Making a synthetic-fill vest is an easy first project if you are interested in making insulated clothing. This MYOG (“Make Your Own Gear”) synthetic fill vest weighs only 4.5 oz (127 g) and provides significant warmth. Some of the techniques presented in this article are also useful for making synthetic clothing, like a quilt.
- Weight of finished product: 4.5 oz (127 g);
- Insulation: 2.5 oz/sq yd (84 g/sq m) Apex insulation;
- Fabric: 0.7 oz/sq yd (22 g/sq m) Membrane 10 Nylon Taffeta;
- Girth: 50 in (127 cm);
- Length: 29 in (73.6 cm) from top corner of shoulder seam to bottom.
I am an amateur sewer. Experienced sewers will probably laugh at some of my techniques. There are some things I do that are slow, but that doesn’t bother me. I have made a lot of gear so I have some experience that may be useful to others. You might say, I’ve made mistakes, so you don’t have to.
I’ve made about five synthetic vests and two down vests during the last several decades. Some of them I’ve worn out and thrown away. Others are too heavy for me to consider “lightweight” enough for backpacking. Still, others don’t look acceptable; they look homemade. I further modify my design.
Using Synthetic vs. Down Fill
My last MYOG project was a down vest that I like and have used on quite a few trips. I made it because I wanted a lighter vest. But I discovered a problem: even though I kept the down vest dry, my waterproof breathable jacket got a bit wet inside when it rained all day. I stopped hiking and became cold. I knew that if I put the down vest on, it would get wet, lose its loft, and it would be difficult to get dry again. It wasn’t a big deal in those cases. I was just a bit cold and made do, but I realized that a synthetic vest would be much better.
I’ve also switched to a down quilt and that works better. I can take off my waterproof breathable jacket and dry off enough before climbing into my quilt .
I can imagine survival situations where I might get wet and cold. Having a synthetic vest may be the difference between surviving or not. Navy Seals, for example, practice getting cold and wet. Then they dry themselves and get warm by wearing synthetic insulation which can dry from body heat.
I made this synthetic vest a few months ago and have worn it on several trips. I have been comfortable around camp, at 32 ºF (0 ºC), dressed in a waterproof breathable jacket over the top. At colder temperatures, I add my down vest which also weighs 4.5 oz (127 g) and should easily take me down to 20 ºF (-6.7 ºC). I also wear the synthetic vest when sleeping inside my quilt.
I chose to make this vest as small as possible in order to make it weigh less. Usually, I consruct baggy clothing to make an air space inside for more warmth and air circulation for the purpose of helping sweat evaporate. The space also allows room for clothing inside. My intention is to put any added layer needed for insulation outside the synthetic vest. Synthetic insulation, the less warmth to weight-efficient insulation, is on the inside. The diameter is less, making it smaller, so it weighs less. The down insulation, however, is worn on the outside where the diameter is bigger. The structure takes advantage of the better warmth per weight of the down.
I used very lightweight insulation (2.5 oz/sq. yd.; 84.7 g/sq m) to minimize weight and bulk when storing the vest in my pack. The vest is not supposed to provide a lot of warmth. I could also use this while hiking in frigid conditions. Any sweating from overheating is minimal as the result of a heavier (warmer) vest or shirt. If the vest gets wet from sweat, I can dry it solely from body heat. It’s both twice as warm and half as weighty as a fleece garment.