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Down in the PNW
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Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 14:24:53 MST Print View

I have recently taken a snowshoeing/backcountry skiing class, where the instructors both categorically stated that the maritime mountains in Washington and Oregon are NOT country for down outerwear, that we are too wet. Naturally, I have all down--sleeping bags, jacket and pants for insulation---and have used it in the summer and liked it. I carry my down in Cuben fiber dry bags from MLD, and have a pack cover when it's raining. We use an REI Quarterdome T2 Plus when we're backpacking. I'm a real weenie, and slap on rain gear at the drop of a hat, including my pack cover.

Now, one guest speaker disputed the No-Down policy, and said that if you use common sense, that down is perfectly usable in our climates. So far, we've gotten really lucky, and have not been out on a prolonged hike in completely pouring rain. I know that synthetic vs. down gets thrashed around a lot, and never the twain shall meet, but I wondered if the down enthusiasts could comment on how they keep their down dry, and wondered if I was using common sense enough or not. Haven't had the thrill of pitching the tent only to find ourselves in a puddle in the morning, but barring events like that, could anyone comment?

Also, does it depend on the season--down ok for summer use, but better get synthetic if we snowshoe a lot? My partner has put his foot down and refuses (so far) to camp in the snow, so we'd just be out for the day, and worrying about 10 essentials in the event that things go completely cock-eyed and can't get back.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
re on 01/24/2011 14:39:38 MST Print View

You can use down in the PNW. just have to keep it dry.

Either put it in a waterproof bag or have a waterproof pack.

If you're exercising make sure you're not sweating.

And if it's raining have a good raincoat or wait to put the down on when you're in your tent.


I just got a down vest and it's much better when it goes below 32F and it weighs half as much as synthetic vest for the same warmth.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: re on 01/24/2011 15:00:17 MST Print View

If down really didn't make sense in the Northwest, than Feathered Friends wouldn't be in business. I agree with what Jerry said, you just have to keep it dry. As he said, that means protecting it from the moisture you generate, as well as the stuff that comes from the sky. Of course, we have days when it really isn't coming from the sky, but all of the air around you (basically, you are in the cloud). In that condition, keeping things dry is a little more challenging (but still not impossible).

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
0/1 on 01/24/2011 15:07:08 MST Print View

Either you're practicing proper moisture management or you're not. I don't care where you live or what the average annual rainfall is in that area.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 15:15:33 MST Print View

Didn't make a lot of sense to me. Like I said, I carry it in waterproof bags, I wear clothes inside my bag that are usually dedicated to sleeping so it's not like I'm wearing sweaty trail clothes inside my bag.

I have heard several people advocate wearing wet clothes to dry them. It would seem to be difficult in our damp cool weather here, and what about wearing wet clothes in a down sleeping bag?

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 15:18:48 MST Print View

Anyone got specific tips for keeping down dry while camping in the clouds ? Do you have to use a bivy or tent ?

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
re on 01/24/2011 15:22:39 MST Print View

I sometimes wear damp socks in my synthetic sleeping bag in Western Oregon and Washington and they dry out by morning, even in humid conditions.

And jacket, pants, or shirt but they usually dry out in a couple hours in my tent before getting in sleeping bag. You need to have clothing that doesn't absorb much water so it dries out quickly.

Alex Gilman
(Vertigo) - F

Locale: Washington
Down! on 01/24/2011 15:29:44 MST Print View

I think that most high end down gear these days has a very good DWR treatment. I haven't had any problems with down in the PNW. Just don't submerge it during a stream crossing. You know just "duh" type stuff.

Edited by Vertigo on 01/27/2011 01:29:08 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 15:53:50 MST Print View

I guess ducks and geese must avoid the PNW since their down doesn't work. :)

Edited by gg-man on 01/24/2011 15:54:27 MST.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 16:00:27 MST Print View

Thanks for the tips.

Matthew Zion
(mzion) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
Re: Down fallacy on 01/24/2011 16:09:22 MST Print View

Down is suitable for any environment. I often hear people say stuff like "I don't use down because if it gets wet..." or what you mentioned about certain areas being 'too humid.' I think all of these assertions are ridiculous. Down does require you to actively try and keep it dry but why would you feel more comfortable getting a synthetic bag wet? Yes they would retain more insulating properties but wet is wet, and miserable no matter what your bag is filled with. As for where you use a down bag, I also find this ridiculous to say it is suitable one place and not another. I went a winter trip to Utah and after cowboy camping my quilt was 'soaked' by frost. Obviously, drying only took 20 min in the sun. But I used the same quilt in Olympic NP over Thanksgiving, and never had much of a problem, just normal condensation. If that worries you a bivy would provide plenty of extra protection from condensation/frost.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 16:23:19 MST Print View

The myth has been going around for many years (undoubtedly boosted by makers of synthetic insulation) that synthetic insulation is "warm when wet." My own experience (30 years ago now) shows that this is not the case--a soggy synthetic bag is just as cold as a soggy down bag! This was the trip in which a nice flat area turned into a lake overnight when a cloudburst hit about 9 pm, kept going for most of the night and then turned to snow. We did a lot of wringing out and holding bags over the fire the next morning, which resulted in smoke-smelling bags but very little drying. We finally packed up and hiked out, reaching the trailhead about dark.

The important thing is not the type of insulation, but keeping it dry! Use a waterproof pack liner with waterproof closure or a dry bag for your insulation--stuff sacks and pack covers are not waterproof. Be careful to select a camp site that won't become a lake in heavy rain. Protect your puffy jacket from sweat--wear it at stops, not while exercising hard. Protect it from rain by wearing it under your rain jacket.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 16:36:04 MST Print View

Google the weather stats for the Olympics. What you will see is moderate temperatures, lots of precip and high humidity, and *no* direct sun. It is like hiking in a cold wet sponge. Your perspiration has nowhere to go. You will wake up in the morning covered in dew and condensation. Fleece is the best in this envirnoment and down is terrible. Synthetic bags are much easier to live with. You don't need to expose down to direct moisture to get it damp in cold high humidity enviroments. Same for cotton. You can't depend on the sun for drying-- even Seattle has 260+ days a year with overcast and the Olympics and the west side of the Cascades get even more. The Ho River area gets 200+ inches of rain per year and the lower elevations of the Cascades get upwards of 100 inches.

Go a few miles on the other side of the mountains and you have desert conditions. Down is great in cold, dry weather.

And the down on a goose doesn't get wet as the outer feathers keep it dry and the goose spends a lot of time on maintenance. "Like water rolling off a duck's back" has real meaning. If the down gets wet the goose is cooked, so to speak.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
wearing wet clothes to dry them. on 01/24/2011 16:36:38 MST Print View

The only thing I've worn wet to bed in my down bag were my socks. I dried them out each night in Glacier NP by wearing them to bed. Even when the temps got to the low 30's, my socks were dry by morning. There may have been a bit of moisture in my sleeping bag footbox, but that dried out pretty quickly. I wouldn't wear wet pants or shirts to bed, and if your vestments are made of the right material, they'll usually dry within 30-45 minutes while hiking. When conditions are cool and damp, clothes will take forever to dry out on a clothesline, while body heat will do wonders.

As far as down clothing goes, if you're exerting enough energy to create enough sweat to dampen your clothing, then you're TOO warm. As long as I'm hiking, I'm usually good with a heavy baselayer, my thin synthetic pants, and a softshell jacket. This will take me down to 10-15 degrees. I have no experience camping colder than that yet, so the rules may change as it gets even colder.

I'd rather have the common sense for correctly protecting my down items than foolishly forgoing extra precautions simply because I'm using synthetic and "don't have to worry as much."

Edited by T.L. on 01/24/2011 16:44:48 MST.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
PCT on 01/24/2011 17:18:28 MST Print View

do a little impromptu survey of past PCT thru hikers, I think you'd find that the overwhelming majority used down bags and I'm guessing that most wouldn't change that- practice good technique in keeping it dry (just like you would a syn bag!)

clothing I think you'd find more of a split, but no reason down garments couldn't be used effectively by keeping the garments dry

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
hmmmm on 01/24/2011 17:38:27 MST Print View

the question is how confident are you that you wont screw up?

cotton works great as well ... just dont get it wet

the difference between down and synth ... is that with synth you can usually dry it out quite a bit with body heat and a hot nalgene

with thin down sweaters you may be able to dry it out without the sun in the field .... anything thicker, not likely

if you have an all down system ... let me ask ... what is your plan if you get one of them wet? ... would you dry down jacket inside yr down bag? .... or can you bail if your bag gets damp?

for those who believe that synth is just dead weight ... note that mr jordan and skurka have used synth quite a bit in their travels ... notably on the alaska trip ... if anyone else had the skills to not screw up and wanted to be as light as possible ... itll be them

down works great ... just dont get it wet ...

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: hmmmm on 01/24/2011 17:50:01 MST Print View

When I head out in the winter, I generally divide my insulation into three components: down, wool, and synthetic. My sleeping bag is down, plus maybe one fat parka. My heavy trousers and at least one shirt will be wool, plus maybe socks, a hat, or gloves. There is synthetic all over the place, from long johns to socks to shirts.

Each material kind of has its own slot for strengths, and each material has its weaknesses as well.


Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: hmmmm on 01/24/2011 17:51:46 MST Print View

Cold and damp aside, methinks trip duration should also figure in.

I live in relatively dry So Cal -- so no problem with my down bag -- and yes, I too agree that just a bit of common sense precaution (i.e. the exact same thing one would do to protect synthetic layers from rain and water mishap) was all that's needed.

No direct experience, but what about multi-day hikes cold, damp weather with continuous rain to boot? I'm still wondering about the effect of accumulated body moisture in a down bag -- with rainy days that prevent any chance of airing out one's bag to dry??

Patrick Mullen
(pdmullen) - MLife

Locale: Northwest USA
Anyone use Nikwax Down Proof on 01/24/2011 17:53:32 MST Print View

Nikwax makes a product called Down Proof that purportedly prevents down from absorbing moisture while also renewing DWR. I've not used the product, so cannot endorse it.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 18:14:42 MST Print View

I've done extensive backpacking year-round in Washington and I agree with many of the above posts- down is a viable choice in our climate. Here are some caveats:

- You have to be aware of where the dew point is within you layering system. Often you can dry clothing only to deposit that moisture within the down of your sleeping bag. This is why sleeping with down clothing inside a synthetic bag makes sense.

- Trip length matters a lot. On a multi-day constant rain and condensation trip, your down is likely to accumulate moisture day to day, reducing loft. These conditions are the hardest for down. I've been on many trips when drying things out was impossible.

- Sleeping with wet clothing is dangerous due to moisture accumulation that doesn't pass completely out of the bag. On multi-day wet trips I've had the down in the foot area collapse from wearing wet socks to bed. Warm feet the first night, freezing the last. Better to keep the damp socks at your core and even better to not allow ANY moisture into a down bag from my experience.

- I like to mix down with synthetics so I won't suffer if everything gets wet. At least my synthetics will be warm. That said, I often use synthetic clothing with synthetic quilts. Modern synthetics are close enough in weight and I like being warm no matter what. Also, I'm often a minimalist with minimal overlap of insulation. With all synthetics, I don't have to worry as much if I accumulate moisture. That said, my winter bags are always down to keep weight and bulk down. Also, my winter trips are usually shorter.

- To make down work in serious rain, I always use a dry bag and often a pack cover as well. Respect and protect the down and you'll be just fine.

Also, remember that ducks and geese have waterproof top feathers! I'd be curious to see what would happen if they had ONLY down. I've spent several miserable nights in wet or damp down bags and it is no fun!

Best, Doug