There are generally two main types of sleeping bags on the market: down feather (duck or goose), and synthetic. To choose the better product, the full scope of each material used must be examined thoroughly.
So are down feather sleeping bags better than synthetic?
Down fether is superior to most synthetic filling when it comes to insulation. Down is one of the best natural insulators. With that said, synthetic is superior when it comes to wet conditions. Synthetic will not clump as easily and tends to retain more of it’s insulation properties when exposed to moisture. Also, you may experience allergy problems with down feathers that you would not experience with synthetic materials.
Down Sleeping Bags
Down is a filling used in sleeping bags, jackets, and other winter gear that is made from the plumage between a goose or duck’s skin just below the feathers. It is a common misconception that down is made from feathers.
Although some down products have feathers mixed in with the plumage, it is not common. Down is known to be one of the best natural insulators.
The quality of down is measured by its “fill power.” If you choose a 700-fill sleeping bag, one ounce of the down will loft to 700-cubic inches, and the same concept works with 500, 600, 700, and 800-fill, and so on.
The higher fill power will result in the sleeping bag being warmer, lighter, and more packable. The only obstacle that you will face when choosing a down sleeping bag will be the cost. The higher the quality of down, the steeper the price.
The advantage of a down feather sleeping bag
There are many advantages that down has over other sleeping bags made from synthetic material. Although significantly more expensive, you can trust that your down sleeping bag will perform for years.
Due to the nature of the fill, down sleeping bags will be the better choice when looking for durability. Down sleeping bags have an estimated lifespan of 10+ years and can last much longer if you follow proper care instructions.
Caring for a down sleeping bag.
When caring for your down sleeping bag, be sure to read any and all care instructions on the tag. If you improperly clean your sleeping bag, it can shorten the life-span. Improper care will also reduce the effectiveness of its insulating properties.
The pure nature of down allows it to be packed to near-nothing when it’s time to load up your gear. Down is a very lofty material that can be compressed hundreds of times without ever causing it to lose its quality.
In addition to the packability of down, it is also the most light-weight option on the market today. Consider the weight of a feather, down is made from the small plumage under the feathers. This should give you a good measure of the weight of a down-filled sleeping bag.
Although down has many advantages, including insulation, compressibility, and weight, it also comes with several disadvantages that can make or break your next camping trip.
Disadvantage of down
Always be sure of the weather that you plan to camp in. If you know there will be wet conditions, down is not the best option.
When down becomes wet, it loses its loft and begins to clump together. This will also make the sleeping bag lose its insulating properties.
You will then be cold, wet, and uninsulated. Wet and damp conditions are a significant factor to consider if there’s snow or rain in the forecast.
Also consider the terrain in which you plan to hike, or even if you’re kayaking or canoeing to a campsite. If you have to cross rivers or wade through water, this is another thing to consider aside from the weather conditions.
Thankfully, with the ability to compress down, you may benefit by using a dry bag. So, if you know the weather will be fair, but you still have risks of getting it wet, prepare accordingly.
Consider the price difference
Price is another important issue to consider when choosing a sleeping bag. Down bags can be two to three times the cost of a synthetic bag, so be sure of your choice before making an expensive purchase.
One factor to consider when choosing a down sleeping bag is allergies. Though this may not be of importance to some people, down is not hypoallergenic, and some people are allergic to the down itself. Be sure this is not the situation before purchasing a down sleeping bag.
Even in some cases, lower quality down sleeping bags may not have been appropriately cleaned in the processing. Dust particles, as well as dander, left on the down can cause sneezing and other annoyances. This factor can certainly make you regret buying a lower quality sleeping bag.
When choosing down, always do your research on specific companies. Down is, in fact, a product obtained from an animal. There have been cases where the animals were abused and mistreated when harvesting the down that is used in sleeping bags.
Most down is acquired as a byproduct of food processing, but that fact is not always guaranteed. Direct animal slaughter has been used in the past to obtain animal hides, down, etc.
The Responsible Down Standard has been established to ensure the proper treatment of animals. Many companies only obtain their down from sources that can be traced and verified to be ethical when obtaining the product.
Acquiring down ethically is a major issue that should be taken into consideration. Every outdoorsman should be conscious of the environment as well as how animals are treated.
Synthetic Sleeping Bags
Synthetic sleeping bags are the second choice in sleeping bags, but that doesn’t make them a bad choice. Choosing the proper material depends on the situation you plan to be in when using your sleeping bag.
Synthetic sleeping bags are primarily made of a polyester fill, which contains no natural fibers. These sleeping bags have all of the advantages that you will not get with a down bag, and vice versa.
Although today’s technology has allowed synthetics to mimic down closely, it is still not quite as warm, and most of the packability is compromised.
The fibers that compose the fill of a synthetic bag are typically formed of either short fibers or long continuous fibers. While both types of fibers have their pros and cons, they still cannot compete with the quality of down sleeping bags.
Short fibers can be compared more closely to down since they allow more compression than long fibers.
Long fibers are more similar to a down bag in the sense of warmth.
Advantage of synthetic
Synthetic, although it lacks in insulation and packability, has one critical advantage over down. If your synthetic sleeping bag does become wet, it still retains some, if not most, of its insulating properties.
Synthetic sleeping bags have another advantage that may or may not be an issue for some people. Synthetics are hypoallergenic and will not retain dust like down. This assures that you will not have any issue with allergies.
A synthetic bag is an excellent choice if you plan to camp in rainy or snowy weather or carry the bag in conditions that you will be kayaking, canoeing, or crossing rivers and streams.
Another advantage, although not quite as crucial, is the price. A synthetic bag can be purchased at a fraction of the cost of a quality down sleeping bag. Many synthetic bags can be very affordable if size and weight are not an issue.
If size or weight is not a concern, synthetic sleeping bags may be better for you if you are not planning a trip in extremely low temperatures.
Due to the lessened ability to retain warmth, a synthetic may be a better choice if the weather isn’t going to be very harsh. These bags are great for late Spring and early Fall temperatures in most regions.
Now that we know the advantages of a synthetic sleeping bag, it’s time to get to the disadvantages. Synthetic bags may be able to mimic down closely, but not when you look at the quality.
Down sleeping bags, in general, will be much heavier when you compare warmth to body size ratio.
Compare a 32-degree, 800-fill down sleeping bag with a 32-degree, synthetic fill sleeping bag and you will find that the down bag will be much more compressible, lightweight, and warmer than the synthetic.
Even the highest quality synthetic sleeping bags will not be as durable as down. Short fiber fill synthetics will break down much more quickly when compressing and unpacking, and long fiberfill will be significantly heavier than both short fiberfill and down fill bags.
Knowledge is best
We all know that a sleeping bag can make or break comfort when camping, and even in some situations, your health can depend on it. Cold weather camping is nothing to play around with in harsh winter conditions.
Knowing the weather conditions, in which you plan to camp, is critical to choosing the correct sleeping bag. Down is most definitely a better choice if it’s in your budget, and you know that you will stay in dry conditions. But if you know that there’s a possibility that you could get wet, a synthetic bag may better fit your needs.
The real difference, between down and synthetic sleeping bags, is in the material with which the bag is filled. With each material comes advantages and disadvantages. The correct knowledge of the two will allow you to decide what will be best for your next big adventure.
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