Down or Synthetic Insulation: How to Choose

Down or Synthetic Insulation: How to Choose

No matter where your customers are located, almost everyone can use an insulated jacket (with the possible exception of Hawaiians!). For those in climates with cold temperatures all winter, insulated jackets are one of life's necessities. People wear them for several months of the year.

For that reason, an insulated jacket is an ideal corporate branding item. Plus, according to ASI, "Outerwear/fleece generates 7,856 impressions over its lifetime." That kind of long-term brand exposure is invaluable.

A common question is: Which is better, a down jacket or a synthetic jacket? The best choice of insulation can depend on a variety of factors like performance, care, cost, sustainability, and decoration. Let’s dive into what the true differences are between these insulations, and by the end, you’ll have a better idea of what will fit your customer’s needs.

Down and Synthetic Definitions

At its most basic, down insulation is natural while synthetic insulations are manmade. 

Water birds like geese and ducks grow down feathers naturally. These small feathers create tiny air pockets that act as insulation against the cold conditions of the waters and air of their environment. These down feathers trap their body heat and are covered by an outer layer of waterproof feathers that keep them dry.

Companies have been using natural down in jackets, sleeping bags, quilts, slippers and other products for decades.

Synthetic insulation comes from the lab. It's commonly made from polyester and is designed to mimic the insulating properties of down with its high-loft clusters of fiber.

There are several brand names of synthetic insulation you'll recognize like Thinsulate, PrimaLoft, Climashield and Thermolite. 

Down vs Synthetics: Performance and Longevity

Down and synthetic insulations both have their pros and cons. 

As a natural insulator, down is extremely warm. At the same time, it's also extremely light and compressible. This combination, called the warmth-to-weight ratio, makes it a winning insulator.

One of the major downsides of down is that it loses its warmth when it gets wet. In jackets, down insulation needs to be accompanied by a waterproof shell to prevent it from getting wet from snow and sleet. In dry conditions, it really can't be beaten, but in wet conditions, it can lose warmth. 

The other downside is that some people are allergic to down, so synthetic insulation is a better choice for them.

Synthetic fill generally has a lower warmth-to-weight ratio, although researchers are developing new and better fibers all the time. But the largest benefit to choosing synthetic over down—and why we’ll always recommend it for certain environments—is the added wet-weather assurance. Synthetic fill does not lose its loft when wet, continues to insulate even when soaked, and dries out quickly.

In addition, it’s more breathable than down, especially when in humid conditions. And in recent years, advancements in technology have resulted in synthetic insulation that comes closer and closer to matching the packability and warmth-to-weight ratio of down, although it’s not quite there yet.

High-quality down is very durable when properly cared for, as is its synthetic counterpart. Either one can last and perform well for many years. So in the end, much of the choice comes down to personal preferences and sometimes budget.

Which is Easier to Care For and Maintain?

Both down and synthetic insulations can be washed and dried, although down jackets need extra care. Down needs to be fully dried (using dryer balls or tennis balls in the dryer is suggested) so the down clusters don't clump together. Synthetic insulation isn't as picky.

Note though, that because of the water-and-wind-resistant shells used in both types of jacket, washing very infrequently is recommended for the longevity of either jacket's performance.

Which is More Budget-Friendly?

Without a doubt, synthetic insulation is cheaper than down. Synthetic insulation can also be pricey, and particularly newer high-end products designed to mimic down, but it’s still the cheaper option.

Depending on the product, you can expect to save one-third or more by going with a comparable synthetic piece.

Is Down or Synthetic Insulation More Sustainable?

This is an excellent question. The answer depends on a few factors:


One of the biggest criticisms of using down feathers in insulated jackets is perceived animal cruelty. And, indeed, some farms have used very inhumane methods of harvesting the down. For this reason, many people choose to go with synthetic materials. For the same reason, several organizations worldwide have been developed in recent years to regulate the supply chain of down to ensure the ethical treatment of the birds. 

Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is one of them, probably the one we're most used to seeing in the US. If you love down but have ethical concerns about it, be sure to buy from companies that are RDS-certified.  


Because it's a natural material, down is the most eco-friendly alternative—with a couple of caveats:

  • The synthetic shell of a down jacket is NOT biodegradable. So at the end of its lifespan, the down needs to be removed from the jacket to break down more quickly.
  • Hydrophobic down has been treated to make it more water resistant. Unfortunately, these treatments most often use synthetic materials that aren't eco-friendly.


Synthetic insulation isn't naturally biodegradable like down. But synthetic jackets can be made more sustainably by using recycled polyester fibers in the manufacturing process. Many insulation brands offer a range of different blends, from 100% recycled down to 25% recycled (meaning 25% is recycled polyester and 75% is polyester derived from crude oil sources).

Decoration Considerations on Down vs Synthetic Insulated Pieces


Embroidery and printing can be applied to the outer shell of down jackets. However, care must be taken to avoid excessive perforation of the fabric, as down insulation could escape through the stitching holes. Synthetic jackets often have more flexibility when it comes to decoration. Embroidery, screen printing, and heat transfers are common methods. The synthetic insulation doesn’t have the same risk of escaping as down.


While both down and synthetic jackets have several logo and branding placement options, they should be carefully placed to avoid excessive stitching through areas with high concentrations of down. Logo placement on synthetic jackets is generally more straightforward with fewer restrictions.

Considerations for Corporate Branding or Promotional Products

Good quality jackets have a long lifespan and offer high value to employees, especially those who live in climates with cold winters. Even those in the southern United States will appreciate an insulated jacket, though, as they also get hit with temperatures below freezing at times. 

Other considerations important to your customers' team members are comfort, fit and (increasingly—especially with younger employees) sustainability. It’s important the jackets can be customized and that they’re fashionable designs that work well for both women and men.

Storm Creek Products with Synthetic Insulation

Storm Creek insulated jackets check all those boxes for corporate branding products your customers will love.

The insulating material we use in our products is a synthetic called Thermolite, the best recycled insulation available on the market. We use a 65/35 polyester/recycled polyester blended Thermolite in our jackets. While we are always looking for ways to move the needle to a more sustainable option, we want to balance our commitment to sustainability with keeping our prices low and wholesale margins high.

We offer a wide range of styles from traditional to modern. We also offer a wide range of insulation weights (measured in grams)—less insulation for your customers in mild climates and more for those who experience full-fledged winters.

Our jackets insulated with Thermolite for men and women are Front Runner, Traveler and Traveler Matte, Defender, Artisan, Aviator, and Innovator II. Shop all jackets here.

It's a win-win-win when corporations can offer insulated jackets they know will represent their brand well, that their people will love to wear and that are friendly to our environment.