Spring is almost upon us — you know what that means? All those expensive winter skiing, snowboarding or hiking jackets are now on sale! Before you rush to the nearest store to look for a great season-end deal on a well-insulated winter jacket, stop and think about how you can make your next purchase an ethically conscious one. When it comes to insulated winter jackets, most people instantly think of a down jacket as the highest quality insulation to look for. There are several reasons for this: down has great insulating properties, it’s light and compresses very well, making it easy to roll up and stuff into tight spaces when you don’t need it. But your search for a warm, comfortable and convenient jacket that will get you through your ski trip and the worst days of winter does not have to begin and end with down.
Down is the soft layer of fine feathers from the breast of a goose or duck that is closest to their skin and grows to form quill, but does not have the hard quill shaft found in the outer feathers of birds. Down acts as a natural thermal vest for birds by trapping air and preventing the loss of body heat. This is also what makes them a very popular filler material in comforters, pillows and jackets. Down is picked from birds after they are slaughtered for meat or foie gras and in some cases, by forcibly restraining the animals while they are still alive. In both cases, the birds involved generally live short, miserable lives and die painful deaths for purposes that are absolutely unnecessary. This is because several synthetic insulation materials have been developed over the years that are far superior than down and won’t leave you looking like the Michelin man.
Here are a few examples:
Primaloft®: This patented synthetic microfiber thermal insulation was originally developed for the U.S. military in the 1980s for use in clothing and sleeping bags. The goal was to develop a material that (unlike down) would not lose its insulation when wet, but would retain the lightness, softness, suppleness and compressibility found in down insulation. This makes jackets lined with Primaloft® insulation water-resistant, lightweight, very soft, highly packable and a lot less bulky than jackets made with down insulation. Primaloft® is undoubtedly the leading name in the synthetic insulation field, with several big brands using Primaloft® insulation products for their garments. North Face makes a range of jackets with Primaloft® insulation like the men’s Lhotse Primadown Jacket or the women’s Quimby insulated jacket. Patagonia also has an excellent range of jackets with Primaloft®, ranging from the men’s Das Parka to the Women’s Micro Puff Hooded Jacket. In addition, Patagonia uses recycled polyester in their jackets, which is made by weaving polyester fibers with used soda bottles, unusable second quality fabrics and worn out garments. Cloudveil’s Enclosure Hooded Jackets for men and women are also great synthetic options. If you’re looking for some Primaloft® insulation with more style, try the AIRS (women’s) or the LARSON (men’s) by ethical (vegan) fashion powerhouse, Vaute Couture.
Thermal R: This polyester based insulation is the brand Marmot’s proprietary insulation that is used in their garments, sleeping bags and gloves. Thermal R is almost as light as Primaloft®, provides excellent warmth and is very durable. The Men’s Cauldron Hoody and the Women’s Dena Jacket are very good options for the coldest winter conditions, and both come with a relatively reasonable pricetag.
Omni-Heat®: This is Columbia Sportswear’s proprietary brand of thermal insulation, which is advertised as the highest heat retention per gram of synthetic insulation in the industry. Jackets made with this technology are very soft and down-like, but are made out of eco-friendly synthetic materials. Unfortunately, not all Columbia Sportswear Jackets using Omni-Heat are free of animal products. Several use down and feathers. The Lhotse Mountain™ II Parka, The Powder Bowl™ Parka , The Whirlibird Parka and the Shimmer Me Timbers™ Jacket are four men’s Omni-Heat® jackets that are made up of 100% nylon and polyester. The Black Diamond Dash™ Parka, the Prism Ice Parka, the Whirlibird™ Parka and the Kaleidaslope™ Jacket are great women’s synthetic choices.
In addition to the one’s mentioned above, some other synthetic insulation fabrics to look out for include Thermolite (made by the same company that makes Coolmax Polyester), Thermacore Insulation ™ (Burton’s proprietary synthetic insulation) and Coreloft ™ (by Arc’Teryx), which is used in some of their jackets. Whatever you choose; remember that there is an abundance of synthetic, non-down insulation options that can not only meet your specific functional and aesthetic needs, but also your budget.
There is no good reason to continue buying down (or freeze next winter), and now you know why!