One of the first things to determine when choosing a sleeping bag is what type of fill you prefer. There is many different types of fill, but I have it narrowed down to three main types: synthetic, down and treated down. We are going to touch on the key points of each one just to help you determine what type of fill is best for your needs.
Synthetic fill is made to mimic the structure of down and so it is a man made material that uses thicker strands, more durable strands that provide a framework for a very think strands to trap in your heat. There is many different types of synthetic fill on the market and with rapidly growing technologies there is new names out there all the time. To name a few: Cloudloft, Thermal Q, Thermalite, Syprofill. There is many different times of names out on the market.
We are going to highlight the pros and cons of a synthetic sleeping bag. And one of the biggest benefits to synthetics is that they have a water resistant property that continues to provide insulation even when damp or what.
When synthetic fill does get wet it dries really quickly because the moisture just gets trapped in between the fibers rather than getting absorbed into the fibers itself. Another pro is synthetics are man made, so they should be completely hypoallergenic. Synthetic sleeping bags are relatively easy to care for as they are usually machine washable in a front loading washer. Since they dry quickly, you can hang them in direct sunlight for fast drying.
There are some downsides to this synthetic bag. They tend to be bulkier, heavier and not as compact as their down counterparts. They are heavier because there is not as much of a warmth to weight ratio that you do get with a down bag. With the advancing technologies of synthetics, they are getting closer, but they are not quite up to the warmth to weight ratio as down.
Down keeps you warm by trapping in an abundance of body heat in its tiny clusters. There is no other material that is as thermo efficient for its weight than down. So compared to a synthetic bag, down is a lot more thermal efficient ounce per ounce.
Down comes in a variety of fill power, anywhere from 500 to 900. It takes more of 500 fill down to have the same thermal efficiency as 900 fill. So let’s say you have a 20 degree sleeping bag that is filled with 550 fill down and you have a 20 degree sleeping bag that has 900 fill down in it. Both of them are going to be equally as warm, but the 900 fill bag is going to be lighter weight. So fill power is directly connected to the quality of down.
There are obvious pros and cons with down insulation. We already mentioned the warmth to weight ratio and down has a very, very compressible nature. So you are able to take a bag and compress it down to save space in your pack.
Some of the cons: Down definitely loses its insulating properties when it gets wet or damp and it is slow to dry, so it requires maintenance when it actually does get wet. Down may contain allergens. It is not completely hypoallergenic. And while the down may not cause an allergic reaction by itself, lower quality down can sometimes harbor dust or particles and that may cause an allergic reaction. So if you are prone to allergies, it might be wise to invest in better quality down products. The last down side to down would be that they tend to be more expensive than comparable synthetic sleeping bags. So if you are on a budget, you may want to look towards a synthetic bag.
The last type of fill we want to mention is treated down. Treated down is essentially a microscopic, hydrophobic finish that is applied to each plume of down. This is a permanent treatment so it is not going to wear off and it is not going to wash off. What it does is makes the down plumes function more like a synthetic material, because it sheds water and so your treated down bag is going to perform more like a synthetic bag than it is like a down bag. This allows you to take down into damp or wet conditions. If you are on a long trip where the bag might absorb water day after day, the bag is going to stay drier longer and it is going to dry out faster than traditional down and essentially it is going to keep you warmer, because it is shedding that water. Treated down is a great option for anyone that wants something very packable, very light weight, but also wants to shed that water.
The only down side I can see to a treated down bag is that it is going to be more expensive than traditional down.
So with the pros and cons of each type of fill—synthetic, down and treated down—hopefully you will be able to have a good starting place for what type of fill is best for your needs.
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