What do a Nemo sleeping bag, an insulated pair of shoes from Vans and a sustainably-produced jacket from Houdini have in common? Nothing on the surface, but strip back that face fabric, and they're each filled with the same synthetic insulation: Primaloft.
Compared to down insulation, made with duck or goose down and best-suited to extremely cold and dry environments, synthetic insulation is made with synthetic fibers created to mimic the lofting of down. While it's not quite as warm as traditional down insulation, it does have one major functional advantage: it performs just as well in wet environments as dry, opening up the possibilities for reaching for your favorite puffy, rain or shine.
Like Gore-Tex, the waterproofing technology that keeps boots, jackets and pants dry, Primaloft is as much a brand as it is a material. You've probably seen the company's red triangle logo on a wide swath of products, many outdoor-focused. Brands like Nike, Patagonia, Free People, Vans, Nemo and more utilize Primaloft in their products meant to excel in cold, wet environments. But what exactly is Primaloft, and how does it work?
Primaloft was originally invented in 1983 for the U.S. Army, which was looking for a lightweight, well-insulating and moisture-resistant alternative to traditional down insulation. Not long after, L.L.Bean and Polo Ralph Lauren were the first consumer brands to implement the material; over the last 35 years, Primaloft has been used by over 900 brands as an effective alternative to traditional down.
Throughout much of its history, Primaloft has made sustainability a key focus; in 1997, Primaloft became on of the first-ever brands to use post-consumer recycled content, a commonplace occurrence in today's culture. We may take the implementation of post-consumer recycled content in our gear for granted now, but a couple decades ago, it was a very unusual application.
Since its inception, Primaloft has gone on to develop more than 40 different insulation products across various categories and applications. There are a few tenants that define every version of Primaloft: thermal efficiency, water resistance, lightweight-ness, durability, breathability, compressibility and softness.
A Space-Age Application
After 2011, Primaloft went through a major innovation phase, and developed new and pioneering synthetic insulation with out-of-this-world applications. One such innovation was Primaloft Cross Core, using aerogel: originally developed for NASA to use in space exploration, aerogel is composed from more than 95-percent air, and is the lightest material known to man. Primaloft Cross Core integrates aerogel into its insulation fiber, providing a massive boost in warmth — without adding weight. Companies that utilize Primaloft Cross Core include Patagonia, Black Diamond, La Sportiva and Norrøna, among more than 50 other brands.