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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Alpkit and Nikwax RDS Hydrophobic Down

By Ronnie Legg
01, Nov, 2016

We’re improving the duck down and goose down we use in all our products to Nikwax RDS Hyrdophonic Down. Ronnie our Clothing Designer explains why ….

Group down jackets basecamp stoves-7239

What is Nikwax Hydrophobic Down?

In simple terms, it is down that has a water repellent treatment applied to it, so that it performs better in damp environments. Regular down is superb at lofting, which creates pockets of air that are great for insulating you from the cold. However, when regular down gets wet its structure collapses and it cannot loft, leaving you cold and damp. Worse still, regular down takes a very long time to dry once it has got wet, and needs constant agitation to help re-introduce its airy structure. 

Nikwax Hydrophobic Down resists moisture for longer, absorbing 90% less water than un-treated down, which also means that it dries far quicker than un-treated down. In real world use, this means your jacket or sleeping bag will be less susceptible to damp conditions, staying better lofted and keeping you warmer for longer. This will be most beneficial on longer trips when keeping your gear dry is difficult, and it will also help prolong the life of your down product for years to come.

Sounds like magic, but how does it actually work and will it last? Nikwax Hydrophobic down is treated with a PFC-free water repellent finish whilst at the processing plant (where down is cleaned and stratified into different fill powers), but before the down is put into your jacket or sleeping bag. This means that every down cluster is treated effectively, with minimal wastage. The water based formulation used by Nikwax will not harm you or the environment, and does not affect the fill power, breathability or weight of the down. Over time and with lots of use, you may find the effectiveness is reduced, but it can be revitalised. First, by washing to remove dirt which might inhibit the water repellency, and second by re-treating with Nikwax Down Proof. This works in much the same way as re-proofer does on waterproof garments to help restore the DWR finish, but is specially formulated to treat the down inside as well as the fabrics surrounding it.

Why Nikwax?

Within the team at Alpkit, we have worked with Nikwax and used their products for years. As a UK based supplier, they were the obvious choice for a partnership based on trust and mutual understanding. We’ve attended and contributed to the same conferences on innovation, round-tables on sustainability, and of course shared the odd drink or two at outdoor industry trade shows. We like the way they take a scientific approach to everything they do in their mission to produce low impact products that will enhance everyone’s enjoyment of the outdoors, whilst advocating environmental responsibility.

I’ll let you into a secret: Nick Brown (of Nikwax) and Nick Smith (of Alpkit) are two of the most brilliant minds in the UK outdoor industry. I can get away with saying that because AlpNick is on holiday as I write this… and I’m hoping Nick Brown won’t mind the compliment! But seriously, between them they have a huge wealth of experience and knowledge on the geekiest details, from the chemistry of fluorocarbons to the application of nylon vs. polyester in tent flysheets. Combine this scientific acumen with the ability to build meaningful businesses based on good intentions and you have two not-so-different companies: Nikwax and Alpkit.

Ethical down: RDS

From winter 2016 onwards, all of the down used in our products will be certified to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). We have always sourced our duck down and goose down from farms that do not use live plucking or force feeding, but this is a further step in our commitment to making better ethical choices wherever we can.

The Responsible Down Standard was initially developed by The North Face (as a result of some of this external pressure) to investigate their down supply chain and ensure traceability. Over three years in the making, it involved the input of animal welfare groups, industry experts and brands as well as retailers. It is now an independent globally recognised standard, that uses a third party to certify the traceability and welfare within the down and feather supply chain. This means that small brands such as ourselves can opt to have our down certified to the standard laid out by the RDS, where we previously had to rely on trust. We pay a premium to ensure the supply of our down is RDS, but it means that we can be confident that our supply chain meets the following criteria: 

  • Any removal of down and feathers from live birds (live-plucking or molt-harvesting) is prohibited
  • Force-feeding is prohibited
  • The welfare of the birds is respected at all times: from hatching to slaughter
  • RDS down and feathers is properly identified at all times; this ensures that non-RDS down and feathers are not mistakenly identified as RDS

The entire supply chain is audited by a professional, third party certification body and only products with 100% certified down and feathers carry the RDS logo

We are not complacent; we still visit our down garment and sleeping bag factories, so we know that our RDS certified down is stored separately, filled using separate machines, and isn’t mixed with non-RDS certified down at any point. 

We are really proud of the steps forward we have made with our down products this year. Not only have we upgraded their performance by introducing Nikwax Hydrophobic Down, we have also improved them from an ethical standpoint to make them better products all round.

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