Whether you’re a city slicker or an average outdoorsman, the time comes in everyone’s life when they need to purchase a big and fluffy jacket. Thus, you may find yourself standing in the outerwear section, staring aimlessly into the world of down and puffer jackets, wondering which one to choose. The real question is, what’s the difference between a down jacket and a puffer jacket?
The primary difference between a down jacket and a puffer jacket is the insulation. While down jackets are manufactured from only down insulation, puffer jackets are made with synthetic filler produced to replicate down and making them a more affordable option.
On the contrary, some puffer jackets are also made with down filler, which leaves many people wondering whether down and puffer jackets are merely the same things.
We’ll cover some of the critical characteristics of each, including their advantages, to help give you an idea of the differences between a down and a puffer, so you decide which is the better fit for you.
Let’s jump in!
Down Jackets Vs. Puffer Jackets
Commonly, puffer jackets refer to one jacket style: fluffy filler sewed into the middle of two fabric layers. Puffer jackets are a super popular choice when it comes to outerwear.
And when you look at it in terms of style, down and puffer essentially offer the same look. However, as I mentioned before, the determining factor that classifies it as one or the other comes down to the jacket’s insulation material.
The two most commonly-used insulations are down filler and synthetic filler.
When you’re on the hunt for a solid puffy coat that will last you several winters and a myriad of outdoor adventures, the insulation is one of the most critical elements of the jacket.
Plenty of manufacturers will have you paying a high price for clumpy insulation and easily-ripped fabric.
On the other hand, are the more stylish options that leave you with hypothermia after you trusted them to deliver on your three-day camping trip.
Regardless, insulation is essential to keeping you dry, warm, and, let’s face it, happy. Investing in the best option for your outing can turn an uncomfortable, freezing journey into the beautiful and enjoyable escape that you’ve been looking forward to for weeks.
After realizing that the insulation can make or break a jacket depending on your particular circumstances, the choice between down and synthetic quickly becomes one of the most crucial shopping decisions to make.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the main characteristics of both down and synthetic insulation to break down their differing qualities.
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Believe it or not, down insulation is not actual bird feathers. Instead, it’s assembled from the protective layer, or plumage, that hides beneath a bird’s feathers.
In simpler terms, it’s the soft fluff that keeps ducks and geese warm in cold temperatures. It’s one of nature’s best insulators, and since it keeps birds warm, humans decided it’d be a dependable material to lock in warmth (we weren’t wrong).
Not only does it trap body heat, but down is also very breathable. It does a great job at wicking away moisture, allowing it to evaporate. Down also compresses easily and is lightweight, making it a great option to pack for your next backpacking journey.
Down insulation maintains a spectrum of usefulness, and the options for down filler are endless, making it easy to find the perfect effectiveness for any outing. That said, the “fill power” is an essential piece of the down filler puzzle; it is the measurement of the down’s ability to trap heat—the less down that is needed, the better. With duck or geese down, fill power ranges between 300 and 900. And although geese down are recognized as the Gucci of insulation, both duck and geese down are equally effective in trapping heat. To give you a better idea of what fill power means, the higher the fill power, the warmer and lighter the jacket will be.
All in all, down is a quality option that is perfect for nearly any situation. It is durable, lightweight, and effective in trapping heat.
On the other side of the insulation fence is synthetic filler, which has become popular in recent years due to its solid performance and agreeable price tag. While down is quite pricey, especially with a higher fill power, a synthetic filler is often made from polyester and sandwiched between two layers of fabric to mimic down; but it retails for much cheaper.
Many puffer jackets are made of synthetic insulation. And although they’re less expensive than down, synthetic can still provide the effectiveness. One main distinction is the fact that synthetic filler offers less warmth for its weight, and it is often heavier and bulkier than down to provide the necessary heat. However, it is reasonably durable, water-resistant, and hypoallergenic. Although it’s less likely to compress easily and has a stiffer feel than that of down, synthetic puffer filler also stays in place, avoiding the problem of any cold spots opening up.
Deciding Between Down and Puffer Jackets
Now that we’ve covered the basics of down and puffer jackets, the particular benefits of each can help you decide which is right for you. Narrowing down your intentions, budget, and expectations for the jacket will give you more insight into which will perform the best draped over your shoulders.
Map Out the Demands
If you’re planning a backpacking trip across the country, packing a compressible, lightweight jacket is likely your best choice. In that case, opt for a down coat that will allow compression for long periods without losing its insulation ability—a problem that synthetic filler often encounters. Not to mention, if you’re on the hunt for something that will allow for more range of motion, a down coat with more fill power will offer you a lighter option that will provide you with more warmth for its weight.
If you know that you’ll need to wash your jacket more often, a synthetic puffer might be the optimal choice. Polyester is less likely than down to clump or break apart after a lot of washes. That said, for a work jacket that will probably get dirty, a synthetic will deliver the wear-and-tear ability that you might be hoping for, while a down coat will require special cleaning care.
Consider the Conditions
Climate and temperature are major factors in deciding between down and synthetic insulation because each handles weather conditions differently.
Down insulation is the perfect solution for dry, freezing temperatures. It will retain your body heat through even the coldest treks, and you’ll stay comfortable—so long as it keeps dry. When it comes to wet or humid conditions, synthetic insulation will come to the rescue.
Synthetic filler is designed to act as if it is genuine down. But, it also retains its abilities while wet, picking up the slack where down filler tends to fall short. If down does get wet, it loses its insulating power, leaving you to shiver through the remainder of your hike. However, synthetic does a great job at insulating through wet conditions and will dry much quicker than down.
Set a Budget
If you’re anything like me, the pretty price tag that stays hidden behind the zipper of the nicest down jackets is something to really take into consideration. It’s common for quality, 900 fill power down jacket to cost somewhere around $1,000. However, if you’re willing to ditch some fill power, it’s easy to find down jackets as low as $150. Regardless, because of their value, the cost of down jackets can quickly become a dealbreaker.
Synthetic puffers, however, offer a friendlier price than that of down. Synthetic puffer jackets retail for anywhere between $20 and $300. While they still provide plenty of advantages, the cost of synthetic puffers can be an unquestionable solution for many.
So, there you have it. The key difference between down jackets and puffer jackets is the insulation. While puffer jackets sometimes are filled with down insulation, they’re often made from synthetic fibers that provide the same benefits as down in terms of warmth while also allowing for wet conditions. However, down insulation provides less weight for more warmth, which can be the optimal choice for anyone needing a reliable, lightweight jacket for cold climates.
Both down and puffer jackets offer plenty of benefits. And, depending on your expectations, the weather conditions, and the cost, it’s difficult to go wrong with either option. If you’re still on the fence about which would fit your lifestyle better, splurge on one of each—you’ll always have the most suitable choice on hand.