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  1. How does the performance of genuine fur garments, as might have been used traditionally, compare to that of down and modern synthetics? (Insulating power (wet and dry), water repellency, and any other quantifiable comparisons.)

  2. What types of furs were used historically, by whom, and for what applications? What furs are still used today?

Ideally I would like to see actual data and sources for the comparisons, not merely inferences and anecdotes.

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Many furs are still in use today by cats, bears, wolves, musk oxen, etc. Some of these are regularly exposed to cold and wind and the population is still there, so they musk work pretty well. –  Olin Lathrop Dec 1 '12 at 0:11
    
Also be aware that what you might buy today as a fur garment is also not made the same, at the very least, the cut is likely different than in previous times. –  sdg Dec 1 '12 at 1:47
    
@Olin Yes, which is part of the motivation for my question. Nevertheless people and animals are different; sea otters eat about one third of their body weight every day so for example a human in a complete suit of sea otter fur is still not going to survive icy water. –  Mr.Wizard Dec 1 '12 at 3:59
    
@sdg I'm not particularly interested in fur garments available today, but rather the comparison between historical and modern. I guess a secondary interest would be the use of animal pelts in a survival situation but that's fanciful. –  Mr.Wizard Dec 1 '12 at 4:04
    
A big difference between fur and down/synthetic/synthetic fur is that fur has a leather backing, usually adding considerable weight. –  furtive Dec 3 '12 at 22:54
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1 Answer

A little research led from a Finnish blog to the source article, which appears to have been published in the journal Climate Research in 1995. There is another posting comparing early 20th century modern clothing, to that of today, i.e. 2012.

In the 1995 study, they found that for a sedentary individual, such as a passenger on a sled, the traditional caribou and other fur clothing were indeed superior to the modern clothing

The laboratory data support the recommendations of Unit elders to use caribou skin clothing for long-term protection for sedentary individuals exposed to a cold winter climate.

It goes on, however

it is not necessarily better for active users

as this study was looking at stationary people, without the effect of sweat upon the insulative qualities of the garments.

N.B. marked this answer as wiki, as it only starts to answer the several specific questions of the posting.

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