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Gear Trends: Next season's insulation goes beyond the bird


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Improved technology and manufacturing techniques bring new ingredients to the baffles.

Beyond the bird

Synthetics, perpetually living in the shadow of down, are poised for a breakout year. A new class of insulations presents solutions to three of the problems that have limited synthetics’ popularity: compressibility, ease of manufacturing, and price volatility.

PrimaLoft is debuting its Black Insulation ThermoPlume, tiny wisps of crinkled fibers that rebound like down clusters, in jackets by Montane and Rab. Mike Joyce, PrimaLoft’s CEO, says the current iteration mimics 500-fill down—and the next generation is already in the pipeline. “We’re able to change the structure of the fiber itself, and by doing so, create a product that has similar traits to down,” Joyce says. Similarly, 3M introduced its Featherless Thinsulate Insulation (equal to 600-fill down) in 2014, and it shows up in jackets for the first time from Marmot and Merrell. Both nouveau synthetics are blow-in, which means the fill can be added into baffles for a loftier look, rather than sewn into place as sheets.

Regarding price, down is inexpensive right now, but a few years’ history proves the volatility of that market. Brands are hoping synthetics will protect them from future price swings—and enduring concerns about sustainable sourcing. That’s the perfect petri dish for innovation, and PrimaLoft’s Joyce says ThermoPlume is the company’s most sampled product in a decade. Expect to see many brands offering feather-free layers in coming seasons.

Wool, remixed

Wool insulation used to mean a dense, woven material, but a new collaboration between wool brand Ibex and PrimaLoft seeks a new solution with the fiber. Combining duck down and wool into a natural insulation “gives us the best of all words,” says James Fisher, VP of product at Ibex. “We believe in the warmth of wool, but this gives us compressibility.” Ibex will debut the resulting Catalyst insulation in its apparel collection. Like the synthetics above, this wool/down hybrid is blow-in, opening new design possibilities. “Now that it can be blown in,” Fisher says, “the sky’s the limit.”

Courtesy of Montane
Photo courtesy of Montane

Montane’s Phoenix Jacket ($190) ushers in the new down-like loft and warmth of PrimaLoft’s Black Insulation ThermoPlume. This women’s puffy is body-mapped with micro-baffled sides and underarms for a streamlined fit. A Pertex Quantum ECO shell offers durable, lightweight weather protection.

Photo courtesy of Ibex
Photo courtesy of Ibex

Ibex introduces its Catalyst wool/duck down blend in the Mixed Route Hoody ($345). The insulation makes it highly packable and the recycled-nylon shell material has a fluorocarbon-free DWR to fend off light precip.

Photo courtesy of Salewa
Photo courtesy of Salewa

Salewa’s entry into the North American apparel market includes the Fanes TirolWool Hooded Jacket ($219). The jacket’s insulation mixes heritage wool with Celliant, a first-to-market tech cooked into the nylon that reflects body radiation back at the wearer for warmth and improved circulation. Other perks include elastic hood and cuffs, and an adjustable hem.

Photo courtesy of Big Anges
Photo courtesy of Big Agnes

Big Agnes offers its warmest jacket yet with the men’s hooded Firetower Belay Down Parka ($300). Water-repellant 700-fill DownTek sits inside vertical baffles to better regulate heat distribution, while internal Flow Gates keep the down from shifting or settling.

Photo courtesy of Marmot
Photo courtesy of Marmot

The Marmot Alassian Featherless jacket ($200) incorporates 3M’s Featherless Thinsulate, which is comparable to 700-fill down in warmth and loft. Woven baffling reduces weight and cold spots while improving compressibility.

This article was originally published on p. 15 of the Day 0 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily Winter Market 2017.