Valandre' French Grey Goose Down

12:33 a.m. on October 25, 2011 (EDT)
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I figured I would start a new topic instead of hijacking the other thread...

In my many conversations with Niels of Valandre' about the quality of the goose down that he buys for his bags, here's what I found...

1.  He buys the stuff from local goose farmers in France.

2.  He is able to buy the creme de la creme (see below)

3.  If goose down is washed and stayed wet for an extended amount of time, it        starts to ferment, and it "burns" the microfibers off of the down clusters

4.  He buys the goose down that is mature, after the 4th moulting

5.  The Valandre' down has a high Lanolin content ain't immature chinese down, and after testing his gear for the past 8 years, it seems to me that I stay warmer with his gear than other mfgrs.  May be the placebo affect, but I don't think so.  I believe that warmth of down is more than just "loft".

DISCLAIMER - I retail Valandre gear.  Along with gear from a lot of other companies.  That being said, buy from whoever you feel like.  I did not post this to solicit business.

2:15 p.m. on October 25, 2011 (EDT)
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Thanks for starting this...for the uninitiated, this thread is a spin-off from the "High Rock Sleeping Bags" thread, wherein Bill S wrote:

"It is true however that most down fill these days comes from Chinese geese, including that used in WM, FF, ID/Rab, Valandre, and others."

I wonder if OGBO meant the the actual geese Valandre uses are of the Chinese breed sub-species, even if they are raised and utilized just a couple hours down the valley from their production facility. Given the greater size and faster reproduction of the Chinese variety, I would certainly believe my above interpretation before I believed Niels is shipping in mass-produced goose down from China.

However, given that Neils very openly advertises that he does use only "fat French Goose down," arguing that only this bird flies so high, for so long, and as such develops the best, plumpest down clusters, I'd have a really hard time believing anything otherwise.

Perhaps someone can dig up a picture of the geese on the farm Neils buys from; it would be very easy to visually discern which breed he uses...

Or, as I think will happen, Neils will soon post a response here, as I know someone from his camp checks these forums...

2:36 p.m. on October 25, 2011 (EDT)
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One of the things one learns very quickly when involved in this sport, or, probably any sport, is that rumours are rampant in the industry just as opinions on gear and/or situations, are not always based on actual personal experience. When, discussing products that relatively few own or have used, this becomes a problem in that rumours are seldom based on factual reality.

BillS is a guy for whom I have the utmost respect and I always pay close attention to anything he has to say about gear or backpacking-mountaineering in general. I think that he may be mistaken here and that, IME, is VERY un usual as he knows whereof he speaks concering gear and techniques for rigorous wilderness activities.

I cannot see Nils EVER making a false claim concerning ANYTHING to do with his products; he impresses me as an honest and very decent chap and one who also KNOWS whereof he speaks. The fact is that Valandre has developed an outstanding reputation largely by "word of mouth" among serious outdoor people, those who use the gear they buy in the harshest conditions and it would be foolhardy for Nils to ruin this reputation by making false marketing claims. It is simply very poor business practice to do so and he is just too intelligent and honourable to do so.

That said, let us remember that SOME Chinese down is excellent,as is Polish, Russian and also the Canadian down from the Hutterites on the Prairies. I have used all of these types and there is little to distinguish between them.  The worst down I ever used was in my "Fairydown" bag from New Zealand, bought in 1973, BUT, my youngest brother, a very active bushman, is still using this same bag almost 40 years later.

I have a Richard Egge double duvet with spotless white down that I have worn extensively, purchased in 1974 and I have been comfortable at -40*F with a medium merino longjohn under it. This is a measured, not estimated temp. and it still fluffs as much as it ever did.

I had a Marmot Mountain Works custom bag for 21 years of hard use and it was just the same and while I look after gear, I do not pamper it and good down actually does not have to be "babied", just kept dry.

Is Valandre down "the best", well, I don't know, but, it is as good as anything I have used since my first highend down gear purchases in the mid-'60s and the design of the Shocking Blue is simply beyond anything else I have ever used.

Is it worth the substantial price, well, maybe not in suburban areas where "cold" means 0* F, however, when real cold is commonplace, as in Canadian winters, the cost is cheap for the performance one receives.

2:39 p.m. on October 25, 2011 (EDT)
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The goose down question is a complex and controversial one, even involving PETA. According to PETA, most goose down is from geese that are raised only for the down and slaughtered to harvest the down. I had one PETA supporter tell me that the goose meat was just discarded. Another version is on a vegan website which claims that most goose down comes from just ripping the feathers off the goose.

I have also read that the down is gathered as a result of the annual molt, where the geese shed some portion of their feathers, so that the geese are not harmed. Vigilguy's report from Valandre is that the molt method is the one used for Valandre's down. My comment on the use of Chinese down came from a conversation I had with a man who represented himself as a Valandre rep. His statement was that Valandre had found that currently some Chinese sources were producing high quality down and that Valandre was starting to use one of these sources to meet demand. Whether he misspoke or was mistaken, I do not know. But I will take vigilguy's and Dewey's reports that they speak directly to the company president, so Valandre uses only down from French farms. When I visited the Feathered Friends factory in Seattle, I did not ask what the means of getting the down from the goose was, since I was only looking at what they did with the down once it got to them.

11:33 p.m. on October 25, 2011 (EDT)
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This is such a great forum...really nice to have intelligent discussions with mature hikers!  I would have been tarred and feathered already with a post like this over at!

Another company that I have my eyes on (and the goose down that they are using) is Westcomb...I believe they are getting their down from the Hutterites? Dewey, correct on this if I am mistaken...but I am gaining a lot of trust and confidence in what they are producing.  Their jackets are really well insulated with some nice quality down, and their shells are really well made.  Pricey? yes...I seem to have an addiction for the ultra high-end gear.  Their Apoc shell is gonna be shipping in just a few days!

9:15 a.m. on October 26, 2011 (EDT)
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Westcomb uses down from the hutterites farms indeed. The down quality seems to be below valandré's one cause as far as i remember the never wait for the fourth molt as it is too expensive. In France they can wait for the fourth moult cause down is a byproduct of foie gras production which is otherwise wasted. 

Almost any kind of goose can fly above 27 000 feet and deal with -50 temp. Some can fly higher (Bar-header geeses from tibet fly over the Himalaya at an altitude of 30 000 feet at temp below -100 F) : 

they are not used in the down industry (too few). They are very light geeses though and up to a certain point (I'm not an expert) heavier waterfowls birds implies better down, everything else being equal of course, i.e. if they have the same maturity.The toulousan french goose are pretty heavy around 20 pounds.

 In any case I hardly believe you can have a high quality down that's not a byproduct of the food industry. Cause you have to feed them for a long period, they have to be in open air to produce an appreciable amount of down and you have to have a large field to keep all those birds.  Moreover quality down when lofted occupies a large volume, that's not so great for transport. So in order to keep the transportation fees to a reasonable price they have to compress it to a minimum. Not a big deal except that to recover his full potential after the journey, it has to be reconditionned. So again fees. 

I'm almost certain that valandré doesn't have any other representent other than Niels and Emmanuelle. You can check on their forum that they are the only two answering questions. 

I would like to note that the down feather ratio is a marketing issue. First they are no standard way to measure it. Usually they take a very small sample out of a I don't know how many pounds. And they have to count search for the feathers visually. The error is pretty high. The fill power is also tricky, the procedure are not the same in europe and in the us or japan. First the cylinder are not the same so you can had 4 pc to the european fill power. Then the conditionning is not the same. The US conditionning changed in 2006 and  is done by steaming so that you can had a 50 to the already 4pc higher value. That's why 900 FP suddenly appears on the market. Fortunately WM FF not to follow this mine is bigger than yours trend, and subsequently marmot and tnf withdrew their 900 Fp claims.

So one way to be sure that your down is high graded is to know the maturity,  how it has been processed and then the FP. The only manufacturer for which I can check all this information is Valandré. Of course they are other considerations. The other way is to know people that use products from different brands and ask their feedback. 

11:21 a.m. on October 26, 2011 (EDT)
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613 forum posts

I seriously doubt that you can find higher quality down than that from the Hutterites in western Canada; the real issue with it is the limited supply as these colonies are declining in numbers and many of their younger people do not want the farming lifestyle practiced by the generations of their ancestors. Consequently, the supply of this down is quite limited and will very probably never increase to any meaningful extent.

I can say that, having used white Canadian goosedown in the Canadian wilderness, in Canadian-made products and also used the finest European products under the same conditions, that the Canadian-made down products were equal to or superior to any others in terms of actual performance and longevity.

Westcomb jackets are superior to ANY others I have ever used or seen in sewing and would/will be my first choice should I ever need to buy another duvet or shell parka. This seems to herald a return to the good, old days when the finest bush clothing for serious work in harsh conditions was made here in Vancouver and I am glad to see this happen.

Again, the Westcomb people are not going to use anything, but, the finest components in their gear and their sewing in far superior to ANY other that I have seen, I was amazed when I first examined one of their jackets.

I have used all of these products, except Westcomb, in remote Canadian wilderness and often solo, in conditions that demand the utmost from gear and my opinions are based on field experience, which I consider the most "real" form of verification in any aspect of life.

That said, any of the really "top" down products is going to more than meet the needs of any hiker-backpacker in winter and one should choose what appeals most to you as they all have strong and weak points, depending on specific uses and preferences. FF,WM, Valandre, original ID, and some others will work and keep you cozy in the cold, buy the one you like the most and don't worry about which down "may" be "best".

1:03 p.m. on October 26, 2011 (EDT)
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135 forum posts

the issue with westcomb is that they only have one down jacket so the choice is pretty limited.

4:53 p.m. on October 26, 2011 (EDT)
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613 forum posts

They have three down jackets and several shells at present. They just introduced a down vest as well.

5:37 p.m. on October 26, 2011 (EDT)
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135 forum posts

i checked on their website and i didn't find the two others?

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