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Sleeping bags and parkas made with down linings are generally lighter and warmer than the equivalent products made with synthetic materials. Down is soft, eco-friendly, biodegradable, lightweight, and makes for excellent insulation. So why should anyone object to down insulation in outdoor gear?

Down is the soft undercoat that insulates ducks and geese from cold temperatures. These feathers do not have quills. Down is nature’s insulation product and perfect for keeping people warm and comfortable in the outdoors. 

Or is it perfect?

The biggest problem with down is that it is taken from the undercoat of geese and ducks. This process is when feathers are plucked from the bird when the bird is alive, which is painful, or after it’s been slaughtered for meat.

The question comes down to an ethical problem. Is it right to use down for human comfort when collecting it causes pain to the animal? Even if a person is not a vegan, the answer is clear. Gathering down while causing distress and pain to the bird is wrong. 

What about collecting the down after the bird is dead? 

The ethical dilemma of the down collection is overridden here by the whole question of eating animals. Truly humane treatment of animals would preclude slaughtering them for meat. This brings up what to do with all the meat from the animals and birds if everyone were to stop eating meat. Most of them would have to be destroyed, producing a quandary.

Farmers in Norway and Iceland collect Eider duck down by gathering it from abandoned nests after the ducklings have left the nests. This method is the more ethical way of collecting the down that doesn’t harm a single bird but is extremely labor-intensive, producing very expensive down parkas, sleeping bags, and comforters.

The textile industry has come up with the Responsible Down Standard, which ensures that the birds live a good, comfortable life before they are slaughtered. Down is collected after death. This at least guarantees humane treatment while the animal is alive. Many outdoor gear companies have adopted the standard. The treatment of geese that are force-fed to produce foie gras is another problem. But at least the standard is a step in the right direction.