Synthetic VS Down Sleeping Bags


down sleeping bagAre you looking to buy a new sleeping bag, camping jacket, or a down comforter and are not quite sure whether you want to go with down or synthetic insulation? The short answer is both. Don’t get wrapped up in technical jargon. I want to help you understand the benefits of both types of insulation.

First of all, you need to assess the types of conditions that you will be using your gear in. Ask yourself if you will be camping in a wet or dry environment. Is there going to be a chance of a lot of rain? Is lightweight important you? Will this gear be used mostly outdoors or a combination of  both? What time of the year will you be camping? Do you need a sleeping bag that can be used in hostels, camping under the stars, and inside a tent? Answering these questions will help pinpoint what type of insulation is best for you.

Benefits Of Down Insulation

I tend to like down insulation the best because it’s compressible and so light and fluffy. However, don’t let my bias get in the way what is best for you. Down is an amazing insulator for jackets, pants, comforters, and sleeping bags. It’s made from the under-layer of feathers from geese and ducks. When contained inside the baffles of sleeping bags or jackets, it traps pockets of air that keep you warm.

Down is rated or measured in fill power.  Fill tower is a volume in cubic inches that 1 ounce of down can fill up. For example, if you have a 650 fill power sleeping bag, this means that 1 ounce of down will fill 650 cubic inches. The same weight of 800 fill power down fills up 800 in.³, thus creating more loft.

I have heard many people argue that once down gets wet, it loses its ability to hold air and keep you warm. In my 25+ years of using a down bag, I have never been wet. Nevertheless, keep in mind if you camp in wet areas and frequently get wet, then you may be better off with synthetic insulation.

Many companies are offering a water resistant type of dry loft down. The down is treated with a molecular level polymer that helps resist water and maintain its loft. I own 3 bags made with dry loft. As I’ve mentioned before, I have never slept in a wet sleeping bag, so I cannot testify if it really works.

I liked down because it is highly compressible and extremely warm.  I have owned more synthetic bags than down bags. If you take care of a down bag it will outlast most synthetic bags. I have a Western Mountaineering bag that is 25 years old.

The Good, Bad, And Ugly Of Synthetic Insulation

Synthetic insulation is manufactured with ultra-fine polyester fibers that are interwoven and create compact insulating pockets that trap air. Today, synthetic bags are nearly as light as their down counterparts. If you get wet, synthetic insulation still retains its insulating properties. It’s also going to dry out much faster when it’s wet.

The downside of synthetic insulation is that it’s not as compressible and will consume valuable real estate space in your backpack or vehicle.  The upside of synthetic insulation is it costs less than down and will always keep you warm.

If you are a weekend warrior and go on frequent car camping trips, both down and synthetic insulation will work perfect for you. Your choice will be made on price, warmth, and compressibility. Down bags, jackets, and comforters are usually 30% or more expensive. However, down if properly cared for will last nearly a lifetime.

If you do a lot of back country camping and you need lightweight equipment, then I would highly recommend down jackets and sleeping bags. If you have a waterproof shelter to sleep in and cover your sleeping bag with a waterproof bag, then you need not concern yourself about getting your sleeping bag wet.

The bottom line is, choose a sleeping bag that will keep you warm and dry in the conditions that you camp and sleep in.


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