquote]Tip: choose a down sweater with a full zipper and hood. Yes, an anorak with a short zipper looks lightweight, but those few grams of weight will pay off in whole for the convenience of use. And the hood will protect the neck and head, through which there is a lot of heat loss. The size of the sweater should be slightly larger than the fleece.[/blockquote]
This is an even broader class, which can include all warm jackets with down weight of 200-300 grams and above. Bivac, means intended for standing or sitting in the cold when you can’t keep warm with movement. Not necessarily in camp: insurance on the rocks, camping, ski elevator and many other situations. For walking, of course, they are also used when it is very cold and windy.
In bivouac jackets do not save weight on handy little things: there may be velcro cuffs and a snow skirt, often detachable. Zippers are closed against blowing windbreaks; in the warmest jackets both the outside and the inside. The hood is almost always not detachable, although it is sometimes found, similar to city jackets. But for hiking it’s just extra weight and heat loss.
If you choose a jacket for mountaineering, ski touring or other extreme sports, it would be nice to have the opportunity to put the hood over your helmet or helmet, not all manufacturers provide it, so check it or try it on before buying.
If you plan to buy a jacket that is not very warm and often worn under the backpack, it is better to choose with reinforced inserts on the shoulders.
For the coldest temperatures, polar expeditions or high-altitude climbs. Very warm jackets, designed for conditions in which one cannot keep oneself warm by movement even in the harshest cold. Even weight is sacrificed for the sake of warmth.
Often people come into the store and ask for the warmest jacket, put it on and say, “Oh no, it’s so big. Unfortunately, commercials, where a thin jacket keeps you warm in the harshest cold, unscrupulously lie. Thermal insulation is provided by air, and until they invented some kind of “vacuum insulator,” as in a thermos flask, only flexible, until then only the thickness of the insulation will guarantee its warmth. So before hiking and especially climbing think not about beauty, but first of all about warmth and functionality. As a well-known saying goes: “We haven’t seen any roasted tourists in the mountains, but a lot of frozen ones”.
Down overalls for high-altitude climbs stand apart. They allow you to save a little weight, but they have their disadvantages. They are more difficult to put on and take off, and at high altitudes, even during one exit the temperature can vary from minus twenty degrees with strong wind to zero degrees. And if the jacket and pants are relatively easy to take off or take out of the backpack, changing the high-altitude overalls is no easy task.
By the way, the most important question: “To what temperature is this jacket? – No one will give you the answer, and even if they do, it’s probably wrong for you. People are very different in thermoregulation: someone will be cold, and someone will be hot in the same clothes. Add different conditions: temperature, wind, humidity, fatigue, movement, and you get a problem with no solution. Yes, you can specify within 10-15 degrees, and to guess more accurately will help you only your personal experience in the mountains.
We have tried to break down the main characteristics and technologies that the world’s brands use in the manufacture of high-quality and reliable down jackets. But, in addition to the filler, impregnation, type of seams and fabric plays a big role functionality of the jacket, its style and usability. So how to decide in this variety of options and choose a down jacket that will serve long and keep you warm at the right moments?
Here are the main factors that you should pay attention to when buying a good down jacket for hiking and climbing:
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