Down feather

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What‘s a down?

Down are small, very soft feathers. In most bird species, they grow under the visible feathers as an undergarment, ensuring optimum isolation of the bird from heat and cold.

feather vs down
feather vs down

Properties

Advantages
  • flexible: Down is extremely elastic – (nearly) no matter how much you compress down, they quickly unfold and find their way back to their original shape.
  • light: Down is a real leader in terms of weight – no other feather is that light.
  • three-dimensional: Unlike traditional feathers, down is three-dimensional. The small feather branches are arranged on the feather keel radiate in all directions. With this design, the down can store much more air and can, therefore, isolate better.
  • durable: Provided the right care, down (products) are very durable.
  • ecological: Feathers are products of nature and therefore ecologically harmless. However, there are some criticisms regarding the procurement of down.
Disadvantage
  • susceptible to moisture: Down is relatively sensitive to moisture and wetness. If the soft feathers get wet, they lump, lose their three-dimensional structure and thus their ability to isolate. The down does not break but takes a long time to dry again compared to synthetic fibers.

Due to their natural properties, down are almost perfect fillers for jackets, bedding and sleeping bags.

Down as filling material

The fillings used are the down of geese or ducks. Geese down are a bit higher quality because they isolate better.

The absolute super-down (the finest, lightest… and by far the most expensive) comes from the eider duck. Since the duck species is under protection, the animals must not be plucked. The downs are instead collected by hand from the nests of the animals – of course, after the end of the breeding season. A huge effort! No surprise then that you will rarely find the eiderdown and if so, then for lots of money – a good keyword: how much does a “normal” down product actually cost?

Price

High-quality down, which come from fair animal husbandry, are available only in limited quantities. For this reason, down products often have high prices compared to synthetic fiber products. In the long run, however, the price difference becomes less important: down products are much more durable than synthetic fiber products.

What you should consider when buying down products

You want to buy a down jacket or a down sleeping bag? Then you should pay attention to the following aspects, which give you hints on the quality and insulation capacity of the down.

  • Fill power: The fill power describes the ability of the down after compression to come back to their original, bulky form. A high fill power ensures better insulation. The unit of measure is cuin. To determine how much cuin a material has, one ounce (about 28.35 g) of insulation material is compressed for 24 hours. Then the volume to which the material expands after compression is measured. One cuin corresponds to around 16 cubic centimeters.

The higher the cuin value, the higher the fill power, the better the insulation.

  • Filling quantity: The filling quantity indicates how much down was processed in the product. The filling quantity is given in grams. The amount of down decides (as well as the fill power) on the isolation of the product.

The more down, the warmer the product.

  • Ratio down to feathers: To give the small and puffy down more stability, each down filling is provided with a certain proportion of normal feathers. These are usually from the upper plumage of ducks. The so-called mixing ratio tells you how much of which type of spring has been processed. A jacket with 100g filling and a mixing ratio of 95/5 that would mean that 95g down and 5g feathers are processed.

The rule is that classic feathers are heavier and have a lower insulation capacity than down. Consequently, a higher down percentage means more quality. A certain proportion of feathers (optimally around 5%) the product should have to stabilize the down.

Care

Because down is susceptibility to moisture and salt crystals your sleeping bag or jacket shouldn’t get in contact with much sweat. For the nights in the down sleeping bag, it is recommended to use an inlet. It protects the sleeping bag against night sweat (and makes the night in the sleeping bag even warmer).

  • Store: Down jackets and sleeping bags should not be stored crumpled. If the downs are compressed over a long period, they lose their fill power. For sleeping bags, you usually get a larger mesh bag when buying, in which the sleeping bag can be stored fluffy and airy.
  • Wash and dry: 
    • Version 1: Put the sleeping bag or jacket with down detergent in the bath and rinse well (preferably several times).
      The problem: if the sleeping bag or jacket is full of water they are very heavy. In addition, drying takes a long time (over several days).
      The wet textile should not be hung! It is best to spread the sleeping bag or jacket on a drying rack and shake it up regularly so that the down does not clump.
    • Version 2: The sleeping bag with down detergent at a gentle program and maximal 30 degrees. The washing drum should be at least 6kg. Generally, the bigger, the better. If your washing machine is too small, we recommend a laundromat – there are large machines available. In addition, you can give tennis balls in the washing machine. They ensure more movement in the drum.
      The advantage of the washing machine: the sleeping bag is cleaner than with the hand wash and is not so wet afterward. When drying, please make sure not to hang up the sleeping bag but to lay and regularly to turn or shake. Drying in the dryer:
      If you want to save the long drying time you can dry the sleeping bag in the dryer.

Very important: only use down detergents. Conventional detergent damages the natural fats of the downside irreparably.

Good to know

What is waterproof down?

Down is quite vulnerable to moisture. In order to get down products more resistant, the downs are treated with a special impregnating substance before filling, which makes the small feathers water-repellent. However, the impregnation does not offer 100% protection against moisture.

Why are down products quilted?

So that the down in your jacket or sleeping bag does not move, these are divided into chambers. The chambers hold the down in the right place to keep all body parts warm. Normally, the seams of the chambers are quilted. In order to prevent the penetration of cold at these weak points (cold bridges), high-quality models have overlapping chambers. Alternatively, some manufacturers provide the inside of the products with an additional layer of fabric.

criticism

The extraction of down for jackets, bedding or sleeping bags is quite controversial. In general, animal rights activists criticize the housing conditions of the animals, which grow mainly in factory farming or – even worse. In some cases, the birds are force-fed with a mixture of corn and lard. The fatty mass is pumped through a tube directly into the stomach. As a result, the liver of the animals grows abnormally large and brings a rich profit after slaughter. In Europe, this is virtually prohibited everywhere. Nevertheless, the import from such a fattening farm is legal – the same goes for the down of animals …

In addition to the housing conditions, the extraction of down itself is in the criticism. Differences are made between live plucking and dead plucking. In the dead plucking, the animals are already slaughtered and are further processed after the plucking as food. This type of down is mainly practiced. Live plucking means that the animals are plucked alive, mostly independent of the moulting period. This process is associated with tremendous stress and pain for the birds.

How do I recognize down from fair conditions?

A difficult matter! Many manufacturers have committed to processing only “good” down in their products and have developed their own standards and certificates.

Since 2015, there is also the Global Traceable Down Standard (Global TDS).

This is to ensure that the down does not come from animals from a fattening farm or were not plucked alive. In addition to the unannounced inspections of the production sites, the living conditions of the parent animals are also examined. This makes the Global Traceable Down Standard the most stringent standard there is. But is the data really true? … Critics and supporters of Global TDS discuss the issue controversially.

By the way, the same applies to the same or even greater extent to other “official” certificates and standards, such as the Responsible Down Standard (RDS).

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