How to Choose a Down Comforter

By Benna Crawford

A down comforter works with your body temperature for optimum insulation, is light as a feather but warm as a blanket, and takes the place of both top sheet and bedspread, saving laundry and time spent making the bed. The comforters, also known as duvets, come in a wide range of prices, climate-appropriate weights, styles and stuffings. Know your geese and ducks before you set out to bag a down comforter for your bed.

Fluff and Feathers

Pure down comforters are made with the soft fluff from the insulating under-plumage of water fowl like geese and ducks. Down has no spiky quills like feathers do, and is a cluster of filaments that's larger and thicker on bigger birds. Goose down is generally superior to duck down because the birds are bigger and the down is more dense. But the great Arctic Eider duck, a bird that nests at the edges of frozen seas, has the most highly prized down of all and an eiderdown quilt represents a high-quality, high-price investment. The stuffing in a down comforter may be all-down, some mix, such as half down-half feathers, or predominantly feathers. Feather quilts are not a very good investment because they don't trap the air as effectively as down; they can be sticky -- feathers are stiff -- and the quills can poke through the fabric sack eventually scattering outside the comforter. A half-and-half mix or higher ratio of down to feathers is a better choice. The more down in the filling, the more you can expect to pay.

Fill Power

The volume of an ounce of down is used to calculate fill power. Larger, denser down clusters, such as those from geese or Eider ducks, have higher loft. They last longer because larger down clusters don't break down as fast as smaller clusters, and they breathe better. That means they have higher fill power and provide better insulation. Less down is needed to keep you warm -- high fill power is a wrap-around cloud of comfort. High quality comforters begin at 500 fill power. The best down quilts start at 700 fill power. Match fill power to your home's sleeping temperature for the perfect cover. Because higher fill equals more warmth, you can choose a lower fill power for a warm-climate comforter. Different companies rate their products on a scale ranging from ultra-lightweight to ultra-warmth.

  • 600 fill power, lightweight or summer, covers sleeping temperatures between 72 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • 700 fill power, year-round, ranges from 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • 800 fill power, winter weight, keeps you warm between 64 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stitch and Weave

The covering that holds the down, or the down-feather mix, is a critical factor in the comforter's durability. Look for high thread count to get a very close weave that prevents quills and clusters from working their way out of the sack. And don't risk waking up in the predawn chill shivering because all the down has shifted to the side of the quilt that isn't wrapped around you. Baffle stitching on the cover creates channels that hold the down in place. Common shift-proof stitching is baffle, box, diamond and baffle-box -- all of them hold the down more or less where it belongs in the cover. Fluffing the duvet in the morning gets rid of any compression and makes it look luxe and lofty on your bed. A good quality down comforter, protected in a plain or decorative washable duvet cover, substitutes nicely for a top sheet and pulls up over the mattress to instantly make the bed. As you consider your budget for your personal cloud cover, factor in all the time you will save every morning and the cost of all those flat sheets you won't have to buy.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .