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How Good is Hydrophobic Down and Should I Use It?

Hydrophobic down hasn’t been around for long, but it is quickly taking over the outdoor industry. It seems like almost every major manufacturer is jumping on the hydrophobic down bandwagon. Is hydrophobic down all that it’s cracked up to be, or simply another gimmick?

What is Hydrophobic Down?

Hydrophobic down is the common term usually given to down that’s been treated with a hydrophobic(water repellent) coating. This hydrophobic chemical makes down absorb less water and dry faster.

It has all the insulating benefits of down combined with added moisture resistance. Though not quite as water-resistant as synthetic insulators hydrophobic down is a step in the right direction.

How Good is Hydrophobic Down?

Hydrophobic down is still fairly new only increasing in popularity over the last decade. Originally developed by the US Military, hydrophobic down is by far the best insulator on the market.

It was the result of increasing demand for performance apparel with narrow baffling and lightweight outer shells. You get the same amount of warmth as traditional puffy jackets in a lightweight compressible package.

Hydrophobic down works just like regular down. You get the same insulating properties with added moisture resistance. If you’re in the market for a new jacket or sleeping bag definitely choose hydrophobic down.

Is Hydrophobic Down Necessary?

Of course hydrophobic down isn’t actually necessary. Campers, skiers/snowboarders, backpackers, etc have been relying on down gear for decades. You shouldn’t ditch your old jacket and sleeping bag if it’s still functional. Wait to make the switch until after your gear starts to fail.

If you’re in the market for a new jacket or sleeping bag definitely get hydrophobic down. It’s well worth the added benefits and a slight increase in cost. You’re getting all the benefits of synthetic insulators with the increased warmth and lightweight properties of down.

Why Should I Choose Hydrophobic Down?

Regular down is by far the best insulator currently available, but it has one major drawback. When down sustains water damage it loses its loft and therefore its insulating capabilities decrease.

That’s where the water repellent in hydrophobic down comes in. Water can’t soak into the down so it will retain its loft far longer than traditional down. Plus you shouldn’t have to deal with mold and mildew buildup.

  • Keeps You Dry: Hydrophobic down resists moisture so you’ll stay warm longer. Your jacket and sleeping bag can resist water when the weather changes suddenly.
  • Warmth: Down is by far the best insulator currently available, but it has one major flaw, it’s susceptible to moisture damage. Moisture significantly reduces a bags loft which lowers its temperature rating. With hydrophobic down, you down will retain its loft longer than both regular down and synthetic insulation.
  • Comfort: Hydrophobic down continues to perform where other down fails. Without absorbing moisture hydrophobic down is going to keep you comfortable longer.
  • Increases Downs Lifespan: Moisture damage is the Achilles heal of every down product. Without having to worry about moisture your down bag/jacket should last much longer than both traditional down and synthetics.

Hydrophobic Down isn’t a Miracle Worker

Remember that even though hydrophobic down resists moisture it’s not a miracle worker. It’s not a magic bullet in rainy wet conditions. It increases the amount of time you can spend in damp conditions, but you still need to actively avoid moisture.

You really shouldn’t expect much of a difference between hydrophobic down and regular non-treated down. You still need to take all the usual precautions to avoid moisture.

Hydrophobic down just increases your margin of error, giving you a little more leeway when water inevitably leaks into your pack. Pack liners and rain covers can only go so far in a serious downpour.

Is Hydrophobic Down as Warm as Natural Down?

In theory, hydrophobic down is actually warmer than natural down since it retains its loft longer. That being said, I’ve never had a hard time keeping my down gear dry so I haven’t noticed a major difference.

I don’t think I’ve ever got it substantially wet beyond the wrists on my jacket or the occasional minor leak in my pack liner. In a major catastrophe yes hydrophobic down will keep you warmer, but under conditions the warmth will be comparable.

Is The Water Repellent Coating in Hydrophobic Down Safe?

There haven’t been any long term studies on the effects of the chemical process in hydrophobic down. That being said, the fluorocarbons used are similar to the ones found in every other DWR(Durable Water Repellent) found on the market.

Is your jacket causing long-term health problems? Probably not! I highly doubt there are any long term health risks that you haven’t already been taking on every day. Whether or not DWR down makes sense is up to you, but I think the benefits far outweigh the risks.