If you’re feeling down… try some SYNTH!

If the British weather has left you feeling down this autumn,  just do away with the fuss of feathers all together! If you’ve had enough of over-sensitive down products clumping when wet, the latest generation of advanced, high-performance SYNTHETIC Insulated Jackets from Rab, The North Face and Mountain Equipment could just be your saviour.

High quality down is a great insulator, and unbeatable in extreme cold conditions. It insulates and compresses better than any man-made substance, and is literally as light as a feather. For expeditions, winter mountaineering and the like, this is excellent. However, for here in the UK, where showers are a daily occurrence and temperatures, though wildly varied, rarely drop too far below 0, for most users the real-world applications of down are limited to say the least.

If you’re caught in a heavy shower wearing a down jacket without a waterproof shell layer, the fill will saturate, clump together and cease to insulate. It may also start to smell distinctly wet-doggish. The same disastrous results can be achieved through washing a down jacket incorrectly – the only solution being repeated tumble-drying with tennis balls on a low heat setting. What a pain.

A single down cluster, with US quarter coin for scale. Water, along with natural oils in the down, cause the tiny fibers of the cluster to stick together when wet. Individual clusters also clump together, destroying their ability to trap air and insulate. This is not a problem with synthetic insulation.
A single down cluster, with US quarter coin for scale. Water, along with natural oils in the down, cause the tiny fibers of the cluster to stick together when wet. Individual clusters also clump together, destroying their ability to trap air, and by default, insulate.

You may well be the sort of person who always has a waterproof shell to hand, and is unfazed by down-care. But if you’re someone (like me) who values easy-care clothing, and loathes faffing about you should strongly consider going synthetic!

For years my climbing friends have been singing the praises of Primaloft jackets like the Rab Generator. Being laid back bohemian outdoor types, who’d rather be bouldering or chillin’ dawn-til-dusk, they don’t want to be worrying about intricate down washing and drying routines or constantly having to dig out a waterproof shell at the slightest hint of rain (very difficult to do whilst belaying). They want something they can throw in the back of their VW Transporter or stuff in their rucksack for days on end: a jacket that stands up to repeated soaking and compression without batting an eyelid. These are the features that the best of today’s synthetic insulated garments bring to the party.

There is also the additional bonus of the sustainability of synthetic insulation. Serious ethical issues continue to haunt the down supply chain, with several scandals involving hideous practices such as the live-plucking of geese, and force-feeding to fatten their livers for foi gras (Thankfully some brands are more careful to avoid these practices than others) shaking the industry over recent years. Even compared to the most ethical down production, synthetic insulation is the sustainable, ethical option – no birds are killed in the making of Primaloft and Polartec insulation!

The Rab Generator - class act
The Rab Generator – class act.

As well as the obvious advantages of synthetic insulation in terms of ease of care, over recent years they have undergone some striking technological advances. Synthetic insulation such as Polartec Alpha, Primaloft One and Thermoball are now bringing the best synthetics closer and closer to down in terms of warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility. Primaloft claim performance equivalent to 600 fill down for Thermoball, and 550 fill for Primaloft One, which coupled with their durability and ability to insulate when wet makes them awesome insulators! Check out The North Face Thermoball Jacket and the Rab Generator Alpine Jacket if those stats tickle your fancy.

This table demonstrates the pros and cons of Primaloft One synthetic insulation over Down insulation.
The pros and cons of PrimaLoft synthetic insulation over Down insulation. Very persuasive. And it doesn’t even cover ease of washing, or what constitutes ‘well taken care of’…

As Primaloft put it:

If variable conditions are predicted, humidity is high, perspiration is expected, or if you just would rather have insurance against inclement weather, PrimaLoft® is your go-to choice.”

Polartec Alpha, as seen in the Rab Strata Jacket and Hoodie, is the most breathable synthetic insulation ever made, and breathes far better than down. It’s therefore better for use in a layering system than down, is extremely compressible like Primaloft One and Thermoball, and keeps on insulating when wet! What more could you ask for in soggy Britian?

Rab Strata Hoodie - the most breathable insulator ever.
Rab Strata Hoodie – the most breathable insulator ever.

I could bang on about the technical stats of these insulation types for ages, but I’ll spare you the additional jargon. To put it simply, a decent synthetic insulated jacket is an invaluable piece of kit for daily use or outdoor applications in unpredictable weather. If you’ve got a down and a synthetic insulated jacket hung up in your cupboard you’ll be covered against the worst conditions Mother Nature can throw at you: you’ve got the down for those crisp, dry winter days below freezing – and the synthetic for every other day type of day from September to April! If I had to pick just one – I’d go synthetic.

At Webtogs we’ve got one of the best selections of synthetic Insulated Jackets out there, and every one has been carefully chosen for its great technology and features. Rab, Mountain Equipment and The North Face are blazing the trail in the world of synthetic insulation. Check them out – whatever the weather, they won’t let you down:

Rab Insulated Jackets

The North Face Insulated Jackets

Mountain Equipment Insulated Jackets


P.S. No animals were harmed in the making of this insulation.

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