Water resistant down was one of the big stories that created buzz throughout the 2012 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. Two companies, Down Decor and Sierra Designs, introduced down insulation that repels water. As we all know, down is wonderfully warm on a cold day, but when wet, it becomes a worthless clump of soggy feathers, leading many outdoorsy types to choose synthetic insulation when purchasing jackets and sleeping bags. Well, it looks like synthetics are about to get sucker-punched by a feathered goose wing.
The Sierra Designs booth on the Salt Palace Convention Center Floor was swarmed with attendees eager to witness for themselves how down goose feathers could possibly stay dry after receiving a healthy dose of insulation-killing water. A display of two plastic containers filled with down and water (one with untreated down and the other treated with DriDown) provided a stark visual contrast. The untreated down was a compressed, wet clump, while the DriDown floated atop the water, no worse for wear after being tumbled through the water.
The company says their process of creating DriDown is a polymer application which creates a hydrophobic benefit on individual down plumes. They also claim that DriDown stays dry 7-times longer than untreated down, has 98% loft retention, and dries 33% faster than regular down.
Sierra Designs is already putting this new, water resistant down in some sleeping bags and jackets, some of which were on display. The Zissou sleeping bag comes in 0-degree and 15-degree versions and features an ergonomic hood and footbox,VZipper draft tube with antisnag, and 600-Fill-Power DriDown. There is also a women’s version called the Eleanor. Both will be available in July, 2012.
On the jacket side, the Tov and Gnar Lite will both be filled with DriDown. The Tov is a hooded coat with 600-fill down, polyester Ripstop shell, adjustable elasticized hood, and cuffs with thumbholes. The Gnar Lite is a hoodless coat with 800-fill DriDown inside narrow, quilted baffles. It also has Ripstop and thumbholes on the cuffs. The jackets will be in stores Fall 2012 and will be available in men’s and women’s versions.
Another company showing off water repellent down is Down Decor. Tucked away within a conference room inside the Marriott Hotel across the street from the Salt Palace, Down Decor also had a visual demonstration and slideshow showing their process of turning down feathers into what they call DownTek. The demonstration was much the same as at the Sierra Designs booth, with both treated and untreated down featers being subjected to a vigorous tumble with a container of water. Only at Down Decor, I could reach in and touch the down after the test. Amagingly, after being shaken in water, the feathers retained all of their loft. I could even see water beading on on the individual down plumes.
Down Decor is the primary supplier of down insulation to dozens of major outdoor gear companies, so expect to see their DownTek inside jackets and sleeping bags in the near future. Already, Brooks-Range Mountaineering is using DownTek in their 800-fill Mojave Jacket that will be available this fall.
The decades-long debate of down or synthetic insulation may soon become a moot point if this new down technology turns out to be all that it promises. It will take some time before we know for sure how well the down repels water when used out in the field, and how long the technology will last after numerous washings and sweat-soaked good times in the mountains. If DriDown and DownTek steps up and proves itself, I think geese all over the world will have to watch their backs, as consumer demand for down will surely rise.