Wednesday 16 December 2015

Down or synthetic in the wet?

A recent discussion on Twitter instigated by polar explorer Alex Hibbert (@alexhibbert) who asked 'when looking for a warm jacket, do you opt for goose down or new synthetic fills? and why' reminded me of a brief test I did at the beginning of the year for The Great Outdoors comparing hydrophobic down, Primaloft down blend and Polartec Alpha synthetic insulation. Here it is.


Water-repellent down, synthetic insulation and the new Primaloft down blend are all meant to work well in damp conditions and to dry quickly when wet. Just how water-resistant are they though? And how do they compare? I’ve used all three in the rain and found they keep their loft well and dry fairly quickly. None are waterproof of course, unless they have a taped waterproof shell, so you’ll still get wet inside if you’re out in the rain for long.

To do a rough comparison test I hung three jackets in turn in the shower and ran the water for ten minutes, ensuring that the whole garment, inside and out, got wet. I weighed the jackets before and after the soaking to see how much moisture they held and again after six hours hanging in a dry room at a temperature of 15°C to see how quickly they were drying.

Before detailing my results here are my general findings and conclusions. All three garments kept much of their loft and so would still keep you reasonably warm when wet. All three also dried fairly quickly – and would dry more quickly if worn as body heat would then help. Overall I’d be happy to wear any of these garments in wet conditions.

The three jackets were the 352 gram Berghaus Furnace III filled with Hydrodown, the 448 gram Black Diamond Hot Forge Hoody filled with Primaloft Gold Down Blend and the 434 gram Rab Strata filled with Polartec Alpha synthetic insulation. The Furnace weighed 650 grams after the shower, the Hot Forge Hoody 1060 grams and the Strata 960 grams.  After six hours drying the Furnace weighed 375 grams, the Hot Forge Hoody 560 grams and the Strata 526 grams. The difference in water take-up and drying time is partly to do with the shell and lining fabrics but even so I was surprised by the results. I had assumed the down jacket would absorb the most water in relation to its weight and the synthetic jacket the least. I also assumed the synthetic jacket would dry fastest. I stress though that this was only one test of three specific garments. Overall though the Hydrodown performance is impressive.


  1. Chris, would you say a conventional down jacket such as my PHD Waferlite smock washed in Nikwax Down wash/Down Proof would approach the same water resistance of the jackets you tested? Although because of the thin fabric of the PHD I'd only wear it under a shell when wearing a pack, but for rest stops without a shell? Campwear etc.?

  2. I have the Berghaus furnace and it is so warm even when soaking wet. A great coat and even after 12 months of use still looks good as new, It's also had a few scrapes but has stood up to it well with no rips to report. Some good deals on them at the moment I've seen then as low as £140 new which is great value. And a lot less than I paid typical :)