Feather-Light Down Alternatives

There is a good reason that people love bedding filled with thick, puffy down feathers – the soft insulating material provides warmth, protection, and comfort for humans and animals, both indoors and outside. Yet, natural products are not endlessly available, and today we recognize the importance of the conscientious use of this resource. Thanks to the development of a new, synthetic down alternative, there is no need to forgo either comfort or current fashion trends. Microguard Superloft from Jack Wolfskin is a high-end material that offers even more advantages than real down.

Down jackets can be seen everywhere on the catwalks and high streets. For the past few years, the puffy jackets have even experienced a style Renaissance. The fashion designer Demna Gvasalia deserves no small credit for this phenomenon. In 2015, the head of the extravagant couture label Vetements also took over the creative direction of Balenciaga and completed his catwalk look with bulgingly padded sports jackets – this was widely regarded in the fashion world as the trigger for the renewed comeback of down jackets. On account of down’s many positive qualities, it had never really disappeared from functional wear. And it is no wonder. A down jacket keeps you warm, is ultralight, suitable for both winter fashion and winter sport, perfect for a stroll through the city, riding the bike to work, or taking part in any outdoor activity. Furthermore, you can find them in so many colors, forms, and styles that there is truly a model for everyone.

However, not all down jackets are the same – there are considerable differences between them. A sporty quilted jacket should, above all, offer freedom of movement and good insulation. This is why a thick outer material and high-quality workmanship are just as important as the filling. Not only the amount of down plays a role here, but also the quality of the feathers. Yet, why choose down at all?

Down is the fine layer of under or down feathers of a goose or duck. With its short shaft and radially arranged, extra-soft feather branches, they are particularly light and elastic. In contrast to the exterior, flat vaned feathers of a bird down possess a voluminous structure and are exceptionally efficient in entrapping air. As a result of this fill power, down feathers are excellently suited for thermal insulation and, despite their lightness, they keep very tight and warm. When purchasing down jackets and blankets, the fill power (measured in cuin, i.e., cubic inches) is always given as a benchmark of down quality (or fluffiness). The higher the fill power, the better the insulation. Even large quantities of down can be compressed to a very small size, yet the feathers do not lose their three-dimensional form. Moreover, down can also manage humidity very well, which means that it can absorb moisture and then later rerelease it in a controlled manner. In this way, it protects the body from annoying and cooling moisture. Nevertheless, down feathers should never be allowed to get completely wet, as this can result in them forming clumps and losing their ability to insulate.

To summarize, down keeps you very warm, can breathe, is ultralight, and can be compressed. Basically, there is nothing wrong with using feathers, but it is easy to forget when purchasing a padded jacket that its stuffed chambers are filled with an animal product that should be treated responsibly. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to whether the product contains down that was harvested responsibly. The RDS certificate (Responsible Down Standard) indicates that the farming and harvest of feathers occur without animal suffering and are subject to regular and strict controls. Jack Wolfskin exclusively uses RDS certified down in its products.

Nowadays, it is no longer necessary to use down. Those who wish to abstain from using animal products, but do not want to forgo the advantages of a perfect winter jacket, can now choose a synthetic replacement. Synthetic fibers used to weigh five times as much as down feathers, and their warmth retention was far below that of down. Ingenious researchers have recently developed the first padding that compares favorably to natural down. The new Microguard Superloft from Jack Wolfskin perfectly imitates the behavior of down and displays even more positive features. It does not form clumps, and there are no cold seams. Instead, it offers waterproof and windproof comfort, uniform warmth, and durability. This sounds like a truly viable and non-animal alternative to the natural product – almost too good to be true. So, we decided to inquire further and spoke with Lisa-Sophie Nuebel, Junior Product Manager with Jack Wolfskin and a co-developer of the new Microguard Superloft.

What is Microguard Superloft made of, and what is so special about this new high-end material?

From a visual perspective, Microguard Superloft is special in that it endows an item of clothing with an authentic down look. And from a technical viewpoint, the material is a real innovation in that it is much thicker than most other synthetic wadding materials per weight. This is due to the fibers’ unique structure – Microguard Superloft uses both staple fibers and special hollow fibers. All of the fibers are curved to form a kind of spring. This means that the material always springs back to its original form, even after being compressed, like a jacket tightly packed in a suitcase or backpack. Besides, the hollow fibers ensure good warmth maintenance of the material. They have different cross-sections so that air can be trapped within as well as between the fibers. A third ingenious component is the use of so-called low-melting fibers. They act as a link and keep the insulation particularly dense and soft.

Microguard Superloft is intended for use in what kind of clothing? What are the unique properties that it provides these garments?

We employ Microguard Superloft primarily for our winter jackets and our Active Outdoor, Everyday Outdoor, and Kids’ Jackets product groups. Besides its authentic down-like look, the material, which consists of 100% polyester, is very durable and easy to clean. Jackets can be washed and dried normally without having to beat them after drying. The jackets’ design and the size and form of their compartments or baffles can take more creative forms than their counterparts made of down. The fleece padding is processed like a piece of fabric, so there is no danger of so-called cold bridges, which can occur with conventional compartment filling, especially at seams. And despite this, the jackets maintain their breathability, as the structure of Microguard Superloft in combination with our Stormlock or Texapore external fabric offers perfect thermal regulation together with an excellent transfer of moisture.

Whom would you recommend purchase this kind of clothing?

Microguard Superloft is a great alternative, especially for people who don’t want to wear down for ethical reasons. As we use our Microguard Superloft in almost all of our collections, you can find it in a huge variety of jacket types. The thickest versions can be found in our Everyday Outdoor category. I would particularly recommend these to people who have to move about in the city when it is freezing or those who want to take a walk in the wilderness. In combination with our Texapore external fabric, the jackets are not only excellent thermal insulators but are also wind- and water-resistant.

In our active category, we tend to use material of lesser weight for light jackets. These are intended for very active people who hike a lot in autumn and winter and, in the process, sometimes break into a sweat. And, of course, there is something for our smallest customers as well. With our Microguard Superloft styles, everyone can find the right jacket for their individual needs and outdoor activities.

Lisa-Sophie Nuebel, thank you so much for the interesting interview.