The Great Insulation Debate

The insulation season is upon us, the time where we all start to feel the chill and dig out our winter base layers. It’s a season of layering, of keeping your body warmth close and not letting the wind whip it away from you. For many people the final piece in the art of layering is an insulated jacket, and the jacket of choice is more often than not a down filled one. But is this the right choice for you, and if it is do you know what you’re buying or even how to look after it? After all, a down jacket can be for life not just for Christmas!

To determine what type of insulation suits you best, we ask our when and where will you be wearing it? If you are looking for something to wear in prolonged wet weather then Down may not be for you, we would tend to recommend a synthetic insulator such as the Montane Icarus or Phoenix, or the Paramo Torres range. The Montane range is made using new Thermoplume technology from Primaloft which mimics the structure of down creating loft and trapping air. The major plus of a synthetic is that if you do get soaked by the rain, then it will still keep you warm. Synthetics will also recover well as they dry quicker. Paramo design their insulation pieces to go over your Analogy Waterproof for this reason, they will keep you warm even if they are soaked. Synthetics are, on the whole, easier to care for (wash as you would a waterproof, with Nikwax) and are cheaper to purchase, making a very convincing case.


There are always exceptions to a rule and having said all of that, Rab are now only use Hydrophobic down. A Nikwax treatment is applied to the down, not to the fabric, and, in simple terms, it helps the down repel water for longer, and once it does get wet, it helps it dry quicker. It doesn’t make it waterproof, it just gives it more longevity in wet weather and helps retain the integrity of each plume keeping you dryer and warmer for longer.


If you prefer to avoid the wet and need the ultimate warmth on crisp, dry days where the temperature has plummeted then Down is for you. You may be belaying your friend whilst climbing and feel the cold whilst stood still, or you may be on the side lines watching your children play rugby. Either way, the natural fibres give the best warmth to weight ratio on the market. Down is a round in shape with plumes and prongs that trap the air and keep it warm. Feathers are flat and ridged, they are aerodynamic and perfect for flying. It’s worth understanding the basics behind the terminology used by down manufacturers so you know what you are buying. Fill power is commonly thought to be how much down is in an item, however it actually refers to the quality of the down. To grade down 1g is taken (fully lofted) and it’s volume is recorded. Rab use downs ranging from 650 fill power to 1000 fill power with the higher number indicating that this down has higher volume so will trap more warm air. Fill weight is how much down is used in an item. Rab say that their more technical and lightweight pieces, such as the Microlight Alpine, use the higher fill power down so that they can use less of it to prevent the item being bulky. Every day garments, such as the Deep Cover Parker or the Axion, tend to use lower fill power down but they are able to use more of it creating a chunkier garment. Both will keep you warm!


For the ultimate down jacket why not try the new Valiance from Rab which, unlike any other down jacket, has taped seams so is actually waterproof. The Pertex fabric will repel water so the down can do it’s job of keeping you warm. But bare in mind, as it has a waterproof liner, it is less breathable and you are likely to get rather warm, it is for extreme cold and wet conditions, not a mild and drizzly day!

Keeping your down clean will not only help it to do it’s job better but also increase it’s lifespan. Dirt from the outside and body oils from the inside will all hinder the DWR of the fabric which means it will start to attract moisture which in turn will stop the down from doing it’s job. Wash regularly with Nikwax Down Wash following the instructions, and dry low and slow in the tumble dryer until the down is totally dry, giving it a shake in between dries to ensure the down doesn’t clump. We regularly wash our down at home and although it can be daunting if you follow the instructions it really does work. If you are ever in doubt, Rab offer a cleaning service for a small charge.

Credits: Nikwax and Rab