Differences between down and PrimaLoft
Let’s start with the obvious: we’re comparing a synthetic material (PrimaLoft) to a natural one (Down, made of feathers.) This is a key factor since there is a lot of synthetic material used for camping these days.
PrimaLoft is a synthetic material that was actually created for the U.S. Army back in 1983. Part of this challenge was due to goose down insulation’s characteristic of not dealing well with water.
However, there’s much more to this comparison than just water resistance. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have much of an article on our hands! Let’s get into the sticking points of insulation to make the right decision for you. Things like warmth, breathability, maintenance, and more!
Warmth – how does insulation compare?
When it comes to warmth, down is the hands-down winner. The reason is because of its capability to trap heat with minimal material. It’s not overly bulky and still gets the job done. Primaloft insulation can leave a bit to be desired here sometimes. That being said, there are two primary types of down to look out for.
Duck down and goose down. Goose down is superior quality to duck down, so naturally, it’s more expensive. It offers superior insulation with softer feathers and better expandability. Down’s capabilities are measured in a unit called fill power.
Basically, the higher the fill power, the more space down can expand without weighing you down. The video below explains it well:
However, PrimaLoft can be every bit as warm as down. Depending on how much is in the jacket and what kind of outer material it is, it comes very close. But with one big downside: it’s heavier and also doesn’t compress well which we’ll get into below.
This one might seem obvious at first glance with PrimaLoft being designed specifically to be hydrophobic. However, that’s if you don’t take hydrophobic down into consideration.
Hydrophobic down is simply down feathers that have been treated with a water-resistant solution. If we were comparing regular down, it wouldn’t even be close. I would still give PrimaLoft a slight edge here, but it’s a small one.
PrimaLoft is much harder to get soaked because of it being made from Polyester and won’t lose its insulating qualities.
It’s also worth mentioning that hydrophobic down is also easier to maintain because it clumps less.
Both of these materials are excellent when it comes to breathability. You can’t really go wrong between the two, but it’s important to remember that they are just the fill. The outer material of the jackets will also affect the ability for air to pass through.
It’s important to consider that insulation isn’t just affected by the inner part of the jacket, but all the materials used.
This category is a tie – both materials are very breathable and as mentioned above won’t be the deciding factor in how well a sleeping bag or jacket breathes.
Usage and Longevity
This is where both materials really diverge. The first thing I want to cover is the usage of the two. What I mean by that, is how you have to treat them to keep them at peak performance – things like storage, washing, etc.
In that category, PrimaLoft is an easy one to pick as the favorite. Being a polyester material means it’s resistant to things like mildew, will dry more evenly, and just be more simple. Down on the other hand tends to clump together, and requires more care to wash and dry properly.
That being said, when it comes to longevity, down is likely to come out on top. That’s not to say that a nice PrimaLoft jacket can’t last a long time, but down jackets are often made of superior materials. If you’re willing to take care of a down jacket properly, that’s the way to go if you’re looking for a long term buy.
Compression and Loft
It isn’t close when it comes to this. Down naturally compresses and expands easily, which aids in providing more warmth. PrimaLoft on the other hand has to compensate by being bulkier to provide the same amount of warmth. This is especially noticeable when you get to the higher fill power down around 700.
If you’re being active or doing winter sports where you need flexibility, down is a natural choice. No one wants to feel stiff out on the ski slopes or hiking in difficult terrain! I can’t stand being restrained by my clothing when I’m outside, even if it’s warm weather.
So which one comes out on top, Down or PrimaLoft?
As with any gear purchase, it’s going to depend on the conditions you’re expecting and your budget. Down jackets are fantastic for dry, harsh cold weather, but typically will come with a higher price tag due to the materials involved.
PrimaLoft excels in wetter conditions but may tend to be a bit bulkier than down. It’s typically cheaper though which is an excellent compromise if you don’t need an extreme jacket. Or you don’t want to worry too much about maintenance.
You’d be hard-pressed to go wrong with either type of insulation, really. It’s key to remember that the other materials are also important in considering a jacket’s insulation properties. The best fill in the world doesn’t matter if the material on the outside is cheap or poorly constructed.
I’m very interested in hearing about the materials you prefer when you’re out adventuring. Leave a comment below if you have a trusty jacket that has served you well over the years!