Down, down…


Once upon a time, in an outdoor and travel world not so far, far away, if a down sleeping bag got wet, you were kind of screwed.

The bag may have provided good warmth levels for a small pack size, but down loses its lofting and insulating properties when it gets wet, so your chances of a good night’s sleep in a warmer environment go out of the tent or bothy door faster than you can say ‘bother’ or something a little saltier…

But not any more it seems. As you can see from the above picture, proofing and after-care specialists Nikwax have come up with a solution to the wet down problem with Nikwax Hydrophobic Down (TM).

The pictured demonstration of a bag filled with this down didn’t take place on the Dead Sea, but on a lake in deepest East Sussex. Luis Brown floated from one side of the lake to another in said bag and emerged warm and almost completely dry when he exited the bag.

This is down (sorry, but that word usage just begged to be typed!) to the Nikwax Hydrophobic Down treatment that absorbs 13x less water than standard processed down. It apparently also retains more loft to keep user warmer and dryer in damp conditions than other fluorocarbon-free treatments that are on the market.

As Nikwax put it “Nikwax Hydrophobic Down is guaranteed to be water resistant, highly durable and therefore suitable for use in a much wider range of conditions.

The science behind NHD lies partly behind the encapsulation of each down filament with a flexible Durable Water Repellent [DWR] finish, created by Nikwax. This reduces absorption of moisture, protecting down from perspiration, condensation and precipitation, whilst also maintaining loft and insulation in cold and damp conditions. NHD also demonstrates improved drying times and will withstand repeat washing. Additionally, no extra weight is added to NHD-treated down.”

Nick Brown, CEO and Founder of Nikwax says: “Taking the ethical route rather than the easy-money road is a difficult decision for some, but minimising our environmental impact was always the way for me.  I am proud that Nikwax can solve problems in a sustainable way and we achieve results superior to those offered by competing, less environmentally friendly  formulas.  It’s a win for the customer and sustainability.

The floating sleeping bag, by the way, should not be taken as a literal example of what to do with Nikwax Hydrophobic Down sleeping bags. Please do not go to sea in your sleeping bag or use your Nikwax Hydrophobic Down jacket as a buoyancy aid! It is designed to show the high performance of Nikwax Hydrophobic Down in damp conditions”.

Personal thoughts? I’ve been caught out on the hill and had to bivvy for the night instead of putting a tent up (playing with metal tent poles when there’s lightning around is not recommended!), have slept outside a Lakeland cave rather than in it when another University group got there before we did and then slept in a car park during heavy rain the following night rather than wander back to said cave after a night in the pub.

On each of these occasions (and a few others besides), I’d checked the forecasts out and had decided to take a heavier and bulkier synthetic sleeping bag with me rather than a down one. If Nikwax Hydrophobic Down had been around then, there would have been a down bag that would have been packed and used instead of the synthetic one inside the usual bright orange survival bag.

A game-changing announcement?

More than likely, especially as the processes involved don’t add to the weight of products made using Nikwax Hydrophobic Down.

Picture courtesy of Nikwax and Spring PR

About Keith Rickaby

I’m a writer and photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and I'm originally from the North East, but now based in Yorkshire and back to home life after three years with a travel and outdoor activity based retailer.
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