November 20, 2015 8:16 PM MST - Subscription purchasing, account maintenance, forum profile maintenance, new account registration, and forum posting have been disabled
as we prepare our databases for the final migration to our new server next week. Stay tuned here for more details.
Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag
Display Avatars Sort By:
Shawn Taylor
(staylor310) - F

Locale: Sierra
Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag on 03/08/2008 07:46:54 MST Print View

Just wanted to get some opinions on preference. I have always used Down Bags/Quilts for their higher loft to weight ratio.

I would like to know what everyone else prefers and why.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag on 03/08/2008 07:54:29 MST Print View


Michael Febbo
(febbom) - F
depends on 03/08/2008 13:28:59 MST Print View

For me it depends on where you are going, how long you will be there, and the time of year it is (this determines the likely precipitation and temperature).

If, like me, you have regulated your outings to about 3 days, the weight/warmth/pack size and comfort of down highly recommends it. Even in a wet Northeast spring, or sub-freezing winter outings, you are unlikely to generate enough mositure at night to cause lofting issues over a long weekend. I even dry my damp gloves and shells in my down bags at night during the winter...

However, if you will be out for a longer period and the weather will be very humid or downright wet- synthetics come into their own. They resist the presence of moisture much better and allow one to consistently dry clothing while wearing it to bed. This is why I took a PG Delta bag with me for a week long trip to the Cascades last spring. It was sleeting for four days and we were tentbound- with puddles of water everywhere. Down would not have been as appropriatte. I did wear and dry out a ight down jacket in the synthetic bag though...

So, where, when and for how long determines my bag insulation choice.

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag on 03/08/2008 14:35:08 MST Print View

Double Down

Shawn Taylor
(staylor310) - F

Locale: Sierra
Re: depends on 03/08/2008 15:58:53 MST Print View

Agreed, I am typically in the 3 day outing range, and I have never had moisture cause a problem for my down insulation.

I thought it was interesting that synthetic insulation was a requirement on the Wilderness Trekking School Program, being that it was only 4 days, and that it would cause a significant weight increase.

Jeff Cadorin
(JeffCadorin) - F

Locale: paper beats rock
Re: Re: depends on 03/08/2008 16:13:06 MST Print View

I am trying to make up my mind on what to get. I plan on making a quilt and can not decide what to buy. Technique in producing it is not an issue, nor a factor in my decision. I love the "wet" factor with synthetic, but hate how it can wear out with use. Maybe someone that has a pro down vote can actually enlighten the rest of us on their decision??

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: depends on 03/09/2008 06:57:44 MDT Print View


Not sure if I can "enlighten" you any more than you already are, but I struggle to see why anyone would choose synthetic...however I have never had to sleep in a puddle in 110% humidity for days on end, so your miles may vary ;)

To me that 110% humidity is the important deciding factor. At least once per year I endeavor to wash my down bag, and I assure you it is not an easy task to wet out a down bag, even when submerged in a bathtub. In continued subzero temps, the use of a VBL is good practice no matter what insulation you choose, so again moisture in down should not be a cold expedition issue. Down is lighter, more resilient, and just plain feels nicer the way it drapes around your body.

I don't tarp, and I always carry a bivy bag, so using down is in no way risky in my hands. But if you tarp in humid conditions without a bivy bag, you may find synthetics a better bet. Or if you really HAVE to sleep in puddles.


I have been puzzling over the WT3 requirement for synthetics too. I still don't really understand the rationalle, but I have given up trying. The organizers decision is final, and no correspondence shall be entered in to. I would have thought weight would be the deciding factor, and towards THAT end I would have thought that a couple of 4-person down quilts would have trumped any other option for weight:warmth, but I'm a chick and we're not quite as adverse to sharing body heat with strangers as some guys can be...

Edited by retropump on 03/09/2008 07:04:17 MDT.

jim bailey
(florigen) - F - M

Locale: South East
insulation on 03/09/2008 09:57:35 MDT Print View

Down can loose it’s loft relatively quick in an environment that is cold and wet, have noticed this on weekend outings when sleeping in floorless, singlewall shelters using a bivy. Loft tends to collapse due to moisture from your breath and body causing vapor to rise into your insulation. Have noticed this more so in cold conditions (10 degree F and below) where temperature from your body is much warmer then outside air temperature. Prolonged outings would be most uncomfortable as moisture accumulation would only get worse the longer your out. Vapor barrier liners/clothing can eliminate some of these issues, moisture from breathing is still going to be a concern.

Allison & Shawn,
On WT3 the premise of using synthetic insulation was to simulate an expedition setting for a prolonged period. Based on Ryan’s experience this made the most sense for the course. Slept very warm with a synthetic quilt system in cold conditions on snow (no puddles). The only down side was the bulk while packing and slight complexity of overall system with multiple layers. Double person bivy’s were suggested but we were a bit uncomfortable with this system since most of us did not know one another.

Own mostly down bags and use based on the duration of any given trip, time of the year and weather conditions forecasted for the area I would plan on traveling in. Love the weight & how small they pack down and also the warmth, but for a prolonged outting in cold wet condition would most likely go with a synthetic sleep system.

Jeff Cadorin
(JeffCadorin) - F

Locale: paper beats rock
Re: Re: Re: Re: depends on 03/09/2008 11:35:11 MDT Print View


Thanks for sharing your experience with down. I have read alot about it, and tried out a few bags but I have never owned a down bag. I have always had synthetic but my needs have changed. I am planning a 10-14 day trip in june. I have plans for other trips that are the same or longer. I am concerned about wearing out the synthetics and having to make a new quilt more frequently? I hike mainly in the sierras so humidity is not really my concern. I will be tarping and as I work my way to a smaller tarp the security synthetic gives when wet is a nice comfort. If time and money where not an issue I could make both and test accordingly, but I dont. So I have to wade through other peoples pro's and con's to come to a decision. So far im leaning toward what I know.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: depends on 03/09/2008 12:27:31 MDT Print View

In a known cold, situation, since I'm expecting it to be cold, I will have both a VBL and a bivy bag. This combo prevents almost all the problems of the down getting wet from persperation/respiration etc...On top of that I use the equivalent of an old Eskimo trick, that is to roll up the entire sleep system the nano-second I get out of bed. This expels any remaining warm, damp air from the system, and is a good idea whether you use down or synthetics. But if you are merely tarping, without a bivy bag, then you would be better off with synthetic for longer trips.

Michael Febbo
(febbom) - F
clothes drying too... on 03/10/2008 00:26:20 MDT Print View

Allison makes a good point that for prolonged down use one must combat both internal and external moisture, and that some kind of resistant shell or bag cover and VBL can help. I used to subscribe to this approach, but I have noted that on almost every winter trip I have wet gear- gloves, socks, shells, hats, etc... and that leaving such gear out of the bag at night means it will freeze solid. Thus, drying this gear is essential, and so sleeping with it adds a great deal of moisture that must be dealt with. Here is where synthetics really help- they act as clothes dryers.

I use down bags in tarps in all conditions, as combating external moisture is relatively easy. If I could find a very light synthetic overbag for a down mummy, I would have the perfect winter setup. Until then, I consider synthetic for longer trips.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag on 03/10/2008 00:40:59 MDT Print View

Down. Always with a bivy. Add a VBL for extended cold use.

Primarily for packed volume advantage, secondarily for superior loft per weight. Synthetic Backpacking Light UL Quilts come close because their insulation has no scrim.

Personal preference, climate, and shelter are primary considerations I suppose. I mostly use for 3-season Rocky Mtns.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Down vs. Synthetic on 03/10/2008 03:42:25 MDT Print View

I dont know how many times this subject has come up at BPL, but I never tire of chiming in.
In humid conditions or if the bag has a good chance of getting wet, choose synthetics. In dry conditions choose down. Most people agree on these basic principles.
However, the analysis can be complicated by considering the other components of your sleep system, and even what your hiking partner(s) are caryying. For example, I follow these guidlines..

Never totally rely on a down bag when survival is at stake. I bring a synthetic insulation layer when bringing a down bag on a winter trip. If I'm bringing a synthetic bag I can bring a down insulation layer.

If one person brings down, the other should bring synthetic, in case the down bag gets soaked. Montbell super stretch bags work great in this evenuality because the stretch enough to accomodate two people totaling 120kg. (the long bags stretch to 75" circumfrence at the shoulders).

Josh S.
(Stumphges) - F
SS for two on 03/10/2008 09:08:23 MDT Print View

Hey Brett,

When using a SS bag for two the insulation must get pulled out over a larger area, decreasing overall loft. How much functional loft is lost in this situation? From your experience, can you estimate the effect this has on a bag's effective temp. rating while stretched?

I'm wondering if any loss due to stretching is countered by the +10-15 degrees gained by sharing body heat.

I'm considering getting a large SS, as per your suggestion in another post, for tandem use.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: SS for two on 03/10/2008 11:54:38 MDT Print View

Josh, In my experience the expected gain from sharing body heat only eventuate if you manage to "spoon" the whole night, otherwise the airgap between the two sleepers sucks a lot of the warm air out. You also don't have a functional hood in this situation, potentially another cause of reduced thermal efficiency. In other wrods, I wouldn't count on this set-up for routine use, only as an emergency system (especially if you are a back sleeper like me).

Monty Montana
(TarasBulba) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag on 03/10/2008 12:49:50 MDT Print View

Since I've only ever used down I can't speak with authority on the comparison, but I'm in league with Allison concerning the effective use of down: a bivy paired with a VBL. I also seasonally inspect all sealed/taped seams in my tent/tarp/bivy to make sure they'll perform adequately. I don't like surprises in the backcountry and do my best to be prepared.

Recently I purchased a synthetic quilt from BPL and am eager to try it out!

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Re: SS for two on 03/10/2008 13:08:00 MDT Print View

I'm pretty sure Brett's comments were for use in an emergency because, as you said, you're going to lose some insulation as it is stretched.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag on 03/10/2008 13:10:48 MDT Print View

Monty-I would love to hear your impressions of your BPL quilt in comparison to down.

I JUST thought of an event that I might consider using synthetics over down....Packrafting. You HOPE your drybags will keep your gear dry, but impossible to be sure. Then again I suspect that moisture from perspiration and respiration while in the bag are a far greater threat to down. I did an 'experiment' once when wanting to wash my down bag. I shoved it in a (non waterproof) stuff sack, then placed it in the bath full of water. I tried and tried for almost 15 minutes to submerge the thing, but couldn't. When I finally pulled it out of the stuff sack it was virtually still dry, just a little water on the outside of the bag which wiped off easily. This is proof enough to me that dampness from within the pack is a non-issue.

Just re-read what I wrote, and thought I'd clarify my submerge attempt...I wasn't actually testing to see if I could 'accidentally' wet the bag in it's stuff sack, I was really trying to find a better way to wet-out the bag for washing. Otherwise it is very hard to get the air out of the bag. I though that I could sqeeze the air out first and then the down would wet easier. I sure got that one wrong!

Edited by retropump on 03/10/2008 13:49:04 MDT.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Re: Re: Re: Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag on 03/11/2008 01:36:32 MDT Print View


Actually, I think you ALMOST got it right. Try turning the sleeping bag inside out (to circumvent the DWR). Then stuff it in it's stuff sack and submerge it. While the bag is submerged, slowly pull it out of the stuff sack. You'll still have to plunge and knead a bit, but I find this a much better way to wet out the bag.

I agree though about no longer worrying too much about wetting the bag in the pack. It can happen, but it's REALLY hard to completely soak the bag. Like Brett, I try to carry a synthetic layer when using a down bag (Which when I think about it is all the time, since I don't own a synthetic bag!)


Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Re: Down vs. Synthetic Quilt/Bag on 03/11/2008 13:01:03 MDT Print View

Thanks for the tip Rod. The fabric is the same on both the inside and outside of my bag, but if I can manage to pull the bag out while keeping it submerged, it might just help. Maybe four hands would be better than two!

As a chick who typically feels the cold, I carry both a synthetic (as in fleece) layer as well as a down jacket...always. The only thing that changes with the seasons is the weight/warmth of these layers (and the bag).
Then again, it's important to stress that I always have an enclosed shelter of some sort (TarpTent or Nallo2), I don't live in a humid climate (though often wet and cold), and have never hiked for more than 10 days straight due to living on an island in the Pacific! In these conditions down is definitely a winner.