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Thermoball Synthetic Insulation vs Goose Down

Thermoball Primaloft Synthetic Insulation
Thermoball Primaloft Synthetic Insulation

Thermoball is a new form of Primaloft synthetic insulation designed to mimic the insulating properties and compressibility of goose down while providing a lower cost alternative to down coats and jackets. Co-developed for The North Face’s new line of insulated jackets, Primaloft Thermoball provides the equivalent warmth of 600 fill power goose down while maintaining its warmth when wet.

The Thermoball Difference

Most synthetic insulation comes in the form of a flat roll like the insulation you put into your house’s walls and roof. Primaloft Thermoball is different because it resembles loose goose down clusters making it more compressible and warmer than other forms of synthetic insulation. Studies by an independent laboratory (University of Kansas), show that Primaloft Thermoball is equivalent to 600 fill power goose down and about 10% warmer than previous forms of Primaloft.

The Soaring Price of Goose Down

Most of the world’s goose down comes from China where it is raised in rural farm communities. But the price of down has more than tripled in the past two years as more and more people move into China’s cities in search of better pay and living conditions. The result has been a drop in goose down production and much higher wholesale prices. In response, outdoor apparel and gear manufacturers have begun raising the price of goose down products or lowering the quality of the goose down that they make products with. They’ve also invested heavily in developing alternative forms of synthetic insulation like Primaloft Thermoball, that provide warmth to weight ratios that are comparable to goose down at a fraction of the cost.

The Advantages of Synthetic Insulation

While synthetic insulation is not as warm as goose down, it does have several advantages. Number one is the fact that it stays warm even when it gets wet. It’s also far easier to care for than apparel or sleeping bags products filled with goose down, which must be washed with specialized soap and carefully dried – while apparel and gear filled with synthetic insulation can be washed and dried at home with normal detergents. Originally developed for the US military as a substitute for goose down, these are the reasons why synthetic insulation is preferred for childrens-wear and normal consumer use.

A Synthetic Insulation Revolution

The development of Thermoball is the first foray of new and improved forms of synthetic insulation under development to help fill the void being created by higher goose down prices and falling supply. This is a highly competitive arena featuring manufacturers such as Polarguard, Thermolite, Thinsulate, Thermoloft, Climashield and many others. In the next few years, you should expect industry-wide changes in the use and perception of synthetic insulation in lightweight apparel and sleeping bags as material science technology catches us with goose down’s warmth and compressibility advantages.

Here’s a look at new apparel and footwear made with Primaloft Thermaball insulation.

Written 2018.
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3 comments

  1. With regards to the commentary on the advantages of thermoball insulation over down. I have noticed that the comparison leaves out one important quality of down and that is it’s durability and longevity. I have noticed this in a number of synthetic jackets which I have purchased. Once synthetic insulation is crushed to death which only seems to take a few years, it stays that way. Good quality down on the other hand is revived back to new after washing

  2. Matthias, yes, but if you get a few years out of protection from hypothermia in cold, wet climes, and you buy the synthetics second hand, you win.

    I use both – depending on where I hike.

  3. OK, now going on 7 to 8 years on some of my primaloft, Patagonia, LL Bean and Thermoball. Still going strong. I’ve pretty much quit looking at down over the last couple of years… As of Feb 2022. I’ve washed numerous times still looking good, squished it in luggage many times, no problems.

    In reality, we are talking Primaloft as the tech product we are talking about. I love Primaloft.

    As for Thermoball, I frankly like the old style smaller squares vs the new stuff (bigger squares) coming in toward the end of 2021. But that is cosmetic and a preference. I also still lean to Nano Puff (Primaloft) over the newer Micro Puff for Patagonia likely cost being the key factor there but little noticable difference in performance unless you count oz’s I guess. And to be honest, the best deal on Primaloft is LL Bean. I used to get the pure primaloft hieces (Anoraks) for an underlayer and then get the water resistant “cloth” anoraks for over the top (the latter works very well over the North Face Thermoball pieces (pullovers) and Patagonia (bivy) for X country skiing. Getting back to the LLBean though, they have basically created an anorak and now jacket version where they combined the water resistant “cloth” outside and the primaloft anorak into one piece. These are quite nice for certain activities or where you just don’t want all the layers to deal with… Rugged warm and comfy nice loose fitting. So, best deals overall are LL Bean, but they are all good, extremely.

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