Get Up on Down

Revolutionary developments aimed at improving the enduring insulation we know as “down fill” are helping make traveling light and staying dry a lot easier.

As you consider replacing your old bag with one filled with hydrophobic—or water resistant—down, it helps to follow the development thread on this premium insulation. Down, that soft, fluffy filament called plumage found beneath the outer feathers on ducks and geese, has a fascinating structure that gives it some undeniable advantages as the insulation of choice in outerwear and sleep gear.

The top benefits include an unparalleled warmth-to-weight ratio, and excellent compressibility and packability. Longevity is also a major benefit: down fibers easily conform to tight spaces without breaking and are able to quickly rebound to their original form after decompression. In fact, down fill in sleeping bags and jackets often outlive the fabrics that contain these items.

The one advantage synthetic insulation historically had over down insulation, namely its ability to dry quickly after getting wet, has now been challenged by new developments in water-resistant down technology. You can find videos online demonstrating hydrophobic down’s effectiveness. Side-by-side glass jars show one with a compressed ball of regular down, the other with hydrophobic down. When water is added, the regular down quickly becomes water-laden and loses all of its’ loft. Conversely, the fluffy hydrophobic down simply rises to the top of the jar and floats, unimpeded by the water.

By nature, down clusters are designed to trap air. The greater the air pockets in those clusters, the warmer and more comfortable you’ll stay. Introduce moisture in the form of rain, snow, sweat or humidity and those pockets of air simply deflate, destroying down’s insulation. While there is no absolute waterproof down, hydrophobic down achieves its resistance to deflation when the plumes are treated with some type of permanent (synthetic or natural) durable water repellant coating to make the insulation resist absorption. It not only helps the down retain some of its insulating properties when wet, the treated down also dries faster, making it more like synthetic insulation.

It is worth noting, however, that when completely submerged in water or exposed to a heavy downpour, even treated down will get sodden and is likely to take a long while to dry without access to a clothes dryer.

One of the leading suppliers, processors and developers of hydrophobic down technology is ALLIED Feather & Down, a family-owned and operated company. They are committed to pioneering responsible sourcing initiatives, including the implementation of the Responsible Down Standard, which prohibits live-plucking, molt-harvesting and force-feeding, and respects the birds’ welfare from hatching to slaughter.

 

Beyond it’s core products, HyperDRY,™ a hydrophobic down insulation and HyperDRY ECO,™ a fluorocarbon-free hydrophobic down, Allied has expanded the range of water-resistant down treatments with innovations like an anti-microbial treatment called BioDown™ and a down/fiber blend called FX Down.™ They’ve also led the way on an innovative cleaning method that produces the industry’s cleanest down under the most sustainable conditions.

Their partnerships include, among others, The North Face, Helly Hansen, Mammut, Arc’Teryx, Marmot, Haglofs, Eddie Bauer, Feathered Friends, Outdoor Research, Nau, The Company Store, Western Mountaineering, Land’s End, and the recently launched Traceable Down Standard developed by Patagonia.

clusterComparison

Here’s a run down on Allied’s key developments:

HyperDry™ and HyperDry Eco™hyperdry

These invisible nanotechnology (meaning extremely minute) treatments are water-resistant coatings that have no perceivable effect on either the color or the texture of the down. HyperDry Eco is the newest iteration of this treatment and is notably fluorocarbon-free.

To understand how this HyperDry works, consider that fill power is the number of cubic inches of space one ounce of down can fill. The higher the number of the fill power, the larger and lighter the down clusters used to fill that space.

fill1

When treated, water-resistant down clusters retain a higher degree of loft after exposure to moisture and/or humidity. Independent third party testing (including, among others, the International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory) shows garments and sleeping bags treated with HyperDry dry up to three times faster than untreated down no matter the “fill power”—from the lowest 500 fill to 850 fill. Incidentally, premium goose down can now reach 900 fill-power, and potentially even higher (the race is on among companies to increase fill power to as high as 1,200 in the near future, though costs will likely impede widespread use of it).

Thermadown™thermadown

A treatment made from a natural-particle based and thermally reactive nano-coating that emits infrared energy to increase down’s normal insulation factors. Essentially, it uses body heat to trap energy in the treated down and then transmits it back to your body (think dermal infrared absorption). When combined with water-resistant down (Allied’s Hyper Dry™), you get insulation that works with your body heat to increase circulation and keep you warm, dry and comfortable.

BioDown™biodown

This anti-microbial down treatment prevents microorganisms and bacterial build up in down insulation that might otherwise add weight, decrease loft and increase odor. Bags and apparel containing down treated with BioDown are completely washable, durable, fresher smelling and more resilient, according to the company.

FX Down™fxdown

This revolutionary insulation leverages the best of both down and fiber. The unique hybrid contains varying blends of both treated down and fiber components, but performs and feels more like down, which means exceptional loft, superior warmth, compressibility, breathability, and is fully washable.

When deciding which technology is right for you it’s worth considering how much weight you want to carry, where you are adventuring (climate and seasonal weather) and how much money you’re willing to spend.

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Jo Ostgarden

Jo Ostgarden is a freelance journalist who has traveled around the world by plane, train, thumb, bicycle and automobile. She bicycled across Canada, the Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon to British Columbia and throughout 14 countries abroad. Additionally, she's an enthusiastic longtime backpacker who calls the Grand Canyon her own personal energy spot. She's also expert on travel in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii and Ireland. She edited and re-wrote the final edition of Best Places Northwest Travel Guide, and has written about travel, health, nutrition and endurance sports gear for dozens of magazines and newspapers, including Bicycling Magazine.

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