Outdoor clothing - How sustainable are the insulation materials?

Woman hiking with insulation jacket

Insulation materials for outdoor clothing, especially for insulation jackets, usually have one goal: they should keep you as warm as possible! In addition, they should also be windproof, functional, lightweight and insensitive to moisture. Ideally, they should also be as sustainable as possible. We take a closer look at down, synthetic and wool, present their individual strengths and weaknesses and go into the respective eco-balance.

Down: Beastly warm!

As a natural material, down is characterized by outstanding thermal performance, low weight and good moisture transport. Therefore, down is traditionally popular as an insulation material for sustainable outdoor clothing, even though it is more sensitive to moisture than synthetic alternatives.

Ecologically, many question how justifiable the use of down as a material in the textile industry is, especially with regard to synthetic insulation materials that have long been available.

Fortunately, the days of live plucked animals and stuffed fattening are largely over. Today, many manufacturers have strict standards and source their down from farms that are independently inspected on a regular basis.

Couple with warm insulation jackets in the city

Vaude, for example, uses recycled down for many of its products in accordance with the Global Recycling Standard. The duck and goose down that comes from bedding and clothing, for example, is not disposed of but collected and reprocessed by textile recyclers. Through the circular economy, valuable natural products are used for longer.

Husbandry standards and methods of recycling have improved massively in recent years, but it is still true that animals are kept and killed for the end product, even though down is often just the by-product of meat production. On the other hand, they are recyclable, compostable and a natural raw material that has far less impact on the planet after use than plastic filling materials. Ultimately, it remains your individual decision whether you go for a down jacket or prefer an alternative.

Life cycle assessment down

  • Strict standards on animal welfare are widespread
  • Animals must still be kept and killed
  • Compostable: Does not pollute the environment after use

Synthetic insulation materials: Insensitive and robust

Synthetic insulation materials for sustainable outdoor clothing are a welcome alternative to animal insulation for many. They are now so technically advanced that, when used correctly, there is hardly any noticeable (and measurable) difference to down.

Synthetic materials such as polyamide or polyester work quite well as insulation materials and are above all robust and insensitive. Even when wet, they retain their warming properties and do not clump together, as can happen with down. In terms of warming effect, synthetic materials can't quite keep up with down yet, but here, too, manufacturers are making more and more progress.

But aren't synthetic materials worse for the environment than natural ones like wool or down?

By no means, the calculation is not that simple: On the one hand, no animals have to be kept and killed for synthetic materials, for many this is a winning argument. On the other hand, after use, plastic materials can be a significant burden on the planet and also end up again and again in wild landfills or in the oceans. To reduce this impact, more and more companies are turning to recycled materials.

Manufacturers such as Patagonia, which is one of the absolute pioneers and trailblazers in terms of sustainability, use 100% recycled polyester for its insulation jackets with PrimaLoft® insulation. This not only impresses with an outstanding warmth-to-weight ratio, but also keeps you warm even when wet and significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to conventional production methods.

Ski tourers with insulation jackets in the mountains

Life Cycle Assessment Synthetics

  • No animal husbandry necessary
  • Plastic can become a burden on the environment
  • Recycled synthetic materials, however, ensure a good climate footprint

Wool: Sustainable and functional

Some manufacturers also use wool as an insulating material. Ortovox is a pioneer here and relies on the Swisswool designed by the manufacturer for many of its products. This is characterized on the one hand by warmth, but on the other hand also by an optimal climate comfort . Thus, you are well equipped with insulation jackets that are insulated with wool, even during strenuous and sweaty outdoor activities, because the wool with its high functionality wicks moisture well to the outside.

Ortovox' sheep produce natural Swisswool

Ortovox also pays attention to regional origin for its Swisswool and thus strengthens small farmers in the alpine region. They ensure sustainable wool production and processing and guarantee fair prices for raw wool in the sometimes remote valleys.

Sheep farming can preserve the cultural landscapes that have grown in Europe over centuries and counteracts forestation, which would destroy important habitats for insects, birds and small mammals. In many countries, sheep are therefore deliberately used as "landscape maintainers" that have a positive effect on the ecosystem. Shortest transport routes within Europe also ensure a good climate balance and wool, as a renewable raw material, is a forward-looking and promising alternative to down and synthetic insulation.

Life cycle assessment wool

  • Regional origin
  • Good climate balance
  • Sheep can serve as natural landscape maintainers


The perfect insulation material for sustainable outdoor clothing probably does not exist and all of them have individual advantages and disadvantages in terms of sustainability and climate balance. Which of the mentioned insulation materials you ultimately decide on in your clothing search, therefore, remains your personal choice. In the Sport Bittl store, we list the certificates of the manufacturers and thus make it easier for you to make your decision.

You want to know more about insulation materials and the question of which material has the best properties for your purposes? Then take a look at our blog post on the topic:

Insulation jackets in comparison