Patagonia launches 1,000-fill-power Encapsil water-resistant down technology

Patagonia launched its own water-resistant down technology Tuesday, claiming its new and exclusive method of application helps boost down’s fill power to 1,000 and is friendlier to the environment.
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Patagonia launched its own water-resistant down technology Wednesday, claiming its new and exclusive method of application helps boost down’s fill power to 1,000 and is friendlier to the environment.

The catch is a higher price tag for some high-tech science.

Patagonia worked with Austin, Texas-based AeonClad Coatings to engineer an application process that would be free of fluorocarbons and wouldn’t weigh down higher fill-power downs.

“The idea of putting water-resistant treatment on down in pretty old,” Patagonia Vice President of Advanced Research and Development Randy Harward told SNEWS. “While the process has been improved by other brands, it still involves the use of binders that diminish the loft of higher grade down fills.”

To avoid using binders, Patagonia and AeonClad experimented with plasma technology to affix the water-resistant application onto down. The process involves exciting the electrons on the down and the DWR application to a point that they switch places and bond with each other, creating a strong mechanical connection.

The result not only kept the down structure intact, officials claim it strengthened the naturally 800-fill-power down to achieve a magical number of 1,000 fill power.

To avoid using fluorocarbons, which some brands and environmental activists have raised concerns about, Patagonia used a silicone-based, water-resistant application. Officials admit the silicone is a bit less water-repellant than using fluorocarbons, but ultimately the former is better for the environment and it also plays a role in helping sustain the down’s loft.

In all, Patagonia officials think they have a winner on hand and backed their support for the technology with a 15 percent equity stake in AeonClad in September 2012. That makes the technology co-owned and exclusive to Patagonia. While officials wouldn’t pinpoint how much more expensive the technology is, they said it’s a declining figure as production capabilities advance.

Because of the extra cost, Patagonia will debut the technology in a limited production (1,000 pieces) of its Encapsil Down Belay Parka (MSRP $699). The product, which went on sale Feb. 27, is only available direct-to-consumer through Patagonia's website and in a few of its stores.

Patagonia officials are unsure whether and when Encapsil might make its way to specialty retailers. “Right now, the technology is pretty expensive, so we’d don’t have a lot of it,” Harward said.

Patagonia Advanced Product Engineer Casey Shaw said the company put as much work into creating the new parka as it did developing the new water-resistant down technology.

The Encapsil Down Belay Parka employs techniques usually reserved for sleeping bags to maximize warmth, including a differential cut, body-mapped fills and 100-percent independent baffles without sewn-through seams, even at difficult design areas around the hood and sleeves. Some of the solved design challenges will go on to benefit future products in Patagonia's line, Shaw said. The parka weighs 18 ounces and can be compressed down to the size of two or three grapefruits into its own stuff sack, integrated in one of the pockets.

“We had to create a garment equally as impressive as the fill,” Shaw said. “We started with a clean slate and price was not a factor.”

--David Clucas

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