Synthetic vs. down

Synthetic vs. Down Sleeping Bags: Which one, when?

Currently, there are two popular options when it comes to conventional sleeping bags for recreational camping: down and synthetic materials. Each has their place in your outdoor gear but if you’re a weekend camper who’s looking for a new bag, which should you get? Without delving into fill power and temperature rating, let’s take a look at one of the most fundamental questions you will need to answer before buying your next sleeping bag: Synthetic vs. down.

At the most basic level, if you want to save money, buy synthetic. If you want to save weight, buy down.


DOWN SLEEPING BAGS

Down sleeping bags are perfect for cold, dry trips or if space is a premium. For the weight, size, and packability, it is hard to beat down regarding size and weight. If you plan on doing winter camping, where the temperature is well below freezing, down should be your go-to bag for optimum insulation. The downside of down (no pun intended) is that if your bag gets wet, you’re in trouble. Down bags are tough to dry out and once the down gets compressed, you lose a ton of the insulation properties that the material is known for.

Advantages
Lasts for years. With proper care, a good down bag can last years without losing its insulating properties
Down is highly compressible, making it a great option for backpacking
For its size and weight, it is warmer than a synthetic bag
Excellent in dry, cold conditions

Disadvantages
Down bags are terrible in the rain. If your bag gets wet, you’re in trouble. They can also be problematic to clean and take much longer to dry than synthetics.

“For everyday camping, give me a canvas bag with a flannel lining any day. I like the room, the coziness and the sheer bulk of a traditional canvas/flannel bag. If I’m packing, of course, I’ll take a mummy bag and likely a synthetic for its ability to insulate even when wet. The truth is, however, I tend to use the down bag more as I like the lighter weight and smaller pack. Just have to hope it doesn’t get wet.” – Lance Neufeld


SYNTHETIC SLEEPING BAGS

Rain or shine, sleet or snow, synthetic bags are designed to handle every weather situation you might run into (aside from frigid temperatures). We love that we can take our synthetic bags out to the campfire on chilly nights or lay on the grass looking at the stars without worrying about our bag getting damp and not being able to insulate us because of it.

Advantages
Less expensive than quality down bags
Still insulates if the bag is wet and dries easily
Non-allergenic

Disadvantages
Less expensive than quality down bags
Less durable. Each time the bag is re-packed you slowly break down the insulation


 

The Final Word
As with most “either-or” questions, it depends on your situation which bag will suit you best. For our money, synthetic bags are easier to take care of and are more than adequately warm for 99.9% of the camping trips we take.

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