Confused by the different types of down insulation? You don’t have to be! Our detailed guide on goose and duck down will tell you everything you need to know about the natural insulation, as well as all the differences between them.
I will also tell you about down insulation in general and what exactly you should look for when you’re getting yourself a down jacket. I’ll go over fill power, down to feather ration, weight of insulation and wet weather performance.
Throughout this comparison I will point out the pros and cons of both goose and duck down, starting with their insulating properties all the way to the effect it might have on your wallet. Read on to learn more about goose and duck down and see what’s better for you!
Before I go into details about the different kinds of down, I would like to offer some general information about it first. You can get a more detailed guide on down insulation and its properties in a post I did earlier, if you are interested in learning more.
Down is more than just features. It is actually an undercoat sourced form the underbelly of waterfowl, and it’s commonly known as plumage. It consists of soft and light fluffy feathers that usually hide behind the tougher ones. These are the exact same feathers that are able to keep the birds warm – ever wonder how they seem to swim on freezing waters without even flinching? It’s exactly because of the plumage in your favorite jacket!
Duck down and goose down are the two most commonly used kinds of down, but they’re certainly not the only ones. There are a couple other types that are used for jackets, but they are very expensive and are only found in some high-end outerwear. Icelandic Eiderdown is by far the priciest kind of down insulation that exists, with Eiderdown comforters costing as much as $16,000!
The main reason for such high prices is the insulating power of Eiderdown. It insulates at a fill rating over 1000+, which is absolutely amazing. Goose down goes high as 700-800 and regular duck down rarely has fill power higher than 700, with a lot more options that are between 450 and 600. And while 700 is more than enough for a warm winter coat, it’s not quite the same with duvets, comforters and jackets for extreme colds.
Fill power and down to feather ratio are the two main indicators of how warm the insulation is. Fill power of down is a number that indicates the size of a down cluster. The bigger the cluster, the more heat it can trap and that ultimately makes it warmer. The fill power of down starts at around 300 and goes all the way up to 1000+ with the best and most luxurious types of insulation.
There are two things important to note here: the fill power refers to the size of the down cluster. A 700 fill power clusters is twice as big as a 350 fill power cluster, which ultimately means that you need less down of a higher fill power to insulate the same amount of space. The other important thing to note is that higher fill power down only comes from older birds. Down with really low fill power is usually sourced from immature birds, and more often than not it is not ethically sourced.
If you’re looking for a winter jacket, you shouldn’t settle for anything less than 550 fill power down whether it’s from geese or duck. And you should also pay close attention to the ratio of down to feather, since that’s the second most important factor that determines how warm a jacket is.
You can easily get a down insulated jacket for $40 or $50, but when you look closely at the tag you will see that the insulation is most likely 60% down and 40% feather, if not even less. This is important because feather doesn’t have a fill power and it doesn’t do much in terms of trapping heat and keeping you warm. Manufacturers put feathers in jackets to make them thicker and bulkier, which will make you think you’re getting something really warm and cozy when in fact it’s the opposite.
The more affordable mid-range jackets traditionally have a down to feather ratio of 70-30. This is for jackets that are reasonably priced, and they tend to be warm enough to get you through the winter. Anything above that is going to be warmer, but also much more expensive.
I’ve told you that fill power of down depends on the size of the down cluster. Well, geese are much bigger than ducks, so it makes sense that they have bigger down clusters. That means that geese down almost always has higher fill power than duck down – on the lower end it is about 550. The fill power of goose down goes all the way up to 900, but jackets that are actually insulated with that are designed mostly for extreme colds.
Since ducks are smaller and in turn have smaller down clusters, the fill power of duck down is not as high as the fill power of goose down. It can be as low as 300, but that’s usually if it’s sourced from immature birds. More often it’s around 450-500, and it can easily go up to 700. If you just look at the numbers, it’s easy to conclude that goose down is generally warmer than duck down. And while that might be true to a degree, there are a few other factors that come in to play here.
The main one is the weight of insulation. So, even though goose down is as a rule warmer than duck down, the actual amount of insulation it provides heavily depends on how much insulation is there in the jacket. Two ounces of 500 fill power duck down are warmer than one ounce of 700 fill power goose down, simply because there are more clusters that can trap the heat and keep you warm.
The takeaway here is look for three sets of numbers when you’re shopping for a down jacket – fill power of at least 550, down to feather ratio of at least 70-30 and always check exactly how many ounces of down are in that jacket.
It’s no secret that down insulation doesn’t fare very well in wet weather. Even when treated with a water repellent like Down Defender, clusters of down are simply unable to retain heat when they get wet.
The warmth of down insulation depends on its loftiness. That’s why goose down is warmer – clusters are bigger and loftier, which means they are able to trap more heat. But when that cluster gets wet it will clump up and lose all of its heat-retaining properties. That jacket is not going to be warm again until it fully dries, and that can take several days in some cases.
While it’s true that both duck and goose down are notoriously bad at retaining heat when wet, it is worth noting that duck down can last a little longer in wet conditions. And that’s simply because clusters of goose down are loftier and they will get wet quicker.
If you need a jacket that is warm even in wet weather, I would highly recommend you read up on synthetic insulation. It is quite popular in outdoor gear, precisely because of excellent performance in wet weather. And insulations like PrimaLoft and even Thinsulate are made to mimic the behavior and properties of down, without sacrificing the performance in more extreme situations.
One of the biggest differences between duck and goose down is the price point. While you can easily find a duck down jacket for $50 and less, a proper goose down jacket will likely set you back several hundred dollars.
That’s because duck down is more widely available and easier to source. It’s much easier for manufacturers to get their hands on duck down, and they have to pay less for it. That ultimately means that you’re paying less for the jacket, especially if the manufacturer resorts to other practices like increasing the feather ratio and reducing the amount of down in the jacket.
Goose down is harder to source and much more expensive to produce. That’s why you won’t find a cheap goose jacket, and you especially won’t find one that’s made with materials that perform poorly. Goose down is more luxurious than duck down and is thus mostly used by high end brands that are known for their higher prices.
I’ve also mentioned Eiderdown earlier, which is the most luxurious and most expensive of all down insulation. That is a type of down that is sourced from Icelandic Eider ducks. It’s very rare and expensive to produce, hence the outrageously high prices of products that are insulated with Eiderdown. But it is worth noting that in terms of sheer warmth and insulating power, no other type of insulation can even begin to compete with Eiderdown.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.