It’s well known in the outdoor community that the world’s best insulation material is still down, the fine feathers found next to the skin of (primarily for our purposes) geese and ducks. The reason for this is that the fine filaments are perfect for trapping air, which is then warmed up by the user’s body and keeps them warm in return. The most modern synthetic insulation cannot yet replicate this efficiency and neither will it flatten as completely as down, resulting in an inferior warmth-to-weight ratio.

People usually prefer down sleeping bags and jackets, but the inclusion of animal products invariably raises questions as to their provenance. In other words, was the down harvested without causing unnecessary suffering to the bird? Traditionally, down is taken from ducks or geese as a by-product of the meat industry and is removed after slaughter. However it is also possible to remove down from live animals, known as live plucking, in which healthy feathers are ripped violently from their follicles causing much distress and often torn and bleeding skin.

Until relatively recently it was impossible for the concerned customer to ascertain which methods were used by which companies. Then in 2012, Textile Exchange (a non-profit organisation seeking to minimise negative environmental and social outcomes in the textile industry) set up the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) – an independent, voluntary global standard. Member companies choose to have their products certified as RDS so that consumers know that their down supply chain adheres to the Standard’s rules, from hatching to harvesting…

Learn more about how down is being used in the outdoor industry, as well as how it relates to the wool industry, by reading the rest of Dan’s column in Wild 159. Subscribe today.