Insulation is used in winter jackets for many different reasons. Each company uses a specific type of insulation to achieve their goals while staying within the confines of the price point they are trying to hit with their jacket. This article will list some common types of insulation typically found in winter jackets and what each is best suited for.
When you find yourself caught up in the cold, there are really only two things that can save you: an insulated winter jacket or an air-tight plastic bag. Even then, the air-tight plastic bag only buys you about half an hour to 45 minutes at best before carbon dioxide builds up and starts robbing heat from your body faster than you’re generating it through shivering (which actually isn’t very much).
Insulation, simply put, is a material used to trap air and hold it against a surface. This traps heat between the warm surface and the cool air inside the insulation. The trapped air forms a barrier that slows down the transfer of heat from one side to another. In winter jackets, insulation is often crammed into every nook and cranny possible in order to maximize the amount of trapped air.
Unfortunately for us, most types of insulation do not play nice with water or moisture, especially when that moisture freezes –which makes sense because we live in different degrees below zero where freezing is always a risk. If the insulation does become wet enough to freeze it can lose virtually all insulating capability since each trapped pocket of air becomes its own little ice bean.
Any of the following insulation types can become compromised and lose their ability to insulate if they get wet enough:
Typically, down has a reputation as the best, most efficient insulation material available. That is true if it remains dry. When down gets wet it clumps together and becomes inefficient. If you find yourself caught in a wet snowstorm down might be your only option, but make sure to seek shelter as soon as possible afterward because once those little ice beans start forming you’ll quickly lose whatever heat you generated through shivering.
2. Polyester batting
Batting is found inside many winter jackets from budget models all the way up to high-end Canada Goose parkas. Batting works by trapping a layer of air between two sheets of material. In order to get the maximum amount of insulation from batting, there needs to be a lot of it stuffed into the jacket. Unfortunately, that often makes batting jackets feel bulky and stiff compared to other types listed here.
Some winter jackets opt for a textured pattern that traps small pockets of air against your body in order to achieve insulation. Fleece is a great example of a textured insulator that many brands use in their men’s winter coats and women’s Canada Goose parka collection. The little bumps on fleece help trap warm air while you’re running around town or snowshoeing up a mountain peak.
4. Down Alternative
It might sound like a contradiction, but down insulation can also come in an “alternative” variety. The big difference is the alternative variety uses an artificial fiber instead of natural feathers; it still aims to retain heat by trapping air, but it isn’t as efficient or effective as its natural counterpart. Brands use down alternatives for jackets that are trying to hit cheaper price points without sacrificing warmth. It’s not quite as good at retaining heat, but it’s much better than nothing.
5. Duck Down
When you hear the word duck what do you think of? Your mind immediately goes to quacking and water wings. Well, we’ve got news for you: ducks actually make pretty great insulation material. They might not be quite as efficient at trapping air, but they are still pretty good at it—especially when compared to other types of jacket insulation options. If you’re in the market for a budget winter jacket, look out for duck-down insulation because it tends to be found on budget models that cut costs in any way possible.
6. PBI Fiber
Though not technically considered “down,” PBI (short for polybenzimidazole) is actually even more effective than down when it comes to retaining heat by trapping pockets of air against your body. The main reason North Face stopped using this type of insulation is that when exposed to water or ice it can trigger chemical reactions in order to protect itself… which often means releasing an irritating and smelly gas. Now, North Face has found a way around this problem by using an encapsulation process that protects the insulation from water and ice; but as we mentioned before, any type of insulation does not play well with moisture (unless it’s a down alternative). You can click here to check out some of their best jackets and parkas.
Many winter jackets make use of several different types of insulation in order to build one jacket. It might seem like overkill at first glance, but there’s a method behind the madness: if you were to pick just one insulating material and put it in every single part of the jacket, you’d end up with a heavy and bulky winter coat. By layering two or even three different types of insulation (the outer layer makes use of duck down while the inner lining might make use of polyester batting), brands can make a much lighter and more efficient jacket that still keeps you warm as an oven.
We hope this article has given you a good idea of what type of insulation works best for you. In case you’re not sure how insulation works, here’s a quick refresher: the more insulation there is stuffed into your winter coat, the warmer it will keep you. The downside to stuffing a jacket with a lot of insulation is that it often makes the jacket feel bulky and stiff.
Textile insulation is a good compromise between making the coat look sleek with retaining heat. Down insulation is great at trapping air, which is why it’s so popular in winter jackets, but there are drawbacks to using natural down—it can be expensive, it has a tendency to attract water even if it’s treated to be water-resistant, it often has a smell that lingers even after being washed, and it can lose its warmth-trapping ability when the feathers clump together.