You owe your down jacket a lot. It spares you the shivers on long chairlift rides, offers respite from the cold when you’re belaying a monster pitch, and lets you enjoy evenings spent outside stargazing on alpine backpacking trips.
But without proper care, an underappreciated jacket will start to lose its loft, compromising its ability to insulate. Consider these tips for keeping your high-quality down jackets—and those filled with synthetic insulation—in cold-busting condition season after season.
Fluff the Puff
Never store your jacket bunched up in its stuff sack. The feathers will clump and stick together, which makes insulation patchy and creates cold spots. Even synthetic insulation can pack down over time. To avoid this, only stuff your jacket in its sack when you need it compressed in your backpack or travel bag. Otherwise, unfurl for storage.
Keep It Clean
Contrary to popular belief, washing your down or synthetic insulation jacket at home won’t harm it—and most manufacturers agree. (One notable exception: The North Face recommend taking your jacket to a professional cleaner who specializes in down.) Washing your jacket will not only keep it looking and smelling good, but de-griming down plumes enables them to fluff up more, thus trapping more air and providing more warmth. Proper cleaning can actually revive the Durable Water Resistant (DWR) treatment on the outside, too—enabling light moisture to bead up and roll off the jacket’s surface.
Follow your manufacturer’s instructions, usually found on the jacket’s tag or on the brand’s website. A mild soap will work, but a dedicated down detergent (such as Granger’s Down Wash) not only cleans the plumes without stripping them of essential oils, but will revive the DWR treatment that helps protect the insides of your jacket from moisture. Jackets with synthetic insulation are easier to clean, but also benefit from a detergent designed for technical garments like Nikwax Tech Wash.
Gentle does it
Either hand wash the jacket or toss it in a front-loading washing machine—just avoid top-loaders with an agitator as they can be hard on delicate garments. When clean, place the jacket in a dryer on the lowest heat setting along with a tennis ball or two to aid the re-fluffing process. It takes a long time for a wet down jacket to dry, so be patient. Keep checking every 30 minutes, then once dry, return your jacket to its rightful hanger or coat hook. Jackets with synthetic insulation should also be dried in the dryer in order to properly revive their DWR treatment.
Patch Things Up
One reason your down jacket is nice and light is the low denier nylon or polyester fabric it’s made with. While durable, a rip or tear from a tree branch, ski edge, or wayward knife toss is inevitable. You’ll then start to leak feathers, which compromises the jacket’s insulation. Find a nylon fabric repair tape or some fabric glue at your local sewing/crafts store and seal the hole. Gluing or taping works much better than sewing (which pokes new holes), and lasts much longer than the commonly seen duct tape patch.
Down and synthetic insulation jackets are an investment, so treat yours with the love and care it deserves. If you keep your jacket clean, shiny, and fully lofted, it’ll stay warm and classy enough for every occasion, from the backcountry to the brewpub.