Patagonia has a long rich history and it is one of the very best soft goods makers in the business so when they make a big deal about a new product I pay attention.
Two things caught my eye about the new Encapsil Down Belay Parka. First, the International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory (yes there really is one) in Salt Lake City gave the down in it a fill power rating of 1000. That is a first. Ever. Second, the down is said to be water repellant. Well, given what the Arcteryx people said about the new crop of water resistant down treatments and their lack of durability that is something that needs to be examined closely. However, if the Patagonia claim is true, that is a very good thing indeed.
There is a lot more to this belay parka that warrants positive comments like the 100% independent baffle and differential cut construction but the big hook for me is that the head of R&D for Patagonia simply wanted to build the very best down jacket ever made regardless of cost. And you all know how much I dig that kind of fanatical, passionate approach to producing great gear.
Indicative and notable. The Spring 2013 Patagonia catalog spends four entire pages on this new product which says a lot about their level of excitement and how big a deal this is to them. Here are a few quotes that do a nice job of explaining the problem and their new solution to it.
“Down is warmer, lighter and more compressible for its weight than any other insulating fiber-natural or synthetic. The drawback: When wet, down loses its ability to loft and insulate. for this reason, the development of water-repellant down has been a holy grail for outdoor companies for decades.”
“Water-repellant down garments are, for the first time, now available from several manufacturers. Patagonia, however, has taken a unique approach, one that not only produces water-repellant down, but that delivers a significant, additional advantage no one else can provide: an off the charts, unprecedented fill power of 1000.”
“Encapsil is unique to Patagonia (proprietary). The plasma-treated down technology, process and manufacturing equipment are all patent pending.”
“Down’s insulating power comes from its loft. Tiny spaces of air trapped between down plumules are warmed by body heat to form a pillow of warmth around you. The world’s best down has the highest loft (measured as fill power, the number of cubic inches one ounce of down will fill). We use 800-fill-power goose down in garments for alpine use. One ounce of 800-fill-power down treated with Patagonia’s Encapsil technology carries an unprecedented fill power of 1000.”
“Encapsil technology uses safe, silicone-based chemistry, free of fluorocarbons. The down is activated with low-level radio frequency waves until the surface of the down’s molecular structure begins to shift slightly. A tiny amount of siloxane is then deposited onto each plume, adhering to its changed molecular structure in a virtually permanent synthesis to make it hydrophobic, stronger and more efficient.”
“…we’ve achieved the highest-performance down available anywhere.”
Patagonia believes so much in this technology that they bought an interest in the the Texas company that developed the technology to make Encapsil. They put their money where their mouth is and that too speaks volumes to me.
Also, here is a link to Patagonias blog that adds more detail to Encapsil and tells the inspirational (to me at least) story about the committed people that made this happen.
This is very interesting on a number of levels. I am hopeful and optimistic but only because it is Patagonia. More on this later so stay tuned.
EDITORS NOTE – Long live “the Forge” and everything that it represents and stands for. That is the part that the soulless suits and widget minded MBAs don’t get and will seemingly never appreciate. Some things are worth pursuing even if they don’t pencil because some efforts are just that important. Chalk one up for the fire breathing, hardcore envelope pushers. Bravo!
UPDATE – I have been having a very nice conversation with one of the Patagonia designers who has restored at least some of my faith in big companies. It is good to know that there are still people in this business with a full tank of give-a-shit. Real gear heads that just want to make the very best equipment and then actually go out and use it in the field. Refreshing. On the other side of the coin, the coffee commandos in the PR department are too busy to return their messages. Figures.