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“Development of Synthetic Down Alternative”? Really

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In April 1984 a report was issued called “Development of Synthetic Down Alternative” written by employees of Albany International Research Company for the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Center, Natick, MA.

The report is 197 pages long. Without going into unnecessary detail having read the report all that I found of value was; if you have two polyester fibers that are exactly the same except one has a silicone finish applied to it and the other a non-silicone finish the fiberfill that would be made from these fibers would demonstrate that the silicone finished fiber will allow moisture while in a vapor state to move I believe 16 times more rapidly through it than the non-silicone finished fiber. This finding explains why moisture moves so quickly through Lamilite, since it is and always has been silicone finished.

That said, polyester fiberfill has been in existence since 1960 or there about for use as an insulation in outerwear garments and sleeping bags. To the best of my knowledge the U.S. military has been using garments and sleeping bags insulated with polyester fiberfill since the 1960’s. Therefore, they already had a synthetic down alternative. I know that DuPont did try to develop a polyester cluster that would look like a down cluster but they were as we know unsuccessful. So if Natick Labs wanted a polyester fiber that resembled a down cluster that could be blown through a down blowing machine it was not going to happen at least from DuPont who at the time was the most sophisticated synthetic fiber producer in the world. To date a duplicate of a down cluster made from polyester or any other synthetic has yet to be made. So if that was the purpose of the research and development that Albany International was supposed to accomplish they didn’t. What they did conjure up was a chopped staple fiberfill product that was at the time and still is to this day a throw back to the fiberfill products that were developed and used by the outerwear and sleeping bag manufactures starting in 1960 to this very day. Albany International trade named their product PrimaLoft. Today the company that sells the PrimaLoft product is I believe also the name of the company. I recently read that the PrimaLoft division of Albany International was sold.

On their web site they state “the world’s best synthetic insulation”. For me to say I couldn’t disagree more is an understatement. In 1968 when Polar Guard continuous filament fiber was introduced to the market place it was the absolute best insulating medium ever made, virtually all of the manufacturers of quality sleeping bags started using it. Until then these same companies rejected using the chopped staple fiberfill’s in their sleeping bags and for all intents and purposes those who have tried using high priced chopped staple polyester fiberfill’s such as Hollofill (a DuPont product, no longer being made) Thinsulate LiteLoft a product made by or for 3-M which I believe is still being made and of course the PrimaLoft have found out in short order these products are not fit for use in sleeping bags. To the best of my knowledge 3-M does not bother marketing their product to sleeping bag manufacturers and PrimaLoft has in the past two or three years tried to market a continuous filament product which has fallen on its face as did their chopped staple product so maybe now they have given up on the sleeping bag makers. I always found it interesting that neither of these companies who profess to have the best synthetic insulation in the world have ever solicited Wiggy’s as a potential account. I wonder why? I believe they know I would never ever consider using their products. If I did want to use a chopped staple fiberfill product I could buy it for about 10 to 15 cents per ounce versus what these companies charge about $1.00 an ounce or so. I truly do not know since as I say they have never solicited me nor have I solicited them as suppliers.

PrimaLoft Company advertises that the PrimaLoft product was “developed for the U.S. Army as a water resistant alternative to down.” That seems strange to me since what they put together was bonded polyester batting a product that the U.S. Army had been purchasing since the 1960’s as the insulation used in there parkas, field jacket liners and sleeping bags. So what is different about PrimaLoft from what they already had in the system (?) initially only the name. However, that is not the only difference; they also have a very light weight product about which PrimaLoft makes outlandish claims with respect to the products ability to retain heat. This situation of erroneous temperature ratings started big time when 3-M came out with their Thinsulate LiteLoft. This situation still persists in the sleeping bag business to this day. Companies in the Europe and Asia dream up all types of chopped staple fiberfill forms of insulation that simply put do not perform. The proof of that statement is the fact that the European Union dreamt up a rating system called European Normal or EN because so many of the people who have bought sleeping bags in Europe in a word “froze” or were just plain uncomfortable in them. Of course we have the same problem in this country. I read on most of the outdoor web sites people asking about an objective rating system for sleeping bags. Why because the bags these people have purchased simply put aren’t performing as the manufacturers state on their hangtags. So these people write about the EN rating system. What they do not know is that the EN testing is done on a copper manikin just like the ones we have in this country. The results they get are no different than the results we get. In both cases the results are given in “clo value” which does not equate to anything in F or C. What I have read when someone says they have a Wiggy bag that keeps them warm the response they get is they are heavy and bulky, but they admit they do work. So I have a bag that does work and is heavier than the other brands that don’t work. Maybe if the companies who make their bags in Asia used more insulation they too would have a bag that worked. Then their bags would be about the same weight as mine or heavier. However, even if they used the same weight of continuous filament fiber as I use the bags would not perform as mine do since they would not be using the lamination of the fiber as a first step in production, they would as they do now quilt the fiber.

With respect to the alternative down replacement that we already had, our tax dollars to the tune of what I was told of $700,000.00 was paid to Albany International so we could learn that silicone treated fiber allowed more moisture to move through it than non treated fiber. The reason moisture moves through the silicone treated fiber is because the silicone acts as a lubricant.

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