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  1. #1
    Registered User linus72's Avatar
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    :banana The synthetic vs down debate continues…

    Im sure this topic has been beaten to death. Lord knows ive gone back and forth myself on it many times and still am clearly. I have 2 down jackets. One a very expensive light hoodie one. And one cheap department store one that’s got no hood but is still quite light and cost under $30. The weight difference between the two is negligible and so this topic is a matter of if I bring one of them instead of my synthetic.

    but while im mentioning both of them - the cheap one will fit under my raincoat better, and it won’t upset me if it gets trashed on the hike, ill still have my nicer one for town and dry day hikes... On the other hand im sure its not as warm. but again as I’d likely be using it just for around camp, I could add my raincoat to protect the down from rain when needed, and or to add warmth. I’ve already learned not to hike in down as you sweat right through it.

    But here’s the rub, and maybe I’ve already answered my own question above. Down is useless for warmth when it gets wet. I bought a nano puff a few years ago because of this (hoodless) which I adore. It’s a few ounces heavier than my down coats but as a synthetic there’s no risk of losing warmth if its wet. There are many times ive been caught out in it and it rained and I was glad I had it vs my down coats. I do look at the forecast so I do plan accordingly but you’re not always in control of the weather are you. So neither are the weather apps…

    I’m planning a multi-week to multi month A.T. hike in the spring and I am still conflicted on which jacket to bring. One of the down jackets (hood? No hood?) or the synthetic? I don’t care about 4 extra ounces for such a critical item. The synthetic has the added benefit of being able to hike in it in cold weather without sweating through enough that it loses insulation power. And keeping warm in camp without the raincoat if it starts to rain a bit and I still have camp chores to do.. I always have the raincoat. the down is a little lighter and compacts down much better than the nano puff in a pack. As I own all these already , im not inquiring what to buy, but what to bring.

    It’s never mattered so much before because ive never been out more than 3-4 days and I can manage in the worst case till I get home. This hike will be at least 3-4 weeks. In spring, either from springer nobo or HF nobo. Your advice is appreciated. Again sorry if this is a repeat topic.
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  2. #2
    Registered User linus72's Avatar
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    another reason i ask is pretty much EVERY thru hiker i've watched videos of, or read posts from, use down and not synthetic because of weight, so it makes me doubt the theory and experience i have that synthetic is better.
    Doin' the trail one section at a time
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    Hiking around here in the Alps and in the Middle East desert sure is different from the AT, but I usually bring both, a cheap synthetic (an old Fleece jacket) to hike in when ist chilly, and a down jacket just in case it really gets cold.
    The down jacket sits in the pack most of the time and serves as a perfect pillow over night, but there are times I would have got into serious troubles if I hadn't have it.
    The down jacket also serves as a double-up for the mid-weight sleeping bag if necessary.

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    Synthetic vs Down: I assume that anyone who uses a down coat also employs a rain jacket over it when it's wet outside. I certainly do, and don't find it too arduous. I think for those 4oz the convenience of not having to wear a raincoat over your insulating jacket is what you're getting. Whether that factor is worth the tradeoff for you would be the question.

    Cheap vs Expensive: I'm a big fan of using the crap out of my expensive gear. That's what I pay for! I wouldn't save my "better" jacket for town; I'm much more likely to have a crappy town jacket while using my good stuff for the more extreme circumstances.

    Hood vs No Hood: For me, I find that a hood offers so much more warmth-to-weight ratio than a hat, it's not even close for me. So long as it's a good hood -- one that I can wear and still have peripheral visibility and freedom of head movement. So I bring a very thin separate head covering (like a Buff), and use hoods for any real warmth.

    Sweating While Hiking: Something as thick as a down or equivalent synthetic jacket is not typically something I'd ever wear while hiking. I don't worry too much about dampening the insulation with evaporating perspiration because for me a layer that warm is typically reserved for sitting around camp in the evening. Maybe I run warm, but even in the dead of winter here in Oregon that would be too much for me to wear during heavy physical activity. If I were planning on hiking in temperatures cold enough to warrant insulation that extensive, I'd definitely go with not only something synthetic (or wool), but also something specially designed for ventilation during that activity. In the usual case, like Leo, I add a thin fleece layer while hiking if it's cold enough, and also carry the down jacket for camp.
    Last edited by Zalman; 12-19-2018 at 13:21.

  5. #5

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    When are you getting on the trail? Anytime after mid March, I'd probably lean towards the synthetic for personal use. All that said, you should also carefully evaluate how you've allowed down to get wet in the past and consider ways you could have avoided it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by linus72 View Post
    Down is useless for warmth when it gets wet.
    That's true for untreated down, but many down bags and jackets sold today are filled with down treated with a hydrophobic coating, so it can continue to insulate if wet.

    Your $30 jacket probably isn't, but your more expensive down jacket may be - check the specs.


    Quote Originally Posted by linus72 View Post
    another reason i ask is pretty much EVERY thru hiker i've watched videos of, or read posts from, use down and not synthetic because of weight, so it makes me doubt the theory and experience i have that synthetic is better.
    They're probably wearing a jacket with treated down.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by johnacraft View Post
    That's true for untreated down, but many down bags and jackets sold today are filled with down treated with a hydrophobic coating, so it can continue to insulate if wet.

    Your $30 jacket probably isn't, but your more expensive down jacket may be - check the specs.




    They're probably wearing a jacket with treated down.
    It's worth noting that the two companies with the most experience producing high end down products have continued to avoid treated down. I'm not sure what all their arguments are for and against, but they're clearly not sold on it yet.

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    Registered User linus72's Avatar
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    depends - either very late march, or mid-late april. still some determining factors that haven't been sorted yet. same goes with starting point. depending on a few things it will be either mid atlantic or springer which obviously makes a difference in temperatures due to altitude. by personal use do you mean keep the down for hiking at camp, and the synthetic for around town?

    yeah re allowing down to get wet thats how i learned quick not to hike in it but i did it because so many thrus i see still do it though when its cold. i guess i sweat more than some. i always have a fleece mid layer. i also have a houdini which i adore and weighs zilch but also seems superfluous with a fleece and a waterproof coat along.
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    By personal use, I meant that's how I do it myself as an individual decision. Sorry for the vague wording.

    If you're actually going to be hiking in it on a regular basis, I'd just use the synthetic. That late in the year I don't see a real advantage for down. It's great for warmth to weight ratio and static use (sleeping bags, for example). However, for active use you'll get a lot more functionality from a decent synthetic alternative.

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    Registered User linus72's Avatar
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    looks like our posts crossed and you already answered some of these for me, thanks, you're probably right about the treated down. but when i hiked in my coat on a cold day i sweated it out quick where my pack rested against my back.ill check if its treated. the coat is a wescomb cayush hoodie, been trying to sell it here but no luck... my pack is an exos 48. i think i would just hike in the fleece and my raincoat when cold (and a wool baselayer) and keep the down hoodie for camp. i do use a buff and a beanie as well when needed. usually the beanie is just for bed time and the buff is my head protection while hiking. my sleeping bag is a BA BootJack 24 which i think is warm enough with my long johns and insulated thermarest xlite. ive used it down to 20 before comfortably.
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    Registered User linus72's Avatar
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    ill keep the nano puff for skiing and town i think, and make sure to have a fleece ( i use the patagonia dual aspect) , raincoat (patagonia torrentshell), and my cayoosh in the bag for camp. ill leave home the cheap down coat and as much as i love it, the houdini, cause its not needed with all these things already along.
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  12. #12
    Registered User linus72's Avatar
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    Caleb - just saw your post when i finished writing my last. thanks for the suggestion. any other supporters of the synthetic over the down? the rest of the system will stay as is. raincoat and fleece...
    Doin' the trail one section at a time
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  13. #13
    Registered User linus72's Avatar
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    looking now at weights i see the nanopuff is actually only .9 oz heavier than the cayoosh, and stuffs into its own pocket... sure it doesn't have a hood but i have that covered
    Doin' the trail one section at a time
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  14. #14
    Registered User Just Bill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CalebJ View Post
    It's worth noting that the two companies with the most experience producing high end down products have continued to avoid treated down. I'm not sure what all their arguments are for and against, but they're clearly not sold on it yet.
    At best... one might argue that humidity creep might be addressed by treated down.
    I'd say I could go from didn't like it to 'can't hurt' at this point.

    Otherwise I still don't see any reports of folks treating treated down like synthetics when it counts.
    Quote Originally Posted by linus72 View Post
    ill keep the nano puff for skiing and town i think, and make sure to have a fleece ( i use the patagonia dual aspect) , raincoat (patagonia torrentshell), and my cayoosh in the bag for camp. ill leave home the cheap down coat and as much as i love it, the houdini, cause its not needed with all these things already along.
    Out east in three seasons... for any piece I would wear awake in any fashion I'm still a synthetic fan.
    Out west or in true winter (with careful monitoring of your sweat levels)... down is nice.
    Though I often still wear synthetic as a primary insulation layer with perhaps a puffy/vest over the top of that but under a shell.

    A good rule of thumb I still like:
    Whatever you choose for your primary insulation for sleeping (quilt, sleeping bag), choose the opposite or synthetic as a safety choice.

    So typical 20* down quilt... use synthetic as your insulation clothing.
    Wet trip in the middle of monsoon season... probably synthetic for both.

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    For serious cold weather in camp, none of the above. The Nano Puff lacks sufficient puff, as would down jackets lighter than it. Look around for a truly puffy layer (maybe a vest), with 3-5 ounces of good down. If you leave in mid April from say, Harpers Ferry, it won't matter so much.
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  16. #16
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    Personally, for use on the AT, I prefer synthetic. It is almost always damp while I am out and don't mind the extra bit of weight for the benefit of the synthetic. Additionally, using my rain layer over it if needed in camp has never been an issue.
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  17. #17
    Registered User Just Bill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by linus72 View Post
    Caleb - just saw your post when i finished writing my last. thanks for the suggestion. any other supporters of the synthetic over the down? the rest of the system will stay as is. raincoat and fleece...
    Quote Originally Posted by linus72 View Post
    looking now at weights i see the nanopuff is actually only .9 oz heavier than the cayoosh, and stuffs into its own pocket... sure it doesn't have a hood but i have that covered
    A thought to ponder...

    While many think of synthetic insulation as a down alternative... where it actually fits in more realistically for LD hiking is as a fleece alternative.

    A primaloft piece is often lighter and more versatile than the old 100wt, 200wt, or even Cap 4 (thermal weight grid fleece).

    Point being... a synthetic vest as that baselayer insulation with a down pufffy for camp is not a bad combo. Just make sure you size things for layering.
    This also gives you a synthetic insulation piece you can wear under your rainshell without having to freak out if you sweat a little too much on the 100' stretch of climbing as you're up on a ridge or as you warm up in the morning.

    A down 'stop piece' where you can instantly pile on 10-20* of warmth is nice.
    But so is a movement piece of insulation and often a synthetic jacket better does that job these days than a fleece.

    I'm a huge fan of the nano-air synthetic for this use and wear a nano-air vest nearly every day when it's cooler. It self regulates better than down, breathes very well when worn as an outer piece, and insulates great under a shell.

    The other plus with synthetics may be style... I do still build a fire or occasionally walk through some brush.
    I have yet to cry or dig frantically for the repair kit when a spark or snag hits my synthetic pieces.
    Nor have I yet found an 'empty chamber' in a synthetic when a tear went unnoticed.

    Usually the bottom line for me:

    Use/Abuse/Beat your synthetic when you're awake.
    Save/protect/Baby your down when you're asleep.

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    I can't imagine hiking in a puffy. That's a mistake if epic proportions unless it's subzero temps with a wind. Puffys are for when you aren't hiking. I've not cared if it was synthetic or down, as long as it was light and warm.

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    Registered User linus72's Avatar
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    thats why it always suprises me when i see people hiking in them. it sure didnt work out for me! thanks all. all good info, keep it comin
    Doin' the trail one section at a time
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    OK..1st there is no such thing as warm when wet unless you're wearing a neoprene wet suit. It's just physics. Water will conduct the heat away from your body. What most people are concerned with is ambient humidity. To combat this most newer down jackets have down that is treated to be water resistant. These jackets are just as, if not warmer than synthetic jackets under the same conditions. The one advantage to synthetic is in the case of a total soaking for example if it was submerged in a creek or left out in the rain. In either of those events synthetic insulation would be easier to dry out and restore the loft. Overall, down has better loft that lasts longer, it's lighter, and compresses better. If you're concerned about sweat while wearing down, just take it off when you're hiking, wear a fleece and maybe a wind breaker or rain jacket.

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