Extremely cold temperatures, cold winds and Frostbite can wreak havoc on an otherwise good time enjoying outdoor activities. But luckily, there is one piece of clothing that all outside enthusiasts can cheer about—the down jacket. Down jackets and outerwear come in various styles including vests and hoodies, if you do not need something for extreme cold, but still want a layer of warm protection, these are good for providing warmth when the greatest freedom of arm movement is required such as for climbing or scrambling.
Why buy a down jacket? For starters, down is very lightweight which is great for walkers and hikers and can also be packed away and compressed to a very small size for carrying. Down will also last three times longer than synthetic insulation however it has to be looked after well in order for it to have this kind of long lasting power. Most importantly down is warm which is why it is the most coveted type of jacket to wear during the coldest seasons, it has been tested to withstand sub-zero temperatures.
The one caveat with natural down is that it loses a lot of its beneficial properties if it gets wet, the feathers will form clumps if it collects any type of moisture and eventually mildew will develop and it will retain a bad odour as it is slow to dry. For this reason down jackets may not be good for activities like skiing or sledding, but are perfect for camping, walking, fishing or hiking. Natural down does tend to be warmer than synthetic insulation and comparably lighter, but can be tricky to take care of and wash properly without spoiling the natural loft and lustre. It is possible to buy synthetic filled jackets which are easy to care for and more water resistant and quick-drying.
There are jackets made from hydrophobic down which is treated chemically to be water resistant and quicker to dry, so if you are looking for an outdoors jacket for rigorous conditions that is both water resistant and warm, it will be beneficial to find one that is made of hydrophobic down such as the Berghaus Mens or Womens Scafell Down Jacket. These both benefit from HydroDown technology which repels moisture, absorbing 75% less water than regular down and dries 50% faster.
When choosing a down jacket, it is important to check its construction as like all materials, there will be a variance in quality and warmth. Think of it like tog rating in quilts; the thicker the down, the greater the warmth rating of the jacket. For example a 600 fill jacket is considerably warmer than a 400 fill jacket and the higher the fill power the better quality the down in the jacket is likely to be. The best down is hand collected from mature Geese and is much warmer than down collected from young Geese, with the lowest quality down coming from Ducks. It's important to consider that a product with a lower fill power will weigh more than the same product with a higher fill power despite giving the same level of warmth, which is likely to affect you if you need your kit to be as light as possible. Higher fill down tends to be more expensive due to the way the down is collected from the birds, lower fill down is collected from young birds which have been used for human consumption. Higher quality down is carefully hand collected from mature birds when they have naturally shed their down, which happens in the spring time making it rarer and more expensive.
A jacket advertised as insulated could be either real feather down chemically coated or uncoated, or completely synthetic insulation - these have different properties as we have discussed and knowing which is better for your requirements helps you make an informed decision when thinking about investing in a quality down jacket.