Synthetic Loft Degradation
Oct 20, 2015 at 11:11 am #1333539Steve KBPL Member
@skomaeLocale: northeastern US
Loft degradation has been on my mind a lot lately. Synthetic puffies are undoubtedly one of the most useful items in our gear arsenals. They are warm, light, thin and reasonably durable. You can use them almost year round, wear them when you're still a bit sweaty, and use them around town. They take less care than down, won't leak if you tear them, and resist moisture far better, making them ideal for fickle mountain and shoulder season weather. However, they aren't long-lasting. My Primaloft One hoody of a few years has gotten pretty flat and is a lot less warm than before. Dave C. also notes on his blog that his own PL1 hoody (Xenon) has also lost a lot of warmth from heavy use. Exacerbating the low longevity of synthetic puffy jackets is that they regularly cost around $200, excepting special sales or discounts. I still wear my PL1 jacket regularly, but it's been shifted from being a cold weather jacket to cool weather jacket, and it obviously no longer does the job it was hired to do. I have another PL1 jacket waiting in the wings, but I'm reluctant to use it in the same way, preferring to "save" its warmth for another day and usually avoiding wearing it under a pack, etc. Polartec Alpha seems promising so far, restoring loft nicely the same way hi-loft fleece does in the wash, but is it enough? It's a lot heavier for the same warmth and seems to take up a different niche, being reserved for "active jackets" vs. camp use or belay parkas. How does BPL feel about this subject?Oct 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm #2233022Stephen MBPL Member
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
I stopped purchasing expensive Synthetic kit a couple of years ago, now only purchase when on sale. Now about 100$ or so is the most I will spend. I got a Rab Strata which I really like but it's too early to tell yet how it is holding up.Oct 20, 2015 at 2:09 pm #2233033Matt DirksenBPL Member
@namelesswayLocale: Mid Atlantic
I have a Fission SV parka that's probably almost ten years old now, and it is definitely not the heat monster it used to be. I'm certain the Primaloft is but a shadow of what it used to be, that's for sure. So I guess time will tell about PF Alpha. But for some reason, I suspect that it will follow down the same path as all the other synthetic insulations. 15-25 years ago, during my outdoor equipment sales days, we were always educated that one of the largest drawbacks of any synthetic insulation was their tendency to naturally break down, simply due to petroleum chemistry used in the fibers. So no matter what, any synthetic fill was destined to loose much of it's puffiness over time. Sad to hear you only got a few years out of your hoody, but at least it served you well during that time. (Of course if one is shopping for longevity over durability, down is still the way to go. My son actively uses a 30 year old TNF down sleeping bag whereas the synthetic bags my daughters use are pretty much useless after about five years of light/moderate use.)Oct 20, 2015 at 3:31 pm #2233049
Our BPL Cocoon jackets still seem to have plenty of loft left. They are stored hung up of course. CheersOct 20, 2015 at 4:38 pm #2233066Ken ThompsonBPL Member
@hereLocale: Right there
But how much use have they seen?Oct 20, 2015 at 5:01 pm #2233070Steve KBPL Member
@skomaeLocale: northeastern US
> Sad to hear you only got a few years out of your hoody, but at least it served you well during that time. I bought it used, in decent condition for about $50. I've since picked up its replacements for well under $100 with some careful shopping. We all know going in that synthetic won't last like down, but I think it kind of comes as a bit of a surprise that you can really only expect a couple years of heavy use, and that the synthetic loft degrades pretty significantly (noticeably, even) during the first year of use. That said, all of the upsides of synthetic make it hard for me to want to pass up over down – I do wear down jackets, but to stay warm after or during aerobic activity, synthetic still seems to me like the way to go. Of course we can go back to fleece and shelled jackets, but at significant bulk increase — of course not a problem if it's cold enough to wear said fleece all day.Oct 20, 2015 at 5:15 pm #2233074Mike MBPL Member
I think (I've been wrong a time or two :)) we might be seeing more Polartec Alpha and Climashield Apex for this very reason. Richard N noted some pretty fast degradation in a few garments he had, faster than one would think- and this was with pretty minimal use I have a Strata (found a good sale) and thus far, I'm liking it. Definitely better on the move than Primaloft/similar, but definitely not as warm either- a trade off to be sure, but with it's better resistance to packing/unpacking it might eventually become a washOct 20, 2015 at 9:28 pm #2233111Paul BeresMember
It does seem like all synthetic insulations lose their loft faster than down. But also it seems to me that the continuous filament insulations (polarguard in all it various iterations, and its descendant Climashield) hold up noticeably better. And, handling makes a big difference. Storing completely loose helps, and not using compression stuffsacks, and never putting the article in a hot dryer. Case in point is that I have a Polarguard vest, homemade, almost 40 years old. Because it has been used little, and stored loose, it has nearly all its original loft. Other articles used more heavily have not fared as well, but I have definitely seen a difference between the polarguard stuff I've had and any other synthetics I've tried. Currently I have polarguard 3D jacket and pants, homemade, and they are holding up well, but only get used a week or so a year for snowcamping. I would say they've seen about 10 weeks or so of total use without significant loss of warmth. Always stored loose, washed and air dried. When I made them I thought about making down gear instead, and went with the synthetic mostly on the basis of its being easier to handle for MYOG and lower cost. Only once have I found myself in a situation where I was mighty glad to have synthetic instead of down (35 degree snow transitioning to 38 degree rain). Mostly I think down would work just as well for me, though I have to say there is a peace of mind factor with the synthetic that I wouldn't discount for some situations.Oct 20, 2015 at 10:41 pm #2233117Kate MagillBPL Member
There's a lot of water resistant down on the market now, prices often on par with synthetic puffies. Barring vegans, any reason not to switch to treated down? I realize the treatments may potentially alter the down fibers, cause them to lose loft faster, etc. But from a cost: warmth: weight perspective, can an argument really be made for synthetics?Oct 21, 2015 at 3:42 am #2233126Woubeir (from Europe)BPL Member
Well, DWR down propaly holds up nice in the beginning but how it will behave in the long run is not known. Anyhow, DWR down is still no replacement for synthetivs. Oh, I have a sleeping bag with Polarguard 3D; 20°F in the beginning but now, more then 10 years later maybe max. 45-50°F (stored uncompressed).Oct 21, 2015 at 4:24 am #2233127
> But how much use have they seen? Oh well, most ski touring trips in recent years, several 2-month long European walks, many spring and autumn walks, … I guess you would say a fair bit. CheersOct 21, 2015 at 5:00 am #2233130Matt DirksenBPL Member
@namelesswayLocale: Mid Atlantic
"Well, DWR down propaly holds up nice in the beginning but how it will behave in the long run is not known." Lemme guess – in 30 years: 1) it will still behave like down And 2) it will behave like a 30 year old dwr (no longer behaving) Of course how will us crankey ole BPL'er behave in 30 years is the ultimate question! ;>DOct 21, 2015 at 2:42 pm #2233240Don SeleskySpectator
"Our BPL Cocoon jackets still seem to have plenty of loft left. They are stored hung up of course." My old BPL Cocoon parka and pants are still going strong also. Took them out this past weekend for the sub-freezing weather. Ray Jardine used to go on about "uncrushed Polarguard" and insisted that synthetic insulated garments and quilts be carried at the top of the pack without being significantly compressed. Maybe he was on to something. :-)Oct 21, 2015 at 4:31 pm #2233262Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
So far CLIMASHIELD has been shown to be the least affected by repeated compression (stuffing) by the Army's tests. But it's not THE most compressible synthetic, just average in that category. I've had a very bad experience with first gen Primaloft and won't try it again but it may now be much better.Oct 21, 2015 at 7:55 pm #2233286Stephen MBPL Member
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
It's a real shame we don't see more Apex clothing on the market.Oct 23, 2015 at 12:38 pm #2233637Barry PBPL Member
@barrypLocale: Eastern Idaho (moved from Midwest)
I have a montbell action thermawrap that I wear almost every day for 5 months of the year (backpacking, biking, casual). And I’ve had it for 10 years and it still keeps me warm easily to 30F. I’ve had to replace a zipper pull. Montbell has something with their Exceloft insulation. -Barry -May everyone stay warm and dryOct 23, 2015 at 1:17 pm #2233640Paul S.BPL Member
I'm afraid the clothing companies have little incentive to make their products last longer. After all they have new products to release, who's going to buy if their jacket still works as good as new?Oct 23, 2015 at 1:18 pm #2233641Sam FarringtonBPL Member
@scfhomeLocale: Chocorua NH, USA
So, years ago I purchased several yards of the original Polarguard with nylon bonded to it from a cottage company called "Synergy Works." Stored it loosely in a cardboard drum about the size of a trash can to make a bag that was never got around to. A few years ago, mentioned it in a post, and someone badly wanted to buy it. Opened the drum and found that the coating on the PG fibers had badly degraded, making them clumpy with less loft. Sent a sample to that someone – end of interest. Really must take it to the dump. On the other hand, the Polarguard Delta puffy top and bottom purchased from BPL eight or so years ago and heavily used are stored loosely between trips and are still as puffy as ever. I think BPL called them "cocoon" garments, but not sure. At any rate, separating head to foot puffy insulation for around a pound total seemed like a good deal, and still does. Doesn't add weight, because the sleeping bag can be at least a pound lighter, and the puffies can be worn in camp singly or together when it gets cold. And they retain heat when wet (from wet Shelties in the tent, for example). More versatility overall. Finally decided to try a synthetic bag again after several years with a Mont Bell spiral wrap down type (19-20 oz). MB is excellent, but recently got a Climashield Apex 'Intense' bag from Cumulus in Poland (about 10 oz heavier). While the MB down bag sinks to the bottom third of a net storage sack, the Apex fills the same size sack and still has to be compressed a bit to close the sack. The Apex came in a small box from Poland and exploded when opened. Not happy with the extra ten oz, but definitely will use it in wet weather. If it is warmer in addition to dryer, may switch to it for nearly all trips – the 10 oz be dammed. Before the Mont Bell, tried a number of Primaloft, PG 3D, and other synthetic bags, from TNF, MH, etc., and found they lost not only loft, but also warmth, fairly soon after purchase, even when compressed in the pack only during hiking. Am hoping that the Apex is a quantum leap, but too soon to tell. Signs are good, though.Oct 23, 2015 at 5:14 pm #2233668Robert AlexanderBPL Member
How do I feel about the subject? I think that with some more technology and research that we will get closer to the lightness and durability of down. May take another decade or so. In there meantime, I'm testing a Rab Strata (with Alpha) that I got for under $100. Time will tell but it may prove to be more versatile than the same clo value in down, if still heavier. Lastly, Farrington's recent post (re: a sleeping bag) jogged my memory of the Cumulous Climashield jacket that I had discovered on a Google search a couple months ago. Because of his report, I ordered the jacket and it arrived a week or two ago. It really looks like a winner but unfortunately it's too small. It fits like a RAB large, which is basically a skin tight athletic fit on me. I figure that I could return it but now I'm thinking of sending it to Joe Valesko at Zpacks to see if he wants to check it out. Sounds like his version of a Climashield jacket will be coming soon. When someone finally nails a good (compressible & durable) synthetic product they could make a lot of money, I think. That should be enough incentive.Oct 23, 2015 at 6:48 pm #2233680James holdenBPL Member
3 things – dont compress yr synth unless u absolutely must …. Just stuff it loosely at the top of the pack – dont wear ur synth in town … Simply sitting down in it for a few hours a day everyday will result in loft loss …. Keep it for when it matters – buy it on a deep sale … Never pay anything even remotely resembling full price … As long as it fits well any decent brand will do …. Its a disposable item And if you dont need synth, fleece is a more durable choice and better value ;)Oct 24, 2015 at 1:24 pm #2233763Elliott WolinBPL Member
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Try giving it a good wash. I have a Polarguard (I think) vest I made almost 40 years ago (Makit, or Mountain Adventure Kit) that was looking pretty thin. Washed it and it seems to have recovered most of its loft. It's a bit heavy by today's standards but works fine. Actually the design was really good so I've made some more vests using modern materials and the same design.May 8, 2017 at 6:50 pm #3466932
We got our BPL Cocoon jackets in about 2007, when they were being released. Apex insulation I THINK. We are still using them, but on a recent trip where it got down to -7 C or lower, we did notice that they may have lost a little warmth. But that is 10 years of fairly heavy use, so not bad.
I have looked at current Primaloft jackets. For some wierd reason they all seem to be quilted more heavily that down jackets. Sewn straight through – a real killer for warmth. Well, that’s how they look anyhow.
Maybe I will buy some APEX 5oz and make some new jackets? Or maybe I could replace the old insulation in the existing shells? Comments anyone?
CheersMay 8, 2017 at 8:03 pm #3466949Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
easier to make new than replace insulation, and you’ll come out with a better result
in my opinion : )May 8, 2017 at 10:00 pm #3466979
Yeah, I asked that Q before I took a close look at what seams I would have to deal with. It looked difficult.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
August 4 @ 5:30 PM US MDT: Member Q&A • Backcountry Photography & Cameras
Our Community Posts are Moderated
Backpacking Light community posts are moderated and here to foster helpful and positive discussions about lightweight backpacking. Please be mindful of our values and boundaries and review our Community Guidelines prior to posting.