Whether you use it for skiing, hiking, climbing or even commuting to work, an insulated jacket is a fantastic addition to your wardrobe to keep the cold away. Not all insulated jackets are made of the same insulation and not all insulation is created equal, choosing the right insulation will have a major effect on how warm your insulated jacket is. We here at Snow + Rock have put together an insulation and down jacket buying guide to help you understand the differences between insulations and jacket constructions.
Although your jacket will be tailored to your needs and activities, it is important to understand how insulation works, so you can make a more informed decision when choosing an insulated jacket. Here is a breakdown of the basic types of insulation found in jackets and how a jackets construction can affect its heat effectiveness.
Down Vs Synthetic
The biggest question when it comes to insulation jackets is, down or synthetic? In theory, no matter whether it is in a jacket, sleeping bag or any other insulated product, they both work the same way. Insulations trap and retain air in the small space between the filaments down or strands of polyester, these air pockets then warm, warming the jacket.
Down and synthetic insulation both have strengths and weaknesses that make each superior in certain conditions. It is important that you understand your need for an insulation jacket and what conditions it will be exposed to so that you can select the correct insulation to keep you warm.
Down comes from geese and ducks, despite technological advances, it is pound for pound the warmest insulation in the world. Down is incredibly lightweight and effective at trapping air, giving it the best warmth to weight ratio. Jackets made from down are highly compactable, meaning they can be easily stowed away in a pack or even in its own pocket, when not needed. All down manufacturers, sold at Snow + Rock have established standards to ensure that their down is obtained form cruelty-free sources.
Down is king in cold, dry conditions, however in wet conditions, down’s insulation effectiveness decreases significantly. When wet, down will saturate, flatten and will no longer be able to trap air and insulate. A down jacket can take up to a day to dry and regain its insulation effectiveness.
Fill power is used to measure the quality of down. The higher the fill power rating, the higher the quality, the more warm air the down can trap and the warmer the jacket is. Because high fill power down is so good at trapping air, your jacket will be more compressible.
Synthetic insulation is made up of polyester that is spun into filaments to create pockets of air between the fibres. Whilst not as warm or compressible as down, synthetic insulation outperforms down in wet conditions. Synthetic resists water for longer and provides insulation even after saturated, making it a more reliable insulation in all conditions. The man-made insulation tends to be less expensive, dries quicker and is easier to care for, than its counter partner down, yet is not as warm or compactable.
Synthetic insulation is measured in grams per square meter, this measurement is not the weight of the jacket. As a rule of thumb, 50-100g of insulation is great for spring and autumn conditions or as a technical mid-layer, whilst jackets with 100-200g of insulation are ideal for colder conditions.
With Down’s biggest drawback is its wet weather performance, a water-resistant down was created. Found in a number of down products, the down has been treated with a hydrophobic coating at the molecular level. This process helps the down to deal with wet and humid conditions to maintain its superior loft and insulation ability.
Less common and highly technical, a hybrid jacket draws the strengths of down and synthetic insulation to maximise functionality. It is common to find synthetic fill in the upper part of the jacket, in the shoulders and arms, where the jacket is most likely to get wet. Whilst the core body is filled with down to maximise warmth and compressibility.
Baffle Size and Construction
Baffles are the container section of insulation that prevents the materials from gathering in the bottom of the jacket instead of being evenly distributed. The size and construction of the baffles have a big impact on the effectiveness of the insulation.
There are two types of construction, 'stitched through' and 'box wall'. 'Stitched through' keeps your insulated neatly sectioned however the stitching can lead to heat loss. 'Box Wall' allows the insulation to loft, trapping more are with only a little bit of heat being lost through its stitching.
WIDE VS NARROW
Wider baffles are the warmest option as they contain more grams of down and can be constructed with fewer seams for heat to escape through, however they are bulky and do not compress well. On the other hand, narrow baffles or micro baffle jackets work fantastically well in spring autumn condition and have started to become more and more fashionable around town. The smaller construction means they are easily used as an outer or technical mid-layer and can compress down small enough to pack away easily when not needed.
Insulation and down jackets come with and without a hood, it is up to the wearer to decide if it is important to themselves. A hood on and insulation jacket can add some valuable warmth but with a compromise of slightly more bulk when compressed and price. It is key to remember that not all hoods are made the same, come are built smaller to provide a snug fit around your head, whilst others are large to fit a helmet under.
Style is a personal preference and is important to many people, however when buying an insulated jacket, you need to think about what you want to use it for? How warm do you need it? Once you have answered these questions, you can consider the overall style. An insulated jacket does not have to be a technical piece. In recent years, insulation jackets have become more and more popular as lifestyle jackets for around town us.