Front Range

A New Down

Boulder-based Sierra Designs revolutionizes a timeless material.

October 2012

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of waking up in a down sleeping bag that’s been rained on, leaked on, or otherwise exposed to the elements, you know how miserable it is. The problem is so entrenched in the outdoor community, it’s become dogma: Down is a peerless insulator when dry, but water squelches its insulation value. The same sleeping bags and “puffy” suits that ensure climbers’ survival on Everest become life-threatening liabilities when soaked. So, a year and a half ago, Boulder-based outdoor equipment and apparel company Sierra Designs set out to fix this glitch. The solution—a new treated down material called DriDown—debuted this summer in sleeping bags and jackets (pictured here: The Tov jacket, $259, and the Zissou 15 sleeping bag, $259.95) that repel water, maintain loft, and dry faster than regular down.

Sierra Designs developed this new technology in its three-year-old prototyping and testing lab. “DriDown exemplifies the potential for innovation,” says Frank Kvietok, director of advanced development at American Recreation Products, an umbrella company of Sierra Designs. “It’s a good reminder to us all not to take anything for granted.”

Coating traditional down feathers in the synthetic material makes the feathers seven times more water resistant, says Sierra Designs. Once wet, the company claims the feathers dry 33 percent faster. DriDown is also just as light and compressible as regular down (attributes that make the original material coveted among load-conscious backpackers). “The next generations of the technology,” Kvietok says, “will edge closer and closer to truly waterproof down.”