Down is something I always get a little nervous before washing – in fact, it’s something I tend to avoid until I have too. This is more because I have always felt down was a little more ‘fragile’ than some other technical garments – and I still have some of the water phobias that down equipment required years ago. Though, as this experience showed – I still won’t want to rely on ‘hydrophobic’ down after it was submerged!
I have a couple of down items these days – all fitting into their own little niche use.
My favourite down pieces
- A MacPac Supernova Jacket – ideal as a lightweight, packable insulation layer when backcountry backpacking and hunting – it weighs nothing, crumples down to nothing, and is super warm – this is one of my favourite pieces of gear!
- A Hunters Element Razor Elite Jacket – a much heavier down jacket – this thing really is super-toasty – it’s heavier and packs larger – so is more an around town/truck jacket – but I nearly lived in the thing over Winter.
- A Thermarest Quilt – mine is one of their first – and I got onto it through the hammock side of things – it has really changed the way I look at most three-season warmth now – and a lot of the time in the bush (or really anywhere) I am quite happy to just lay down, fully clothed (bar the boots), pull the duvet over me, and shut the eyes.
As a result (especially with the quilt) the gear can get a little dirty – and while most manufacturers would recommend minimising washing – spot cleaning with a cloth wherever possible – the combination of a couple of years use, and a bit of sweat in slightly hotter situations, I figured it was a good time to give them all a wash.
You can’t just throw your down products into the wash. Particularly if they have a newer hydrophobic treatment on them. It’s a case of getting the right product, and ensuring your washing machine is nice a clean as well.
I have always used NikWax products – and generally had good success with them. So when I found myself in Bivouac getting something for a recent trip – I also grabbed a bottle Down Wash Direct.
I broke the washing up into two lots – the two jackets and the duvet – again – the general recommendation is to not ‘crowd’ washing down – so I could have even done the jackets separate – as the HE is a large unit – but figured we would be good.
Use a gentle wash – and only in a front-loading machine – the agitation in a top loader is a bit rough on the down. Lower heat, slower spin cycle – you get the idea.
The clumps. And drying.
When the kit initially comes out of the washer and is sodden, you are in for a bit of a surprise – or – at least – you very quickly see why down is useless when totally wet.
It’s important to understand though – that this gear has just been through a wash cycle – and that is a lot different to a few drops of rain hitting the jacket – or a bit of dew on the surface of the quilt while out and about. Over a couple of days, sure, the down might absorb a bit of moisture – and flatten a little – while the washing does is the extreme case.
The quilt was the most obvious example – as the light fabric and the bigger baffles really let you see the results of the down clumping up – in the photos – the big black ball is basically all the down in that section clumped up together.
Drying down is also a bit of a process.
While you can air dry it – it potentially takes a day or so – and – you need to make sure you are regularly picking up the item and ‘fluffing’ it – trying to help the bits of down separate back out and dry properly.
A dryer significantly speeds things up – but – understand it is a little harder on the gear.
I had to run the drying on a timed programme, low to medium heat (hot could damage the lightweight material itself) – and – the key – is to throw a couple of tennis balls (like 5 of them) in with the object. Just one item at a time to give it heaps of space – and – you still need to regularly pull it out to fluff, check the tennis balls aren’t stuck, and generally give it a once over.
This still took a couple of hours – and I gave them a bit of air dry as well. The result though was jackets and duvet that seem even fluffier than before. Though, confirmation bias is a hell of a drug.
The one ‘casualty’ – if you want to call it that – was the information patch on the inside of the Razor Elite – which – if you haven’t read yet – is a great yarn.
Overall though – a great success – something I may only do once a year – if that, but well worth it for revitalising a few bits of my favourite kit.