Technical Glossary Insulation
S ince time began one of man's basic needs has been to keep warm. In order to achieve this they used whatever natural materials were available: furs, wool or the down and feathers gathered from birds. During the last 40 years manmade insulations have become available from basic polyester padding to high tech synthetic fills.

Insulation keeps you warm due to its ability to trap a volume of still air which warmed by your body heat acts as a thermal barrier. To date, technological advances in synthetic insulation have failed to supersede down in terms of warmth/weight ratio, pack size and longevity. The beauty of down is harnessed in its Compressibility, Recovery and Durability. It is the tiny hairs on each cluster of down that makes it unique, they give it the ability to trap warm air more efficiently than any other man made fibres. However, synthetic fills have one big advantage over down in that they will still keep you warm when wet. Down must be protected from both external moisture ( rain, wet snow etc. ) and internal sources of moisture (sweat) to retain its insulation properties.

Read more about Down parka Construction Methods and Fabrics.

Synthetic Fills & Fleece Fabrics

Polyester - Possibly the most common insulation used in fashion parkas and jackets. It has to be quite thick to provide decent insulation, often resulting in a "Michelin man" type of look. However its main advantage is its low cost.

Polarguard 3D - The finer denier and hollow triangular cross section of Polarguard 3D create smaller air pockets and greater thermal efficiency. The high loft, soft hand, easy stuffability and the legendary durability of Polarguard are some of the extra benefits. Made of 100% polyester, Polarguard 3D absorbs very little moisture, retaining loft even if wet. It is easily stored and laundered, non-allergenic, and mildew resistant.

Thinsulate Made by 3M. Thinsulate was originally advertised as the synthetic replacement for down. It resists becoming wet, maintains most of its warmth when soaked, and is very warm in surprisingly thin bats. Thinsulate does not pack down very will. Under laboratory conditions a given thickness of Thinsulate is almost twice as warm as the same thickness of down, however, the Thinsulate is 40% heavier. A new hybred of thinsulate called primaloft or liteloft is now being used in sleeping bags and various clothing. It is very warm, compressible and affordable.

Primaloft PL1 - The world's first and only Patented Synthetic Down. Utilizes microfiber technology to produce the closest synthetic to down in terms of structure, warmth and feel. It is the only insulation that treats each fiber with a permanent water repellent finish. Other insulations can trap over 3 times their weight in water. It is also twice as warm for its thickness than other synthetic insulations.

DuPont Hollofil Single core hollow fibres which are lighter and better insulators than solid fibres such as polyester.

DuPont Quallofil A development of Hollofil with four microscopic hollow tubes at its centre, rather than a single hollow core, to give better handling, improved compressibility and further insulation.

DuPont Quallofil 7 As above, but with seven microscopic tubes within the core to further reduce weight and enhance the air content.

Neidhart Superfine A top quality superfine polyester wadding with a high curl which helps the filling "bounce back" for greater loft after being compredded. Surface treated for "slip" and softness.

Polartec® 300 Shearling Double-faced knit fleece - Polyester. Malden's warmest shearling fleece has bulky pile on the inside for increased insulation and a lower-pile outer surface. 11 oz., with super DWR by Malden.

Goose Down

800 fill power goose down The best available European goose down. Very hard to obtain, found only in the best quality 8000M Expedition gear.

650 minimum fill power goose down High quality European goose down, used for very high altitude and polar expedition clothing.

550 minimum fill power goose down Ideal for wear in extreme cold conditions.

400 minimum fill power goose down A higher quality down than normally found in streetwear clothing.

80-20 Mix Down & Feather The normal quality down found in streetwear and fashion clothing.

Questions & Answers About Down

  • What is Down / Feather and what's the difference?
  • How can it be so light, yet insulate so well?
  • What is fill power? What's the difference between 800 and 700 fill?
  • How long can I expect my Down Parka to last?
  • What happens to Down if it gets wet?
  • Why do Down products vary so much in price?
  • How do I know I'm getting what I'm paying for?
  • What's the best way to store a down parka?
  • My down parka "leaks" down through the lining occasionally. Is it defective?

    What is Down?
    Down consists of clusters of fluffy filaments that grow from but do not contain the central quill shaft. It is the light, undercoating that geese, ducks, and other waterfowl have to keep them warm. Other birds do not produce down.

    How can Down be so light, yet insulate so well?
    Because of its three dimensional structure and ability to "loft", each down cluster traps more air for its weight than any synthetic. Every ounce of quality down has about 2 million fluffy filaments that interlock and overlap to form a protective layer of still air that keeps warmth in and cold out. Because of its resilience, you can scrunch it up or flatten it out. All it takes is a good shake for it to fluff up and bounce back to the form that keeps you cozy and warm.

    What is fill power? What's the difference between 400 and 700+ fill?
    Fill power is the most frequently used measure of down quality. It involves measurements taken of a one ounce sample of down in a plexiglas cylinder with a weighted piston compressing the down. The test requires controlled temperature, humidity, and preparation of the sample. All other things being equal a parka made with high fill power is lighter and more compressible than an equally warm one made with lower quality down. Fill power is expressed as cubic inches per ounce (c.i/oz) -- a lofting power of 400-450 is considered medium quality, 500-550 is considered good, and 600-700 is considered excellent.

    700+ fill is quite different from 400 fills. Almost all down commercially available is a secondary product of geese raised for consumption. It would be prohibitively expensive to raise geese for down alone. The geese that are the source for lower fill down are about four months old when they are "harvested" for food. Down from these geese can be carefully sorted, washed, and blended, but it will never loft like really mature down. The 700+ down fill comes from a small number of birds kept for breeding purposes throughout the year. These geese molt naturally in the spring. While their down is loose it is collected by hand. It is very rare and, of course, expensive. The larger individual plumules are what gives the greater loft. The only way to get down of this quality is by careful hand selection which is the major factor in its scarcity.

    How long can I expect my Down Parka to last?
    With the proper care and cleaning, your down parka will remain functional longer than you will. You'll definitely get your money's worth.

    What happens to Down if it gets wet?
    It's not easy to get down completely wet. ]ust look at a duck in the rain! Even if you get caught in the rain, the natural oils in the plumes tend to repel water, and the product will usually look a lot wetter than it really is. Getting wet does not hurt down, as long as it's properly dried within a reasonable length of time

    Why do Down products vary so much in price?
    You may find a white goose down duvet costing twice as much as another white goose down duvet, or even more. There are many factors which can affect the quality and therefore the price. Just remember, as with everything else in this life, there really are no bargains. A cheap down product will be filled with immature down, which will provide little warmth, and which will probably collapse after relatively little use. A substantial number of inexpensive products contain high percentages of feathers, rather than down as promised on the label. Workmanship and design is generally inferior on cheap products as well. Overall, a "bargain" is usually a waste of money. A quality product will certainly cost more, but it will be warm and cozy, and last for many years. Something that costs twice as much and lasts 10 times as long is much better value.

    Look for the fill power and also check if you can feel for quills or push one through the garment fabric.

    What's the best way to store a down parka?
    Down can be stored partially compressed. Condensation can occur on the inside of a waterproof bag and result in mildew. Store your parka in a dry place that has fairly constant temperature. Do not expose the parka to sunlight except to dry as heat evaporates the oils from down. You can store a parka either loosely bundled in a cotton storage sack, or hung vertically in a closet.

    My down parka "leaks" down through the lining occasionally. Is it defective?
    Even the very best down has some feather content, and some feathers have very sharp quills. No fabric is able to keep all sharp quills from penetrating, and some of the best down has a small percentage sharp quills. The variations in feather content and fabric finish mean that inevitably some parkas will leak more than others. Down leakage almost never affects the loft. Usually the only thing that comes through the fabric is feather or broken fiber. Neither contribute much to the insulation value.