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Down vs. Synthetic

Down versus synthetic sleeping bags: What's the deal?


Down versus synthetic sleeping bags: What’s the deal?

Submitted by - Steve Wozniak, Minneapolis, MN


The deal is pretty simple actually. Do you wanna save money? Buy a synthetic. Do you wanna save weight? Go with down.

OK, now for some more details.

Synthetic insulations (like Primaloft, Climashield, and the plethora of proprietary insulations) are a safer choice if you often find yourself in wet conditions, such as backpacking Washington’s Olympic coast with a tarp for shelter, like I did a few years back. I was very grateful for my synthetic bag on that trip because synthetics don’t completely crap out on you when they get wet. Although they won’t exactly keep you toasty, wet synthetic bags are not totally useless. Wet feathers are. Until you get them dry, of course.

Personally, I’m a down bag snob. And it’s not just the weight–a high quality down bag can be over a pound lighter than a synthetic with the same temperature rating–it’s the cozy factor. I always sleep warmer, and warm up quicker, in a down bag. And now that you can get awesome waterproof stuffsacks–such as Sea to Summit’s eVent Compression Dry Sacks (Editors’ Choice Award winner in 2007) you at least won’t have to worry about your down bag getting wet in transit.


  1. Your First Choice: Down or Synthetic? | Two Worlds Diverged in a Wood

    […] Down is not made from feathers. Down is the fluffy undercoat that is found of geese and ducks. It is highly effective in trapping body heat and is exceptionally breathable. Down is also extremely light and has incredible compressibility. These qualities make down a backpackers best friend. Down’s major short fall is that it is incapable of repelling moisture and requires more care. Even “New Down” which is coated with material to make it water proof, is not recommended if you are hiking in wet or humid conditions. […]

  2. Bill

    I have a synthetic/down military sleeping bag that I got in the early 80’s. The Federal Agency was getting rid of them, and sold them to me for 5 dollars each. Very rugged and dependable. I also have a North Face down, very good in dry weather, but wet..hmm The choice for me between the two? for dependability and warmth! The Military synthetic/down bag. As mentioned in the comments, when down is wet..lousy! I have used the bags for the Serrias in Cal,San Juans in NM and Colorado, and the Rockies in Canada. The military bag is so dam dependable, and I have had many people wanting to buy it from me 🙂

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