OR Report: The Big, Wet Down Revolution

OR Report: The Big, Wet Down Revolution

You know the problem with down. Once goose or duck down gets wet, the feathers lose all their ability to keep you warm. The down turns into wads of wet kleenex in your jacket or sleeping bag, and you start wishing you’d bought synthetic insulation.

But good down is much warmer than the best synthetics, way lighter, and far more compressible.
The best idea no one has been able to produce is a ‘waterproof down.’ Now, sixty some years after the first down jackets started filtering into the mountains, two companies claim to have both found the grail.

You read it here first: This is going to change the way we see down insulation.

DownTek and DriDown are both unveiling a special down that can’t get wet. The feathers are coated with a nano material (a fancy way of saying ‘really small magic’) that allows water to bead and roll right off.

Stale spam cakes, you say. I was skeptical too until the guys at DownTek showed me how it works.

Here’s the test: The jar on the left is full of standard 800-fill down. The jar on the right is full of DownTek’s magic, hydrophobic down. Both jars are half full of water.

downtek-0989

Shake ’em up, and this is what happens. The standard down turns into a puddle of mush. It will take many hours to dry out. The DownTek remains fluffy and lofty even while shaken violently in a jar of water, and it comes out as dry as it can get.

downtek-0990

The two companies racing to bring the technology to market are DownTek (First to market: Brooks Mountaineering) and DriDown (First to market: Sierra Designs). DriDown is already in a new pair of Sierra Designs Jackets coming out in Fall ‘2011. DownTek is in Brooks Range mountaineering jackets, and a range of others.

Sierra Designs will be launching the new technology in the fall 2012 Tov belay and Gnar Lite for next season. “These two jackets are set to change the way we look at down insulation,” says Scott Kaier, marketing rep for American Rec, the parent company of Sierra Designs.

SD_Gnar_Lite-M-lo

The magic behind DriDown is something Sierra Designs calls “proprietary molecular level polymer application,” making each individual down plume hydrophobic. The claim: “Insulated with DriDown, Sierra Designs’ Tov and Gnar Lite jackets stay dry 7 times longer in the rain, melting snow, or spills, maintain loft more effectively in high humidity environments, and dry 33% faster when they do get wet for a dryer, warmer, more comfortable backcountry experience.”

Wow.

—Justin Nyberg // @justinnyberg