Setting off onto our latest epic project, the Rat & Dragon team has over the last few weeks become something of an expert on cold weather kit. There is a wide array of options available from high street fashion stores to outdoors activities outfitters. If you’re bogged down with everyone telling you their coat is the warmest, here are some things to bear in mind:
1. Lightweight Down vs full waterproofed Parkas
You’d be tempted to think that heavier = warmer, but whilst Parkas have a waterproof top layer (essential for UK use), the down they contain may not be as good quality and thickness as the high tech down-only coats, that are also usually wind proof.
Depending on whether you’re going to be jetting around lots of different climates or just going to be hanging out in a very cold place (if you’re lucky enough to be heading somewhere REALLY cold, it will be too cold to rain anyway, so water resistant down is perfectly fine), you may also want to watch the weight of your luggage, in which case Lightweight Down wins hands down (duh!).
Whether you go for a Parka or Lightweight, the content will determine how toasty you’ll be. The more air the down traps, the warmer it will be, so make sure that you don’t squish it! Here are other things to think about:
2. Goose, Duck, Feathers?
Down’s warm factor comes from the volume of air it traps, so the bigger the ‘fluff ball’ each piece of down is, the more air it traps, the warmer it will be. Bigger bird means a bigger fluff ball, so goose is generally warmer than duck.
If you want to go crème de la crème, get your mitts on Hungarian Goose or Eider Duck down (its breast feathers are fantastically warm). Make sure there is no or very little feather content, as (in comparison to pillows that need lift) they’ll only add weight and bulk.
3. Fill Power
Very simply put, in order to measure the volume of air down traps (it’s ‘fluffiness’ or technically speaking ‘fill power’), an ounce of down is put into a Plexiglas tube, compressed and then let to expand. The further the down expands, the more air it traps and the warmer the down will be.
Fill power ranges from around 400-900 in3/oz, with 600 being fine for normal winter and anything from 750 is going to be great for mountains in Russia (with crème de la crème Eider blowing it out of the water at 1200 in3/oz!).
4. Amount of down
Once you have determined comparable fill powers, the next obvious consideration is how much of your down is in the coat. If the fill power is the same, more of it will mean a warmer jacket. For a mind-bender, a lighter coat with less high-fill-power down may be a lot warmer than a heavier coat with more low fill power down.
5. US vs EU measurements
The US and EU have different measurements of fill power and loft: in3/oz vs. cm3/g. Make sure that you’re comparing the same measurements!
If that wasn’t enough already, the way the coat is stitched up also makes a difference! Stitched keep the down in place, so it’s important to have a well constructed coat.
If a coat has stitches that go right through all layers, you may end up getting cold bits around the stitches (remember the “air volume = warmth, so don’t flatten” bit!). The fewer stitches, the smaller the chances of cold bits.
There are exceptions: high tech coats have different layers so the stitches don’t go all the way through to your body from the outside, and ultra-lightweight down coats meant as an under-layer with tightly spaced stitches allow for a lot more flexibility and good warmth then worn with a wind (and if you’re really into it waterproof) separate outer shell coat.
Finally, you can chose to buy responsibly sourced down, for example sourced as a by-product of the food industry, so you’ll know that no part of the animal was wasted!
Having bought our kit for Russia and Mongolia, we’ll be able to give you first hand account of how well it works, so stay tuned in! The pressure test is less than a month away!