Podcast Episode March 26, 2018

Podcast 001 | Synthetic Insulation




  • In this episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast, Ryan and Andrew take a deep dive into synthetic insulation: its technology, strengths, weaknesses, and applications.
    • How is synthetic insulation manufactured?
    • Have recent advances been made in modern synthetic insulation fiber manufacturing?
    • What are the limitations of current manufacturing technologies?
    • How do synthetic fibers compare to down plumules?
    • Why choose synthetic over down?
    • How does moisture absorption into insulation compromise its insulating ability?
    • Is rain (precipitation) really the threat to insulation, or are there other moisture sources to consider?
    • Why should synthetic insulation be considered more seriously by ultralight hikers?
    • Should synthetic insulation be considered by hikers who spend most of their time in dry climates?
    • Are synthetic insulations more sustainable than down from a green manufacturing standpoint?
    • How close is the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody to a down jacket of similar weight?
    • What’s the difference in compressibility between down and synthetic insulation?
    • What type of gear can benefit from synthetic insulation?
  • Adventurer, alpinist, backpacker, packrafter, ski mountaineer – and pain aficionado – Max Neale joins them to talk about the Synthetic Insulated Jackets State of the Market report recently authored here.
    • Max talks about risk, uncertainty, and suffering and discusses a trip where the suffering was just a little bit too much while attempting a traverse across the world’s largest mountain.
    • When to use synthetic insulated jackets with active insulation vs. more traditional wind-resistant styles.
    • Windproof vs. waterproof vs. highly air-permeable (active insulation) jackets.
    • Fleece + wind shirt vs. active insulation (synthetic) jacket systems.
    • How to interpret CFM values and why they’re important (or not!) – high vs. low CFM jackets for breathability vs. weather resistance.
    • What is Max’s favorite synthetic insulated jacket, and why?
    • Purpose of synthetic insulating jackets: in-camp use vs. sleep system use vs. hiking use.
    • Are cottage brands really able to compete with big brands with more polished designs and more state-of-the-art technology?
    • Continuous filament vs. short-staple insulation – warm when wet? Durability? How do they compare?
    • Is there a perfect insulated jacket that doesn’t yet exist, and what does it look like?
    • Weight, comfort, breathability, durability, degradation – where are we with technology advancement?
    • Debunking #skurkamyths?
    • Let’s talk about synthetic jacket compression durability/degradation confusion.
    • How does sleeping in your jacket impact insulation durability?
    • What’s the go-to “tough” synthetic insulated jacket (durability?)?
    • At what point do you decide that it’s time to retire your synthetic insulated jacket? Is the answer different for low-permeability vs. active insulated jacket? How can we measure it?
    • What types of compression damage synthetic insulated fibers?
    • What are Max’s big plans for 2018?
  • Listener Questions & Tips
    • Is synthetic insulation really warm when wet? Warm when damp, maybe?!
      • Is synthetic insulation loft maintained when small amounts of moisture enter it?
      • What about wearing wet insulating clothing to bed? And what about inside a down quilt? Ack!
      • The problem with compressing a damp sleeping bag/quilt.
    • With the advent of water-resistant down tech, are the advantages of synthetic insulation negated?
      • Description of the down-proof tech.
      • Does it really work? Is it a scam?
      • Where does it work?
    • What’s the best synthetic fiber insulation for moisture transport?
      • The answer lies in the batt construction and batt integration with the overall garment.
    • Why and how to use a synthetic quilt layered over a down quilt/bag for optimal moisture management in inclement/cold conditions – how to use a 2-layered, 22-oz down/synthetic quilt system for an indefinitely long trek in inclement conditions. How about a thru-hike?
  • Featured Gear
    • TarpTent Notch Lithium
      • Silnylon vs. DCF (“Cuben Fiber”)
        • Durability?
        • Declining temperature stretch?
        • Performance:weight?
        • Condensation resistance?
      • “Big Pad / Big Fella” suitability?
      • Usability: how Ryan uses two doors/two vestibules
      • Wind resistance experience (sand / wind) by Ryan in Canyonlands NP
      • The overlapping door issue in high winds – Velcro closures – sufficient?
      • Next up: severe winds! Silnylon vs. DCF versions / condensation resistance! Long term durability / expedition usability.
  • Here and Now
    • Ryan is planning another trek in the Idaho Wilderness – with *little kids* and *way off trail!*.
    • Andrew is researching his upcoming BPL story on the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument – fatbiking, craters, community support – *huuuge* topographic relief (! ;) – petroglyphs and archeology!
  • BPL News!
    • Our editorial & events calendar.
      • Instructional skills webinar series.
      • Wilderness Treks courses – guides & summer courses in Montana wilderness!
      • 2018 Film Festival info/submissions! (+ 2017 youtube replay!)
    • Website updates!
  • Podcast
    • Who sponsors this – full disclosure!

Mentioned in this Show

Feedback, Questions, Tips?


  • Backpacking Light – Executive Producer
  • Ryan Jordan – Director and Host
  • Andrew Marshall – Producer and Host
  • Max Neale – Guest Interview
  • Look for Me in the Mountains – Music


  • This episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast is supported and kept advertising-free by Backpacking Light membership fees. Please consider becoming a member which helps support projects like this podcast, in addition to a whole slew of other benefits!


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Home Forums Podcast 001 | Synthetic Insulation

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
  • Author
  • #3527117
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Podcast 001 | Synthetic Insulation

    In this episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast, Ryan and Andrew take a deep dive into synthetic insulation: its technology, strengths, weaknesses, and applications.

    Sam Farrington
    BPL Member


    Locale: Chocorua NH, USA

    Am planning to make a sleeping bag with down bag baffle construction, but using synthetic insulation, so was looking for info about best alternatives to use for this approach. Found a lot of information, but no real knowledge that would be helpful.

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Sam – post this idea in the MYOG forum, maybe for feedback. I made a baffled quilt doing exactly this, with Primaloft and the insulation fibers separated and I got a lot of cold spots.

    On my second try, I chopped it up and filled the baffles like I would if it was down and it worked a lot better.

    But this quilt didn’t survive stuffing and it’s far less durable than my EE Apex quilt, which uses continuous filament insulation stabilized in sewn/batted construction.

    i always wondered if mixing down with short, loose synthetic fibers in baffled construction wouldn’t work.

    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    Ryan, thank you for putting together this podcast! And thank you Max for the hard work writing up all these reviews.

    Ryan, you mention that you don’t know why people compress their synthetic insulated jacket into their backpack because you always keep yours on top, ready to throw on when you stop. In cooler weather I can see that this makes sense. But in warmer weather, even in the mountains, I usually don’t need an insulated jacket, even when stopped, during the daytime. I only bring an insulated layer to wear at night and in the morning around camp. So, because I don’t need it during the day, I stuff it into my clothes bag along with rain wear, etc.

    But after learning from this podcast and Max’s articles just how much damage compressing synthetic insulation can do, I think I will treat it like my sleeping bag and only compress it enough to fit everything into my pack, like you describe as the UL backpacking method. Basically, I think now it is good practice to only compress any piece of gear as much as needed to fit it in your pack.

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    @bryanb that’s a good strategy. I’ve moved away from “tiny” packs towards packs that do allow me to have a “lightly” compressed puffy bag (containing my sleep bag and puffy clothes). Even down at the bottom of my pack, putting stuff on top doesn’t seem to really do much. What causes the damage – stuffing the jacket into tiny nooks and crannies in your pack, putting them in too small of a stuff sack, or (worst of all) a compression sack.

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Also, a huge thanks to everyone for the overwhelming response to the podcast – we debuted on iTunes today in the Top 10 (#5!) and our download stats have exceeded our wildest expectations. Enjoy the podcast, we’ve already started working on the next two episodes :)

    Matthew / BPL


    Excellent job on the podcast! I listened to the whole thing today and totally enjoyed it. I don’t know anywhere else online to get this type of content. Great stuff!

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
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