8 Ways to Responsibly Rock Down

Strict animal welfare standards lend these items sustainability cred

By Jill K. Robinson

January 29, 2020


Photo by iStock/kajasja

Down provides maximal warmth for minimal weight. However, animal-welfare concerns about that sought-after fluff have kept down products in ethical limbo—the geese and ducks providing feathers, historically, are often subjected to force-feeding and live-plucking. Thankfully, there has been progress in recent years—in 2015, Allied Feather & Down unveiled its Responsible Down Standard (RDS) when five brands (Peak Performance, Feathered Friends, Montane, Daniadown, and Merrell) signed on to have third-party auditors ensure animals’ welfare at each stage of down items’ production. 

In just four years, the RDS standard has fetched industry awards, and its cadre of participating brands has ballooned to include 100 outdoor gear manufacturers. It’s now easier to find quality gear sporting that blue RDS logo signaling items that are as ethically sourced as they are lightweight, compressible, and cozy. You’re probably already set with a coat this winter, but here’s a look at some of the best-performing and most exciting down accessories and accoutrements on the market.

Nau’s Down Scarf ($100) is made from recycled polyester with a PFC-free water-resistant finish, ideal for keeping you toasty in cold and wet weather. It's padded with lightweight, upcycled, 700 fill-power down. A built-in zip pocket low on one side is perfect for stashing keys and money, and when in transit, you can tuck the scarf inside that pocket to create an instant travel pillow.

Face harsh elements with warm hands in Mountain Hardwear’s Absolute Zero Gore-Tex Down Mitts ($200). These expedition-grade mittens feature soft, warm fleece and 800 fill-power RDS goose down, to shield paws from the cold. Engineered with a waterproof and windproof Gore-Tex insert, these mitts keep wind and moisture out without compromising breathability. The extra-long gauntlet cuffs fit easily over bulky jacket sleeves, and a carabiner loop allows you to keep the mitts close when not in use.

Standing in the elements while their climbing partners scramble up the rock face above, belayers can really feel the chill in their bones. Enter the North Face’s Summit L6 Insulated Belay Skirt ($250). It’s easy to pull on over a climbing harness, and the zip at its center front doubles as a pass-through for belay devices. Made from 100-percent recycled nylon ripstop with 800-fill RDS ProDown (which retains its loft even in wet conditions), this skirt also makes for a fashionable après-ski or campfire piece.

Mammut’s Eigerjoch Light T-Shirt ($325) might be the warmest “tee” you’ll ever own. Weighing only 100 grams, it’s made with ultralight polyamide, coated with a PFC-free waterproofing treatment, and filled with 1,000 fill-power RDS goose down. The shirt has a half-zip front zipper to reduce weight and cold spots. It packs down small, so it’s there for that moment you need an additional insulating layer on an outdoor adventure, or to keep your core warm in frigid conditions.

Layering is where it’s at, and the Verglas Down Insulator Vest ($180) from Helly Hansen was created to keep both women and men snug in the great outdoors. Whether you don it over base layers or wear it under a hard shell, its 700 fill-power Allied Down works magic in adverse conditions. And when the wind feels like a knife, this vest’s drop-back hem construction, bottom hem adjustment, and inner wind fly (located behind its front zipper) offer added protection from the gales.

Not all down items need to be worn to keep you toasty. REI Co-op’s Down Camp Blanket ($169-$249) makes for a cozy superhero cape at the campground. Made with polyester on one side and Bluesign-approved recycled polyester on the other, this 600 fill-power RDS duck down blanket is available in sizes to accommodate one or two people. When you’re not using it, pack it into its stuff sack and keep it close.

Whether you prefer to call a shirt/jacket hybrid a “shacket” or a “shirtjack,” the Silent Down Jacket ($229) from Patagonia will keep you warm without having to resort to one of those huge puffy jackets. Made from 100-percent polyester (70 percent of which is recycled) taffeta, the jacket is insulated with 700-fill recycled down. The styling—with two flapped chest pockets, adjustable cuffs, side-entry handwarmer pockets, and a stand-up collar—is reminiscent of a long-sleeved shirt or lightweight jacket, meaning you won’t feel weird wearing it indoors.

Properly cared for, your down product—whether it’s a jacket, sleeping bag, or other item—should last a lifetime. But after using it for a while, you’ll need to wash it on occasion. Allied Feather & Down’s Down Wash ($9) is mild enough to clean down-filled items without stripping the down of the fat and oil necessary to keep it resilient (which maintains the loft necessary to keep you warm). It’s also the only palm-oil-free certified down wash in the world.