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Insulated Jackets Buying Guide

When the colder months roll around, sometimes your trusty waterproof just isn't enough to keep you warm. Insulated jackets are ideal for those who really feel the cold during autumn and winter whether used as an outer layer or worn underneath your waterproof jacket during wet days. In this guide we'll take a look at the different types of insulated jackets stocked at GO Outdoors and help you decide which is right for you.

What is an Insulated Jacket?

An insulated jacket is a general term to include the likes of synthetic insulated jackets and down jackets. These types of jackets are brilliant for freezing cold temperatures, as they offer a layer of body warming insulation that a waterproof jacket rarely offers. Insulated jackets have changed a lot over the years. You may remember people wearing insulated jackets from years past, looking something akin to the Michelin Man. These days, insulated jackets are much more sophisticated, with varying levels of insulation available meaning you'll be able to find the thick insulation needed for an Arctic expedition, or the lightweight insulation to slip under your waterproof as part of your layering system.

Insulated jackets are NOT a replacement for a waterproof jacket, heavy rain will compromise their insulating properties. However when the weather is dry, or a little damp and very cold? You're looking at the ideal jacket for your needs. No outdoor jacket will have you feeling more snug than an insulated jacket.

Which insulation is right for me?

At GO Outdoors we currently stock three different types of insulated jacket. Synthetic insulation, down insulation and the newer hydrophobic down insulation. Which of these insulators are right for you? Below we have listed some of the main features of each, so you can work out which works best for your lifestyle.

   Synthetic Insulated Jacket   Down Jacket  Hybrid Insulation
  • Warm
  • Excellent in cold/light rain conditions
  • Man made fibres
  • Dries quicker than down 
  • Lower Cost
  • Very warm
  • Lightweight
  • Excellent in very cold weather
  • Better compression than synthetic insulation
  • Hydrophobic Down handles damp weather better than untreated down
  • Very warm
  • Lighter than synthetic 
  • Combines down and synthetic to handle damp weather better than standard down
  • Designed to emulate a higher quality down jacket for a lower cost by using synthetics as well as down
  • Heavier than down
  • Shorter lifespan than down
  • Untreated down becomes compromised when wet
  • Longer drying time
  •  New technology so may cost more

What is synthetic insulation?

Synthetic insulated jackets contain man made, synthetic insulation made using polyfibres, the lab-made equivalent of natural down. This is often a popular choice among those who don't wish to use anything derived from animal products.

Synthetics are used to attempt to replicate the warming and heating effects of down, without the bulk, and with the chance to achieve higher levels of breathability, all at a lower cost.

Although heat is circulated with ease, synthetic insulation does suffer from heat loss at a quicker rate than a natural down jacket, making it more suitable for times when your body is still producing its own heat, for example during periods of exertion.

Synthetic insulation is also much better at handling moisture than down, and will dry much quicker if it gets wet.

Quick points on synthetic insulated jackets:

  • Synthetic Insulation provides plenty of circulated heat with more freedom of movement. However synthetic insulation loses heat quicker than a traditional down fabric.
  • Synthetic insulation performs better when wet unlike natural down
  • Synthetic insulation is cheaper and easier to care for than natural down
  • Synthetic insulation is heavier and bulkier, meaning you will need more pack weight to accommodate it.

What is down insulation?

These jackets contain a layer of down and feathers to help keep you warm. Down is the fine layer of fluffy feathers underneath the normal feathers on water fowl, usually geese or ducks.

Normal feathers are unable to retain loft on their own, which is why there must be certain percentages of down to balance a percentage of feathers in any garment classed as being a ‘down insulator’. This is where the percentage figure you'll find on all down products comes from For example if a down jacket has the percentages 80/20 this indicates the garment contains 80% down, and 20% normal feathers.

When down is compressed the filaments of the fibres create small air pockets that trap air, and therefore heat. This is seen naturally with animals that need insulation.

Down jackets don't work particularly well in wet weather, water can compromise the down's loft making it ineffective at keeping you warm, and it can also take a long time to dry out.

How to measure the insulating properties of down

At the manufacturing process, down is sorted, washed, and sterilized. It is during this sorting process that the fill power (stated as a number such as 500 or 600) is determined. This rating is based on how many cubic inches the down displaces in a given area, or simply, the space the down takes up.

The higher the fill power, the higher the insulating capabilities, less down is needed and the lower in weight the garment can be.

Hydrophobic down

Hydrophobic down or Hydrodown (depending on the brand using it) is a treated down that is said to be better at handling moisture, which has always been the downfall of the down jacket.

The process includes treating the down at the source and adding the hydrophobic treatment to each individual piece of down, as opposed to adding the waterproofing to the outside of the jacket. This is said to help maintain its loft when damp, and therefore making the down much more suited to our ever changing British climate.

Quick points on down jackets

  • Down fill keeps its warmth with ease
  • Down fill does lack some of the breathability and opportunity for freedom of movement.
  • Down tends to be more expensive, but is highly durable.
  • Down needs to be kept dry otherwise the feathers clump together. This can be dried off, but the fill power will never recover totally if down gets completely drenched. Quality is usually expressed as a percentage, which shows the ratio of down to feathers.
  • The fill power is in a rating style, and this will indicate how well the down retains its loft, or simply, how efficient it is. The higher the percentage and fill number, the better, lighter and warmer the garment.
  • Down is easily compressed, meaning it's easier to store when not in use.

What is hybrid insulation?

Hybrid insulation is a growing technology among insulated jackets. These jackets are a combination of more than one insulating technology, such as down and synthetic in an attempt to harness the plus points of both.

Hybrid jackets come in a variety of styles, some jackets may feature both insulators separately within the jacket to improve range of motion ( a down jacket with synthetic sides may feel less 'puffy'). While some brands are mixing the insulators within the jacket.

Hybrid insulation aims to create jackets that take the best features from various technologies whether that be warmth, packability, moisture management, ease of movement, trying to minimise the 'flaws' of a single insulation. As the technology is perfected we could see hybrid jackets that mimic high end down jackets for a lower cost.

What is hybrid insulation?

  • Hybrid insulation combines more than one insulation type
  • Designed to combine the best features of both down and synthetic

How to care for your down jacket:

Since the properties of down jackets are so unique, you may have guessed that they take a little extra care to prolong their lifespan. Here we'll take you through the steps of how to wash/clean your down jacket.

What you need:

  • Down cleaning solution (we recommend Nikwax or Grangers) DO NOT use a standard washing detergent as it can compromise your jacket’s performance.
  • Washing machine/Tumble Dryer (not top loading)
  • Tennis Balls (Optional, but encouraged)

How to wash a down jacket:

  • Empty the pockets, and brush down the jacket of any loose debris and dirt.
  • Ensure the detergent compartment is thoroughly cleaned (to get rid of any damaging detergent)
  • Set the washing machine on a low/cold temperature for the likes of delicates or wool.
  • Place your down cleaner into the detergent drawer and run the slow cycle a few times to ensure all cleaner is removed.

How to dry a down jacket:

  • Remove jacket from the wash and squeeze out any excess water
  • Place the damp jacket into a low temperature tumble dryer (The tennis balls can be added to help fluff out the down)
  • Remove the jacket every 15 minutes and fluff by hand, before repeating the drying process.
  • This process will prevent your down from clumping and therefore ruining the insulation of your jacket.