If you’re reading this, you’re most likely warm blooded. If you aren’t sure if you’re warm blooded or not, just ask yourself this question, “Do I maintain a constant body temperature by regulating metabolic processes?” If you answered “yes,” well then you’re warm blooded. Mammals radiate heat, it’s just what we do. We radiate even more when we’re active. Insulated jackets aim to trap this heat and hold it close to our bodies.
The enemies of heat retention (in terms of insulation) are cold, wind and rain. The colder the air is, the quicker the heat will dissipate into the colder air. Wind can blow away the trapped warm air, leaving cold air in its place. Rain can be damaging in numerous ways: rain water is typically cold, it pulls heat from your body as it evaporates, and it can impair the heat retaining properties of the insulating materials. That’s why your insulation layer should be protected by a windproof/rainproof material if you’re going out into harsh environments. Don’t worry about memorizing that, I’ll touch more on it a little later.
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Insulated Jackets Buyer’s Guide
Synthetic insulation is made up of fine filaments of polyester that are spun to create pockets of air between the fibers. Higher-quality, softer-feeling insulation is usually made up of finer filaments with more air space between them. Higher-end synthetic insulation may also be treated for water- and odor-resistance, to improve performance in outdoor settings and active uses. As mentioned earlier, synthetic insulation will usually outperform down in wet, humid conditions, and will dry more quickly.
How much insulation do you need in a jacket? The thickness of synthetic insulation is usually expressed as grams per square meter (note that this is NOT a measure of the total weight of the insulation in a jacket). So, a jacket with 200g insulation is going to be thicker and warmer than a comparable jacket with 100g insulation. As a rule of thumb, 50–100g jackets are great for spring or fall, or in situations where you expect to be wearing several layers, while 100–200g jackets are ideal for more frigid conditions. However, these rules don’t totally apply for the newer generation of synthetic insulation like The North Face’s Thermoball or Marmot Featherless; these new technologies are engineered to more closely resemble down and will be lighter yet warmer than other types of synthetic insulation.
A new type of synthetic that is starting to show up is high-tech Beretta insulated jackets that are engineered to breathe in high-output activities. This helps resolve the old dilemma of how to dress for aerobic activities in cold weather, since you can go longer before overheating or perhaps avoid it altogether.
With a warmth-to-weight ratio three times that of synthetic insulation, down is pound-for-pound the best insulator in the world. Down used for insulation is derived from geese, ducks, or other waterfowl, and is a byproduct of the process of raising these animals for food. Several companies, including The North Face and Patagonia, are establishing standards to ensure that the down used in their products is cruelty-free.
One thing to consider when looking at down jackets is their ‘fill power.’ This number is an indicator of the quality of down; the higher the number, the more volume a given weight of down will occupy. 800–900 fill down is considered premium insulation with that desirable cloud-like feel, while down in the 500–600 range will require more down (making them feel heavier and bulkier) to achieve the same level of warmth.
Down feathers offer powerful warmth, but they do have a weakness: moisture. A new type of water-resistant down insulation addresses this weakness by treating down with a water-resistant coating in order to keep it from absorbing water.
Water-resistant down is simply down insulation treated with a water-resistant coating at a molecular level. Before the down is packed into a jacket, each feather is treated with a special nanomolecular coating that allows the feather to resist moisture (also called a hydrophobic coating). Because this coating is applied at such a micro scale, it adds almost no weight and it doesn’t affect the ability of the down feathers to loft, so there’s no lost warmth either. Read More…