Water-resistant down appears to be one of the next great materials of the outdoors. Last year and earlier this year, a handful of outdoor apparel manufacturers announced garments built around the material. More recently, the number of manufacturers has multiplied and plans to release a variety of water-resistant-down sleeping bags have surfaced.
When we first saw water-resistant/hydrophobic down, we had a feeling that it would have serious legs. DownTek, one type of water-resistant down, uses a nano polymer treatment that repels water, allowing it to maintain its unmatched warmth-to-weight ratio even when wet. Essentially, it solves down's one main deficiency, and if it works as effectively as claimed, it should replace traditional down as the go-to fabric for cold-weather insulation. It also adds anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties to the down.
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Down Decor, the Cincinnati-based supplier behind DownTek, recently announced the full roster of brands that plan to use DownTek for the 2012/2013 winter season. A total of 10 partners were announced, including outdoor brands like Big Agnes, L.L. Bean, Mountain Hardwear and Nemo.
We've already looked at some of the DownTek jackets slated for next winter, and DownTek offerings will also include sleeping bags. Big Agnes will launch two DownTek sleeping bags this fall, expanding the line to more than a dozen next year. Among the first two, the Bellyache Mountain SL will be stuffed with 700-fill DownTek, offering 15º F (-9.4º C) protection and a weight of 2 lb 7 oz (1.1 kg). It will be sold for US$299.95.
"Water repellent down will be a game-changer for the outdoor industry," Bill Gamber, Big Agnes co-founder, president and head of product development said in a press release. "Our entire crew is constantly searching for innovative new materials and insulation so we jumped at the opportunity to incorporate DownTek into our products."
Brooks-Range, one of the first manufacturers to announce a DownTek jacket, will use DownTek in its innovative sleeping bag line. The new Cloak sleeping bag is essentially the top half of a sleeping bag - a down quilt, if you will. The bag eliminates the weight of the bottom and zippers and relies on a sleeping pad to provide underside insulation. The 850-fill Cloak will come in 45, 30 and 15º F versions, ranging between $249 and $369 and 13 and 20 ounces (369 g to 567 g). Brooks-Range will also use DownTek in its existing Elephant Foot sleeping bag, a small, lightweight sleeping bag that works in conjunction with a down jacket to save weight. Those models will hit the market next spring.
While jackets may represent the most intuitive use of water-repellant down due to their exposure to both perspiration and external moisture like rain and snow, sleeping bags can also benefit greatly from the treated insulation. Thanks to its light weight, excellent packing ability and superior warmth, down is a preferred insulation for sleeping bags used for backpacking, mountaineering and other activities where minimal weight and high performance are mandatory. However, should a sleeping bag get wet at any point during the journey, it could be a big problem. DownTek decreases down's susceptibility to failure.
The main question mark behind water-repellant down is the cost. Down is already an expensive investment, so if there's a considerable premium on the water-repellant variety, it could be prohibitive. Based upon the prices we've seen, the mark-up doesn't appear that steep. The Bellyache Mountain SL prices in neatly between Big Agnes' $240 650-fill Lost Ranger (2 lb. 14 oz./1.3 kg) and its $400, 800-fill Mystic SL (2 lb 4 oz./1 kg), both of which are rated to 15º F. The DownTek Brooks-Range Elephant Foot bag will retail for $50 more than the existing Elephant Foot at $299, and the new model receives several other updates besides DownTek, such as more foot room and a redesigned collar.
Source: Down DecorView gallery - 7 images