How to Choose a Down Jacket?

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If the temperature outside is freezing, then nothing else other than a down jacket with the right insulating properties will make you feel warm and comfortable. Before getting into the detailing, you need to know first what is a down jacket and how does it make you feel warm and many others factors. Well, in this article, we will help you with all the answers for the most common questions and make you choose the best down jacket familiarizing all the variables you need to know prior to placing your order. Before we begin, lets us talk a walk through what really down jacket is.

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Down Jacket – The Basics

Down is considered as the best insulator of nature since it offers excellent warmth and is extremely breathable and light in weight. The attractive side is that it can be well compressed to a compact size to pack it inside your stuff pack for traveling. In short, a down jacket is something which is insulated with warm and soft under feathers from the geese or the duck. It is claimed to be the best insulator since the fluffiness of the down will help in the creation of hundreds of tiny air pockets that traps the warm air, thus retaining the heat for keeping you warm throughout the chilly weather.

The down fill used for the construction of the down jacket will be either duck down, goose down or even a combination of both. Among these, goose down is considered as the lightest as well as the warmest one. However, you can get duck jackets or other down jackets (combination of both) at a cheaper price than the goose down. All these jackets are made in varied styles and are meant for different activities. The major factors which you need to consider before making the move are mentioned here.  The very first thing is to understand is that the down is not the element in the jacket which describes how warm is it.

The technique in which majority of the insulating clothing functions is by trapping the air in between the outer and the inners layers of the material. The trapped air in the fabric gives you the insulation, guarding against the conduction and convection of the body heat to the outer elements. The material used in the construction of the outer fabric will slow down the escape of the warm air which is being trapped inside the insulation of the jacket.

In simple words, you can say that the warmest out of the down jackets will be the one which covers major parts of your body and has got the thickets baffles in it. On the other hand, you can choose the down jackets based on the occasion or the situation.

Down jacket photo

What is Down Fill Power?

The next part is to understand more about the down fill and the down fill ratings well so that you can choose the right one which matches your situation. Down fill power is determined by the fluffiness or the loft of the down along with considering its insulation properties. The higher the down fill power, the higher will be the air pockets in the down jackets and higher will be the insulating feature for its weight.

How is the Fill Power Measured?

The fill power of the down is usually measured in the laboratory settings and is calculated in cubic inches per ounce. In order to calculate the fill power, it is compressed by some weight within a glass cylinder. The capacity to bounce back and the loft is measured as the fill power. Fill power of the jacket also denotes the quality of the down which is used in the making. Higher the fill power, higher the quality. The down which is obtained from the older birds would be of higher quality, fluffier and even larger too when compared to those obtained from the younger birds. These features make them better insulators and hence we can conclude that a down jacket which is designed using high quality down will need less insulation in regards to weight for providing the same warm feeling with a low quality down. Since only lesser down is needed for offering the same amount of warm with those having higher fill power, they will be lighter and will be compressible as well.

The fill power of the down filled jackets ranges from 400 to 900. The down outerwear ratings normally fall between 600 and 800 fill down. The fill power is considered as the universal rating for the duck as well as goose down. However, at the same time, this is the measure which can’t be understood very easily. If you get the grip, then you can choose the ideal model according to too your choice and needs. The fill power of a jacket will be mentioned in numeric form and will be stitched at some area on the sleeve of the down jacket.

Down Quality

The quality of the down is the very first thing which you should check when you are in search of a down jacket. It is measured in terms of fill power, which in turn is a measurement of fluffiness or loft. This rating also provides information on the volume which a down can expand when given a particular weight of the down present and hence higher the number, less would be the weight needed to puff the down jacket. For example, the jacket with 800 fill power will provide more warmth and will be more compressible when compared to a jacket with 600 fill down.

down jacket on hanging bridge

Making of Down Jacket

There are basically two types of down jackets available and they are Box baffle model and the Sewn Through. The Sewn Through down jackets is found to be the common model available and is the cheapest too. The construction of this model is simple and less consuming since very little material used for its making. The jacket’s outer material is being stitched carefully into the inner lining and this, in turn, will help them down to get separated into different lines or baffles. In addition, this will also help to stop the clumping up of the down feathers. As the down feathers are pinched at every sown line, a few of the potential loft is being lost, developing cold spots within the jacket.

The Box Baffle technique will maximize the warmth as well as the loft of the down fill. Here every separate baffle is having its own section of the down. This will help to avoid pinching, thus preventing the formation of cold spots. Those jackets which are designed this way are found to be warmer and thicker when compared to the sewn through models, however additional materials are needed and they are comparatively complex in its making and finally expensive too.

In certain cases, the down jackets will be constructed using both the methods, that is using box baffles on the chest portion of the jacket and at the back side and sewn-through method on the arms. The materials which are used for designing the outer shell of the jackets are having an effect on four major features such as durability, weight, warmth, and waterproofness or breathability.

Synthetic Down Jacket vs. Down Insulation

The first thing to note while buying an insulation layer is to check whether you need a synthetic jacket or a down insulation jacket. 

The down will be warmer for its weight factor and can compress well too. However, when the jacket gets wet, the loft factor will be lost and won’t be able to keep you warm anymore. Here is where the synthetic insulated jackets leave their mark. Even though they are a bit heavier, having the same thickness and warmth, they try to keep the loft even when wet. They can’t be compressed and packed. This clearly points to the factor that even when the jacket is wet, the synthetic jackets can very well hold some of the insulating capability and its warmth. They are more durable when looking into the abrasion side.

Advantages of Synthetic Insulation  

  • Affordable than the down
  • Retains loft and insulating features when wet
  •  Breathable
  • Doesn’t need the death of birds to get the feathers
  • Stays intact even if the jacket tears

Disadvantages of Synthetic Insulation

  • Heavier than the down
  • Fibers may break down fast
  • Will not compress like the down
  • Warmth to weight ratio is lower compared to down

Advantages of Down Insulation

  • Lightweight
  • Longer lifespan and durable
  • Breathable
  • Highly compressible
  • Very warm

Disadvantages of Down Insulation

  • Expensive than synthetic
  • Loft and insulation feature will be lost when wet
  • Leaks out when tears
  • Animal by-product

Purpose of Insulation!!!

As mentioned earlier, the aim of the insulation feature is to trap the body heat, thus preventing it from escaping right into the cold. This is actually the principle of thermodynamics in which the heat will get transferred from a hotter region to the colder region for achieving equilibrium. In short, the body heat generated is moving outside around you. The insulation property will act as a barrier in between the outside air and the body. It helps to retain the heat, thus reflecting back to you.

shivering without down jacket

How Warm Is Your Down Jacket?

While paying for the down jacket, you should check with the fill power or the down weight. If you are in search of a jacket to keep you warm, then you will need to check for both these factors. Let me explain to you with some examples to sort out how down weight and fill power functions together.

 A jacket which is having a fill power of 500 and 10 oz. of down will tend to be warmer when compared to that of an 800 fill power jacket which is having 5 oz. of down. If the down to feather as well as the down weight ratio is equal, then even the 800 fill power jacket is found to be warmer when compared with the 500 fill power jacket. The 800 fill power jacket needs less down than the 500 fill power jacket for offering the same warmth.

Things to Consider While Choosing a Down Jacket

The Baffle Construction

The down jackets are generally designed in baffles; meaning that it is stitched in compartments which helps to develop the evenness of the spread of down. Larger baffles will help the down to bunch more, thus permitting you with warmer as well as colder patches. However, this is essential in jackets with higher quantities of the down fill. The micro baffle designs are something which holds several narrow baffles and gives excellent down distribution in the lightweight down jackets.

Cut

Another important factor to consider is the cut. Some of the jackets are having active cut and hence they fit closely and is having scooped rear for preventing them from riding up too high while lifting the arms. It also provides sufficient sleeve length.

Hood

There are certain down jackets which have got a hood, while some others don’t. A majority of the jackets are not waterproof, the hood may also not be or if needed, a hat is a good option.

For the snow-sports or the climbers’ enthusiasts, you can buy helmet-compatible hoods available on mid as well as heavyweight models.  A visor will help to control the hood and to retain its usability during the time of high winds.

Zippers

The major area through which the heat in the body is escaped is through the frontal zips. Overlapping panels can solve you in this and can be well down-filled for obtaining maximum efficiency. For getting more access and to retain the heat, use two-way zippers.

Pockets

Down jackets come with both internal and external pockets. The external pockets are available in both Napoleon and handwarmer styles. The second one is to warm the hands while both are useful for storing things easily.

Face Fabric

The down jacket’s outer shell will be probably water resistant due to the application of DWR (Durable Water Repellent Finish) and is also windproof. On the other hand, the amount in which it so highly depends on the kind of the fabric which is used for its making. Some of the most common choices may include Pertex brand fabrics along with Microlight, Endurance, and Quantum.

Draw Chords and Hems

One of the most useful features in a down jacket is the adjustable hems since they permit the wearer to control the temperature easily. The Velcro, elasticized cuffs or the draw cords are present in almost all the jackets. If the jacket is used for longer period of time, then going for a lined collar is the best option and this is found to be invaluable for men who are having facial hair.

Foot Note!!!

Always ensure that the size of the down jacket is right for you. Majority of the times, you will be making this jacket as a layering system and hence make sure that it is not that tight.

We suggest you try it with a couple of layers under that prior to making the final move. On the other hand, it should not be too lose too since it may permit the entry of cold air through the openings like sleeves or hemline. Finally, it is important to confirm with the looks of the down jacket. Most often you will be wearing this jacket for many years and hence check with the style and how it looks on you while wearing.

mountain lake down jacket

The process starts with understanding the conditions which you would face during the trails and then find the product that can handle those circumstances well.

 All down jackets are having positives and negatives and so there is a perfect person or a situation for every down jacket. 900 fill down is considered as the one with the highest quality down which is commercially available. This is considered as the gold standard of insulation and is highly compressible as well. The jackets will be ultralight and provide good warm. Hence choose the one according to your needs and stay warm even during the worst climatic conditions.

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Anupama Pradeep
 

Anupama Pradeep, hailing from the southern tip of Gods own country is a grad in EI and is a freelance content writer. According to her, music, nature, and art are the pillars which she leans on to whenever she lost her mojo. Very passionate to explore nature, she is keen to grab any realistic opportunities to pack the bag and set for adventures. She loves to travel, explore different cultures and has now fallen in love with trekking. Her instinctive curiosity to learn and research on nature, mountains and forests have inclined her to the world of trekking and hiking. Her professional expertise includes working as an SME on a variety of subjects for various reputed content-driven organizations.