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Synthetic or Down?
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Kenneth Puentes
(pue397) - F

Locale: Southern California
Synthetic or Down? on 01/27/2008 14:00:21 MST Print View

I'm interseted in getting a lightweight insulating layer for 3-season use (primarily at altitude in the Sierras in the summer). Ive narrowed it down to Montbell down inner parka (7.4 oz. M) versus Montbell UL Thermawrap parka (12.8 oz M), probably in L or XL. I thought the hood would provide significant warmth at little extra weight. Is the extra weight of the Thermawrap worth the superior performance in wet conditions? Any other alternatives that I shaould consider? Thanks,

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
MontBell UL Down or Thermawrap on 01/27/2008 14:27:49 MST Print View

I hope you are not looking for a definite, objective answer! :)

Down weighs less -- and in my view, that makes a significant difference when it comes to sleeping bags. But in a jacket where there is very little insulation to begin with, then down's weight advantage is very much reduced.

Bottom line -- is one or two ounces a significant enough difference for you to overlook the major disadvantage of down: its loss of warmth if soaked and the very long drying time required should that happen?

Edited by ben2world on 01/27/2008 14:29:22 MST.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Synthetic or Down? on 01/27/2008 14:31:40 MST Print View

Sierras in summer should not be a problem with cold and damp, at least not in the day-in-day-out high humidity kind of way that can wreak havoc with down. Other than that, cost, longevity of loft and personal preference may be other things to consider.

Kenneth Puentes
(pue397) - F

Locale: Southern California
Synthetic or Down on 01/27/2008 14:40:14 MST Print View

Ben: The main reason for my interest in synthetic is for the exact reason you state.

Allison: good points; one other may be volume difference as well. Re personal preference, I own a MH down jacket that has ben great, but it is heavy (27 oz), has never been wet, and I since lightening the load was the goal, that I may as well consider synthetic.

Thanks to you both for feedback.

Edited by pue397 on 01/27/2008 14:41:10 MST.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: MontBell UL Down or Thermawrap on 01/27/2008 14:40:59 MST Print View


Good call for mentioning the other factors.

When writing about the potential for soaking a jacket, the scenario I had in mind was a hiker starting off a hike wearing the parka (6 or 7 am summertime up in the Sierra can be pretty darn cold -- at least to us southern Californians). Now, I think many of us would be careful about taking off the jacket as soon as the cold becomes manageable -- but there are others who will keep hiking away, not bothering with the jacket -- until it suddenly occurs to them that they are feeling uncomfortably warm! By then, the jacket may be soaked. This can happen with any jacket -- but a synthetic one will be more forgiving. And thus, another one of those YMMV factors for OP to consider.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: MontBell UL Down or Thermawrap on 01/27/2008 16:16:59 MST Print View

Yeah, you *could* sweat out a down jacket to a certain extent, but I'm assuming that summer in the Sierras often provides you with warmer, sunnier weather later on for drying it out again, at least as a general trend. If it would be cold, damp, overcast weather for days on end then I would really worry about it.

I have yet to have a problem with down garments, and a lot of where I hike is often compared to the PNW where is CAN be very wet and cold for long periods of time. Then again, I wouldn't wear my jacket while walking in this kind of weather, only in tents or hut or briefly outside with raincoat on...

Kenneth Puentes
(pue397) - F

Locale: Southern California
MB Down versus Thermawrap Parkas on 01/27/2008 20:18:40 MST Print View

Anyone have expereience with both that can shed light on relative warmth between the two? I tend to run very cold. Thanks,

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: MB Down versus Thermawrap Parkas on 01/27/2008 20:29:44 MST Print View


MontBell "equates" the UL Down with the Thermawrap -- and I believe it does the same between the UL Down parka and the Thermawrap parka.

Warmth is subjective (obviously) -- but having both the UL down and Thermawrap jacket, I always feel the down as being a tad warmer (and I've also read a few other posts saying the same). I am not talking about a big difference though.

My guesstimate is that comparing the down parka vs. Thermawrap parka, the two would be either quite comparable or maybe the down may have a slight edge.

I view myself as "average" neither overly hot or cold. Bear in mind that I live in souther Cal. I view both the UL down jacket and the Thermawrap jacket as pretty good down to 45F -- and if I put on my windproof rain jacket, then I am good to 40F (maybe cool but not deathly cold at 35F).

If you run cold, then my guesstimate is that either parka will be good to 40-45F for you -- and maybe 35F with a shell jacket added.

Jeff Boone
(jnboone) - MLife
It's not always just about weight on 01/27/2008 20:34:58 MST Print View

I don't have any experience with either piece of gear you are considering. I made the decision to go with the BMW Coccoon pants/top. With a down bag I thought it was critical to go synthetic in case everything got wet - and yes I have experienced everything getting wet. The only things I carry back up for are socks, light, and firestarting. I don't carry extra clothes, and I can't justify the weight saving for the increased risk.

Kenneth Puentes
(pue397) - F

Locale: Southern California
MB Down versus Thermawrap Parkas on 01/27/2008 20:42:06 MST Print View

Thanks Ben, that's very helpful information.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Synthetic or Down? on 01/27/2008 21:15:56 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 04/24/2015 23:35:08 MDT.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Ken, Synthetic or Down? on 01/27/2008 22:07:30 MST Print View

Ken, you mentioned the hood feature on your future jacket. I used to dismiss hoods extra weight when I am always carrying a hat.. Then I bought a hooded synthetic jacket; not the MB Thermawrap, actually a DAS parka.. The hood makes a dramatic difference in warmth because it blocks the 'pumping' of heated air from around my neck region. More so than a hooded shell. If I could trade in my non hooded MB Thermawrap for a hooded model, I would.

As for Synthetic vs Down; it is simply a matter of the probabilty of the insulation layer encountering water or condensing vapor. Even on a dry day, if the vapor point of your bodies sensible moisture is located inside the jacket, mositure will condense there and a down jacket will wilt.
If your choice is down, you might wait for the new UL Montbell innner jacket at about 6oz.
To directly answer your question; yes, the added security of carrying synthetics is worth the exra weight, IMO. Even when I carry a down jacket I bring a fleece.

My choices are:
cool (wet or dry); MB Thermawrap
cold-dry; MB Light Alpine Down
very cold (wet or dry); DAS Parka (bought at 1/2 price; no way its worth retail)

Edited by Brett1234 on 01/27/2008 22:08:43 MST.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Synthetic or Down? on 01/28/2008 00:03:39 MST Print View

I think you will find the down inner a bit warmer than the thermawrap. As to down -vs- synthetic... it really depends on the conditions you face. I like a bit of extra insurance that synthetic gives me over down, and am willing to pay a modest weight/volume penalty. With synthetic insulation I can consider layering my insulation over my wet jacket to warm up and dry out. That said... I have trouble remembering at trips in the sierras where I though down would have been a major liability.

I agree that a hood makes a big difference... thanks to the protection of your neck and head. I certainly appreciate people going with the parka. I am happy with my jacket cause in warm conditions I don't need the hood, and in colder conditions I have a down baklava which works well.

As to options... the thermawrap is the least insulating of the ultralight high loft layering pieces. I run slightly hot... the thermawrap keeps me happy to around 20-25F when I am standing around. Good for me down to around 0F when active. As Ben noted... some people run a lot colder and find it only good down to around 40-45F.

If you run cold, and you expect colder weather, there are a host of warmer high loft jackets. I make a a list of high loft jackets a year or so ago, which is still reasonably accurate.


Edited by verber on 01/28/2008 09:35:43 MST.

Eric Carlsen
(cooleric1234) - F
Synthetic or Down? on 01/28/2008 05:50:08 MST Print View

I opted for down and I'll tell you why. I figure if I'm carrying a pack I won't need to wear either my down or synthetic insulation layer. I'll be warm enough with the pack and I wouldn't want the pack to damage the jacket. So the jacket is primarily for warmth in camp (I suppose possible at breaks too). In that situation I won't really be sweating and I'll be able to keep it dry with my jacket, so I figure down won't be too bad. I haven't had it long enough to tell you if that's the case yet.

A Hewlett
(llew) - F

Locale: oswestry, uk
Re: Synthetic or Down?(waterproof down? on 01/28/2008 16:57:22 MST Print View

has anyone experience with nikwax(?) down proof ??

Jim Wood
Insulation choices on 02/01/2008 10:31:11 MST Print View

When considering any type of high-loft insulating jacket (whether down or synthetic), it's useful to remember that these pieces often don't layer well under shells.

The problem is that the weight of the shell can often compress the insulation, significantly reducing its ability to keep you warm. This is particularly true of the shoulder area where the insulation is often most critical for warmth but which tends to be compressed the most, especially with hands stuffed into the shell's side pockets.

Perhaps ironically, this issue can be most pronounced with the kinds of high-end, super-lofty products that lightweight backpackers tend to seek out since the ultra-puffy insulations (like 800+ fill down, for example) tend to compress more easily than some lower quality insulators.

There was an interesting thread recently about this issue over at TLB.

Creates kind of a dilemma. On the one hand, a shell (which you're already carrying) can, by itself, offer several degrees of warmth, but on the other hand, if you wear that shell over a lofty insulation piece, you're probably going to lose a fair amount of warmth from compression.

So another option I've been using for the past couple of years is the (relatively) new Polartec Thermal Pro fleece that's lighter, warmer and more compressible than the classic stuff. Specifically, I now mostly use the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man jacket that weighs about a pound in size large. Super-durable, very warm (especially when layered under a shell), quick to dry, and highly resistant to damage from stuffing, it might be a choice you'd like to consider.

Edited by jwood on 02/01/2008 10:40:15 MST.