Everything you need to know before buying an insulated jacket.
There are two types of insulation: synthetic or down. Synthetic insulation is cheapest and will keep the user warm even when wet. It is bulkier and heavier than down, but also more durable. Modern synthetic fills are coming close to equalling down in weight and compressibility. Down still offers superior warmth to weight and now that most down insulation is treated to make it hydrophobic (it resists soaking and dries more quickly to avoid clumping), it is also able to perform in wet conditions – though not to the same degree as synthetic.
When choosing a down jacket, take note of the fill power (the volume that one ounce of down fills when full of air) – it is usually measured between 500 and 800. The higher the number, the greater the warmth and less fill required to achieve it.
Hoods improve warmth considerably by trapping warm air around your head without blocking visibility. Hoods on alpine or climbing jackets will be helmet-compatible.
Down jackets use baffles to keep the fill from moving around. Some synthetic garments also use baffles amongst other techniques to hold the
insulation in place. Seamless (welded or seam sealed) construction reduces heat loss through the stitching.
Collars and cuffs
Cuffs keep out wind and snow and can be self-closed or elastic. Insulated collars should zip up under or just over the chin. They may have a soft comfort lining at the chin.
Two hand warmer pockets and a chest pocket are the norm, though some ultralight models may just have one chest pocket. Internal pockets can be used to store items close to your body. Lighter and more compressible jackets will stuff into one of the pockets or a separate stuff sack for transport.
The shell fabric should have a durable water repellent (DWR) coating to increase water-resistance – some models even use a waterproof fabric to protect the down. Breathable high thread count fabrics prevent down poking through the garment.
Responsible Down Standard
Most manufacturers using down insulation adhere to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) administered by the nonprofit Textile Exchange. The standard ensures:
- The removal of down and feathers from live birds is prohibited
- Force-feeding of birds is prohibited
- Holistic respect for animal welfare of the birds from hatching to slaughter
- Each stage in the supply chain is audited by a third-party certification body
- Only products with 100 per cent certified down and feathers carry the RDS logo
Now you know what to look for, it's time to choose your jacket.
Rab Valiance $699.95
With 170g of 800-FP RDS-certified hydrophobic European goose down, waterproof outer fabric, bonded narrow box-wall construction, synthetic insulation-filled hood and cuffs, helmet-compatible, handwarmer pockets, internal security pocket, drawcord hem, stuff sack. 750g (m), 615g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz
Earth Sea Sky Nano Primaloft $799
Primaloft Gold synthetic insulation, seam-sealed waterproof Entrant shell fabric, articulated elbows, gusseted underarms, full front zip with storm flap, adjustable hem drawcord, two internal chest pockets,two zippered hand pockets, made in New Zealand. 694g (m/w). www.earthseasky.co.nz
Cactus Outdoor Down Jacket $599
With 750-loft ethically sourced white goose down, Cactus WTF-2 220D fabric, nylon taffeta lining, adjustable zip-off hood, two internal chest pockets, two fleece-lined hand pockets, internal fleece cuffs, made in New Zealand. 1160g. www.cactusoutdoor.co.nz
Marmot Featherless Hoody $449
3M Thinsulate featherless insulation, 75% recycled loose-fill fibres, Angel-Wing Movement, hood with elastic binding, zippered hand pockets, elastic cuffs, stuffs into pocket, drawcord hem. 476 (m), 440 (w). www.marmotnz.co.nz
Rab Electron $549.95
With 170g of 800-FP European goose down, RDS-certified, Pertex fabric, stitch-through construction, various baffle sizes reduce bulk, helmet-compatible hood, YKK zips, elasticated cuffs, internal security pocket. 500g (m), 470g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz
Outdoor research Illuminate Down Hoody $399.99
800-FP RDS-certified goose down, adjustable hood, two internal pockets, chest pocket with internal media pocket, handwarmer pockets with brushed tricot lining, internal front storm flap, stuffs into pocket, elastic cuffs, drawcord hem. 353g (m), 299g (w). www.bivouac.co.nz
Rab Microlight Alpine $399.95
With 143g of 750-FP RDS-certified hydrophobic down, harness-compatible pockets, two-way front zip with insulated zip baffle, stretch cuffs, helmet-compatible hood with internal stretch gaiter seals out wind. 470g (m), 430g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz
Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket $419.99
VerticalX high-loft synthetic insulation, movement-mirroring stretch, adjustable hood with hood lock, zippered chest pocket, hand pockets, stuffs into pocket, brushed tricot pocket lining, carabiner loop, elastic cuff, drawcord hem. 569g (m), 478g (w). www.bivouac.co.nz
Rab Kaon $399.95
Hybrid jacket with 70g of 800-FP RDS-certified hydrophobic European goose down in hood and body, Stratos synthetic insulation in shoulders, cuffs and hips. Stitch-through construction, YKK reverse-coil chest pocket, YKK front zip, half hem drawcord, stuff sack. 250g (m), 235g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz
Marmot Featherless Hybrid $349.95
3M Thinsulate featherless insulation, 75% recycled loose-fill fibres, DriClime Bi-Component lining wicks moisture, pack pockets, drawcord hem, elastic cuffs. 280g (m), 198g (w). www.marmotnz.co.nz
Rab Xenon $349.95
Stratos recycled synthetic insulation, ripstop lining and outer fabric, under helmet hood with stretch binding, two-way YKK front zip with insulated baffle, chin guard, zippered hand warmer pockets, internal zippered pocket, stuffs into pocket, elasticated cuffs, drawcord hem. 326g (m), 285g (w). www.outfitters.net.nz