Down Insulation vs. PrimaLoft Insulation: Which is Better?
When it comes to outerwear, there’s one choice everyone wonders about: should they choose down insulation or synthetic (i.e. PrimaLoftTM)? What’s the difference in warmth? In performance? In price?
Don’t worry, it’s not as complex as it all sounds. Here’s everything you need to know when deciding whether to buy a down coat or one with PrimaLoft insulation.
PrimaLoft vs Down Insulation
Both PrimaLoft and down make excellent insulators and have proven to be masters at keeping people warm year after year. Despite this, it’s important to remember that the insulation in your coat isn’t the only aspect of the garment that is working hard to protect you from the winter elements. Make sure that you’re considering the fabric of your coat as well when you’re shopping around; you are going to want something that is windproof or resistant as well as being waterproof or water resistant. Being quick-drying is key when threats like hypothermia are present. Wet coats will lose heat much more quickly than its dry counterpart, and can compromise the insulation. You’re going to need all the heat you can get when you’re out adventuring in the bitter cold.
Benefits of Down
Down, or the fluffy undercoating that keeps ducks, geese, and other water birds warm, is a perfect natural insulator thanks to the thousands of tiny air pockets they use to keep warmth in. No synthetic insulation will be able to complete with its warmth-to-weight ratio, so if staying toasty is your main concern, down insulation is for you. In addition, down is incredibly long lasting, compressible, and lightweight, making it perfect for travel situations where you might find yourself shoving your down vest into your carry-on once you reach the airport.
Benefits of PrimaLoft
PrimaLoft is a synthetic insulator that is made up of polyester microfiber. The very fine fibers that make up this material keep you warm by trapping heat in the pockets of air that forms between them, similar to how down works. Even though PrimaLoft doesn’t have the same heat-keeping ability as down, it is the hands-down winner when it comes to water-resistance. Thanks to the polyester’s special design, PrimaLoft is less likely to get wet, and when it does it naturally prevents water absorption and won’t lose its insulating ability.
Let's Put Them Head-to-Head
- Which is warmer?
- Down insulation wins this category by a land slide. There’s no beating nature’s own insulation, though plenty of synthetic materials have tried. Though it seems like a difficult thing to measure, the warmth of insulation is calculated using fill power, the number of cubic inches one ounce of the material will occupy, and the amount of total material in the coat. Since down is incredibly light and very compactable, its fill power is hard to beat.
- Which is more Breathable?
- When it comes to breathability, down and PrimaLoft are neck and neck. Both materials are very breathable, so it more comes down to the material of your coat’s outer shell than what’s inside. The fabric that protects the insulation is what will affect your performance the most.
- Which is more water resistant?
- The greatest downside to down insulation is how it reacts to water. When wet, down insulation will clump together and will stay that way if not promptly broken apart. PrimaLoft, on the other hand, was specifically designed by the military to be moisture resistant. It has polyester’s natural moisture wicking properties and is less likely to get soaked if it does get wet. Even when wet, though, it doesn’t lose its insulating ability. You can combat this by looking specifically for waterproof down jackets.
- Which is easier to care for?
- When it comes to upkeep, PrimaLoft is your friend. Polyester won’t clump together when it gets wet, unlike down, and can be both dry cleaned and washed at home without issue. Down, on the other hand, can’t be dry cleaned and requires a special laundry detergent and a few extra steps when washed at home. Once down gets wet, it starts to clump together. If you don’t break up those clumps as it dries, the insulation loses a lot of its warming power. If cared for correctly, though, your down jacket will outlive a synthetic one by a long shot, so it may be well worth the investment if your coat is going to be put to a lot of use.
- Which is bulkier?
- The lightness and compactability that gives down its higher fill power also makes it the less bulky of the two insulation materials. It also means that less is needed to keep you warm. To get the same result, your PrimaLoft coat will need a lot more insulation, and with that comes more weight. This is why so many snowboarders, skiers, and mountaineers prefer down for their more active winter lifestyles. This is also why you often see packable down coats!
PrimaLoft vs Down Insulation: Who’s the Winner?
In most situations, down insulation will be your best bet. It’s warmer, lighter, more compactable, and will last longer than any synthetic insulation coat. If it rains a lot where you are adventuring, however, PrimaLoft is the insulation for you. It stands up to moisture a lot better than down, and, in wet places, that is well worth the extra weight.