Puffer jackets are a staple in nearly every hiker’s closet, but what makes them so special? What materials are used to make these jackets? There is far more to these fabrics and fills than you may expect inside your super light puffy jacket.
Typical puffy jackets will use down or a synthetic fill paired with a lightweight but durable outer fabric like nylon. This allows them to take slight snags and not tear while the loft inside provides you exceptional warmth to weight. The air pockets created by insulation allows for retaining of heat.
With the wide variety of options, what should you be looking for when choosing what type of jacket will suit your needs best? This article will help you compare and contrast different types of materials to help you find which one might work best for you.
The Basics on Puffer Jacket Materials
The hiking world loves their puffy jackets due to their low weight and high heat retention. These jackets can be made from a wide variety of different insulations types, from goose or duck down to synthetics.
Usually whatever is used inside the jacket will determine what type of fabric will need to be used on the outside to contain it. These fabrics can include things like nylon, polyester, down, and sometimes fleece.
The combination needed to create an amazing puffy jacket is to provide enough insulation value while simultaneously not adding too much unnecessary weight.
What Materials are used for a Puffer Jacket Outer Shell?
There are many types of fabric used to make the outer shell of a puffy jacket. A light weight nylon or polyester can provide a jacket with some amazing performance in the wind, rain, and snow.
Your needs will typically dictate the fabric type you require in your purchase as someone hiking needs tougher fabric than someone going about their day to day life. So what are the options for what a puffy jacket shell can be made of?
What fabric is used for puffer jackets?
What are puffer jacket outers made with one or more of the jacket fabric materials listed below:
Nylon: This fabric is used on many different types of outdoor gear including down jackets because it provides great strength while not adding too much weight to what might be a lightweight piece of clothing. It does not breathe well and can take on a lot of moisture making it not the best choice for humid climates.
Nylon will come in many different denier weights with the smallest number meaning that it is stronger and thicker. This type of fabric should be what you choose if you are hiking or need something you can abuse without worrying about ruining what you are wearing.
Polyester: This fabric type will breathe better than nylon and also adds a lot of durability to what you may be purchasing. It does not tend to do well when it gets wet so while great for hiking, it might need to dry out quicker or risk getting mildewed from the inside.
Polyester often gets blended with nylon to add more strength where you need it and breathability where you want it. This blend creates a tough material that can stand up to whatever you throw at it while remaining lightweight and very packable.
Fleece: If you are looking for a more casual puffy jacket, fleece may be what you need. It doesn’t breathe all that well and will absorb moisture easily so what it lacks in breathability it makes up for in comfort and feeling great against your skin.
Fleece is what most casual puffy jackets are made of because it provides the user with an incredible amount of warmth to weight ratio. This fabric also performs poorly when wet making you want to avoid purchasing anything made from this material if hiking on rainy days or wanting a layer to wear outside while snowboarding or skiing.
What is the Best Outer Material for a Down Jacket?
For most hikers, this would by nylon and typically 10-20denier is more than fine for our standard use. This gives the material some solid durability on the trail while not becoming too thick and allowing it to stay ultralight but ultrawarm.
For most of us we have limited time wearing the puffy all alone, the only major issues you could face is getting hooked onto a solid tree branch causing tearing or wearing near a fire and catching an ember (more often than we will all say).
Now that we have finished off talking about the outer shell, lets take a look inside at the actual fill as it is what will truly provide you the warmth over time and is the reason we all love to carry one with us!
What Materials Are Used for a Puffer Jacket Filling?
A puffy jacket can have many filling options depending on the cost you are willing to pay along with the environment you plan to travel in. The most common is a down fill, sourced from all kinds like duck, goose, or other feathered animal.
For those who are living or using their jacket in a high humidity area though the synthetic option is possibly best as they will stand up better to the consistent moisture giving more warmth while wet where down can deflate over time.
What Is the Differences in Each Type of Puffer Jacket Fill?
For most in the hiking world the differences come down to two things, overall all weight and overall packability. We care about how lightweight we can get while still getting the warmth we need and we need it to be as small in the pack as possible.
Down fill is preferred for most hiking trips due to the high compressibility and exceedingly lightweight due to feathers and the loft they provide which creates the warmth.
Down is able to be so lightweight due to the downs ability to “loft” open up and create pockets of air trapped in between the feathers allowing you to heat what would otherwise be a solid wall of insulation.
For its main issue, down is quite expensive the higher quality it is along with its issues when wet. Down is quite well known to be exactly what you don’t want when wet as it loses all loft and collapses into a thin layer with no ability to create warmth what so ever.
Synthetic fill is perfect for humidity as it doesn’t compress and start to lose the ability to trap in that body heat. It is also lightweight similar to down but where it tends to lack a bit for hiking and backpacking is in the compress-ability.
Synthetic shines truly in bad weather as synthetics will tend to be warm even when wet, this is due to the synthetic fibers which still retain their same puffy status even while soaked through.
Synthetics tend to be double the size when packed down from their down counterparts, if you are looking at using a smaller sized backpack and moving towards lightweight backpacking then this can hurt you as to space requirements.
When checking out synthetic jackets I suggest looking at the “million dollar jacket” or Ultralight LoftTek™ Adventure Jacket from Outdoor Vitals, as this is what I use here in Texas for warmth and humidity protection.
What is the Best Fill for a Hikers Puffy Jacket?
For hikers looking to get the maximum warmth for the least weight leads to selecting down and preferably a fill between 850-950FP to provide maximum warmth and lowest weight, we list our favorite puffy jackets in this post, I’d suggest you check them out!
For those who are hiking in highly humid areas where drying may become difficult the choice starts to point towards a synthetic to ensure the heat can be generated even if the jacket gets wet from rain, sweat, or other problems like high humidity.
What does Fill Power in Down Jackets Mean?
When you begin to look at purchasing a puffy jacket you will notice that the jackets will list numbers like 550FP, 850FP, 900FP, and similar. This may leave you wondering what do these numbers mean to you?
Fill power is a measure of the feathers innate ability to loft, the higher this number is the less feathers that are needed to provide the same warmth as a smaller number. This directly will correlate to less weight from the gear, all things the same 550FP versus 950FP the 950FP will be much lighter.
While the fill power number being higher may seem like the best option this will come at a price in cost overall, there are far fewer 950FP feathers than 550FP feathers from one bird.
This means you will pay a premium the higher you climb up in fill power, but you will also start to drop weight, what you will have to do is find your point of cost versus weight. There are some good cost to benefit options like this Regulator Down Jacket from Outdoor Vitals.
A puffer jacket is what you need if you live in a cold climate and need a layer that has both warmth and a lot of mobility. There are many different factors that go into what creates what type of material is used for what purpose because there are multiple purposes for what you may want to use this jacket for.
Down jackets are the most common choice, which often have an explicit down fill. These jackets will come in both nylon and polyester. A nylon coat will be better if you do not want to risk ruining a very expensive jacket while on the trail or in your camp.
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