Changing Face Of Down Insulation

It’s been a perennial problem since outdoor types first braved their twin enemies of freezing cold and torrential rain.

How to balance the insulating warmth of a real down jacket with all-encompassing waterproof credentials has baffled technical experts for generations.

Down, by its very nature, cannot be waterproof – any waterproof fabric has to breathe, expelling moisture from the inside in the form of evaporation to banish the build-up of clammy, uncomfortable perspiration on the skin.

Cosy and comforting as it might be in the extreme cold, down has always had a – pardon the pun – downside in its inability to cope in damp conditions, famously becoming lumpy, soggy and unyielding when exposed to water.

Rab, specialists in down clothing and sleeping bags for over 30 years, have come up with – if not a solution – then at least a long-anticipated compromise to the age-old problem…and later this year we’ll all be able to see for ourselves the results of their latest technological breakthrough.

Starting with their 2013 autumn/winter collection, all Rab down insulation will be subject to a hydrophobic treatment to improve its performance in the damp.

Every down jacket and sleeping bag from the world’s undisputed authority on the subject will be treated to absorb less water, dry more quickly and be more weatherproof in general, without having any effect on its ability to ‘loft’ or adding any extra weight.

Code of Conduct

In another major announcement from the outdoor clothing and equipment specialists, Rab have announced their intention to ethically source their raw materials and abide by the European Down and Feather Institute’s code of conduct.

Following an outcry last year over the use by some companies of live birds – especially geese – being plucked to obtain the highest quality feathers, Rab have signed up to the institute’s Down Codex, which ensures that firms stipulate the place of origin of all down used in the manufacturing processes.

In a move designed to counter outspoken critics concerned about some of the methods employed within the industry, Rab will begin adhering to the new agreement later this year, allowing full traceability of their supply line starting with sleeping bags from next season, and with all their down clothing in the autumn.

Hand-plucking live birds is said to produce higher-quality feathers than those taken by mechanical means from slaughtered carcasses. Workers in parts of eastern Europe are said to go from farm to farm plucking live grey geese up to three times before the bird is killed for its meat.

Each goose provides up to 150 grams of feathers per plucking – about enough to fill a pillow. The feathers from three or four birds are needed to fill an average jacket.

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Nicki Williams writes for Gear-Zone, specialists in Rab clothing and equipment

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Picture source: Gear-Zone/Rab

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