As the weather gets colder, we are often asked what the best way to keep warm is, so after a bit of feedback on our Facebook page, here’s our guide to the different sorts of insulation out there for your mid & outer layers.
Sadly there is no “wonder insulation” that’s going to keep you warm, be breathable, pack down small, deal with snow & rain, save you from an avalanche and make you a cup of tea in the morning. We think it’s a horses for courses approach for your insulating layers, get the right thing for the right situation. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the three main types you can choose.
DOWN: Natures warmth, the fluffy stuff underneath a birds feathers.
SYNTHETIC: Synthetic fibres woven together to trap air and keep you toasty.
FLEECE: Another synthetic option that’s a fabric in it’s own right (rather than fibres that you put in to a jacket)
Now we’ve sorted out what we’re going to take a look at, let’s dive in and take a quick look at the good and the bad of our contestants.
GOOD STUFF: The highest Warmth to Weight ratio of all the options here, goose down is fabulous stuff for trapping air and keeping you warm. It feels seriously sexy to wear, is incredibly lightweight, and packs down smaller than any of the other options here. Great to pull on after a hard day on the mountain, or when wandering out and about.
NOT SO GOOD STUFF: If down gets wet it doesn’t work, so it’s really important to keep it dry at all times. We reckon it works best in cold, snowy climates, or where you bring along a waterproof to stop it getting damp. A little more expensive than some of the other options and maybe too hot if you are doing energetic activities.
STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR. Without boring you, down is graded according to fill power, e.g how much space a load of down takes up by weight, the range goes from 450 through to 900 odd, the higher the number, the warmer (and lighter) the down.
GOOD STUFF: Synthetic Insulation is best known with examples such as Primaloft or own brand examples like The North Face’s Heatseeker. Water resistant, it retains a lot of it’s insulating properties even if soaked through, and it’s less expensive than down.
NOT SO GOOD STUFF: It has a greater bulk and weight than down and is less breathable.
STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR: A favourite with climbers and those who use their insulation out and about. It works best in wet environments, which apparently we get rather a lot of here in the UK!
GOOD STUFF: Fleece has amazing breathability, and is an awesome choice if you are doing blood pumping activities in the cold. Fleece is water resistant, drys quickly and is great value for money.
NOT SO GOOD STUFF: Fleece is not usually windproof so unless you have some sort of shell layer over the top, the cold wind is going to go whistling through you and take that trapped air and heat away. Relatively heavy and bulky compared to some of the other options.
STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR: The best known fleece fabric is Polartec, but there are many other own brand examples out there too. Fleece comes in a variety of different flavours e.g. lightweight, midweight & heavyweight.
So there you have our quick guide to insulation. We reckon you need to balance your budget, activity and whether you are wearing it during the day or at journeys end. If you are a backpacker for example, weight is perhaps the most important thing to consider. If you need to get warm at camp at the end of the day, we would suggest grabbing a down vest or jacket. Down is also great if you are just taking the dog out for a quick walk. Climbing and need a belay piece? It has to be Synthetic. Running or walking out in the cold? Grab a fleece to wear underneath your windshirt or waterproof.
What’s your favourite insulation piece when the cold come round?