This content is sponsored by our friends at Nikwax – aftercare specialists and purveyors of Nikwax Hydrophobic Down.
Down is a brilliant insulator, with one flaw – it loses warmth when wet, restricting its usefulness in bad British conditions. But with water-resistant Nikwax Hydrophobic Down, you can use this wonder-material with much more confidence.
Down is nature’s miracle insulator. It’s the best naturally occurring material for keeping you warm. But what is down? It’s the light, fluffy coating found beneath the feathers of ducks and geese, almost like a three-dimensional cluster of soft filaments. This material can be collected and used in outdoor jackets and sleeping bags, keeping adventurers warm in even the harshest of environments.
Huge amounts of technology and money have been poured into developing synthetic insulation that can rival down’s performance, but human endeavours have yet to surpass Mother Nature’s expertise. Despite brands spending millions, down still provides the best warmth-to-weight ratio out there. This means hikers and mountaineers can get the best of both worlds – lightweight products with excellent insulation. But there is one downside (pun intended).
In sustained wet conditions, down loses some of its insulating properties – it clumps together, gets heavy and doesn’t retain heat as efficiently. This can be particularly problematic in the volatile climate of these islands. But there is a solution to this problem. By applying a special coating to down insulation, Mother Nature’s blueprint can be improved upon. Ten years ago, the waterproofing boffins at Nikwax launched their first ‘water-resistant’ down: Nikwax Hydrophobic Down (NHD). It has since been upgraded to NHD+, which is claimed to be 250 times more water-resistant than normal down.
Since then, they have continued to innovate and push the boundaries of performance, creating the lightest, most thermally efficient and water-resistant down ever. It’s still not totally waterproof, but the extra water-resistance it provides means you can use products made with it with extra confidence and versatility.
On my Warnscale bothy trip, I wore the Rab Microlight Alpine down jacket (made with NHD recycled) in drizzle and spitting rain knowing that its performance would not be massively impaired. The prospect of getting a down sleeping bag wet can also be a source of anxiety, but less so with hydrophobic down; I used the Therm-a-rest Hyperion sleeping bag in the bothy.
Here are five reasons you should look out for Nikwax Hydrophobic Down
1. Nikwax has decades of experience
Well-known in the outdoor industry for its expertise and innovation in the field of waterproofing, Nikwax introduced its first down-based product in 2013 with the launch of the original Nikwax Hydrophobic Down (NHD). With a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment, this down was a game-changer: it dried quicker, absorbed less water, repelled water for longer, and retained its loft better when damp. This meant hikers stayed warmer, drier and comfier, for longer, in their down products.
2. NHD+ is 250 times more water-resistant
Building on the success of the original NHD, Nikwax released an upgraded version in 2020 known as NHD+. The plus here signifies the improved performance of the insulation, with NHD+ achieving incredible stats: it’s up to 250 times more water-resistant than standard down, and is the first and only hydrophobic down to exceed 10,000 minutes of continuous shake time (that’s a lab test equivalent to a full week of constant exposure to water). The end result is that Nikwax has the raw data to market NHD+ as “the world’s best performing hydrophobic down”.
3. Want better eco credentials? A recycled version is available
Nikwax never uses harmful fluorocarbon (PFC) chemistry in its treatments, which means all of its products have good eco credentials. But for an even higher standard, Nikwax released NHD Recycled in 2020. Created for brand partner Rab, who wanted to give their customers a high performance down product with first-rate sustainability, NHD Recycled is the first recycled down to achieve a 1,000-minute hydrophobic shake time. By comparison, standard down lasts a maximum of a 20-minute shake time, while to be considered hydrophobic a treated down material must reach a minimum of just 40 minutes shake time.
4. You can easily treat it with Nikwax products
If you’ve invested in an expensive jacket or sleeping bag, you’ll naturally want it to last for a long time. The good news is that Nikwax aftercare products have been effectively cleaning and proofing down gear for over 25 years. Nikwax Down Wash.Direct is the technical cleaner you’ll need. It revitalises the durable water repellent (DWR) and insulating properties of hydrophobic down, without damaging its delicate structure. Next, you’ll need Nikwax Down Proof, a speciality waterproofer that protects and improves the natural insulating properties of down filled gear from wet and damp conditions. This duo of care products can be used on regular down, as well as NHD, NHD+ and NHD Recycled.
5. It enables you to adventure in a broader range of environments
It’s important to remember that NHD products are not completely waterproof and are not designed to be used alone in sustained wet conditions. After all, you wouldn’t wear a down jacket in all-day downpours without putting a hard shell over it, and you wouldn’t bivvy in a sleeping bag on a rainy hillside without a waterproof bivvy bag protecting it. But NHD products do enable adventurers to use down products in more diverse scenarios, whether that’s higher climbs, longer treks or more extreme environments. This is because the loft, insulation and breathability of the down will perform better in wetter, colder and harsher places, thus extending the boundaries of its use.
3 Must-Buy Products to keep you warm and dry
1. Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket – £210
This upgraded version of Rab’s best-selling down jacket features Nikwax Hydrophobic Down Recycled, ensuring it not only performs superbly out on the hill but it’s good for the planet too. You also get a 100% recycled Pertex Quantum shell, body-mapped baffles and an excellent hood.
2. Therm-a-rest Hyperion 20F – £470
Weighing just 580g but offering a comfort temperature rating of 0C, this three-season sleeping bag is filled with 360g of 900 fill power Nikwax Hydrophobic Down. This stays drier and maintains loft 60 times longer than untreated down, so nothing can stop your wild camping and bothy adventures.
3. Nikwax Down Wash.Direct and Nikwax Down Proof – £14.49
This twin pack – available on Amazon with free delivery – enables you to easily clean and re-proof your down products, using a fluorocarbon-free and environmentally responsible solution. The end result will be revitalised loft, insulation, breathability and water repellency for your down.
To learn more about Nikwax Hydrophobic Down, visit nikwax.com.