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Ever wonder where those fluffy white feathers that keep you warm all winter come from? Well, that’s a tough question to answer. Lucky for us, there are ethically responsible, dedicated and transparent companies like ALLIED Feather & Down. ALLIED supplies down for The North Face, Patagonia and others, and is working hard on a Responsible Down Standard for companies all over the world to follow.

Thinking about buying down for yourself this winter? Take a read through these tips and pointers to learn about the production, sourcing, and the technology behind down before you buy. -ML

Is higher fill power better? All things being equal, higher fill power down is warmer because it can trap more air (higher fill power corresponds to larger down clusters). However, heavier weight fabrics will compress a higher fill power down, removing the loft and, thereby, its ability to insulate. For these applications, a 700 fill power down works better and costs less than a 900 fill power down.

Does baffle size determine which down is best? Using a higher fill power down in small baffles can be a waste of money. If the down cluster is too big, it will be compressed and not be able to do its job as it is put into the jacket. Again, a lower fill power will work better with smaller baffles and save money for all involved.

Is all down the same? Processing has a lot to do with the quality of the finished product. It’s easiest and most cost-effective to wash down with harsh detergents and dry it quickly with high heat. This processing method, however, will remove most of the natural oils found in down that keeps it pliable and resilient. If the down loses too much of its natural oil, it becomes brittle and will break down quickly in a jacket or sleeping bag, reducing performance and useful lifespan. ALLIED, for example, prides itself on processing down in such a way as to maximize its longevity and performance and, therefore, its value.

Down is not a feather. Down clusters are three-dimensional spheres as opposed to a basically two-dimensional feather. Because they are three dimensional, down is able to create dead air space which is very effective at trapping heat. Feathers are unable to do this. They do, however, provide protection for down the same way a waterproof shell will protect the down in your jacket, and provide overall fill and comfort in your garment or bag.

Goose down is not necessarily better than duck down. Both geese and ducks have down plumes and the original wisdom was that goose down is a superior product. While geese, which are larger animals than ducks, create larger plumes, fill power is fill power, and 700 fill power duck insulates just as well as 700 fill power goose down. Duck down is generally less expensive as duck is a more common food source.

Not all down is ethically sourced. Down is a byproduct of the meat industry. No one is raising geese or duck for their down, it’s simply not economically feasible. As a byproduct, it can come from animals that are humanely treated or from animals that may have been live-plucked (rare), or force-fed for the foie gras industry. Look for down products that feature Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certification to make sure your down is ethically sourced. You can take it a step further with ALLIED, who incorporate transparency tools such as Track My Down into their product to allow consumers to learn more about where their down comes from and what’s actually inside their jacket or sleeping bag. No ALLIED down is ever live-plucked or force fed. Check out this video ALLIED produced in collaboration with Columbia Sportswear to back up these claims.

Is down really inferior to synthetic insulation in wet environments? While this used to be true, hydrophobic down is now commonplace and will stay much drier, much longer than untreated down. You can now take advantage of down’s superior weight, warmth and compressibility, even in damp and rainy environments with confidence.

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