Contributors to this thread:
Down or Synthetic
After reading Paul's thread on cleaning a down sleeping bag - I would like to hear your thoughts as to which you think is better DOWN or SYNTHETIC, and why? ***Weight, warmth, bulk, care, transportation, etc., etc.?
Down is usually lighter and down bags last much longer than synthetic
Synthetics will keep you warm if they get wet
3 years ago I bought a treated down bag. Very happy I have since I have gotten it wet a few times. It’s been a great bag so far. At 2 lbs 4 Oz’s in a 15 degree bag weight is reduced.
"Down is usually lighter and down bags last much longer than synthetic "
Justin, can you expand on that? Just from comparing personal experience of the lifespan of a couple primaloft jackets I own (Sitka and marmot) vs. the only down item I've ever owned (GoLite 800 fill) -- the primaloft holds loft far better in my experience. To that end I've babied the down and basically abused my Sitka Kelvin primaloft. I tend to gravitate toward the natural materials but this one I prefer synthetic. I also think the "synthetics are better wet" is more nuanced than that, as I think the synth even performs better on the very humid days as are common in my part of the country. But I know little of the science and my experience is pretty limited so I am interested to hear more.
Also, Paul if you chime in here, you said you are looking at purchasing a new bag. Are you going with down or synthetic?
Climbed into a synthetic bag with wet clothes, socks included, for about 7 days straight. Woke up with everything dry. Even the extra socks I'd stuffed in my skivvies. Would not want to try that with down.
Was so wet that if you hung socks from the small pocket at the top of the tent they got wetter.
Went on a hunt with a couple buddies...we all had down bags. One buddy had his bladder leak in his pack and he didn't have his bag in a dry bag or anything so it got wet. It was less than useless. To me the pound(s) of weight savings isn't worth it for down when not having warmth can/will kill you. For me it's synthetic bags and insulation pieces.
Elk: Maybe they are making better synthetics today, but Down have always lasted longer in my hands than synthetic. For me the trick to getting down to last a long time (and synthetics for that matter) is never leave them in a stuff bag any longer than I have to. In other words, when I leave for Colorado for a hunt, I leave my bags in their loose bags and only stuff them for transport when I reach the trailhead. They are also one of the first things I unload and unpack when I get to camp. I also hang my bags on the wall when not in use. Never leave them stored in any kind of a bag for long term storage. I feel that helps as well. .
I have both and my wife normally gets the down because she NEVER camps in nasty or rainy weather! If I am going myself and know that there is no rain anywhere in the forecast, I will go with the down. But those times are few and far between, so 80% of the time, I take my synthetic. So if you can only have 1 bag, I recommend synthetic
Also, I would never get in a bag wet. I strip down to dry briefs and a T-shirt to sleep in a bag anyway. I can't see any reason to get in wet. JMO.
Inshart, the down bag cleaning thread was mine, and I'm looking at a new down bag.
I have (do) owned more than a dozen bags of different types, including one hybrid (down on top, synth down on the bottom). I've camped many hundreds of nights, maybe more than a thousand, in nighttime temps ranging from -30 to +70.
IMO the warmth-weight ratio is way better in an 800 or 850 down bag than even the best synthetics. A 3 lb total weight synthetic is good for about 30 degrees comfort range. (Some would argue that Wiggy and others make super-warm synth bags. I can't speak to that, only the ones I've used). A high-end down bag of the same weight will keep my comfort range down to around 10 or below. Synthetics tend to break down faster over years of hard use. But like LKH says, when they get wet synthetic is way better. I've tried drying out the soaked foot of a good down bag on a 9 day hunt where the temps barely got above freezing for a couple hours some days. Didn't happen. I had to sleep in the fetal position the whole trip.
This new bag will be a fall hunting/backpack bag. I need something that will keep me warm down into the teens. Since I'm investing in a much lighter spike camp setup, I'm going with down for the new one, probably the WM Badger.
Jaq I'm 6'0" and 190 lbs. If I had to do it over again I'd get a smaller WM bag. The badger is big- bigger than the specs suggest when compared to my big Agnes bag I previously had. Not sure how big you want a bag to be obviously...
For me, down has proven better in every way except getting wet and cost. Thing is, the wet part is a big exception. So, I usually have a synthetic bag. In a big tent with a heater or stove I can manage to keep things dry during a rainy week of hunting but that usually means I am camped by the truck so I bring a big comfy canvas bag. In a small tent or backpacking, its hard to keep things dry so I use synthetic. Down is a better insulator relative to weight, compressability and longevity but unless I am sure conditions will be dry, it stays at home. In a little tent at 9pm after a 3 mile hike out in the rain, keeping wet clothes away from touching the bag and getting all the way dry before crawling in is a pain.
A little extra weight and size is an inconvenience. A wet down bag on a cold night miles from the truck is a big deal.
Down for me, if weight is any consideration and it pretty much always is.
If you take the proper precautions it’s hard to beat a good down bag for warmth, pack ability, and longevity.
I like both. Down for hunts that are pretty dry...or I can air it out regularly
...Syn for damp conditions.
I purchased a 17 degree, treated, ie, water resistant down, sleeping bag. The 17 degree rating does not tell the whole story about keeping you warn and comfortable at 17 degrees. Actually the 17 degrees, printed on the bag only suggests that this bag will keep you from freezing to death but not totally comfortable at 17 degrees. To add more warmth to the 17 degree bag I will insert a bag liner that will add 10 degrees more warmth to the bag. I have also determined that a full air mat on cold night does not keep you warm and the air inside of the mat cools down and then the cold migrates up into the bag. I am going back to a Thermarest Prolite mat. I usually place a light bivy sack over the sleeping bag, to keep it clean and also it adds a few more temps of warmth.
I've got a Cat's Meow (20F) bag. Nice and light but you need to be in a tent. In 2015 I took the bag and a pad in to the center of a big roadless (6 mi across) section of the Misery Breaks. No tarp or tent. Got about 30 with 10 mph wind. By the time light came I was fully dressed except for my jacket.
Apparently they aren't windproof.
I'm totally happy in BC with a 4 year old "Super Down" +15*F bag. I camp in whatever the conditions are, typically wearing some clothes to bed from base layers up to thru hunting pants and sometimes a Super down hooded jacket and pants if its really cold out. I never sleep without my wool socks on...so they are totally dry in the morning. Works for me. I have a decent 15* Synthetic bag but haven't used it personally in 4 years as the down bag is warmer and stuffs to about 1/2 the size. Good luck with your decision!
Yes Nick the middle weight KUIU. The SuperDown seems to be holding up very well. The bag itself is quite confining across the chest if you are claustrophobic! I’m not so do like it fine. Mine was a retirement gift from the team at work....pretty decent gift!
Just depends on your personal requirements and budget.
I think the choice of down or syn. for me rests largely on what camp I'm coming back to and the worst weather I'm likely to encounter.
I've goat hunted Prince William Sound in early Sept a number of times. Only thru experiencing that can you really comprehend what "wet" really means. Steady rain for over a week while camping in clouds just below a glacier in a tent so small you can't kneel up in it makes the thought of down very scary.
These were all DIY hunts and escape just wasn't an option if we had trouble. Also, fires are almost impossible to start and maintaining them requires more energy than it's worth. Also, if you are out and moving you will get wet inside even the best rain gear and anything with a liner won't dry. (Helly Hensen)
I've got an early rifle hunt planned in CO 74 and will probably take down. Humidity isn't too bad normally and the truck will be a few hours away, even in bad weather.
Its not all about the bag. Its about the 'system' [just like the Sitka systems]
No matter the bag, you're gonna have some sort of pad. The pad is part of the system.
I see many are using some sort of cot - even a backpacking cot - another part of the system
If you use a liner, another part of the system.
Hell, even your tent is part of your sleep system.
I have both down and synth, I like them both the same, but use them in different 'systems'
The quality of down is an important consideration. As Jaq mentioned, 850 down is excellent. Pricey, but spread out over the years and many days of use, not a big deal. Aren't you worth it? When I bought mine a few years ago and felt it, I thought what the hell, no way! But it is great. Marmot Helium 15 degree by the way.
I posted, but it had disappeared. Did I do something wrong?
OB, yes brother, you've done many things wrong, but those are our little secrets. ;-)
Ha! I ain't confessing to nothin'!!!
I posted a request for perameters, style of hunt, time of year, anticipated weather, prioritization of weight, bulk and cost. Offered to share my reasoning, but qualified my opinion. I've been in tents from 113*F to -37*F, but I'm not spending 200 nights per year in the field and haven't slept in a huge array of manufacturer's bags/quilts.
So I'm surprised that my post disappeared. I didn't pump any brand. Thought maybe I'd been blackballed.
I've never heard of longevity issues with synthetic, I have a bag bought in about 75 that probably has had well over a decade straight in a compression sack and it still works well. Didn't know back in the day not to keep them compressed.
Orionsbrother, here you go: WY last year was a wakeup/reminder. Basically non-stop wind, rain, mud and snow for almost two weeks straight. Lows in the mid-teens some nights. Gruesome elk bowhunting but I needed to spike back in where the elk were.
This year I hunted out of a base camper and didn't spike out. Couple days of it would've been fine. But I'm revamping my overall system for spike camping while shedding weight. Tent will be a double wall with a floor (Shires Strato) and I use a tapered Thermarest classic. I'm going with down for the bag and losing almost a pound and a half from my current down/synth hybrid bag.
I always have a quality tent and quality pad/bag. You have 2 options...heavier tent...lighter down bag, lighter tarp tent....heavier synthetic bag. If the weather turns sour on a hunt I want to be in a quality shelter and bag. I use a down bag with a waterproof bivy sack....if there`s a chance of getting wet or I`m "glamping" where weight isn`t a issue....I go to my synthetic.
I disagree with Franklin but that's just my own preference based on many years of personal experience and professional testing apparatuses.
I got a mummy bag from field and stream about 6 yrs ago. It is rated for -20 degrees. My son has a bag that I got for him when he started in Boy Scouts. It is rated for -20. It is a canvas and flannel bag. We would stuff a blanket in it for the summer. But, on a campout. my son had to pitch a tent in the winter and sleep in it for camping merit badge. So, him and I slept out in the tent. It got to -15 degrees that nite. We where both very comfy that weekend.
Doofis, good to see you back here! Describe your professional testing apparatus. We can all learn something.
I thought the EN rating was based on if a homeless guy survived the night..
Jaquomo - I was talking more about Inshart's parameters. Will he be camping close to his vehicle or packing in? Bowhunting early September at 4000 ft or late September at 10,000 ft?
Synthetic for me nearly 100% of the time. I've compromised a down bag once and that was enough for me to never go out of my way to do it again. Yeah, you can keep them in a waterproof sack, you can wear different clothes to bed, you can do this and that and everything you want, but I find it much easier to just slip into my synthetic bag each night, with sweat saturated clothes or wet from rain....and wake up bone dry. Wet clothes in the morning sucks almost as much as frozen boots. Rubbing up against side walls in a down bag at night, she's soaked in the morning. Condensation dripping down from the shelter all night, she's soaked in the morning. Too many reasons for me to forgo a down bag in most all cases, and I own several pretty dang nice ones. I use them, but not often.
I'd like to try the superdown or also the synthetic quilt options out there.
I've used down and synthetic about equally. One scary storm that caught me above treeline in CO two years ago forced me to pitch my tent on the nearest flat-like spot and climb in totally soaked. The down got wet and a little clumpy but overall it did okay. I dried out while under the down quilt. But while shivering and recovering I decided that I'd have a synthetic quilt next time. I used synthetic all of last season and it was comfortable every time, however, I never had to climb in totally soaked either. My plan is to continue to use both a 40 degree synthetic quilt and a 20 degree down quilt equally in the future. I'm a warm sleeper and will choose based on the conditions.
Most surprising to me was how cheaply you can make your own synthetic quilt with the materials and instructions from the link above.
This is how thick the synthetic insulation needs to be to keep you warm: 2.5oz Climashield APEX good to approximately 45*F --- 5oz Climashield APEX good to approximately 25*F --- 7.5oz Climashield APEX good to approximately 15*F ---
Or, you can get a synthetic quilt/bag made by Enlightened Equipment. Here is a full set of specs including weights.
Thanks everyone for the information. I never realized how much difference the "wet factor" could make.
Orion - I have a down bag I purchased back in about 95 or 96 and it has worked great for me thus far. I have always truck camped, with a decent tent and bunk so the "wet" issue really isn't an issue for me.
I have never given much thought to a synthetic bag until I read Lou's thread about cleaning the down one.
Thus the question to help make up my mind if / when I purchase another bag.
Keep in mind there are ways around the “wet scare”
They make very lightweight bivy shells. Couple ounces in weight. You can keep it on your down bag in it all the time and protect the bag against water or a rare event like some Of these guys are talking about. Even for use in a tent
I like down because of the weight factor. I have yet to find a synthetic bag that is light and as warm As my down bag. Also my down bag will likely last my lifetime whereas the synthetics will loose loft much quicker.
I prefer a down bag. It is always warmer at an equivalent bag weight meaning a 3 pound down will be warmer than a 3 pound synthetic. I have purchased a few synthetic bags and they always tend to lose their ability to keep me warm. I would buy a synthetic bag if I was looking to save money, not worried about weight or packability, or if it would see limited use. Example my kids that would use it a few times a year at very moderate temps.
I have a couple bevy sacks. Mine have a heavy lower, totally waterproof surface. The top is Goretex. About 4 miles from base on a sheep scaring expedition in the Brooks, I climbed into it with my synthetic bag. Just after I got in it started to rain and rained all night. Amazing how noisy rain is inside a bevy sack. About 8am it stopped and I got up and pulled the bag out. I had sweated the complete exterior of the bag wet. It was shiny, 100%.
With the synthetic bag I was warm and dry all night.
Inshart - I had to replace my sleep systems a few years ago so I looked at a good number of variations and combinations for different situations. That doesn't afford me the same knowledge as someone who sleeps in a bag the majority of the year and moonlights at the Outdoor Gear Lab with access to a ridiculous number of options to try out.
If you tend to truck camp, weight and bulk are not big penalties. You could go with a synthetic, have a bag that is less delicate, almost bombproof, provides additional protection if wet and save some money that you can put towards a lighter, less bulky sleep system for packing in.
I picked up a Wiggy's bag and overbag on sale for wet, just after ice-out canoe trips, truck camping and winter camping. I'll use just the overbag, just the bag or the combination depending on the weather.
Though I've been liking my quilt enough that I've been taking it more often when truck camping.
What cnelk posted about it being a system is spot on. Components get interchanged for different situations. I'm an active sleeper who tends to side sleep. I pay a bit of weight penalty for a more comfortable pad.
Part of my replacement/upgrade was like Jaquomo's. I picked up a down quilt off of the classifieds at a great price to try. That one became the wife's and I ordered one in better sizing and specs for me for spike camping/back country camping. I cut weight, cut bulk size, increased warmth and flexibility of temperature range.
But... even though my quilt has treated down, I'm still leery about getting it wet and I use a liner to help keep it clean... in spite of assurances from friends that have gotten treated down wet and mistreated it. Comments like Nick's about a compromised down bag hang in the back of my head. I need to just dunk it and sleep under it in a controlled experiment.
I went hypothermic once and ended up as the meat in a stanky, semi-naked, hairy guy sandwich. An experience that I do not wish to repeat.
So, for truck camping, I'd probably go with a less delicate, less expensive, more bulky synthetic and couple it with some sort of luxurious Princess and the Pea pad that I'd never pack anywhere.
I have enough "components" to outfit a Boy Scout troop.
For about 20 years I slept on a North Face 3/4 length nylon-coated eggshell foam pad. Hundreds of nights in all conditions. Moving up to a Thermarest was like moving from a Motel 6 to the Beverly Hills Mondrian
One component that I really like is my cuben stuff sack that has micro-fleece on the inside. Turn it inside out, toss some clothes in there, maybe a puffy, and you have a luxurious pillow. (the crinkle sounds, or "potato chip bag sounds" don't bother me) Dual purpose and I like it better than the inflatable pillows.
I didn't read every post, but thought I'd add something that might help anyone wrestling with a concern about down bags being susceptible to becoming wet.
I tend to obsess and overthink some of my gear. I was worried about the DWR coating on one of my bags not being able to repel water, so I tried spraying varying amounts of water on the bag to see how the DWR performed.
To make this short, continually spraying water didn't seep through, so I eventually made a divot in my bag and just poured a glass of water in the divot. I waited for 30 minutes and the water did not make its way through the shell.
I'm not saying down is the best option for everyone, and I agree that Synthetic insulation has some great properties. However, I think that due to the performance of DWR finishes and fabrics like microfiber and Gore membranes - the worry about getting down wet is minimal with reasonable precautions.
Climasheild apex for me. I make my own. Best thing I've done so far.
I went spike scouting this past weekend. Left from work and drove 3 straight hours getting there. got out and started humping. Got in to my pre destined camp about 8 pm. Getting really dark. I was pretty dang wet and cold from the snow. It was 24 degrees when I left the truck earlier and, the wind was howling. I set up my tent, got in and under my quilt. Slept like a baby and woke up bone dry. Down don't do that.
I didn't click on Kurt's link. But, since we have personally talked about this same thing, I'm pretty sure the link takes you to DIY gear supply page. It's as easy as the tutorial says it is. Make one and try it for yourself. God Bless men
Justin - Did you use regular ripstop nylon for your shell? I have an oversized tarp that I picked up on a bargain and a Mennonite sister-in-law with amazing sewing skills who wants to do something for me because I had helped her out. I can't imagine sylnylon wouldn't work.
**** Edit : Shoulda sent a PM. Apologies for hijacking your thread.
WRT down getting wet, a good deal of the higher end down bags have much better covers than the older bags. Was in a camper in MT, I drew the upper cubby hole overhang to sleep in. It had a ceiling vent/skylight above the bed. Rained hard that night (I was beat, never even heard it) The skylight leaked.... badly. Water pouring out of it. Woke up the next morning and the entire mattress was soaked. Outside of my bag was wet. Down and inside the bag were dry, never had any issues with it the rest of the trip. (but did toss the soaked mattress and duct taped a garbage bag over the skylight.)
WM Badger. I love the extra size around the shoulders. I fight dragons at night....
If you are wearing clothes to bed and especially wet clothes you obviously have not been in the most extreme conditions in a depleted energy condition. If so you may not have made it through the night!
If you cannot keep it dry then synthetic is your choice. There is where the comparison with down ends.
Weight, warmth, and packability is where down reigns supreme.
Learned this at the cold region test center at Ft Greeley Alaska in the winter of 1978. I learned this from spending hundreds of nights sleeping in negative temps under extreme physically depleted conditions. This is like most subjective conversations which are only derailed when the conditions push the limits of both the equipment and the individual.
Regardless, for many a synthetic bag maybe their best choice.
My next bag will be a Western Mountaineering or a Feathered Friends!
Like Jaquomo My first bag was a synthetic bottom , down top, with a Goretex cover that I spent the winter of 1978 in Alaska sleeping probably sixty plus nights in sub zero conditions. I felt an immediate improvement when I went to a total down bag. Down is my only option when buying a bag for serious conditions on the edge of extreme.
Rick, I used Hyper D. Much softer and silkier feeling then plain ole ripstop nylon. Much quieter too. I have made woobies from both the 1 ounce nylon and hyper D though. And, what I learned is what I typed in my second sentence and, influenced my choices for my quilts. They are easy to make. 45 minutes to cut and pin. 15 minutes to sew whoobie's. 25 minutes to sew a quilt. Make the whoobie first to get the hang of how to minimize pucker with the stretchy shells. Trust me, you'll find a million uses for it. Mine weighs 13 ounces in a stuff sack. Quilt of 7.5 Apex weighs 26 ounces in a stuff sack. I've taken the quilt to the mid to low teens with zero problems. Slept snug as a bug in a rug. :^)
(I had to Edit)
Rick, trust me on this. Hyper D is very resistant to wear. You don't want ripstop uncalendered due to the rougher texture. You don't want calendered ripstop nylon due to the crinkly. You definitely do not want silnylon due to being a vapor barrior. Go to ripstop by the roll and buy 5 yards of hyper d the same color or 6 yards of two colors and, have her make you a quilt. Buy the same for your Whoobie but make it calendered to block the wind better. And, Thank me later. :^)
I have a cabelas alaskan guide thats synthetic on the bottom and down on the top, its kept me warm while moose hunting, not sure they still make them