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Hydrophobic down and synthetic insulation are both used in outdoor gear. These include jackets, sleeping bags, and gloves, to provide warmth in cold and wet conditions. However, there are some differences between the two:


Hydrophobic down is made from the soft, fluffy feathers of ducks or geese. More specifically, it is the undercoating of the birds’ feathers. It consists of clusters of down filaments. These clusters have a three-dimensional structure. It allows them to trap more air and create more insulating pockets than synthetic fibers. This results in a higher warmth-to-weight ratio.

The quality of the down is determined by its fill power. It is a measure of the loft or fluffiness of the down clusters. The higher the fill power, the greater the insulating ability of the down. The fill power can range from around 450 to 900 in premium down products.

To make the down hydrophobic, the down clusters are treated with a water-repellent coating. It is usually made of a fluorocarbon-based material. The coating helps to prevent the down from absorbing water, which can cause it to clump together, lose its loft, and reduce its insulating properties.

Synthetic insulation, on the other hand, is a type of insulation material that is made from man-made fibers. It includes polyester, nylon, or rayon. These fibers are designed to mimic the insulating properties of natural materials like down, but with added benefits such as water resistance and durability.

There are several types of synthetic insulation available, each with its own unique properties. Some common types of synthetic insulation include:

Continuous filament: This type of insulation is made from long, continuous fibers that are woven together to create a sheet of insulation material. It is lightweight, durable, and compressible, making it a popular choice for backpacking and other outdoor activities.

Short staple: This type of insulation is made from shorter fibers that are blended together to create a fluffy, insulating material. It is soft, warm, and compressible, and is often used in jackets and other clothing.

Hollow fiber: This type of insulation is made from fibers that are hollow in the center, which creates pockets of air that trap warmth. It is lightweight, compressible, and water-resistant, and is often used in sleeping bags and other camping gear.

Synthetic insulation is often preferred over natural materials like down for several reasons. It is typically less expensive, easier to care for, and more resistant to moisture, making it a better choice for wet conditions. Additionally, synthetic insulation is often made from recycled materials, which makes it a more sustainable option. However, it does not have the same warmth-to-weight ratio as natural materials, and can sometimes be less breathable.

Warmth-to-weight ratio

The warmth-to-weight ratio is a measure of how much warmth a material can provide relative to its weight. In outdoor gear, such as jackets and sleeping bags, a high warmth-to-weight ratio is desirable because it means that the gear can provide a lot of warmth without being too heavy or bulky.

Hydrophobic down has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than synthetic insulation. This is because the clusters of down filaments have a three-dimensional structure that allows them to trap more air and create more insulating pockets than synthetic fibers. This results in a higher warmth-to-weight ratio, meaning that hydrophobic down can provide more warmth for less weight than synthetic insulation.

In contrast, synthetic insulation is made from man-made fibers that do not have the same three-dimensional structure as down. This means that synthetic insulation is typically bulkier and heavier than down for the same level of warmth. However, advances in synthetic insulation technology have led to the development of lighter and more compressible synthetic materials that are closer in warmth-to-weight ratio to down than ever before.

Water resistance

Water resistance is an important factor to consider when choosing outdoor gear, particularly in wet or damp conditions. Hydrophobic down and synthetic insulation have different levels of water resistance, which can impact their performance in wet conditions.

Hydrophobic down is treated with a water-repellent coating that helps to prevent it from absorbing water. This coating is typically made of a fluorocarbon-based material that creates a barrier on the surface of the down fibers. While hydrophobic down is not completely waterproof, it is more resistant to water than untreated down.

In contrast, synthetic insulation is naturally water-resistant because the fibers do not absorb water in the same way as down. The fibers are often coated with a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish that helps to shed water and prevent the insulation from becoming saturated.

In wet conditions, synthetic insulation is generally a more reliable choice because it retains its insulating properties when wet. Hydrophobic down can lose its loft and insulating properties when exposed to moisture, which can impact its warmth-to-weight ratio. However, advances in hydrophobic down technology have led to the development of down that is more resistant to moisture, making it a better choice for damp conditions.


Hydrophobic down is a natural material that can be prone to clumping and losing its loft over time. It is also susceptible to damage from moisture and compression, which can cause the fibers to break down and lose their insulating properties. However, advances in hydrophobic down technology, such as the use of stronger fibers and better water-repellent coatings, have improved its durability in recent years.

Synthetic insulation is generally more durable than hydrophobic down. Because the fibers are made of man-made materials that are more resistant to wear and tear. The fibers are often designed to withstand repeated compression and stretching. It helps to maintain their loft and insulating properties over time. Additionally, synthetic insulation is naturally more resistant to moisture, which can help to prevent damage from mold and mildew.


Hydrophobic down is generally more expensive than synthetic insulation due to its high-quality and natural properties. Down is a premium material that requires special processing to create the clusters of filaments that provide its insulating properties. Additionally, the hydrophobic treatment adds an extra cost to the manufacturing process.

Synthetic insulation is generally less expensive than hydrophobic down because it is made from man-made materials that are easier to produce. The manufacturing process is also less complex than the process used to produce hydrophobic down, which contributes to its lower cost.

However, the cost of synthetic insulation can vary depending on the quality of the material. Higher-quality synthetic materials, such as those used in high-performance gear, can be more expensive than lower-quality synthetics.