Either we've all got one, or we know someone who does.
Whether you're an ultralight backpacker paying attention to grams or just someone that wants to stay in style, puffy jackets are everywhere! And they've been around for a long time, which makes it kind of surprising that the technology used in puffy down jackets hasn't changed a whole lot...
Puffy Jackets Before
Historically, puffy down jackets have been made by pairing down from geese or ducks with lightweight fabrics that won't compress the down with the weight of the fabric itself (this is because more loft means more warmth.) In order to keep down evenly distributed throughout the jacket, baffles are created to help hold the down insulation in place while still giving it room to stay lofted up.
These baffles traditionally were created by sewing the inner & outer fabric of the jacket together using straight lines to create rows of "tubes" that the down insulation could be put into.
It works fairly well, but there are some drawbacks with using needle holes.
1. Down is the fine plumage found beneath many of the feathers on geese & ducks. So by creating needle holes in the jacket fabric, you essentially are also creating a route for that fine plumage to escape over time. If you lose too much down, your jacket will no longer be as effective at keeping you warm.
But that's not the only problem with needle holes.
2. In additional to allowing down to escape, these holes also allow dirt, sweat, grime, & moisture to get inside your jacket. These impurities will cause your down to lose some of its loft over time as well.
One important thing to note is that pure down will NOT stay lofted if it gets wet. So if you are sweating a lot or if it's raining your jacket will lose its loft & warmth as that moisture gets inside the baffles and collapses the down. Your jacket will become a flat, soggy mess!
So what are the alternatives?
Well, some puffy jacket manufacturers have used a process called bonding to create baffles in down jackets. Bonding is pretty much when the inner & outer fabrics are bonded together either by heat or some sort of adhesive.
This eliminates the need for needle holes, however 1 major drawback of bonding is that it can eventually come unstuck! If your jacket starts losing defined baffles, then the insulation inside will be able to shift around too much, leaving you with "cold spots" all over where down no longer separates you from the outside air.
Nova Zero Stitch™ Technology
We've worked with our partners & fabric suppliers to develop a technology called "Nova Zero Stitch™" fabric.
It's an innovative technology that literally weaves the fibers of the inner & outer fabrics together in baffle shapes as the fabric itself is being created!
There are no stitches nor bonding.
The Nova Zero Stitch™ fabric is created using a double weave, which is shown in the graphic below:
This fabric literally helps preserve the insulation for longer. Plus, without thousands of stitch holes in our jacket, you can worry less about down loss & degradation!
You can't snag a stitch that isn't there, & water or dirt can't enter through stitch holes that don't exist. Nova Zero Stitch™ fabric makes a puffy jacket so much more reliable than its single layer fabric counterpart.
The graphics below show the performance of Nova Zero Stitch™ fabric compared to the more traditional single layer fabric when used in a puffy jacket:
As you can see, Nova Zero Stitch™ fabric will block more wind, is more waterproof, and will let less down leak out (the only places were down can even escape in a jacket made with this fabric is in places where stitching is absolutely necessary - such as where the sleeves are attached to the torso.)
It's quite impressive what this fabric can do!
This may not be the first time that baffles were created be weaving fabrics together. But weaving a fabric as light as 20D together? That's pretty innovative!
Outdoor Vitals has used this technology in 2 different jacket options:
Both jackets are ultralight, pack down incredibly small, & are highly reliable. The main differences lie in the baffle structure and amount of insulation used.
Actually, the insulation itself is a whole new innovation of its own! But more on that later.
The NovaPro Jacket is built for cold weather! You can see from the image above that it's got a pretty unique looking baffle structure. This I-tube baffle design allows for bigger baffle chambers where larger amounts of down can loft more - creating more warmth. The offset pattern not only looks great, but helps keep down where you need it to stay warm on your adventures.
The NovaPro Jacket is fully featured and comes equipped with armpit zipper vents, thumbholes, zippered & insulated front pockets, & a 2-way adjustable hood. Even with all the features, the jacket only weighs about 14 oz!
The NovaUL Jacket has ALL the same features & technologies as the NovaPro, but was built as the more ultralight version. The D-tube baffle structure is more traditional, giving the NovaUL a classic look while eliminating the issues from stitch holes that traditional jackets experience.
As a jacket built for 3-season applications & uses, the NovaUL is lighter than the NovaPro at just 12 oz. Both the NovaUL & the NovaPro pack down into their own left pocket.
Both of these jackets utilize Nova Zero Stitch™ fabric, and are highly reliable because of it. They also both use what we call DownLT™ insulation, which adds another level of reliability that really has us stoked!
DownLT™ insulation is a blend of high-performing HyperDry™ down (DWR treated down) and a little bit of loose-fill synthetic insulation. This proprietary blend has an end fill power of 800+, and retains key abilities of pure down: warmth, ultralight weight, & compressibility.
The small amount of synthetic insulation blended with the down helps to stabilize it so that even when DownLT™ insulation gets wet, it doesn't collapse.
To demonstrate this, we put DownLT™ to the test through a full cycle in the washing machine & compared the amount of loft it retained compared to similar samples that used pure down.
We used 3 different samples:
- DownLT™ insulation
- HyperDry™ down insulation (DWR treated down)
- pure untreated down
The graphic below shows how much loft was retained by each of these samples after a full wash cycle:
As you can see, DownLT™ retained 70% of its loft, while untreated down completely collapsed and DWR treated down retained about half of its loft.
That's pretty significant!
DownLT™ In Puffies
So by using DownLT™ in a puffy jacket, the jacket becomes even more reliable during your adventures. Since the NovaPro and NovaUL Jackets use both Nova Zero Stitch™ fabric AND DownLT™ insulation, they are almost bomb-proof in the backcountry.
Not only is it extremely difficult to actually get moisture through the Nova Zero Stitch fabric, but if you do eventually get it in there (likely where seams are still require to sew sleeves on, etc.), the DownLT insulation will be able to retain loft & keep its insulating value.
The jackets are in no way waterproof, but you can at least count on insulation & warmth even if you do get wet. You get the moisture management benefits of a synthetic jacket while keeping the ultralight & compressible benefits of a down jacket!
Many of us at OV have used the Nova Jackets in a decent amount of snow & rain without getting overly wet & while staying warm. It does quite a lot to boost your confidence in the backcountry to know that you've got gear you can rely on even if things go south!
Nova Jackets in Action
In the video above, you can hear Tayson's thoughts on the NovaPro while testing it out on top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps.
Check out the video below to hear others' thoughts on the NovaPro while testing it out on an overnight XC ski trip:
Puffy Jackets are popular for a reason. They provide a lot of warmth - especially for how lightweight & compressible they are. Using nature's most effective insulator, they can be used in a wide variety of scenarios to help us keep safe & comfortable.
But there are newer technologies & innovations worth paying attention to when it comes to down puffy jackets! Even if you already have one you love & trust, the ability to stay warm EVEN IF your puffy were to get soaked brings a lot of confidence & peace of mind that's hard to ignore.
Nova Zero Stitch™ fabric and DownLT™ insulation are definitely improvements to the down puffy legacy, and it will be exciting to see what else we can learn to do with them!