Our Planet Earth

Everything You Should Know about Alternative Insulation

December 15, 2018 Sports and Outdoors By Photo by Blue Bison

You finally swapped out your winter clothes from your summer/fall clothes and pulled out your long lost ski jacket. After you look it over, you quickly realize it’s seen better days and that it’s for an upgrade. There are tons of jackets to choose from, but there’s an aspect that you’re likely overlooking: what do you want your jacket to be made of? This is a question that consumers need to answer now, either in person or online when they go shopping for a new winter jacket. For years, all you had to do was decide if you wanted a synthetic jacket or a down jacket, but now there are tons of other options, and many more decisions to be made.

A handful of brands are now offering alternative insulation materials that are more sustainable, and oftentimes offer different pros and cons than standard down and synthetic insulations. To help aid in your purchasing decision, we pulled together a variety of the most popular and newest forms of alternative insulation and provided insights on just what they are and what they do.

Alpaca Insulation

Cotopaxi is a brand that’s focused on doing good, so it’s logical that it would produce environmentally-friendly insulation. The brand offers an alpaca wool insulation. The material fuctions well as an insulator and offers many of the same traits that merino wool does. Cotopaxi pulls wool from alpacas that live in the high plains of the Bolivian Andes — much the same way many brands pull merino wool from sheep that live in the high elevations in New Zealand. It also helps that alpaca insulation is hypoallergenic, strong, durable and works when wet. Cotopaxi works with farmers for the alpaca insulation that it calls “Alti Insulation.” It’s a 50-50 blend that separates coarse llama hair from fine hair, similar to de-hairing cashmere. You can see the final product in the Kusa Collection as jackets and blankets.

United By Blue Bison

Like Cotopaxi, United by Blue is committed to sustainability and giving back to the community. For every product sold, one pound of trash is removed from the oceans and waterways around the world. The team is constantly innovating to find the most sustainable fabrics to use in its apparel and gear. Bison fiber is the latest sustainable fiber that the brand has integrated into its product line. The brand launched a Bison-insulated puffy jacket this fall. It uses what the brand calls B100 fill for insulation — they are the only brand to do so. The fill is a blend of 50 percent bison fiber and 50 percent recycled polyester. It’s the most sustainable down-alternative jacket the brand has ever produced. B100 insulation regulates your temperature, is hypoallergenic, warm when wet, lightweight and flexible and uses a supply chain that helps to eliminate bison fiber as a wasted byproduct from the ranching industry. It was one of eleven winners for the Outdoor Retailer Innovation Awards 2018.

PrimaLoft Bio

This is the newest type of synthetic insulation, but its development began almost five years ago. “We think of ourselves as an advanced materials company, so our core strength is polymers and textiles. Our thought process was ‘It’s going to be virtually impossible to police the world,’ so we wanted to go at its source,” says Mike Joyce, CEO of PrimaLoft. Alongside experts from various industries, the brand found that modifying the synthetic polyester was the best play. “We modify the polymer so it’s more attractive to the natural microorganisms that reside in landfills and oceans,” Joyce says. “A standard polyester is not a material that microorganisms will gravitate towards.” So the brand created a material that microorganisms are attracted to in order to speed up the decomposition process. “They break it down into natural materials such as water, CO2, methane and what we call biomass.” Does this mean it’ll start to degrade in your closet? “No, it won’t because oxygen doesn’t trigger it. You have to be in an environment where microorganisms exist,” like the ocean or a landfill, Joyce says. After rigorous testing, PrimaLoft claims that Bio is 84 percent degraded after 400 days compared to standard polyester, which is just two percent degraded.

The 100 percent recycled material will roll out in 2020 with PrimaLoft’s partners. “Key partners are prototyping, making garments and testing right now.” While prices might rise slightly, PrimaLoft ultimately leaves the decision up to the brand. “Our intent is to go after this in a reasonable way.” PrimaLoft Bio won the Outdoor Retailer Innovation Award Product of the Year for 2018.


While there are a variety of companies that are designing wool-insulated jackets, pants, shirts and more, Ortovox has committed to using it across its entire jacket line. The brand uses what it calls Swisswool insulation. Sourcing the wool is an incredibly hands-on process. Ortovox works exclusively with Swiss farmers to buy their “second shearing” wool at a handful of collection areas around the country. The wool is weighed, then farmers are paid in cash for their crop. Much the same way you’d buy tomatoes at a farmer’s market. The “second shearing wool” was previously discarded or burned because it cannot be woven. Ortovox thought creatively and turned it into a product that is both sustainable and high-performance.


We’ve written extensively on 37.5 and its ability to keep you cool during workouts, sleep and throughout the day. Nau designs sustainable apparel including winter coats and began adding 37.5 into its jackets as an alternate for goose down. The reason they chose to go that route is that it stays warm (keeping your body at the right temperature), dries quickly and is odor-proof, which is a concern when a base layer or insulation layer is so close to your skin.

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