Nature vs. science: Down insulation tries to be more like synthetics, while synthetics work to mimic down

With the advent of water-resistant down, feathers are fighting science with science. But synthetic insulation isn’t going down without a battle. SNEWS recaps the new insulated outwear products and trends from Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Feathers are the natural miracles that have kept outdoor adventurers warm for decades. Synthetic insulation is the scientific wonder that’s excelled where down has failed.

Now, with the advent of treated, water-resistant down, feathers are fighting science with science. But synthetic insulation won’t go down without a battle.

This Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, nearly every major industry player has entered the water-resistant down category — just a year after the technology’s debut on the show floor.

The success of water-resistant down in its sleeping bags this summer spurred Big Agnes to enter the apparel category with a pair of DownTek jackets, the hoodless Hole in the Wall DownTek Jacket (MSRP $120) and the hooded Shovelhead DownTek Jacket (MSRP $250).

“We’re fired up to make the jump into down jackets because we know how well the technology works in our down sleeping bag line,” said Big Agnes President Bill Gamber. The jackets also import Insotect Flow vertical baffle technologies from Big Agnes’ sleeping bags to better distribute heat.

Sierra Designs brings its proprietary DriDown to several new pieces, including the men’s and women’s Cirro Jacket (MSRP $199), which mixes 600-fill power DriDown with stretch panels on the sides for mobility. Paying homage to the past, the company introduces its 28 Degree North Jacket, featuring Sierra Designs’ 60/40 fabrication (originally introduced in 1965) in the front and back, plus a 600-fill DriDown on the inside. It has plastic zippers modeled to look like vintage metal zippers.

Millet introduces its Trilogy Collection featuring two puffies, men’s and women’s (MSRPs $300), with 700-fill DownTek and Pertex Quantum fabric. The series honors French mountaineer Eric Escoffier (who climbed the Eiger, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses in the French Alps in 1987) by coming in limited-edition colors (red, white and blue) with a prominent old school Millet logo.

It’s not all about the past. Isis brings several sexy silhouettes to the show that feature DriDown from sister brand Sierra Designs. The Secco Down Jacket (MSRP $189) and Secco Hoody (MSRP $229) feature an anti-static treatment, DWR finish and 650-fill DriDown.

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Scott Sports boards the bandwagon with 650-fill Allied Resist-Down in its men’s and women’s Sawatch jackets (MSRPs $260), made with a Pertex Quantum shell.

The North Face enters the category with its water-resistant ProDown, which is in the men’s Thunder Micro Jacket (MSRP $249). Plus, after a soft launch last winter, the company reintroduces its synthetic ThermoBall insulation — made up of small balls of synthetic material meant to mimic down clusters — in the ThermoBall Jacket (MSRP $199) for both men and women.

Also at the show with new releases in both water-resistant down and synthetic is Marmot, which will revamp its Quasar Jacket (MSRP $325) to include its proprietary 900 fill Down Defender.

Marmot also debuts Polartec Alpha synthetic insulation, aiming to trump any down puffy’s breathability yet match it in compression. You’ll see Polartec Alpha in more than a dozen brands, including Rabs Strata Collection, featuring the Strata Hoody for men and women (MSRP $225), the Strata Full Zip (MSRP $200) and the Strata Vest (MSRP $160). Westcombs Tango Hoody (MSRP $200, photo below) targets the active users combining Alpha with Pertex’s wind- and water-resistant Equilibrium shell and Polartec Powershield Pro paneling to maximize mobility and ventilation. In a similar vein, Black Diamond brings its Access Hybrid Hoody (MSRP $249), mixing a PrimaLoft One-insulated core with Schoeller StretchWomen nylon panels down the side to allow for an extra range of motion.

Helly Hansen does some design engineering to boost breathability, using strategically placed PrimaLoft insulation-stuffed posts to promote a continuous flow of air up and out of its Thrym Jacket (MSRP $850), inside the Helly Tech Professional waterproof/breathable outer.

Columbia continues to build on its Omni-Heat reflective radiant heat technology, bringing the Millenium Flash Jacket (MSRP $330) paired with proprietary synthetic fill.

Regular down jackets aren’t going away. Outdoor Research hasn’t embraced water-resistant down just yet, but it’s offering a solution to keep its down completely dry and heat trapped in its Floodlight Jacket (MSRP $375). The outer Pertex Shield +DS waterproof-breathable fabric provides the protection with fully bonded seams, instead of stitched quilting.

Patagonia, which has hinted at its own water-resistant down release this spring, continues for now with regulargoose down in its 600-fill Hawke’s Bay jacket (MSRP $499), and revamped Das Parka (MSRP $299), which is now lighter, more water-resistant and features two layers of PrimaLoft insulation — 120 grams of PrimaLoft Synergy and 60 grams PrimaLoft One. The piece has a revised fit, a 20-denier Pertex nylon shell with a PU coating on the back for higher water repellency. Plus the women’s version of the Das features a more flattering cut.

Insulated outerwear is becoming a bit more fashionable, as proved by Isis’ Cinema Coat (MSRP $189) insulated with Primaloft Synergy with a weather-resistant Nylon ripstop shell and removable belt and hood. Newcomer Pop Outerwear brings its USA-made City Puff (MSRP $189), for both men and women, which looks like a beloved wool peacoat with wooden buttons and a dovetail bottom. Plus Nau offers two pieces that are beautiful enough to be worn to work, but also functional on the slopes, with its women’s Down Blazer (MSRP $225) and men’s Down Shirt (MSRP $225), which both feature 800 fill-power goose down.

--Ana Trujillo

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