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Animal Down in Clothing

The story behind 'live plucking' of birds for down-filled jackets. We look at the ethics of using animals for clothing, and what the alternatives are for outdoor wear.

Down is a prized commodity for the outdoor equipment industry and is used in insulated, padded and puffer jackets, and sleeping bags.

Just like PFCs, puffer, parka and other insulated jackets are ubiquitous. They can be found on the Lakeland fells and on the high street.

Every year, hundreds of tonnes of it are processed, from millions of ducks and geese, mainly in China. These geese and ducks can have their feathers plucked while alive, repeatedly for years, and the more you ‘live-pluck’ a bird, the more sought-after is their down for its higher ‘fill-power’ (warmth per volume). Down and feathers may also come from birds that have been cruelly force-fed for the controversial pâté, foie gras.

Many outdoor gear manufacturers state that the feathers they use come only from birds that were reared and killed for meat, and that were only plucked after slaughter. Indeed, most of the world's down is removed from ducks and geese after slaughter. However, there may be very little traceability within the supply lines of companies to guarantee that this is the case.

Since 2008, international animal welfare charity Four Paws has worked with some leading outdoor brands, and many of these companies have now started to make the supply chain of the down that they source both traceable and transparent.

Live plucked goose duck with feathers lying on floor

Outdoor companies now mainly using certified animal down in clothing

Although 90% of down used globally is in the bedding industry, momentum for change eventually came from outdoor companies, with Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Equipment and Fjallraven each developing their own standards: the Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS), the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), the Down Codex and the Down Promise respectively.

TDS and RDS have now been taken up by other companies too. Most of the companies in this guide have adopted the RDS standard.

These standards guarantee that down is not from live-plucked or force-fed animals, only from animals raised for their meat, and that each stage of the supply chain is audited by a third-party certification body.

Some companies are now also using recycled goose and duck down which mainly comes from feather pillows and duvets that can’t be resold.

Animal down vs synthetic

Down’s warmth-to-weight ratio beats synthetics and it’s long lasting, renewable, biodegradable and uses a product that would otherwise be waste. Its greenhouse gas emissions are less than synthetic alternatives.

However, like leather, even certified down isn’t an inconsequential by-product of the meat industry, but an economically important co-product, so buying down directly contributes to goose and duck factory farms and abattoirs. For example, over half of the ducks and geese killed in the UK each year are kept inside with no access to water.

The latest synthetic fillings are comparable in warmth to down for most uses and they’re also generally cheaper too. Plus, synthetic fills are often more resistant to the wet, dry faster and are easier to care for. And many companies are using synthetic down with at least a proportion of it from recycled source.

Person 1 holding a sleeping bag says 'there's no information to say how the feathers are sourced'. Person 2 holding a padded jacket says 'nom they duck the issue'
Cartoon (C) Andy Vine for Ethical Consumer

What to look for when buying synthetic or animal down

Synthetic down

Ultimately, Four Paws would advise people to avoid buying goose or duck down and buy synthetic down instead.

Páramo, Craghoppers, Regatta and Coleman only use synthetic down.

Most brands make some products filled with synthetic down, some 100% recycled or with a recycled content.

  • Best Buy Páramo uses 55% recycled polyester in all its products containing synthetic down.
  • Craghoppers’ and Regatta synthetic down also has some recycled content.

Certified virgin goose and duck down

If you are going to buy a goose or duck down product (or buy other products from the same companies), only buy from companies that use certified down.

Companies where all goose and duck down products 100% RDS certified: Alpkit, Berghaus, Columbia, Fjallraven, Haglofs, Jack Wolfskin, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Mountain Equipment, North Face, Patagonia, prAna, Rab, Rohan, Sprayway, Vaude.

Certified recycled goose and duck down

Or you could choose products from the RDS-certified companies which also use recycled duck and goose down, if you are happy to buy animal-derived materials already in the system: Alpkit, Rab, Vaude, Patagonia, North Face, Mountain Equipment, Mammut.

The following products are 100% recycled duck and goose down, not just mixed in with virgin down:

Companies using 100% recycled goose and duck down
Company Products


Filoment gilets and jackets Rab
Rab Cubit, Horizon, Microlight and Axion Pro jackets and gilets
Kabru gilet and jacket, Marwees sleeping bags
Patagonia Various products - see their website
North Face
Eco Trail sleeping bags; Sierra, Arctic, McMurdo parkas; Westcliffe gilet
Mountain Equipment Earthrise jackets and sleeping bags
Mammut Whitehorn gilet


Non-certified down

Avoid buying from these companies which may be using uncertified virgin down: Ayacucho (Cotswolds brand), Decathlon brands, Sports Direct brands (Gelert, Karrimor), Peter Storm, Mountain Warehouse, Trespass.


How outdoor clothing brands score in our ethics table

In our soon-to be updated outdoor clothing guide, all companies using real animal down lose half a mark under Animal Rights. If they have not adopted a standard, they lose a full mark.

Páramo was the only company not to lose any marks for Animal Rights.

Other animal issues with clothing

Down is not the only animal welfare and rights issue associated with clothing. Many people including vegans will also wish to avoid wool, leather, fur and silk for example. Our article on clothing and animal welfare and animal rights has more information on these materials, and recommendations for brands to look for which are vegan friendly.