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Sleeping Bag Insulation: Down vs Synthetic

Hikers looking for a good sleeping bag want the right material that will keep them safe and warm when outside. One of the biggest decisions for those purchasing a sleeping bag is deciding whether to go with synthetic material or down. While both can be comfortable, they have distinct features that set them apart.

Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Synthetic sleeping bags are made from non-allergen materials, usually a form of polyester. This type of sleeping bag is created to help the user lessen how much body heat they use while resting. The bag does not actually offer any heat but only works to minimize its loss.

Synthetic sleeping bags are available for single users, and there are also ones that can be purchased for two sleepers. These bags usually come in under the $200 mark, and some may even be less than $100.

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Sleeping bags made from synthetic materials are gaining traction among hikers for a variety of reasons. However, they have pros and cons that make them a good choice for some and not for others.

Pros of Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Cheaper: Synthetic sleeping bags can be hundreds of dollars cheaper than down. For those on a limited budget, synthetic is the place to start searching.

No Allergy Issues: There will be people who react negatively to the goose or duck down contained in down sleeping bags. With synthetic materials, allergy issues are rarely ever a problem.

Dry: Synthetic sleeping bags are perfect for damp or wet weather because they dry out quickly and provide warmth even when wet.

Easier to Clean: Since they dry faster, it’s much easier to clean them.

Cons of Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Weight: Synthetic sleeping bags weigh more than down, and that’s an important factor for hikers to consider.

Storage: Every time synthetic material has to be rolled and forced back into a storage bag, it’s more difficult. The material can expand and make it time-consuming and frustrating to roll and store the sleeping bag each time.

Down Sleeping Bags

Down sleeping bags are made from the down that occurs between a bird’s outer feathers and their actual body. Most down comes from geese or ducks, and the unique pattern of the small down hairs can’t be replicated by anything outside of nature. While synthetic offers a different way, it doesn’t come close to mimicking the power of down.

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While goose down is considered superior due to how light it is, down from ducks or geese is the ultimate in comfort and warmth. Plus, hikers who need to lighten their load on the trail will love down because of how light it is.

Pros of Down Sleeping Bags

Lighter: Down sleeping bags are lighter than synthetic, sometimes by pounds. This makes a difference to hikers who plan on being on the trail for a while.

Compression: Due to the stuffing, it’s easy to compress the down sleeping bag after use, no matter how many times it’s been stored.

Comfort: Down sleeping bags are considered a luxury since they are warm and comfortable. Most people don’t even argue with the fact that anyone who is choosing strictly based on comfort will always choose the down over the synthetic.

Durability: While the down option is more expensive, it will also last. A good down sleeping bag can make its way down many trails and offer protection from the elements for countless starlit nights.

Cons of Down Sleeping Bags

Price: Down sleeping bags can start at $300. The price usually goes up from there, and that’s a lot for most people to spend on a sleeping bag.

Odor: Though measures are taken to reduce the smell of the animal down, down comforters can still carry an odor. While this probably won’t bother the vast majority of consumers, those with an extremely attuned sense of smell may find they catch whiffs of the feathers now and then.

Allergies: There’s always a chance that someone can have an allergic reaction to the down. While it’s not likely, it does happen.

Moisture: Wet down is not the most comfortable or heat producing material. Quite the opposite, actually. However, technology has made it possible to apply water-resistant technology to down sleeping bags. This can help them retain heat even when wet. Plus, there is always the option of purchasing stuff sacks that help keep the down dry, no matter what the weather.

Down proofing necessary: One way for the comfort of a down sleeping bag to be ruined is if the bag isn’t properly downproofed. Escaping down is not comfortable and can agitate the skin, so consumers need to check the bag before purchasing.

Hikers have different reasons for choosing one type of sleeping bag over another, and the personal needs of each individual should be the primary consideration when investing in this type of hiking gear. However, the short answer to which material is superior is down due to its lightweight and comfort. Though it is more of an investment, it’s worth it for what it offers on the trail.

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