Why am soaking my down jacket in a near freezing stream AGAIN?
Because this time I want to see if the jacket I spent $12 on can perform as well as a $270 jacket.
You may remember my post from a few weeks ago where I took this expensive jacket with specialty treated down and soaked it in near-freezing water to see if it could still keep me warm.
Well, I did it again, but this time instead of relying on expensive factory-treated down, I treated the jacket myself for a fraction of the cost to see if it would still perform when wet.
The plan was to take this old down jacket that’s been sitting in my closet for years and treat it using Nikwax Down Proof. Then I would put it through a couple of tests, including soaking it in a near-freezing steam, just like I did last time, to see how it would perform.
Why Would I Do This?
If you don’t know, down is backpacking’s miracle insulation. There is no other material on earth that is as warm, light and compressible as down.
But down’s one fatal flaw is that it doesn’t do well when wet. It becomes extremely heavy, it can’t keep you warm and can even be deadly, which is why companies like Nikwax have started treating down with durable water-repellent treatments to try and overcome this one major flaw.
But there’s only one problem. Professionally treated down can be expensive. And replacing gear just to take advantage of the newest technology can be wasteful.
Which got me thinking, what if there were a way where we could have both? Keep our otherwise perfectly good down jackets, but still have the benefit of DWR-treated down.
So, I reached out to Nikwax about sponsoring a YouTube video. I told them I wanted to stick my Nikwax-treated jacket in freezing cold water and see if it would still keep me warm.
And they were like … we’re in! You can watch the whole thing right here:
Treating the Jacket
First things first, I had to treat the jacket. The key to a good treatment is a good cleaning. So, the first thing I did was to clean the jacket using Nikwax Down Wash Direct. This is the best thing for cleaning both treated or untreated down. Never use regular detergents because they are bad for waterproofing. And Nikwax even recommends cleaning out your washing machines dispenser to get rid of any detergent buildup, just in case.
Then I treated the jacket using one full bottle of Nikwax Down Proof. No need to dry the jacket first; just turn the washer back on, but don’t add the down proof until the washer has a good amount of water in it.
Then DRY, and Dry, and dry some more. But make sure you check your garment’s care tag to see if you need to wash by hand or it hang to dry.
One side note here: only use front-loading washers, and again, make sure you follow your garment’s care tag.
I performed two different tests. One was more of a real-world test where I tried to see how the jacket performed in a cold rain.
I put on my treated jacket and stood outside in the rain in 33ºF weather to see if it would start to soak up the rain.
Down Proof should protect in two different ways. Not only does the treatment treat the down, but it also treats the outer shell of the jacket, giving it its own water-repellent finish. So what you want to see is water beading up rolling off the jacket. If that is happening then we know Down Proof’s first line of defense—keeping water from getting to the down in the first place—is working.
Now you normally wouldn’t stand out in the rain in just your down jacket. And since this jacket doesn’t have a hood, I used an umbrella to try and keep rain off my head and from running down my neck, but I attempted to hold it in such a way so as to still allow the jacket to get the brunt of the water.
I stood out there for a bit to see if I thought the jacket could still keep me warm.
It’s funny, the water was beading up on the jacket really well, but soaked straight through my gloves. I should’ve treated my gloves!
I was really impressed with how well the Down Proof worked. It started to soak up just a bit of water on the parts that had been exposed to the most rain, but for the most part, the water beaded up and rolled off my jacket, just like Nikwax promised.
Time to get a little more serious.
For the second test, I went back out to Colorado. Could this jacket I treated at home get completely soaking wet and still keep me warm?
To find out I wore the jacket dry for about 30 minutes just to make sure it was adequately warm.
The outside temperature hovered between 28º–29ºF. The water temperature was about 44ºF. But there was also a wind chill that made it feel more like 20ºF! Brrr.
An untreated wet jacket in these conditions could be dangerous. Combining freezing temperatures, water and chilling wind is a recipe for hypothermia. To make sure I stayed safe, I had the car running close by, so if I needed to get warm quickly, I could.
I dipped the jacket in the water, got it completely soaking wet, put it back on, and tried to see if I could still stay warm.
The last time I did this, I started to question whether or not the sun was keeping me warmer than I would have liked.
This time, I decided to eliminate that variable as much as I could, starting as the sun was going down and only after it had dipped below the clouds, so the temperature just got colder.
I put the soaked jacket on, and I could feel a definite coolness right away. The heat loss was due to the water from the inside of the jacket soaking through my t-shirt and touching my skin. It turns out there was water trapped inside one of the pockets that spilled out when I pressed on it. Oops. That was cold! But the longer I stood out there, the warmer I got.
So what did I do? I dunked the jacket in the water AGAIN. Then put it back on. Some of the water had actually frozen onto the surface of the jacket.
I stayed out there for about 45 minutes, and amazingly, the jacket was performing really well. It continued to loft, and the outside of the jacket was dry enough for the beaded water to freeze. To be fair, I wasn’t quite as warm as when the jacket was completely dry, but I wasn’t cold. The temperature continued to drop, the wind picked up, but I still felt really good.
Thoughts and Results
In a lot of ways, this was a harder test to pass with the home treated down, no sun, and a pretty significant wind chill.
And I have to be honest with you. I was nervous about this one. I don’t know why, but I just found it hard to believe that a 10-year-old jacket that I treated at home could really perform as well as modern hydrophobic down.
I even went back to look. Treated down first came on the market in 2013 and was limited to 1–2 brands. I bought this jacket on outlet in 2012. Even if this jacket had a factory DWR treatment on its outer shell, DWR just doesn’t hold up that long. So by most standards, this jacket should have failed the moment it touched that water … but it stayed surprisingly dry.
Now, I don’t know if it was the DWR that I applied to the outer shell, or the down itself that was repelling the water. But honestly, I don’t think it matters. What matters is you can treat your down jacket at home and have a little more confidence it can keep you warm and safe, if it ever does get wet.
Now will this home treatment last as long as a factory-applied DWR? Probably not. But that’s the thing … even factory-applied DWR will eventually wear off. So, unless you want to buy a new jacket every time it fails, you are going to need a product like Down Proof to restore your factory treatments . Nikwax Down Wash and Down Proof will not only treat old, regular down like my old jacket, but they also work to restore the factory-applied DWR treatments in modern hydrophobic down.
And all of Nikwax products are environmentally friendly and PFC-free.
Which Is why I love Nikwax. And to be honest with you, that’s why I decided to work with them on this project. I’ve been using Nikwax products for years. In my experience, I believe it works, and this test makes me feel that much better about a product and a company I already loved.
So, do you need to buy expensive treated down? Well, if you have an old down jacket lying around like I did, you might give this a try first. Or if you have an aging, factory-treated jacket, Nikwax is the best product to keep it performing like new.
And it’s only like $12 for the Down Proof and like $11 for the Down Wash. Don’t try to treat without washing first. If you decide to buy, do me a favor and buy it through the links provided in this post. I’ll earn a small commission at no additional cost to you, and you will help support me and the videos and blog posts I’m putting out.