Natural vs Synthetic Insulation

Trail TalkNick DeWald and Nathan Schutte
Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


Insulation often plays a vital role in enjoying the outdoors, whether in the form of quilts, sleeping bags, jackets or other clothing. 

There are a few different types of insulation to choose from when making an outdoor gear purchase, but the two most common choices are: natural (goose/ duck down) and synthetic (Climashield/ Apex). 

Both of these insulators have a slew of pros and cons and it is our goal to help you identify which choice best suits your needs.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, it would be beneficial to define exactly what “down” and “Apex” insulations are. 

Down is a natural insulator that originates from ducks and geese. This “down” lies under their feathers and allows them to keep warm in extreme circumstances.

Apex is a manmade continuous filament insulation, which means it is all one piece. You can picture Apex insulation as a thick piece of fabric that can be cut to shape (whereas down is a loose, fluffy insulation that needs to be contained in chambers). 

 


Weight

Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


The first huge advantage of down is that it has an unrivaled warmth to weight ratio. If you want the most warmth with the least weight, there is no better option, period. That is why down is used in most high-end ultralight quilts and sleeping bags.



Compressibility 

Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


The second advantage of down is that it compresses much better than Apex. This means that your quilt or sleeping bag will take up less space in your pack, which means you can get away with a smaller (i.e. lighter) pack — or conversely, use the space savings for a few extra luxury items.  



Water

Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


Apex performs better than down in wet/ humid/ damp conditions because it still insulates when wet. Down, on the other hand, does not trap warmth when wet, because the down clusters have no ability to fluff up and trap warm air. There are water-resistant coatings available for down, which helps shed water — a definite improvement but not still not fully waterproof. This is why most hikers will choose something like an Enlightened Equipment Torrid jacket for hikes on the East Coast, where it gets humid.


 

Cost

Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


Another thing to consider is how much each of these insulators cost. Down is by far more expensive than Apex insulation. For hikers on a budget, or those who only get out occasionally, we recommend Apex insulation.

 


Make Your Own Gear (MYOG)

Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


Let's be honest MYOG fam, Apex is much easier to work with. This makes the whole sewing process a little less daunting. With down, you need to measure out the chambers and sew baffles in. Then you have to stuff the fluffy stuff into the chambers, which can be fun but isn’t always the easiest task. Apex, on the other hand, is extremely easy. You simply cut it to the dimensions you need and you’re done. That said, in our opinion, down projects are well worth the extra effort. 


 

Longevity

Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


In theory, with proper storage and care, down can last a lifetime. This means: storing uncompressed, washing when oily, drying properly, etc. On the other hand, Apex has a shorter life span. With heavy use without proper laundering (think a thru-hike), Apex will
slowly begin to compress and lose its ability to trap warmth. With down, when you notice that it is clumping up, or doesn’t look as fluffy as it did, a good washing restores it to “like new” condition.  


 

Sourcing 

Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


While both insulators have environmental footprints, for those looking for a vegan product, synthetic is the clear choice. 




Temperature Rating

Down vs Apex Natural vs Sythentic Insulation Pros and Cons Sleeping Bags Jackets Quilts Backpacking Gear


Determining the temperature rating of Apex can be a headache, with differing standards among manufacturers. With down, the temperature rating is easily determined by the loft of the product. For more on this topic, feel free to reference our previous article, “The Lowdown on Down.”

 

Bottom Line

To wrap this thing up, both types of insulation are great choices. When used correctly, both can keep you warm and toasty in the backcountry, and make your trips more enjoyable.

Leave a comment below and let us know where you weigh in on this never-ending debate! 

 

Hi, we’re Nick DeWald and Nathan Schutte. As DIY / MYOG enthusiasts, we noticed the biggest downfall of making your own gear can often be the daunting costs of materials. This is exactly why we started Loose Goose. To empower DIY enthusiasts to explore their full potential by offering high-quality down at an affordable price. Learn more and check us out >>> https://www.loosegoosedownsupply.com/

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1 comment

Kim Kremer

Kim Kremer

Another consideration – disposal. Down will biodegrade. What becomes of synthetic insulation?

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