Battle Of The Insulators: Down vs. Synthetic



Dawn here, copywriter for Women’s outerwear, a Chicago native and someone who has never loved winter. (Why did I move even further north you ask? Every December I ask myself that same question!) Anyway, I guess spending the past 20+ winters in Wisconsin has given me “resident expert” status.

Every day we’re posed with choices – paper or plastic, plain or peanut, and how to hang the toilet paper (over or under?).

With winter just around the corner, the big concern is staying warm. Most of us won’t be climbing Mt. Everest, but we won’t be in hibernation either. There will be driveways to shovel, snowforts to build, daily treks to work. So when it comes to insulation, should you choose down or synthetic? Each has their own unique benefits as well as a few “challenges” too. As one of the copywriters for outerwear (and an owner of no less than 6 Lands’ End coats), I will help you decide which one is right for you.


Go natural
Down is considered nature’s best insulator. It’s the world’s warmest material for its weight. Credit its unique feathers. (Pardon if I get scientific for a minute, but you develop an appreciation for this when you spend as much time as I have with our ace technical designers.) Each feather has microscopic layers of plumes and at the end of each one is a pointed little bulb. One feather wouldn’t do much, but fill a coat with them and those tiny clusters hold each feather up instead of it falling flat. The better the loft (which really refers to the amount of fluffiness), the more air is trapped inside the coat and less cold that can sneak in.

But down is not without a few drawbacks. One of the biggest being Economics 101: law of supply and demand. With a dwindling population of our feathered friends, there is only so much that exists. Which is why many places have stopped using real down in their products. (We’re not ones to take the easy road, so we still do!)

A quick low down on down:


Psyched about synthetics
When we were kids, our budget-conscious parents’ alternative to down was piling on layers and layers until we closely resembled the Michelin® man (or Ralphie’s younger brother in A Christmas Story, depending on your age). But thanks to technology folks, man-made fibers can now closely emulate some of the best characteristics of down – and at a lower price tag. So what is synthetic insulation made of? (Technical moment ahead.) It’s essentially polyester threading that is molded into long single threads or short staples to mimic lofty down clusters. Whereas down once reigned superior to all synthetics, today’s lighter, warmer and more compressible versions, like PrimaLoft®, are slowly closing the gap.

PrimaLoft, which was developed for the US Army in the 80s, is widely regarded as one of the best performing synthetic insulations on the market. Which is why we use it in several of our jackets. This ultra-fine microfiber blend has down-like softness, is lightweight and adds little bulk. But it also has one major advantage over down – its insulating ability even when wet.

A quick guide to synthetic insulation:


Both have their place in a winter wardrobe. So it really comes down to personal preference. Best way to settle the debate? Buy one of each. There’s no such thing as too many stylish ways to stay warm.


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