Down insulation soon may have a new weapon to combat its Achilles’ heel of moisture.
At Winter Market 2012 (Jan. 19-22), several outdoor brands unveiled new down technology that claims to maintain nearly all of the insulation’s loft after it gets wet.
Traditionally, shielding down from water has come in the form of waterproof shells, but that carries the sacrifice of cutting down breathability and promoting moisture buildup from within. The latest innovation involves applying protection to the down clusters and feathers themselves. The molecular-level polymer coating is said to be inexpensive, add negligible weight and preserve loft, breathability and warmth whether wet or dry.
The use of the technology, which originated in the health-care industry, is expected to spread quickly. Textile ingredient supplier Down Decor, also at Winter Market, announced sourcing deals with Brooks-Range, Marmot, Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, REI and L.L. Bean.
“We’ve got no illusions that we’ll be the only ones,” Brett Jordan, CEO of Sierra Designs’ parent company, American Rec, told SNEWS. “It’s one of the biggest issues in our industry — that down has an issue with water.”
The technology doesn’t waterproof down, Sierra Designs officials said, but it helps resist common moisture sources such as sweat, spills and tent condensation. In the company’s tests, the treated down maintained 98 percent of its loft “after a night in a high-humidity environment,” compared to about 70 percent loft retention with untreated down. Loft is the key factor in down’s ability to insulate, and officials claimed the application does not weaken down’s loft in its dry state.
“No longer will people go to bed with a 15-degree down sleeping bag and wake up with a 30-degree bag” because of moisture buildup, Jordan said. And if the treated down were to get soaked, it dries out 33 percent faster than regular down, officials claimed.
The technology could be a game changer in the industry, where retailers have long dissuaded consumers from using down in high-humidity environments. Sales opportunities could be greatest along the East Coast and Pacific Northwest, but manufacturers said they also will heavily market the water-resistant down as a combatant to users' perspiration, whether they’re in a dry or humid environment.
Proponents of the technology said they are hoping to fuel more testing and standards when it comes to down’s performance in the presence of moisture.
“The testing that exists today has really ignored water as a meaningful variable,” said Frank Kvietok, director of advanced development at American Rec.
Sierra Designs will debut five new sleeping bags (men's Zissou and women's Eleanor - MSRPs $199-$299) using its 600 fill-power DriDown insulation, plus several jackets (men's and women's Gnar Lite and Tov - MSRPs $229-$259) with its 600 and 800 fill-power DriDown. The sleeping bags will launch exclusively with REI in early June 2012 and be available to specialty outdoor retailers by mid-July. The jackets will be available to retailers in August.
Brooks-Range debuts water-resistant, 800 fill-power DownTec insulation in the new Mojave Jacket (MSRP $299), available to retailers for fall 2012.
The innovation in down comes at the right time for the outdoor industry. As more mainstream and fashion brands — from Old Navy to Gucci — hop on the puffy jacket bandwagon, outdoor retailers are looking for something to differentiate their down products.
Portions of this story are from SNEWS’ live O.R. Daily coverage of Winter Market 2012, distributed each morning of the show (Jan, 19-22, 2012) in print, and available in digital format by clicking here.