Why everyone suggests it is best to go DOWN!
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
The rationale behind down feather jackets is that they are the ‘be all end all’ in very cold weather conditions.
4Play aims to create awareness about the best practices, specific to the Indian outdoors. And enable you to step out with confidence. By making accessible an ocean of empirical knowledge gathered by the Indian Bear Grylls – Pranav Rawat himself.
Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Pranav’s various immersions in the trekking arena ranging from conquering high altitude passes to summiting seven thousand meter peak helped us understand, the role clothing plays in keeping one warm on a high altitude trek. Inquiring particularly about the importance of down jackets, he was quick to respond.
“It is advisable to opt for layered clothing. While trekking, our bodies heat up which in turn causes sweating. Now, you don’t want to retain all that moisture because when the sun goes down or you enter a shaded area, the very same retained sweat could make you very cold, increasing your chances of falling sick drastically,”.
Hence, we learnt that breathability is as important as preservation of heat. And layering helps here a lot. He recommends that when attaining higher altitudes where temperatures often drop below zero, one chooses the first two layers in the form of nylon and full sleeved shirt followed by a fleece jacket. The last layer should be a good down jacket if one is out climbing or trekking rigorously.
What is a Down Jacket and what is down fill power?
It is an insulated jacket with warm, soft under feathers that create hundreds of small air pockets to trap warmth and retain heat. Down fill power, a measure of the ‘fluffiness’ of down, is an indication of its insulating property. If the fill power is higher, the down has more air pockets and therefore, higher is the insulating capability of the jacket compared to its weight. High down fill power indicates light weight and high compressibility which are great for high altitude trekking.
How is a down jacket better than a synthetic insulating jacket?
In several ways. Firstly, it has better heat retention capacity than synthetic insulators. Secondly, it has a better heat to weight ratio which can be really helpful when packing and carrying your own stuff on long treks. Also, it can be compressed and stored in a smaller pack thereby occupying lesser space. However, it has a few cons too. It loses its ability to insulate when wet and takes a longer time to dry out. They are also more expensive than synthetic insulating jacket.
Are down jackets waterproof?
Often a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating on down jackets does offer a little resistance against rain. But you should know for sure if the shell has been designed for water resistance or not. Exteriors of Gore-Tex grade are a great feature of down jackets. A membrane of waterproof and breathable fabric can help repel liquids but will allow water vapour from inside to pass through it helping in breathability.
“Resistance against wind and water is critical if the intended use is pursuit of outdoor activities. Here synthetic fleece, lined soft or hard shell jackets score considerably more against down jackets. Also, during camping, one can feel very cold in the mountains and hard shell jackets can come handy,” informs Pranav.
Ok, so I understand that I should get one but what I must look for in a down jacket?
In addition to the quality of the material used in constructing the insulating layer of a jacket, the shell fabric, its key features, fit and finish and style should also get factored in your decision. The two most commonly used materials which form the outer layers of a down jacket are nylon and polyester. These are durable and have an ability to withstand harsh outdoor condition. Their robust construction doesn’t let them get torn with an occasional scuff on a rock edge or a prickly little thorn.
One should inspect that no feathers are slipping out of jacket, in case they do, then the material isn’t sturdy enough to retain the feathers inside. Compress the jacket repeatedly to be absolutely sure of this. Hoods and cuffs are also helpful in sealing off warm air inside adding utility to the jacket. Since down isn’t a natural water resistant, try to invest in a down jacket which has an extra lamination on the outside. This will increase its ability to keep out water.
Pranav concludes, “They might not seem very significant but the outer shell and the lining of a down jacket tend to have a considerable effect on its weight, durability, warmth and wind-water resistance. These factors are of key importance in the mountains.”
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How tough are down jackets?
Not very. This is because their intended use isn’t meant for roughing them in the outdoors. Most down jackets are as light as possible since they use super light and super thin fabric. A small shrub on a rock will tear them off and result in the feathers to pop out. These should be ideally worn under a more robust water and wind resistant layer.
Pranav also suggests down jackets as a great buy for everyday usage. Casual travelers too can benefit from down jacket because of its lightweight and high comprehensibility, making it very easy to pack. One can always add a dedicated layer of synthetic windproof jacket when heading to very cold regions.
If you have experienced the umpteen benefits of a down jacket or have suffered on ground due to their shortcomings, do tell us below.
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Author: Pranav Manocha
Pranav is a Nepal earthquake survivor with a flair for marketing. Beginning with a Quote T-Shirt business with a school friend after grade 12, he did his graduation in Literature from the University of Delhi. In his free time he loves reading Camus, trail riding and skinny dipping in rivulets around Manali.