Synthetic insulation has long been a great alternative to down. It is lighter, more water resistant and it can offer warmth without bulk. The most popular manufacturers of synthetic insulation are PrimaLoft and 3M, the latter of which makes Thinsulate. Both are really good options, but in order to choose one, it’s important to know exactly what makes them so great.
PrimaLoft has been the leader in the market for years, but Thinsulate isn’t too far behind. Especially now when PrimaLoft decided to go with a different approach, instead of sticking with what made them so great in the first place.
So, which of these two types of synthetic insulation is better?
PrimaLoft and Thinsulate are synthetic insulations, so how different can they really be? Well, the main difference between these two is in their approach to production and manufacturing, and I’ll tell you all about that in the next section. But first, it’s important to note that these two are extremely similar in terms of performance.
Both PrimaLoft and Thinsulate are able to offer warmth without bulk, which is one of the main reasons why we opt for synthetic insulation instead of down in the first place. On top of that, both of these have better water resistance than natural down, which is yet another reason to go synthetic instead of natural. The exact levels of warmth they offer differ, as well as any special features the individual brands might offer. The best example of this is that Thinsulate actually comes in a flame-resistant variant, which is extremely useful for people who work around fires.
It’s important to remember that both Thinsulate and PrimaLoft are designed to do the same thing, and they both do it well. The differences are there, from the manufacturing process to wet weather performance, but they are not so drastic that I can tell you that one is outright 10 times better than the other.
PrimaLoft has always focused on being an environmentally responsible brand, but they really kicked things into high gear in the past year. Their old product range included several types of synthetic insulation, which offered different performance and levels of warmth. But they have since shifted their focus to sustainability and recycling, so now they only offer synthetic insulation that is made from recycled materials.
However, it is important to note that there are still lots of products that feature old PrimaLoft insulation types out in the wild. You can read more about the Gold, Black, Silver and Eco versions of PrimaLoft in one of my older posts, but I won’t dwell on them too much here because they are no long the focus of the brand.
The new and improved PrimaLoft synthetic insulation is entirely made from recycled materials. There are only two versions of it now – PrimaLoft P.U.R.E. and PrimaLoft Bio. With PrimaLoft P.U.R.E., the main focus is on production and reducing waste and emissions during the manufacturing process. Their production now relies on air instead of heat from an oven, which has drastically reduced the amount of carbon emission they produce. And that’s what P.U.R.E. stands for – Produced Using Reduced Emissions.
Additionally, P.U.R.E. is just a better and more eco-friendly version of PrimaLoft Gold, which used to be their best and warmest type of synthetic insulation.
The other type of insulation they manufacture is PrimaLoft Bio. It is made from 100% recycled content and it is biodegradable, which is absolutely insane for synthetic insulation. In about two years it degrades by more than 90%, while standard polyester pretty much remains intact that entire time.
But the best part of all is that they didn’t have to make any compromises on the performance and quality of their insulation. It’s still as good as it was when it was labelled differently; they focused on changing their manufacturing process and sourcing the materials, and not the market-leading performance they were known for.
When it comes to different types of synthetic insulation, Thinsulate has by far the most options. PrimaLoft used to have several options as well, but not since they started focusing on using recycled content and reducing emissions.
3M Thinsulate, on the other hand, currently has nine different types of synthetic insulation. Each of those is optimized with a specific type of performance in mind, which is why you have entirely waterproof Thinsulate, odor-resistant Thinsulate, insulation designed specifically for footwear and about six other types.
The upside of this variety is that you can get a jacket that is insulated perfectly for your needs. If you need a jacket for hikes and outdoor adventures, you will look for Thinsulate Stretch insulation, which is specifically designed for active people. But if you plan to spend a lot of time out in the rain and snow, you’ll go with the option that has improved water resistance.
Obviously, the two brands have very different approaches to synthetic insulation. PrimaLoft’s is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, where they focus all of their efforts to make one amazing product. 3M Thinsulate, on the other hand, tries to make something specific for everyone, but that just means that you can’t count on one type of their insulation being good for everything.
So, which sounds better to you? A biodegradable synthetic insulation that performs well in every aspect, or something less eco-friendly, but specifically tailored to a specific need?
The first thing you should consider when deciding between synthetic insulations is how warm they are. If they don’t come close to the warmth you get from goose and duck down, then they are simply not worth it.
Thinsulate comes in several different options and you can actually choose which level of warmth you want. They actually have a warmth scale for each of their insulations, and the levels of warmth are light, medium and high. It’s worth noting that the exact warmth depends on the amount of insulation in the jacket 60 grams or less is light, from 61 to 140 grams is medium and anything above 140 grams is very warm. The upside of this is that Thinsulate can offer a wider variety of products, from heavy duty winter jackets to lightweight fall jackets.
The downside is that you can’t just get a jacket insulated with Thinsulate and expect it to be suitable for everything from fall hikes to extreme winter colds. You have to check which type of Thinsulate is in a jacket, and then you have to check how warm that specific kind of Thinsulate is. That is a bit of a hassle, but at least it means that you can count on Thinsulate for everything, from a lightweight hoodie to a really warm sleeping bag.
PrimaLoft, on the other hand, had this distinction with their former line. PrimaLoft Gold was the best and warmest type of insulation they offered, and that’s exactly what you’re getting with the newer versions of it. In fact, the P.U.R.E. insulation is so good that Patagonia is officially using it in the production of their Nano Puff jackets, which were previously insulated with PrimaLoft Gold.
The downside of this approach is that there’s much less variety now when it comes to jackets and gear insulated with PrimaLoft. The clo rating for the old version of this insulation was 0.92, which was equivalent to 550 fill power down. That’s enough to keep you warm during average winters, but it’s still not the best option for extreme colds.
Synthetic insulation works similarly to down – it is designed to trap body heat and retain it, in order to keep you warm in cold weather. The main downside of down is that it loses most of its insulating properties if it gets wet. When clusters of natural down clump up, they are no longer able to trap heat and your jacket becomes useless until it dries up.
All synthetic insulations have an edge here because they are able to trap heat even when they get wet. But they don’t always perform the same, and that’s exactly what we’ll be discussing in this section.
PrimaLoft insulation always boasted excellent performance in wet weather and that hasn’t changed at all. It continues to trap heat and keep you warm even when it gets wet, which is exactly why jackets that use it are extremely popular for wet weather. Especially when you pair their insulation with a good DWR coating on the outside.
It’s slightly different with Thinsulate. All of the variants of their synthetic insulation are water resistant to a degree because the polyester fibers that the insulation is made from are somewhat water resistant. But Thinsulate comes in several versions that are specifically designed around wet weather performance, which actually gives them an edge over PrimaLoft if you want gear that manages to stay very warm when wet.
There’s 3M Thinsulate Featherless that is designed to mimic down, but with improved performance in wet conditions. And there’s also 3M Thinsulate Water Resistant, which is made from hydrophobic fibers. This type of insulation can actually keep you dry even in pouring rain, which is excellent for jackets and gear that are designed for rain and snow.
But if you are comparing just regular Thinsulate and the new and improved PrimaLoft insulation, there’s really not that much of a difference. The main benefit of Thinsulate is that there is an option of synthetic insulation that offers better performance in wet weather, but ultimately it’s up to manufacturers whether or not they’re going to put it in their gear. And when comparing just the basic versions, I would still stick with PrimaLoft – their old Gold insulation had excellent water resistance and it dominated the market. But I honestly can’t say if the same is true for the P.U.R.E. and Bio versions. We’ll just have to wait and see!
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.