What Do You Think About Waterproof Down Now?

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It’s just been three years since waterproof down became available in sleeping bags and jackets, but in that short time it’s become a defacto standard across the outdoor industry. The big gear and clothing companies and most mid-sized manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon with the exception of a few premium goose down holdouts like Western Mountaineering, Feathered Friends, and PhD Designs.

So what’s the consensus:

  • Is waterproof down noticeably effective outside of laboratory conditions?
  • Is it a must-have when buying sleeping bags, quilts, or jackets?
  • Does the down in children’s clothing and outdoor gear have to be waterproofed?
  • Is there any difference between the various brands of waterproof down like DownTek, DriDown, HyperDRY Down or is it pretty much all the same?
  • What are the pros and cons of waterproof down?
  • If waterproof down just marketing “fluff?”

Discuss.

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36 comments

  1. I used an enlightened equipment quilt with Downtek Down fill on my thru-hike of the AT in 2015. I’d recommend to anyone to spend the extra money on waterproof down. On a few occasions I had condensation dripping from my tarp during the night and the down didn’t absorb any of the moisture. It held its loft really well throughout the hike and after washing it when I got home it puffed up as if it was brand new.

    Highly Recommended

    PIE

  2. Honestly, I haven’t noticed a difference, but then again, I’m not treating my treated down clothing any differently from the non-treated down I used before. I still take the same care to keep it dry. I’ve seen the demos with treated down in a test tube, but honestly, I dont think it makes much of a difference if one continues taking special care with down-filled items. Maybe I need to go hiking in an extended cold rain to really see the benefits.

  3. This is a great idea for a survey and I’m really looking forward to learning the results.

    I’ve had a dri-down bag from Siera Designs for just about 3 years now, but I’ve never gotten it wet. Like Earl, I still treat it like a precious child just as if it weren’t treated. When ordering a new EE quilt recently, I opted for the free water-proof option as a “just in case,” but I still never expect to let it get wet.

    I did treat my older EE quilt with the wash-in down proof product from Nikwax and it hasn’t been the same since. After machine washing, all of the down moved to the edges of the quilt and seemed to be “clumped up” and remained this way even after drying. I did my best to spread it all back out, but it’s never been as warm. The lesson might be, “don’t put your expensive quilt through your home washer and drier.”

  4. Based on 2 years/30 nights with a Kelty Dri-Down bag: Yes it’s more effective than untreated down. Almost a “must-have”, definitely a plus, and I’m glad so many manufacturers are making it standard. I just ordered an EE Revelation, and if DriDown wasn’t standard I would have paid extra for it. For children’s clothing, synthetic insulation, not down (cost, durability). Don’t have any experience with which to compare different brands of waterproof down. Definitely not just fluff, it works.

  5. My question is, and I don’t suppose we’ll have an answer to this for many years, is how does the waterproofing affect the durability of down? One of the advantages of down is that is maintains its loft for decades. Will we all be disappointed 5 years from now, or will waterproof down hold up as well?

  6. Is waterproof down noticeably effective outside of laboratory conditions?
    It depends. I will use a jacket, a 13oz EMS Feather (DWR and WPD) as an example. As outer wear it worked in snow and light drizzle for about a half hour. Then it started soaking and loosing a large amount of loft. For long term wet conditions, similar to hiking for a half day in the rain, then NO. I would not risk it becoming wet. In dry conditions, it doesn’t matter. At camp (once some shelter is available: tarp, tent or lean-to) it works no better than regular down. The older jacket, at 11oz) was just as warm. Both are 800fp and have similar DWR shells. So, only if I wear it for the first half hour in the morning of a 10hr hiking day does it make sense

    Is it a must-have when buying sleeping bags, quilts, or jackets?
    No. You have to keep down dry, anyway. On a hike, I often run into two or three day stretches of rain, wet weeds and scrub, dripping trees, if not snow and sleet. Morning conditions in the North East often take a couple hours to dry enough to wear the jacket for hiking along these trails. By then, I am beyond needing the WPD anyway. But, before hiking a trail and in the evening (after the days hike,) any jacket/sweater is worth it. WPD is no better, or worse, than untreated down.

    Does the down in children’s clothing and outdoor gear have to be waterproofed?
    Nope, as above. It will soak through within a half hour of wet weather. Not long enough to make it worth while. Certainly not worth paying extra for it. Kids will play in the rain until they are painfully cold and wet. Down is not an ideal choice for them to begin with. It will certainly not stop a wet bed.

    Is there any difference between the various brands of waterproof down like DownTek, DriDown, HyperDRY Down or is it pretty much all the same?
    I don’t know. NikWax Down Proof is just as good, I think. It too lasts about an hour in rain when hiking. Unless it is free when purchasing, you can use NikWax three or four times over a couple years and get the same effect on any down goods. The only difference I see is that the treatment lasts longer, but it doesn’t really matter which brand.

    What are the pros and cons of waterproof down? Well, dry gear for a half hour adds a slight insurance. But, if you are moving in the rain, it makes no difference. Down, water proof or not, will pick up a lot of water. It does not stop condensation. Think of a car windshield. Just because it is water proof, it does NOT mean it will not get condensation. They assume that it will dry faster, but if I let my down get that wet… well…I’m in trouble. I cannot worry about drying times if I cannot survive getting wet, kind’a putting the cart before the horse. Makes no sense to me. The most sensible is to simply not let it get wet, ie, don’t use it for wet conditions. “Do not use it to swim and stay warm because drying will be faster.” It just ain’t logical. WPD should be water proof to begin with. It should not get wet to begin with. So, who cares if it dries quicker? Simply never get your down wet enough to require long drying times. IF….IF…. well, selling “IF’s” is what manufacturer’s spin-doctors do.

    if(?) waterproof down just marketing “fluff?”
    Yes. It does not stop condensation. It does not stop water from soaking through, especially when moving. It does not stop the billowing and pumping action of down garments forcing water throughout the materials. It is not rain gear because it looses warmth when wet. It does not stop bodily oils, nor, perspiration on your feet. It does not let me drop my dry sack or dry liner because it will save it when I flip my canoe… It is not some “magic” bullet when it comes to keeping down dry. Wet down is cold down. It boils down to keeping the down dry whether it is water proof or not. So, it doesn’t matter as long as it does not cost anything. Pay extra? Nope, not worth it.

    In every case, it is a “don’t care.” That pretty sums up my thoughts on the current water proof down.

    • I feel like you have a wrong understanding of the goal of the clothing. I could be mistaken though, so i’ll apologize if i’m getting it wrong.

      In my mind, the goal of the waterproof down, is not that it’ll keep you dry. It’ll keep the down dryer so it doesn’t lose all of its insulative properties if you do happen to get wet for some reason. Take a normal down jacket, and you can easily get in trouble if it gets wet due to a sudden downpour or other reason. Less so with a waterproof one since it keeps its loft better. In that respect there’s a definate improvement with the waterproof down. In my mind, i’ll always try to keep everything dry, but if you’ve been outdoors, you just know that won’t happen. For its weight, it’s still one of the better choices.

  7. Hiking primarily in the rain forest that is the Southern Appalachian Mountains, everything gets damp, even kept carefully under cover and out of the rain. It seems to me that waterproof down is made for just this type of condition. I don’t own any waterproof down currently, but now that its so readily available, why buy anything else?

  8. Why do people buy grass-fed beef? Because it’s not full of hormones and anti-biotics.

    Any danger of treated down gassing off and mutating your chromosomes? I wonder…

    • Not unless you’re putting the chemical inside your sex organs… Actually as a male your gamete cells are mutating over time anyways.

  9. Thanks Philip for bringing this up and starting a discussion of waterproof down. The results should be quite interesting.

    Like others who’ve responded I’ve not noticed a difference in WPD vs NonWPD, not because there isn’t any but because I’ve learned over the years to treat all my down articles like religious relics. Good habits, like bad, are hard to break and so far I’ve not put any WPD to the test – lucky me.

    Because I take zealous care of my down it’s more important for me to understand how WPD compares to NonWPD in during extended use in high humidity environments. I normally hike in the drier portions of the west so have no basis to compare. Perhaps someone who’s taken the same article of clothing on the AT then the CDT, or comparable locations, would have some input.

    I think we can all agree that given enough water and pressure any fabric/fill combination will fail. So perhaps a question that could be added to your survey is “how did your WPD recover from a good drenching”. How such an article dries in the field after a mishap like a popped water bladder or a rolled canoe could be very important.

    Thanks again – interesting reading.

  10. I finished my AT thru hike in Georgia two weeks ago just to give an idea of how much rain I had to deal with. Seven straight days of downpours in the Smokies. I would have been in potentially serious conditions without my zpacks dridown bag and my Eddie Bauer jacket. They allowed me to stay on trail in very wet and cold weather day after day. I feel like everything dried just like my untreated down gear.

  11. I agree with Allen, and with WM (I haven’t read anything from FF or PhD): It’s the long term I’m interested in.

    Anyway, the WM Ultralite I bought in 2006 is doing just fine, thank you, and I have no intention of replacing it, especially since a new bag would cost nearly double what I paid. My current bag will probably outlive me!

    Just keep the DWR renewed on the outer shell of your down bag, follow the many suggestions to minimize condensation (especially ventilation), and it shouldn’t matter.

  12. Oh, yes, and be religious about keeping the down articles dry!

  13. Keep it away from a downpour and it will evaporate moisture quickly. Plunge it into wet “warm” snow and it will get wet and soggy just like anything else. I am going by my North Face down 700 jacket and my Kelty DriDown bag. A Canada Goose down jacket is awesome but it is overkill unless you live in the really cold places like northern Ontario or MN, AK, etc.

  14. When it comes to washing down. Waterproof treated down doesnt clump and dries much quicker than untreated down.

  15. None of my gear is treated down, although if it was available in my budget when I got it, I’d have opted for it as a bit of an insurance policy. Of course, my real insurance policy is, “Don’t get it wet!”

  16. I’d like to know exactly what the chemical(s) is/are used to treat the down.

    • I haven’t been able to pin it down yet, but it appears similar the the stuff in DWR, long chain fluorocarbons, which the EPA is about to ban because it pollutes natural water sources.

  17. First let me say I have not been tempted to buy a waterproof down item!
    I have discussed at some length the pros and cons with excellent outdoor enthusiasts both practical outdoors people and instructors plus retail gurus. The consensus appears to be it is all on the covering fabric; the more water proof or resistant the better chance of waterproof down staying that way and giving the required protection. However to gain maximum warmth from the down the best available fabrics are breathable with a moisture preventative treatment “Pertex” being a well known fabric.
    Cost analysis says that the best value by far is traditional pure northern goose down in a fully breathable covering with a good DWR coated covering. Normal down if kept dry both in transit and in use is by far the best value.
    Personally I use a lightweight and a medium weight down sleeping bag (both together in winter) and for travel an ultra light hollow fiber vest which is still warm if wet. Waterproof down is not on my list of priorities, not even on my extensive wish list

    • Be careful with your zero air permeability Pertex type fabrics in temperatures below 20 degrees even if tent camping. Moisture will accumulate in your down, each day. The colder it is, the fewer days you will go before your bags down is compromised with excess moisture.

  18. I just invested in the highest quality quilt I’ve ever bought, a Katabatic Gear Alsek and I chose the 900 fp untreated goose down. The treated down was 850 fp, and slightly more expensive. My reasoning for not going with the treated down is that I KNOW the high quality non-treated down will last a decade with good care. I do not know this of treated down.

  19. Seems I recall it is recommended to use a front loader washing machine for down items and when drying, use a few tennis balls to help separate the down. Not sure about the Nikwax aspect but I am guessing the procedure is the same.

  20. My question revolves around true loft fill power, my understanding is that treated down is a lower fill down that becomes a little stiffer, so when it is put in a fill power tube it lofts higher than it would otherwise, now that being said, it is misleading and dishonest for manufacturers to claim 800/850 fill in comparison to what Western, Feathered Friends and Phd use, true 800/850 fill untreated down, they are NOT the same, and did anyone notice some mfrs. do not say “goose down” anymore?, i called Mountain Hardwear and questioned this, they told me they use a blend of goose and duck, considering your’e spending high hundreds on a bag with “800” fill it should be untreated goose for the price , let alone be made in China, In 5 to 10 years of regular use we will see how this treated stuff holds up, we know how the untreated goose does.

  21. I worked in the down gear world over forty-five years ago, when they still “blew” down into jacket and bag channels with vacuum cleaner motors. Envision that, as delicate down fibers whirred through an impeller blade at high velocity! The best down we saw then was a small bag of uber-pricey 700 fill, with normal 25 lb. bags testing at 600 or better for our highest end brand. Down that had passed once thru the vacuum lost around 75-100, so your 600 became 500. Today they use different systems which supposedly don’t damage the down, but the ratings of 800-900 are suspect, because they tease, primp, fluff, and coddle the sample to max volume before lowering the weighed plate onto it. Real world use compresses down anywhere a strap or bend or elbow rests against a surface, and the fact is, a full channel with 600 fill down holds loft, traps air better, blocks wind flow, and so is warmer, than thin, underfilled channels of 800 rated fill you can see through. Even though it lacks a strong wind shell, my Cloudveil jacket with channels of 2 solid inches is vastly warmer than my Marmot, barely managing 3/4″ max. Keep the best outer shell clean and retreated, and protect the down under it. Buy practical Thinsulate gear with tough waterproof outer layers for work and everyday use, where weight is not a premium.

  22. Four years of testing water-resistant down gear. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and I have been caught in rain in 42 degrees F and not only stayed warm but my clothes underneath stayed dry. The Dri-Down filled jacket did eventually get soaked, but it also dried out very quickly once home and hung on a chair to dry. I have also noticed my SD DriDown bags do not suffer wet spots from condensation like my non-water-resistant down bag. But what’s even more important is that I can rest assure that the down in my gear was ethically sourced. Many people don’t realize that many brands use down sourced from farms in china where the ducks and chickens are plucked while still alive. It’s horrendously painful for the critters. Always check the tags, folks. No reason animals should suffer because we want to pay less money (hello costco down jackets).

  23. I’ve had a 45 year experience with looking for the lightest best gear for mountaineering including major expeditions in Alaska, the Himalayas and Karakorams.

    I used dry down for my sleeping bag on thru hike of the PCT in 2015 and being impressed, for both my sleeping bag and jacket on the CDT in 2017. The weather was pretty good on both these hikes, but there was some cold snowy and rainy weather at times. For repeated cold nights in good weather camping on patches of earth surrounded by snow (3 weeks on the CDT), the inevitable condensation that occurs each night and builds up over successive days did not decrease the loft in the dry down bags as much as in the non dry down bags. In stormy weather, where there is a lot of condensation inside my tents which inevitably wets the foot of the sleeping bag, the dry down was noticeably better than non dry down in keeping its loft. There was actually some insulation left. And as mentioned in other posts, it does dry more quickly.

    I’m sold on dry down. In cold weather, there is always water that gets into jackets and sleeping bags because the outer layers are colder than your body, and this causes the water vapor to condense. The dry down holds up better with this than regular down. In really wet conditions I think it can also be better, but lets face if, if you soak down its not going to do well whether its dry down or not. In these conditions you need synthetic insulation (trust me, I’m from the Northwest :))

  24. I’m looking to replace a 40-year old REI down bag. Western Mountaineering’s cautioned that the water resistant treatment could harm longevity has me slightly worried. On the other hand, I will certainly be dead in another 40 years. I’ve always been careful with the REI bag, rarely washing it and always stored it uncompressed. No, down doesn’t last forever, but it should, pretty near.

    • Never heard that objection handler before, but it doesn’t surprise me that they’d say it. I prefer untreated down because I like products with less chemical additives, but it wouldn’t really deter me from buying something I like if all the other variables line up.

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