Oct 21, 2010 at 4:11 am #1264626
I see no reason why synthetics should not have caught up with down:
Why does down cope better with compression: is it that it is made of individual clusters like pom-poms? Then copy that with synthetics. If a different reason then copy that.
Where does downs collapsing when wet feature come from? Would the more hydrophobic polyester (polypropylene would be lighter) synthetic clusters avoid this?
I dont think it matters if synthetic down requires baffles like real down, just that it is equivalent for warmth to weight and loft life, hopefully dropping the "collapse when wet" "feature" of down.
Alternatively, would a nano DWR treatnent like hitec's ion mask "fix" downs wet collapse?Oct 21, 2010 at 4:30 am #1656561
@benenLocale: South Australia
That's a very interesting topic you've brought up there. I'd be interested to see what people have to say about it. Synthetic never seems an option because of it's poor compressibility and weight compared with down. It would be very nice to have down's light weight and compressibility accompanied with synthetics insulation properties whilst wet. I've never had any down gear get wet do far but I dread the thought. Especially on a chilly night or mid-trip.
BenenOct 21, 2010 at 4:41 am #1656564
Synths have their place. They makeup things like my camp jacket, gloves, head wear, underwear. I would not want an all-down kit. I like a little bit of a safety net, having the synthetic camp jacket also prevents moisture from getting into your down bag while you sleep. Its not that ones better, its about how you use it.Oct 21, 2010 at 6:43 am #1656587
Unless your camp jacket is a VBL, how does it stop moisture transport into the down layer?Oct 21, 2010 at 7:00 am #1656590
If there were synthetic layers that did really loose a good portion of their loft after a few years or being compressed a lot I would be all over them.Oct 21, 2010 at 10:04 am #1656651
Interesting thoughts, but I suspect the reason lies more in raw materials than anything else. Non-continuous synthetics like Primaloft One have most of the features that cause down to be so insulative (a big gain in efficiency was realized in trapping air at the ends of fibers rather than just between them), and actually PL1 will beat low-fill-power down *slightly* when brand new.
However, I think the main problem is that polyester is not grown on the back of a goose. Mother nature can create incredibly complex, fractal-like (I suspect this is the key) materials, and we just don't know how yet.Oct 21, 2010 at 12:22 pm #1656695
I suspect it's possible to do it in the lab, but even so it would probably be prohibitively expensive to do in quantity.
With all this new work being done on finding various applications for exotic forms of carbon (carbon fiber, nanotubes, buckyballs, graphene…) it makes me wonder if perhaps they'll stumble upon some sort of "carbon fluff" that might have value as an insulator. In my imaginary reality this substance would loft more effectively than down, not be affected by moisture, be extremely durable, and be reasonably economical to mass-produce. All of us would be very excited to sew quilts and then stuff them with this fluffy black stuff that outperforms the old fluffy white stuff and have 20 degree quilts at 8 ounces. You might have to wear an asbestos mask while doing it, though.
Ah well, one can dream.Oct 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm #1656705
It doesn't stop all of the moisture but catches most of it in the insulation/layers of fabric. Im less concerned about mositure being caught in my syn than my down stuff.Oct 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm #1656707
I can see where a few millenia of evolution could have the upper hand on a couple decades of human tinkering… ;)Oct 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm #1656725
synthetics are just used for different applications .. where cost, moisture, and idiot proof are needed
most of the world doesnt use down as much as synthetics, especially 800+fill …
sure down is lighter, compressed better and last longer if you take care of it …
but then even some very respectable people use synthetic jackets and quilts … because they want the bombproofness and idiotproofness of synthetics
it should say alot when people like andrew skurka, mark twight, colin haley, andy kirkpatrick, craig conally and others use synthetics
youd think that such people would be all over down because they absolutely need to be as light as possible… except for one factor … moisture
honestly … for most of the backpacking people here do it doesnt matter what you use …
but for those pushing the limits, synthetics hold their own
800+ fill power down does have that elitist "im yuppier than a primaloft bum" feeling though …
and i just got a 850 EU fill westbomb koakanee … so take that !!!
lolOct 21, 2010 at 3:04 pm #1656740
"I can see where a few millenia of evolution could have the upper hand on a couple decades of human tinkering… ;)"
seriously, how long has polyester been around anyway…50 years? primaloft is pretty good and it's only gonna get better.
and maybe we don't want better tech, isn't all that stuff petroleum based? we're just upping our dependence on oil!=)
anywho, don't worry about it, we'll have nanobots heating the 1mm layer between your event and your pile soon enough=DOct 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm #1656763
Maybe all of the good chemical engineers are busy right now trying to figure out how to make Mountain House foods taste like "real" food? Just a guess.Oct 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm #1656773
I have gone away from synthetics completely. I would reconsider if they were more compressible, AND lasted longer.
I rarely get out for more than a few days so the build up of moisture in down is minimal, and not a big concern to me. If I had the time to get out on longer trips in wet weather I would consider synthetics.
I have spent more then a few miserable nights in wet synthetic gear, yes they probably would have been worse with down but wet synthetic still is miserable.
Did I mention that synthetics are miserable when wet.
I am no longer into mountaineering/ rock climbing, and I take care to keep my gear dry.
So until synthetics can keep up with all the advantages of down, I'm sticking with down.
BTW I do wonder why synthetics haven't caught up. I wish they would.Oct 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm #1656816
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> I suspect it's possible to do it in the lab, but even so it would probably
> be prohibitively expensive to do in quantity.
CheersOct 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm #1656825
Your "yup" intrigues me. Are you aware of any actual examples of higher-grade synthetic insulation being produced, perhaps as an experiment or proof-of-concept, that were simply too expensive to bring to market? I'm quite curious.Oct 21, 2010 at 8:18 pm #1656840
I think it would be great if they could make a syn bag that had some baffled compartments with a zipper on the side also so that every few years you could pull out the insulation and replace it.Oct 21, 2010 at 8:36 pm #1656845
keep in mind guys that for the same price as a top of the down bag … you can get 2-3 top synthetic bags
doesnt solve the compressibility or weight difference
but it does mean that you can tear apart that bag with our crampons, ice axes, use it in exposed bivies, etc …
still patch the thing up with tape … since it wont leak out down like down bags when torn …
still use it with repair patches fine …
and buy 1 or 2 new ones when it finally dies
and while synthetic bags suck when wet too … they sure dry out quicker in my experience
different uses for different purposes
alot of people routinely choose synthetic when it suits them … and these are the guys when that extra 6 oz of weight saved can mean that extra day of melted water that could save yr life in a bivy …
weight and compressibility isnt the ONLY thing that matters
except for elitist BPLers that "need" an 800 fill jacket/bag for a weekend hike in a temperate environment ;)Oct 22, 2010 at 4:12 am #1656893
>800 fill jacket/bag…
Pffffff. 850-900. ;)Oct 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm #1657116
@ckrusorLocale: Northwest US
Biological polymers like keratin (in fur, feathers, rhino horns, etc.) are essentially assembled by microscopic machines, one monomer at a time. Polymerases and other enzymes build the keratin strands in a down cluster by latching onto the growing strand and attaching each new subunit individually, adding branches in just the right places, and terminating the strand at just the right length. It will be a long time before human technologies can permit such finely controlled fabrication processes. This is analogous to sending magically shrunken teams of skilled construction workers into a chamber to build a single tuft of Primaloft at the molecular level.
Sea otter fur can have a million hairs per square inch, each growing to an optimal length that provides insulation but doesn't become entangled or trap debris, and the whole pelage is kept waterproof and breathable by a continuously secreted and finely tuned concoction of sebacious oils, free fatty acids, alcohols, and waxes.
Synthetic insulation is very crude by comparison. To me it doesn't seem at all unexpected that we haven't yet improved upon down.Oct 22, 2010 at 5:10 pm #1657130
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
The synthetic insulating fibers that are hollow have more of the stationary "boundary air" both on their outer surface and inside teh hollow core.
Boundary Air is the one or two molecule layer of air that sticks to the surface of insulation doesn't move as readily as the rest of the air around it and is therefore less prone to losing heat from convection.
Perhaps a siliconized hollow core fiber that, during the extrusion process can have some of the outer surface blown into fibers like the tiny fibers on down plumules. This
treatment creates more surface area for more boundary air.
I too keep waiting for a "down-like" synthetic breakthrough. Maybe synthetic fibers are not the way to go. In this vein perhaps synthetic "puffs" of some kind, rather than fibers are the answer.Oct 23, 2010 at 2:11 am #1657248
"I too keep waiting for a "down-like" synthetic breakthrough. Maybe synthetic fibers are not the way to go. In this vein perhaps synthetic "puffs" of some kind, rather than fibers are the answer."
These sound like the "pom-poms" I was suggesting.
I still get the feeling that it has been decided its very difficult to match down, therefore no one is trying very hard, just tinkering with polyester wadding (why not polypropylene wadding: lighter).
But a cheap/easy way might exist if anyone was looking, and might just be awaiting a serendipitous discovery.
Could rough clusters not be made by throwing molten polyester into a vacuum, possibly whilst spinning, perhaps melt within the vacuum. etc….Oct 23, 2010 at 2:15 am #1657249
@jephotoLocale: New Zealand
I think efforts should instead be concentrated on developing a sort of super goose.Oct 23, 2010 at 6:34 am #1657263
Maybe a helium-rich environment rather than a vacuum?
I can see it now: Hollow-core fibers that neutralize their own weight as well as provides superior insulation thanks to being filled with a buoyant inert gas. Heh.Oct 23, 2010 at 8:03 am #1657277
The human race can do many things but have yet to better nature. I am not sure we will ever be able to better nature. Just pick the tool that does the job best.Oct 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm #1657342
@dwambaughLocale: Pacific Northwest
I'm sure the market drives much of it. An average Western Mountaineering bag is $350, where a decent synthetic bag is $160-$200. The synthetic bags are easier to manufacture and I would guess that the sales are 1000:1 synthetic:high-end down. If you can sell what you already have, there is less impetus to reach out farther. And there are $30 synthetic bags to compete with. You can count the hight quality down bag makers on one hand.
I think it gets to be a question of use too. Someone buys a synthetic bag and uses it 2-3 times a year. With proper storage it will last for decades at that rate. Never forget that UL, climbing, and multi-day hiking trips are niche markets. There are many millions more going to Walmart to stock up for car camping expeditions— once a year.
Then there are outlets/dealers. The synthetic manufacturers are everywhere. For example, Western Mountaineering has four dealers in a 100 mile radius of Seattle, with a population of 2,000,000+ and a very active camping/hiking/climbing community. GoLite has 9 dealers in a 50 mile radius. Big Agnes has 19 (8 are REI stores). Mountain Hardwear has 55 dealers in the same radius, and there are many other makers in the mass market chain.
You need an insulation manufacturer with with a product that challenges the others to compete; otherwise, the changes are slower— each bag manufacturer makes a yearly order for materials, supplies are sold down, new products introduced and another cycle started. If DuPont is sitting on 100,000 units of product X, they need to get that all the way through the stream before introducing product Y, getting the orders, etc.
With the economy of late, that whole process has been turned down– 30% is my guess. It is a real hit on innovation and product development. Everyone gets conservative and "safe." And there probably aren't any earth-shattering breakthroughs. There is stuff that works, the mass market is satisfied, and if you take all the premium down manufacturers, it comes to a tiny fraction of the whole market– you can afford to turn you back on 5% of your market if you are making sales to the other 95%. You can spend a lot more in R&D and not improve your sales by any great degree. Yes, mediocrity rules. Of course, if you make a product with a reduced service life, you have planned obsolescence in a nutshell. I vote for mediocrity over planned obsolescence conspiracies.
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