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24 Mar '16

Down Stinks. Literally.

Posted by Marta Gravier

Down feather, Wikipedia

You probably have something with down in it: a jacket, a comforter, a pillow, a puffy vest. But you probably don’t know much about where down comes from. And if you did, you’d quit down cold turkey, er…. goose.

Humans have been using down as an insulator for centuries, dating back to as far as the 1600s. Down is the fluffy under feather layer that birds use to stay warm. When birds are babies, all of their feathers are down, and then they molt in adolescence to gain an extra waterproof top layer of fly-worthy external feathers.

The common belief is that down is a superior material: it’s warm, fluffy, lightweight, and packable. But down’s down sides far outweigh it’s ups:

  1. Down doesn’t stay warm when wet. Its thermal properties are virtually eliminated if it comes into contact with moisture like, say, snow or sweat. The insulating property of down is linked to its fluffiness and its ability to hold a layer of air. When wet, the feathers collapse and don’t hold any air, and therefore cease to insulate.
  2. Down is an allergen. People are allergic to down, specifically the molds and dust mites that down fosters. Think of that pillow - it isn't as cuddly as it seems.
  3. Down mildews. You can’t really wash it, and if it does and it doesn’t dry out right away (which is what happens when you air dry it) it reeks with an odor that will never fully dissipate.
  4. Down stinks. Literally. It smells like animal. Besides that, it’s stench will grow as it ages as it absorbs and retains odors.
  5. Down clumps up. As hard as manufacturers try to keep down in place by stitching cells into their products, down gathers up and creates an inconsistent clumpy layer and look.
  6. Down doesn’t age well. Down feathers tend to become more allergenic as they age.
  7. Down is uncomfortable. Remember those little spiky things that stick out of your coat and duvet? That’s a stray down feather. You can’t pull them out because then more feathers will come with it. And you can’t push them back in.
  8. Down is inhumane. On top of all of this, down is an incredibly inhumane material.

Down feathers are plucked from geese and ducks, and are collected two different ways. There is post mortem (or “after death”) plucking, which is when the geese or ducks are plucked of their down feathers after they have been killed for meat. Yes, if you buy an animal by-product you’re still participating in the economy of killing the animal. You’re not exempt just because it’s not going in your mouth.


Live-plucking is the other method: farm workers at down collecting facilities will restrain geese or ducks and begin to pluck handfuls of feathers in order to get at the underlayer of down. This will happen a few times during the goose’s or duck’s life span. The results? Geese and ducks are left with large bald patches and torn skin, particularly around the neck and belly. Open wounds, if they are noticed by workers at all, are sometimes sewn up unprofessionally and oftentimes without anesthesia. The process is so stressful and painful that many of the birds involved die in the process.

Down’s a shitty material, and there are so many better alternatives. Big outdoors companies are using synthetic materials, and these materials perform way better than down ever has. Let’s take a look.


The charge for down alternatives was led by the US Army. After finding that down was too expensive and that it failed when wet, the US Army began looking for something better to clothe soldiers. The resulting drive in research and development led to PrimaLoft. PrimaLoft was developed for the US Army in the 1980s as a superior down alternative that stayed warm when wet. Unlike down, PrimaLoft is able to retain 96% of its insulating capability when wet. Not only that, but it’s water repellant. Today, PrimaLoft is one of the largest producers of synthetic down. You can event get PrimaLoft with recycled polyester content.


Thinsulate, which predates PrimaLoft is another great alternative that, as its name suggests, insulates without the bulk of down.


Aerogel is even older, dating back to the 1930s. It’s the material NASA uses to keep astronauts warm. There is now a company making cold weather gear for us normal humans from this awesome material.

There’s really no reason to wear down with so many superior materials out there. And things are only getting better. So join us and put down the down. It’s for the birds.



Source: Wikipedia | Second photo: blogs.ft.com/photo-diary/tag/geese

aerogel down feathers geese primaloft thinsulate vegan materials

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