Down is coming from Arc’teryx

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Down has been notably absent from the Bird’s lineup of snivel gear as nature’s insulation has made a comeback in technical gear over the past few years. But Arc’teryx is introducing down-filled outerwear for fall 2013.

Speaking at an industry event, design manager Carl Moriarty explained Arc’teryx didn’t want to enter the down fray unless its design effort added a considerable performance benefit over what was already on the market. To that end, they set out to find performance gains their competitors left on the cutting table.

The move into down is natural since 750 fill power down is about 27% warmer than the equal amount of synthetic insulation. 850 fill power down is about 50% warmer, so the move into down is a natural progression in warmth performance. Down also drapes and contours to the body in ways that stiffer, synthetic insulation doesn’t. The more pliable fill hugs the body and eliminates voids that create dead spots. That’s why down just feels cozier than synthetics. It also lofts more resiliently over time.

The major, well-known tradeoff with using down is its inability to provide any warmth when wet. Another weakness of down garments is their durability. Duct tape is a common companion on old down jackets.

Arc’teryx looked at the problem and decided its answer would be to provide down apparel with substantially improved durability while remaining on par or lighter than its competitors.
Using a more efficient pattern with fewer fabric pieces was the first step that allowed the company to save weight. This savings gave them the ability to use heavier, more durable 40 denier face fabrics without increasing the overall weight of their down offerings. Also, the Bird’s 3-part sleeve patterning further reduced weight while improving the sleeve’s articulation.

They also noted the most common failures in down jackets are in the pockets. Car keys poke easy holes through the gossamer pocket linings. So, heavier pocket bags were in order. To deal with t

he moisture issue, Arc’teryx decided to use synthetic insulation in areas prone to collecting moisture such as the cuffs, hem, collar and shoulders. Here, they use synthetic Coreloft insulation because it is an excellent insulator, even when wet. You can see this “Down Composite Mapping” in the lighter areas of the Cerium LT jacket’s cuffs, above. The darker areas are 850 fill power down, the lighter areas are synthetic Coreloft insulation. (Note: early samples of the Cerium are using a darker down that will be replaced with white down for production jackets.)

Carl told us they considered using recently introduced water resistant down, but their testing showed those products didn’t stand up over time. Water resistant down is made by covering the down fibers with a hydrophilic coating. Various processes are used, but even the best of the current crop of available coatings would be gone within a few washings. Arc’teryx felt the added cost up front wasn’t worth it when the water resistant properties would only last for a fraction of the jackets intended wear life.

Other innovations in the line include the use of elastic yarns in the hem to take the place of shock cords, gusseted underarms that keep the hem in place when lifting your arms over your head, and a removable self-storing stuff sack (instead of a reversible pocket) that can be replaced when it wears out.

The sum of their efforts resulted in the Cerium LT jacket ($299) coming in at 240 grams with considerably more durability than its competitors. The slightly more feature-rich Cerium AR ($265) will end up at 345 grams. Hoody ($350/$285) versions of both will be 275g and 380g, respectively. Look for them in fall 2013 along with the Macai, a down insulated Gore-tex Pro shell.