Waterproof down made a big splash this winter. Many companies started using durable water repellent (DWR) treated down. Other companies asked questions about the treated down—from whether it would last over time, to whether or not DWR treatment reduces down’s warmth rating, to what the environmental impact of the product is.
Patagonia, which has stringent company-wide environmental parameters that all products must meet, took a pass on DWR-treated down and developed a new method of waterproofing that the company says is green. Patagonia is using its new down in one garment this season—the Encapsil Down Belay Jacket.
Designed for alpinists who deal with the world’s worst weather and who have to count every ounce they’re carrying, this 18-ounce water-repellent Encapsil 1,000-fill-power down belay parka is the warmest jacket you can get for the weight.
According to Patagonia, its waterproof down offers a significant advantage over other waterproof down solutions. Silicone-free Encapsil, the product that Patagonia uses to treat its down, is fluorocarbon-free (DWR typically contains fluorocarbons). Patagonia agitates its plumes with low-level radio frequency waves to shift the molecular structure of the down’s surface. Then it adds a tiny amount of siloxane to each bit of down. The silicone sticks to the down permanently. The result: hydrophobic down that is 25 percent stronger and loftier than untreated down.
"Patagonia has insisted on taking an intensive scientific and holistic approach to do more, but with less environmental harm," said Randy Harward, vice president of advanced research & development at Patagonia. "Even with these stringent guidelines, we've developed the highest-performing down technology available anywhere. This has been a five-year R&D project in the making, and we are eager to integrate this technology into future styles beyond the Belay Parka."
"This is the most challenging design project I have ever worked on," said Casey Shaw, advanced product engineer at Patagonia. "To design this parka, we had to develop new construction techniques that would allow us to maintain perfectly baffled chambers while insuring low bulk."
The Encapsil uses an ultralight Pertex Endurance nylon ripstop outer fabric with a polyurethane dry coat for water repellency. The hood is baffled and helmet-compatible with a single drawcord that gives the wearer a small draft collar of down around his or her face to battle frostbite on exposed skin. Variegated baffles across the parka are smaller in high-compression areas to help keep down from shifting, and a double-baffle wind flap behind the zipper completely seals out cold and wind. Patagonia didn’t use moisture-trapping materials anywhere in the parka. The exterior hand pockets are independently insulated to retain warmth even when they’re open, and the high positioning keeps them away from a harness when you’re roped up. A hem drawcord adjustment can be adjusted from inside or out, and a mini snowskirt keeps out wind from below without compressing the down in the lowest chamber.
"Not only is this parka functional, it is also beautiful," said Lee Turlington, vice president of global product at Patagonia. "If you are going to make the best possible product, it needs to be perfectly tailored and clean-finished. It is incredibly hard to clean-finish a garment like this—it turns a technically superior belay parka into a work of art." Available now, $699; patagonia.com.