A big part of the life of a kayaker is that I spend a large part of my time in a wet environment. That may seem obvious but what isn't obvious is that it effects some of my gear choices. Add to the equation that I like to paddle in cold wet environments like Alaska - two days ago someone I was paddling with said "you don't have any desire to go the caribbean, paddle beach to beach and lay on a white sand beach?" my response was something like "never gonna happen."
One of those gear choices that was influenced by the cold and the wet was insulation. I use a wonderful primaloft jacket that is super light, incredibly warm and compressible. Before that I used fleece. A down jacket has never graced one of my dry bags. I use a synthetic sleeping bag in a waterproof compression stuff sack. I once had a dry bag leak and when I unpacked my bag the bottom half was soaked. I had to wring it out. I went to sleep that night in a clammy bag, and when I woke up in the morning it was dry. Try that with a down bag and you are flirting with hypothermia. Down doesn't insulate when wet, and is almost impossible to dry in the backcountry.
That's not to say that you can't use down if you're a paddler. When I did my NOLS instructor course Sarah - of Paddle North Fame - used a down bag. She was just incredibly careful with it. I am not that brave, or at least I haven't been in the past.
This week I had a conversation with a rep from Mountain Hardwear. He talked to me about Q shield, which is the MH version of Sierra Designs Dridown. I think though - and someone may correct my on this, I think calling it "Sierra designs" isn't fair because I would bet the process was invented by some scientist in a lab who will get exactly zero credit for something that could change the outdoor industry. It is also the same process as Liquipel.
I am going to destroy the science here - because I am not a scientist! - but it is something like this. A nano-coating is applied to the down that is completely hydrophobic. So, in theory, the feathers can't get wet.
The rep from MH handed me two water bottles. One half filled with water and untreated feathers. Frankly it looked like roadkill. The other bottle was filled half way with water and feathers treated with Q shield. As I shook the Q shield bottle the feathers would submerge and then pop to the top of the bottle when I stopped. There are a few feather floaties in the bottom of the bottle. This is an amazing display, but I want to see what this looks like in real life. I would love a beautiful lofty down bag that I have no concerns about getting wet. Or at least no more concerns than getting a synthetic bag wet. Sierra designs says that Dridown dries seven times faster than regular down - but seeing how regular down doesn't dry, I don't know what that means.
MH Q shield from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.
Sorry for the quality of the video, it was shot on my iPhone.
I suspect we are going to see nano coatings on everything in the future. In theory, could a drysuit by a thin film that slides over your body like that worn by a swimmer? The rep from MH said that the process wasn't suitable to jackets but worked very well for insulation. But still, in five years what will this technology look like? Will a nano coated hydrophobic kayak slide through the water faster?