Down vs. Synthetic Insulation: What’s the Difference?
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
What is natural down insulation?
Unlike regular feathers, which have long, poky quills in the middle, down is usually ultra-soft and fluffy with fibers that fan out in all directions. It’s also less dense and therefore more lightweight than feathers. When used as insulation for things like sleeping bags, pillows, or puffer jackets, it is typically formed into clusters and placed in panels of stitching known as baffling, which prevents it from clumping together or getting bunchy.
100X Zoom Microscopic Synthetic (image on the right)
What is synthetic down?
What is fill power?
What are the pros and cons of synthetic versus natural down?
- Natural Down: One of the biggest pros of natural down is that it tends to be ultra-lightweight and extremely compact, offering exceptional warmth that isn’t heavy or bulky. This allows it to pack down easily, often compressing better than synthetic versions. It is also extraordinarily durable and tends to last for a long time. The downside to natural insulation is that it doesn’t perform as well when wet, often getting clumpy. It is also tougher to clean.
- Synthetic Down: The main advantage of synthetic down is how well it continues to keep you warm, even when wet. Additionally, it’s hypoallergenic and easy to clean, making it an overall low-maintenance product. What’s more, it dries quickly and doesn’t have poky feathers that can leak out when the exterior is damaged. That said, it is also heavier and bulkier than real down with a lower warmth-to-weight ratio.
Both natural and synthetic down require special care to keep the insulation functioning properly. Check out our guide on How to Wash A Puffer Jacket to learn more.