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Cleaning down – my jackets and duvet.

While it's probably not something you need to do all that often - like anything - some regular maintenance goes a long way. 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!

Kerry Adams
Kerry Adamshttps://thebloke.co.nz
A constant learner with an inquisitive mind, Kerry created The Bloke as a way to share what he was learning from the community of experts he found himself surrounded by. Somewhere along the line, he picked up one or two things himself. But don't call him an expert.
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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.

Cleaning products

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.

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