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Snow Clothing Insulation Explained

11 May, 2016

Insulation 101

Insulation is as varied as the jackets and pants themselves, but the overriding principle behind it is to keep you warm and having fun whilst you’re in freezing cold climates. The way insulation works (whether it’s in mittens, outerwear or mid-layers) is that air gets trapped in tiny spaces of down filament or strands of synthetics, and creates essentially a barrier to keep in your body temperature.

Down vs. Synthetic Insulation

Down is a super compressible, lightweight and durable insulator. Unfortunately though, it does tend to retain moisture when it gets wet, so often is only best when used as a mid-layer or on crystal clear frigid blue-bird conditions. You may also have to be careful when looking at down jackets that have been stitched to keep the feathers apart – the process of stitching through the waterproofing membrane and feathers means that tiny holes are created, meaning the water-proofing is reduced straight away. Thankfully, they have started to produce ‘Water-resistant Down’ – the down is treated initially with a water-resistant coating before inserted into the jacket.

Synthetic insulators, such as Thinsulate and Thermolite, are a little heavier, less compressible and slightly less durable, however often they keep the same thermal rating when wet and are generally less expensive.

Down jackets that have been stitched to keep the feathers apart – the process of stitching through the waterproofing membrane and feathers means that tiny holes are created, meaning the water-proofing is reduced straight away.

How much insulation do I need?

Although pretty subjective because everyone’s needs are slightly different when it comes to warmth, a good rule of thumb is:

  • Warmer Conditions (Spring Riding or If you like to wear a lot of layers): 50-100gsm
  • Cooler Conditions: 100-200gsm

Going for a jacket with less insulation is certainly more versatile. You can layer up on the cooler days, with some great quality pieces which breathe well, and on the warmer days just have a base layer and a jacket to provide optimal breathability. However, going for a jacket with more insulation means that on the cooler days you don’t end up feeling like the Michelin man with 10 base layers on underneath.

Keep in mind though, with newer insulation technology, such as Primaloft, they’re engineered to react more like down and therefore you may need less insulation to achieve the same warmth rating as an equivalent competitor.

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