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Old 03-01-13, 02:30 PM   #1
tom cotter
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Sleeping bag - Down VS Synthetic

I went to REI to check out sleeping bags. There was a Gear Specialist there who recco'd Down over Synthetic. This guy has thru hiked the Appalachian Trail twice, so he knows his stuff. Still, I know nothing about sleeping bags.

What works for you on a bike tour?
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Old 03-01-13, 02:59 PM   #2
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I prefer down because it's lighter, more compressible and "feels" better but it doesn't really matter. I mostly used a synthetic bag for touring until last year and it was fine.
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Old 03-01-13, 02:59 PM   #3
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Down is lighter and more compactable and has the best insulating properties. However, it is useless if it gets wet. Synthetic is a little heavier and less compactable but will still keep you warm if wet. If there is a chance of bad weather I'd go with Synthetic. I use down for winter camping, cold and dry but a synthetic bag for spring summer camping because of the possibility it will get wet.
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Old 03-01-13, 03:08 PM   #4
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An AT equipment choice using down will be carefully chosen for that individuals needs. The same item may be too expensive and/or delicate for the needs of someone else. Personally I have only used down over the last forty years of backpacking, bike touring and kayak touring.

Down requires a bit more care that seems a nuisance to some. The larger stuffed size of most synthetics sends some people to use down for its compactness when stuffed. Down is warmer for less weight in most quality down bags. The fill power of the down determines much of a bags warmth. A lower grade of down will sometimes perform about equal to higher end synthetics. Synthetic bags are often half the price of down.

Over the years i have tried many of the latest and greatest synthetic miracle sleeping bag stuffings. Until the last year I have been disappointed each time. Last year I ordered a synthetic Spirit quilt from Mountain Laurel Designs/MLD. It uses Climashield Apex for insulation. It is rated to 30F. I have only used it on one tour but was pleased and surprised by how well it performed compared to the Arc Alpinist down quilt from Nunatak that i have used for the last ten years. The quilt is light, breathes well, is true to its rating, compacts well and was less than half the price of my down quilt. It also requires less care and is easily washable. Only time will tell if stuffing repeatedly degrades the synthetic performance slowly or quickly. My down quilt remains as new after a decade of considerable use. I have other down equipment that is fine after 40 years too.

If kids are to be outfitted I have chosen synthetics for the short term durability of the insulation and the shell material when faced with what kids often do to things like sleeping bags until they learn better. And until they quickly outgrow the bags .

i hope this helps a little to answer your question.

Enlightened Equipment also make both excellent down and synthetic quilts.
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Old 03-01-13, 03:09 PM   #5
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In most cases (not all) down is the correct answer. It is lighter and compacts smaller for a given comfort range. It also will last years longer. I have a 35 year old down bag that still keeps its loft. You don’t have to buy the 900 fill super down ($$$) for most bike touring situations. I tour with a 650 fill, 40 deg F down summer bag and along with layering clothing and a silk liner have slept comfortably on sub-freezing nights.

Down’s biggest drawback is it doesn’t insulate well if it is wet, and even being sufficiently damp will cause it to lose some of its insulation qualities. This has never been a problem for me on tour and I tour a lot in the rainy Pacific Northwest -- BC, Washington and Oregon. First thing in the morning before heading out and in the afternoon after the day’s ride is done I lay it out or hang it up to dry out (assuming it is not raining). Just a few minutes in a laundromat dryer on low will fluff it up nicely. I stuff my bag into a waterproof/breathable compression sack and the put it inside my Ortlieb waterproof/ breathable Packer Plus pannier for double protection during the day.
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Old 03-01-13, 03:29 PM   #6
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Down. Keep it dry.
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Old 03-01-13, 03:41 PM   #7
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Check out Montbell down bags.
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Old 03-01-13, 04:24 PM   #8
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Down is lighter and more compactable and has the best insulating properties. However, it is useless if it gets wet. Synthetic is a little heavier and less compactable but will still keep you warm if wet. If there is a chance of bad weather I'd go with Synthetic. I use down for winter camping, cold and dry but a synthetic bag for spring summer camping because of the possibility it will get wet.
No wet bag is warm
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Old 03-01-13, 04:33 PM   #9
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Check out Montbell down bags.
Last down bag I had was 20yrs ago then bought a 30degree Montbell bag a few years ago and am very pleased with it. Most of the time i use it unzipped as a quilt.
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Old 03-01-13, 04:44 PM   #10
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Either will work. I prefer down for the reasons already listed above. I will say that I consider the weight and bulk differences to be more than just a little.
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Old 03-01-13, 04:44 PM   #11
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I've spent months in each.
Down is superior in all conditions except for very humid environments, like beach side or rainforest. That's where those lovely feathers turn to wet newspaper.
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Old 03-01-13, 04:49 PM   #12
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Quote:
Check out Montbell down bags.
the elastic baffles pull the bag liner in around you, that would drive me Nuts.

I won't be A Butterfly when I come out of that confining bag.
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Old 03-01-13, 05:14 PM   #13
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The easy answer is, down is always better--until it isn't.

Most, not all, experienced backcountry travelers use down. But one of the most experienced of all, Ray Jardine, is a great proponent (and vendor) of synthetics. When I read his justification, I shake my head because I've been on the same trails in the same conditions and came out with a completely different conclusion. So you just can't go by what everyone else says.
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Old 03-01-13, 05:21 PM   #14
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the elastic baffles pull the bag liner in around you, that would drive me Nuts.

I won't be A Butterfly when I come out of that confining bag.
The stretch reduces the volume of free air in the bag but it isn't a narrow confining bag. I use it as a quilt most of the time. Zipped up I'm too warm.
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Old 03-01-13, 05:27 PM   #15
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Speaking of bulk reduction, I cut the hood off my bag. A wool watch cap takes it's place in very cold wx. Yeah, feathers fly 'til sewed up.

I have both syn and down. Syn for less cold weather. Flannel sheet mummy for summer. Rather than buy a 10F down for temps below freezing, I'd carry both bags, but have not had to do that yet, and probably won't.
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Old 03-01-13, 05:53 PM   #16
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No wet bag is warm
+1

Get a down bag, a compression stuff sack and exercise a little good judgement, you'll be fine.
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Old 03-01-13, 06:48 PM   #17
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I have a Mountain Hardware sleeping bag and love it. It's warm, light and packs into a tiny stuff bag. The sleeping bag and Thermarest fit in one front Ortlieb pannier with a little bit room to spare. Now, that's small!
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Old 03-01-13, 10:40 PM   #18
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Down is superior in all conditions except for very humid environments, like beach side or rainforest. That's where those lovely feathers turn to wet newspaper.
Not any more. Lots of bag makers, if not most, now make treated down bags that are water resistant.
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Old 03-01-13, 10:40 PM   #19
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We live in the Northwest. It rains a lot. We use synthetics.
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Old 03-01-13, 11:12 PM   #20
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Also PNW. Been using only down bags here for 50 years. Never even thought about using anything else. Wife and I did a 13 day hike in the PNW without resupply. Love that down bag. Clothing all synthetic though, except wool socks.
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Old 03-02-13, 01:13 AM   #21
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Not any more. Lots of bag makers, if not most, now make treated down bags that are water resistant.
Whether or not dry down is actually better seems to be up for debate, here they agree it's better, but not as amazing as they make it sound.
http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Backpa...igns-Zissou-15

As for down, I figure I have waterproof panniers, and if you have a tent that pitches dry you'll be in good shape for the summer. . . at least. . . that's the thought

The kelty cosmic down 20 and 40 (what I have) seem to be really good bang for the buck.
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Old 03-02-13, 03:26 AM   #22
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Have used both and they both work. There's a big difference between real goose down and a duck feather down mixture. Both in price and performance. In Canada in the east a sleeping bag is pretty unnecessary during the summer anyway.

When cycling solo or doing expedition climbing - the approach is different. Fleece layers and an outer jacket shell combined with a 'shorty' bag (optional in summer) instead of a full sleeping bag. The rationale is that you can sleep in extra clothing, but its hard to cycle or climb in a sleeping bag.

Travelling in a group lets you carry more gear because more is shared.

Took apart a couple down bags that were years old at one point and they had been washed regularly using a sport wash specifically designed for down. Removing the natural oils off the feathers otherwise ruins the down. Thought I could rescue and maybe reuse the feathers for a pillow if nothing else.

The amount of dirt and other contaminats was surprising and I just tossed the whole thing. I guess its easy to believe this stuff lasts for decades if you never look too closely. At this point I'd give the life expectancy of any sleeping bag that gets used regularly five years at most.

As much as I like some things about down, mold, mildew and dust mites are a much bigger problem with feathers than with synthetics that are treated to resist these. Thats true both at home and on the road.

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Old 03-02-13, 04:15 AM   #23
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I have a Mountain Hardware sleeping bag and love it. It's warm, light and packs into a tiny stuff bag. The sleeping bag and Thermarest fit in one front Ortlieb pannier with a little bit room to spare. Now, that's small!
small?

now this is small!


my 40 degree down bag for summer touring, compressed to the size of a grapefruit.




My 20 degree down bag for shoulder season touring is only slightly larger when stuffed, a cantalope sized bundle.

like many of the others, i've camped a lot, for decades. settled on down for everything except sea kayaking and tropical climates.

Cygocommute mentions a very cool trend in down, micro-encapsulated down, using the same encapsulating technology that the military uses for shell clothing, Black Diamond uses for their UL tent line, patagonia uses in the classic Houdini and Drangonfly windshells.

I was an early adopter, have put encapsulated tech fabrics thru the test for over a decade now. I have seen their effectiveness, and am a strong proponent.
It reads like it adds a pound to a bag and makes it less compressible, though. I'd have to field test these before i can endorse the technology, but encapsulating down shows great promise.
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Old 03-02-13, 04:49 AM   #24
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I feel like we just did this.
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Old 03-02-13, 04:53 AM   #25
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Oh look ... we did too ...
http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...bout-down-bags


Summing up what I said in that thread ...

-- I used to use synthetic bags.
-- They worked OK, but not brilliantly.
-- I tried one of Rowan's down bags and liked it.
-- I got my own, and like it.
-- It works well in all the nighttime temperatures I've encountered, especially in combination with a sarong, and it is very comfy.
-- The only thing that would be better would be a down doona.
-- Next, I'll get a down doona.



But I'm not really clear how a sleeping bag will get wet. I've spent a lot of days and nights in all kinds of rain, and my sleeping bags remain dry.

Last edited by Machka; 03-02-13 at 06:18 AM.
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