Types of Synthetic Insulation

PrimaLoft®, Coreloft™, Thinsulate™, Heatseeker™, Ventrix™, Thermogreen®, ThermoBall™, PlumaFill—you’ll find all sorts of different jackets with all sorts of synthetic insulation materials in all sorts of different weights. Down measurements are at least pretty standard, but it can be hard to differentiate between synthetic insulations when different brands use differently branded fills. Everyone always wants to know what’s warmest, what’s lightest, or what’s most likely to last.

At our stores, our experts are always ready to answer these questions. Our staff stays up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends, and we’ve made this guide to help you make informed decisions.

Why Choose Synthetic

First things first: what makes synthetic insulation so great? Unlike down, synthetic insulation maintains loft when wet. That means it stays warm, and cold spots won’t develop as you sweat or trudge through nasty weather. Jackets with synthetic insulation tend to have better stretch, and they’re more breathable than down filled alternatives. Synthetic insulation is the ideal performance material, and we prefer it for active pursuits. Many synthetics also mimic the warmth and compressibility of down, like ThermoBall™ or Featherless insulations. ThermoBall was co-developed by PrimaLoft® and The North Face, and Featherless is a 3M™ Thinsulate™ product used in Marmot apparel.

Understanding Weights

When it comes to synthetic insulation, the measurements can get a little complicated. Insulation comes in different weights. It’s not uncommon to see jackets with 60 grams of insulation or boots with 200 grams of insulation. Many jackets also map the insulation, placing thicker and thinner insulation around the body in strategic areas for greater flexibility. With Arc’teryx, for example, it’s not uncommon to find 60 grams of Coreloft™ in the body of a jacket and 40 grams in the sleeves or sides. Coreloft is Arc’teryx’s proprietary synthetic insulation.

Intuitively, it’s pretty easy to guess that larger numbers denote warmer jackets. That’s often true, but these numbers don’t measure out the actual amount of insulation in any given product. We measure insulation in grams per square meter. Larger numbers mean thicker insulations. Thickness is often, although not always, a good way to determine an item’s insulating properties.

A boot might be described as having “400 grams of synthetic insulation,” but if there’s less than a squared meter’s worth of insulation you’ll find a much lower actual weight for the insulation. The same is true with jackets. That’s how two jackets of different sizes are each still described as having “60 grams of insulation” even if a smaller jacket will weigh less, having less fill overall.

Types of Insulation

Understanding weights is the easy part. In a market filled with differently branded insulations, basic polyester fills, and mixed blends of down and synthetic insulation, it’s hard to know what’s what.

Let’s start with PrimaLoft®. One of the most popular providers of synthetic insulation, PrimaLoft has been around since the eighties, originally designing products for military end use. PrimaLoft produces extremely high quality insulation. It comes in three basic varieties: Gold, Silver, and Black. PrimaLoft Gold is the brand’s highest performing insulation. PrimaLoft Silver is designed for active use. Both Gold and Silver are lightweight, warm, compressible, and breathable. PrimaLoft Black is made with recycled materials, but it’s meant for less technical pursuits. PrimaLoft insulation is also often tagged as “Eco” or “Active,” denoting recycled materials or greater technical performance respectively.

Courtesy of www.primaloft.com/insulation

You might want to check out the Patagonia Nano Puff® Jacket for PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco or the Apex Elevation Jacket from The North Face for PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Eco. Both insulations are made with recycled materials, but the Nano Puff is more casual and uses 60 grams of insulation compared to the Apex Elevation’s 100 grams.

Rather than rely on PrimaLoft or 3M, many clothing brands create their own branded synthetic insulation. The North Face has several proprietary insulations. Heatseeker™ is The North Face’s basic polyester fill. ThermoBall™ mimics down clusters, as mentioned. The North Face’s newest technological innovation is Ventrix™ insulation. Incredibly breathable and stretchy, Ventrix insulation retains warmth well, but micro vents in the material expand with motion to dump heat during aerobic activities like climbing. Breathability like this is best achieved with synthetic insulations.

Patagonia’s most popular branded synthetic insulation, Thermogreen®, is a polyester fill notable for being made largely with recycled materials. Patagonia’s new insulated jacket, the Micro Puff™ uses PlumaFill synthetic insulation. This revolutionary insulation is incredibly lightweight, highly compressible, and extra warm, actually outperforming comparable down.

Different kinds of synthetic insulation serve different purposes, and different weights perform better in different temperature ranges. Synthetic insulation is always our go-to for hiking, climbing, and running, and its versatility lets you wear it casually too.

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