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Down in the PNW
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peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Re: Re: Down in the PNW on 01/24/2011 20:29:27 MST Print View

doug is correct.
i could add only that elevation has a great deal to do with things, as does temperature/humidity, but to a lesser extent.
you can make any mistake (almost) you want at 11,000' and you'll be dry in a jiffy. you do those same stupids at sea level and, if it's foggy, you'll stay wet until you land a commercial drier.
at lower elevations, trip length matters a LOT.

low elevation plus fog, and you can walk farther per day with a syn bag.
(it's just a cry'n shame that they so badly Suck to sleep in)

peter v.

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Nikwax Down Proof on 01/24/2011 21:40:31 MST Print View

Excellent product. Atsko Sport Wash though works just as well, is less expensive, and works well on any natural fiber like merino wool too.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Nikwax Down Proof on 01/24/2011 21:45:29 MST Print View

So if the down cannot absorb moisture, is it a safe assumption that there would be less moisture accumulation due to sweat evaporation while sleeping? Would the moisture simply get trapped between the fibers instead of absorbed into them? Or am I getting the concept wrong?

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: down and absorbing moisture on 01/24/2011 23:00:58 MST Print View

"So if the down cannot absorb moisture, is it a safe assumption that there would be less moisture accumulation due to sweat evaporation while sleeping? Would the moisture simply get trapped between the fibers instead of absorbed into them? Or am I getting the concept wrong?"

Dead wrong. Down will absorb moisture and will stay that way until you add heat and some fluffing.

The issue when sleeping is that warm air rising from your body can hold a lot of moisture. It moves through the down until it hits the colder outer areas and condenses. For an overnighter, you will get by, but go for several days and it gets progressively wetter, clumping, losing its loft and insulating value, and getting heavier.

What do people do when hiking with down? Typically, they will allow it to dry as much as possible in the morning and spread it out in the sun at lunch time. Great idea if the dampness is slight and there is good direct sun.

My experience:

Off I-90, 50 miles from Seattle this last July 4th, it was in the high 40's F at 4500' feet in the early afternoon, with heavy overcast and a big rain squall around 4PM. Humidity was high and the dew point was low. Hiking in the clouds, for real. Wake up on a cold morning and all your gear is covered with dew. Walk out through a brushy trail in the morning and you have to put on rain gear to stay dry: the dew looks like someone sprayed the brush with a hose minutes before you came down the trail.

Typical Western Washington rain isn't thundershowers. It rains lightly but constantly for hours, if not days. It might rain non-stop for a weekend and not accumulate 0.5". Add temps of 45-50F and humidity levels over 90%. Add constant overcast-- no direct sun for days. Add hiking steep switchbacks and trails with running and/or standing water, mud, and add a few stream crossings for dessert. There is nowhere for your perspiration to go-- you need a squeegee, not a towel. Get to camp, put up your shelter and shake out your bag to loft. Come back in an hour and it is cold and damp. Doing Leave No Trace, aka no fire, and you are living in a cold sauna with a mud floor. And you want to add a $400 sack of goose feathers to that mix? Insanity.

Drop the other side of the Cascades and the rainfall drops to 20" a year. Some of the stuff that misses the Olympics and Cascades makes it to Western Montana, but Get higher up in the Rockies and farther south and you have prime down country, along with the high deserts, and the Sierra. BUT, for anything in the upper left hand corner of the map of North America, down sucks. You can make it work, but synthetic is much safer and easier. And there is at least as much bad synthetic gear as there is down.

And when you mention Feathered Friends being in Seattle, that is not proof of anything. There is a big down market for high altitude climbing, trekking the Himalaya, the Rockies, the Alps, the Arctic and more. And then there is fashion. I've seen someone wearing a North Face Nuptse jacket on a downtown city street in 60F weather!

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
clouds on 01/24/2011 23:32:23 MST Print View

to add to what dale said ... this was typical june weather last year at low (1000m) elevation ... usually youd see the inlet and other hills at this point ...

this was just a day hike ... but i slipped 3 times in those muddy rivers we call trails here ... and ended up soaking wet

imagine this every single day ... with continuous non stop rain every single day

and here's last feb during the olympics on cypress .... i couldnt see us win the gold in the raind and fog ... but i got to sing O Canada !!!

Douglas Ray

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Down in Washington.... on 01/24/2011 23:40:49 MST Print View

I agree with the other Doug's post pretty much whole-heartedly.(Note: my name is also Doug) I to have spent all my life playing and working outside in western Washington, and I have used both down and synthetic clothing and sleeping bags.

There will be trips where it will be practically impossible to dry anything. Careful management will keep anything from ever getting soaked, but everything will be damp. I've gotten by for several years now with a down bag. It's not hard to keep it dry while it's packed but when you put your damp self inside of it when surrounded by a damp world, well, moisture has a way of getting everywhere.

I would say what will work best is largely dependent on how long of a trip you want to take and how much time and energy you are willing to expend trying to make your gear work. If you only take short trips a down bag will pretty much always be viable with proper care. Down clothing will to but with a lot more care.

If your trip is more mission than wander, and you will be struggling to accomplish something much more consuming than merely being there (my background is in search and rescue and alpine climbing) than you will probably find yourself using less and less down gear. You will spend less time and energy caring for your equipment, and you will be able to use your equipment very differently if you use more synthetic gear, especially synthetic clothing.

I will sometimes do a winter approach where I move fast enough to soak a light base-layer shirt with sweat, even though it's all I'm wearing in mid-20's weather. I than layer up to start climbing more technical ground and belaying, accumulate enough warmth in my clothing layers to dry my base layer back out. If you do this with a down coat it will deflate and be of little use for the rest of the trip, but the right synthetic coat will keep doing this cycle all through a multi-day trip.

Synthetic sleeping systems can let you crawl into bed wearing everything, with all of your accumulated moisture for the day, and wake up the next morning with everything dry (in moderate temps that is, if it's really cold you can still have moisture accumulate in your bag). Sometimes this ability of your equipment to help you manage moisture will let you do things that would have been impossible if you had need to manage all of your sweat and layering very carefully. Being able to put on a belay parka over everything, including your shell, will make it usable in situations where extensive layering changes are impossible or inconvenient as well as saving time.

Personally, I use all synthetic clothes and a down bag most of the time, and that works out fairly well in terms of weight, pack space, and usability. I am very interested in the growing realm of lighter synthetic sleep systems though. If I had to do a lot of long backpacking in the Hoh rainforest I think I would travel without any feathers though. The "cold sauna" is really the realm of fleece and synthetic sleeping bags (and big tarps and wood fires, for that matter).

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Down in the PNW on 01/25/2011 00:35:23 MST Print View

While Dale makes valid points about the rather challenging weather that can be experienced in our fine state, I respectfully disagree with the claim that, “for anything in the upper left hand corner of the map of North America, down sucks.”

Really? Cmon. I have a lot of respect for Dale’s experience, but that was a gross generalization. Sure, in the Hoh Valley where it rains 135 inches a year on average, I’d likely pass on down if I were there for a week in the spring (or even a long trip on the coast). But for a lot of the terrain, I’d take down without hesitation, even on longer trips. It is lighter, far more compressible and works well in most, but not all, circumstances.

I completely agree that if the Olympics and west side of the Cascades are socked in for a week, things can be pretty wet. And that can be a signigficant problem for down bags, as Dale argued. But it isn't always wet, Washington has a lot of different climates as your mentioned, and during backpacking season, the weather can be quite lovely, even in areas prone to more precipitation. So down bags can make sense.

I think that tarps and tarptents are pretty neat, but must admit to being less than impressed by the net result of living out of one after a week of rainy, cold weather. To me, the down problem in wet conditions is often exacerbated by living in a shelter prone to serious condensation.

Dale, and anyone else, how do you deal with the bulk of a synthetic bag? If it were not for the bulk compared to down, I might carry mine more often. When facing tougher conditions for prolonged periods, I generally opt for the double-wall tent and a down bag rather than a single-wall and the synthetic. Double-wall tents generally deal more effectively with condensation than do single wall tents that don't have adequate air flow. My preference probably has everything to do with the fact tht the double wall tent and a down bag seems to be a better fit in my pack than the single wall tent and a synthetic bag. If less bulky synthetics were out there, I would probably give synthetic bags a better shot.

Dale, what is your usual setup when you expect challenging weather?


Edited by dirk9827 on 01/25/2011 00:55:38 MST.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Down in the PNW on 01/25/2011 07:05:48 MST Print View


Not heavy, not bulky. That's what I use, combined with Cocoon jacket and pants. I love the stuff.

You are right that we have lovely weather! I think you may be implying that the mist of a multi-day drizzle or a Hoh river downpour is not lovely, but I LOVE this weather. Maybe it's just because I grew up with the stuff. Sure we have many dry, sunny days but high humidity is very common and has to be considered.

Still, lots of people use down here due to exactly the reasons mentions- compressibility and weight. I own 2 synthetic bags and 2 down bags. When using down I blend it with all synthetic clothing and insulation jacket and pants. It works.

In long, deep cold trips to the Arctic and such, the problem is always the moisture from your body accumulating in the down. The solution that many use here is vapor barrier clothing or a vb liner. That's a great solution in those situations. I often use vapor barrier socks when sleeping here in winter.

My setups:

very warm- light Cocoon quilt
normal summer- light Cocoon quilt with Cocoon jacket and pants
colder- heavy Cocoon quilt (or two layered) with jacket and pants
Colder- Valandre Mirage down bag with Cocoon jacket and pants
winter/igloo/snow cave- Feathered Friends 0 bag with Cocoon jacket, pants, and Patagonia synthetic jacket

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
syn on 01/25/2011 07:41:03 MST Print View

not "down" playing syn :), as it's certainly a viable choice and frankly sometimes the better choice, BUT saying down isn't a viable option in the PNW is, well.... wrong. The 100's (1,000's?) of folks that have completed the trek through the entire length of Oregon and Washington (and that small state of California!) using down as their sleeping system can't be wrong or were just simply lucky. Length of trip- can't be too much longer of a trip than that. Those folks made a calculated decision on what sleep system would serve them best and used techniques that insured their decision wasn't going to bite them.

I think the strategy of using some syn clothing in conjunction with down is solid. I also think that if you know it's going to be wet, miserable s.o.b. and you have a syn bag in your lineup- then that would be a great time to break it out :)

Bryan Redd
(pdx) - F
Assumptions about down vs. synthetics on 01/25/2011 08:21:53 MST Print View

One apparent assumption in much of this discussion is that moisture vapor from one's body will get trapped/absorbed in the down insulation but won't in the synthetic insulation. Or, that less of it will get trapped/absorbed.

The net effect then being that more of the moisture moves through the bag/garment to the exterior.

Is that assumption accurate? Are there hard data that support this assumption?

What is the % difference in the amount of moisture trapped/absorbed by the down versus what is trapped/absorbed by the synthetic. Yes, I know, that depends on many variables, including the type of synthetic, etc.

It is not as if synthetics don't trap/absorb water. They surely do and can get soaking wet. I have a Patagonia MicroPuff vest that I use alot, but it certainly does trap/absorb moisture from my body. And, when it does it loses loft and insulating value.

So, is this really a two-pronged analysis: First, to compare the amount of moisture trapped/absorbed by down vs. synthetic. And second, which of the insulations then dry quicker?



jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
down clothing and synth sleeping bag or vice versa? on 01/25/2011 08:43:49 MST Print View

should you have down clothing and synth sleeping bag or vice versa?

I do a lot of winter backpacking in Oregon and Washington - good description Dale

But when you set up your tent it doesn't matter that much, just keep your warm clothes dry in your pack. Lightweight nylon shirt and pants that got wet hiking during the day dry off quickly from body heat regardless of weather.

I use synth sleeping bag and vest, but when it gets down to 20F or so, the amount of synth required to stay warm gets very bulky and heavy. I made a down vest and it's half as heavy and bulky for the same warmth. I've only used it on a few trips so I gues I'll find out how well it works.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
PCT on 01/25/2011 09:40:19 MST Print View

Mike said:
"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!)"

I thru-hiked the PCT, and I live in WA state. I sort of see both sides of this discussion; I think it's situational. Not to disagree with Mike here, but I'll point out that overall the PCT is quite a dry trail. WA in particular is renowned among PCT hikers as being wet and cold, but naturally it can vary. It was wet my year, and yes, I did use a down bag throughout; my 32F bag was sufficient for WA, didn't bother switching back. Of course thru-hikers aren't continuously hiking, folks get off trail and dry things out, and even sometimes stay off trail a bit and hang out hoping the weather will improve. We WA natives know that this is often a vain hope; as someone else pointed out, you can sometimes be getting quite wet from vegetation long after the last rain in periods where nothing dries out.

But overall I think it really is situational.

In warmer weather I like down because the stakes are lower (less likely to really get hypothermic), and down is lighter and less bulky. Even when it's quite wet I can generally stay warm enough and keep the down dry enough with care until the trip ends or I get some time off somehow to dry stuff out.

In colder weather on short trips I like down for the same reasons, as someone else also pointed out, you're not out for that long, and at least everything is dry starting out, just take care.

I have no experience at extended cold weather trips. I guess the early part of the AT last year was sort of that, but again, I was going into towns periodically where I could dry things.

I think that extended cold weather trips (in high humidity areas) would be just really hard however you go. Maybe the solution then is to use a pulk and accept bulkier and heavier gear to deal with conditions. And of course, hope for future advances in synthetic insulation!

Edited by brianle on 01/25/2011 09:42:07 MST.

Curt Peterson
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Down in the NW on 01/25/2011 12:46:08 MST Print View

I live in Washington's Cascade foothills - on the we(s)t side. My neighborhood gets around 100" in a busy year. 90% of my backpacking and hiking is on the west side of the state and all of my insulation is down. I think Doug's caveat on trip length is valid, but most of my trips are a week or less and usually only 3-4 days. Being even moderately careful keeps my down warm and fluffy. I think a down bag is a super easy decision unless you're a die-hard tarper, but there aren't many on this side of the state :) I worry more about my jackets, but I'm rarely in a down jacket if it's raining. Just too warm. If it's cold enough for a down jacket, it's too cold for rain. Especially if I'm moving, a merino shirt/windshirt combo is fine or worst case a rainjacket. Down jacket then becomes an in-camp only item where - presumably - I'm sheltered.

In the end it really comes down to your style of backpacking and your tolerance/confidence regarding risk. I will say that I have slept exactly ONE night in a soaking wet bag on the Olympic Coast. It was synthetic, and I froze my butt off and was miserable all night. They're not that great when wet, either. The point is to not get your insulation wet - regardless of what it's made of.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
bag or clothing on 01/25/2011 14:29:00 MST Print View

jerry ...

it depends on what yr looking for ... i use some thinner down and synth clothing and a synth bag, with a synth bag i can just hop right into the sack with a hawt nalgene and itll all be dry the next day ... no need to worry about body moisture or condensation

using a down bag and synth clothing does require you to be more careful, rather than sleeping with your synth clothing inside the bag, you place it on top of the bag ... hopefully this moves the dew point that could have been in the bag to the synth clothing, and protect against condensation drip ... getting the synth clothing a bit damp isnt a big deal since you can jut wear it dry with a hawt nalgene or while moving

each requires slightly different techniques ...

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: bag or clothing on 01/25/2011 17:28:55 MST Print View

I agree with Brian (and Doug before that) it is situational. Our summers are not nearly as wet as people assume. Even in the rain forest, you can get day after day of sunshine. Besides, with the really long days, all you need is a few hours to dry everything out. The longer you go, the more you may want synthetic. It is harder to predict the weather a week ahead of time, and moisture can accumulate. However, I only use a down bag now, and used it for an eight day trip this year. Of course, that was in August in the Cascades, not up the Hoh in November.

I would say that I still prefer synthetic clothing over down. It is nice to not have to worry about my own moisture messing up things. I can push myself to the point of sweating and not worry about it. In fact, I use fleece exclusively for day hiking in the summer (along with a wind shirt). Fleece breathes really well, so I don't paying the extra weight penalty for the convenience and added range of fleece.

I do think the term "warm when wet" is false. A better term might be "warmer if damp". Or maybe "warmer if damp and quicker drying".

rhonda rouyer
(rrouyer) - F

Locale: deep south
Re: Re: Re: Down in the PNW on 01/26/2011 09:08:21 MST Print View

I am wondering why one would jepordize the integrity of a down bag by wearing wet clothes in it.I was taught by more experienced hikers than me to never sleep in the clothes I wear to hike is because of the moisture wicking heat from the body issue. I always have a set of dry sleeping clothes that are only worn in my bag and only when I am ready to sleep or be in my tent the rest of the night. Could be a set of capilene or in hot weather boxers and a tank top. My thought are that in wet climates it would be better to pack the extra weight of spare socks and shirt than depend on my down bag as a dryer.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Down in the PNW on 01/26/2011 09:31:31 MST Print View

Not necessarily quicker drying--see this article:

At least in this limited test, the down dried faster! I'd love to see a more comprehensive test!

Edited by hikinggranny on 01/26/2011 09:34:34 MST.

rhonda rouyer
(rrouyer) - F

Locale: deep south
re: down in the PNW on 01/26/2011 09:35:22 MST Print View

I've been reading all of these post with great interest. The last week of April will be my first experience in the PNW. Hoh River Trail. This is what I think will work based on what I've been reading from these very helpful post.

Double wall tent (Eureka Spitfire instead of Contrail)
Down bag (not sure if 32 degree or 15 degree) with set of capilene to be worn only for sleeping. All packed in waterproof bag inside of waterproof pack liner.

Clothing insulation : Teramar wool/silk base layer, synthetic t shirt , quick dry pants, 200 polartec vest, Thermawrap jacket , packlite gor tex rain shell and gortex pants, dry socks for each day on the trail.

We will be on the trail most likely 4 days. I have hiked the Smokies ( they are also a rainforest) and live in the deep south so I understand wet and humidity.

It seems the opinions are split on down vs syn and if I need to I can buy a syn but I'd rather use what I have.

Ryley Breiddal
(ryleyb) - F - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
anecdotal evidence for the win! on 01/26/2011 13:35:11 MST Print View

Mary, way to post some actual data!

I think this whole thread ties in nicely with the front page article right now about the "Vortex of Fear".

Yes, there are some cases where your insulation are going to get a bit damp and possibly be somewhat compromised. I suggest you get some skills to enable you to use your sleeping bag without getting it excessively wet. If you're getting any moisture on your bag other than whatever you sweat/condense in the night, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. Camp under trees to minimize condensation. Don't lock your shelter down so tight you don't get any air movement.

So here's my anecdotal evidence: Down rules. I hiked the West Coast Trail twice this year, spring and fall, barely saw the sun at all on either trip (probably 1 hour in total). The foot of my down bag was a little damp at one point, but it still got the job done. I got to save a bunch of weight/space and snuggle into my awesome puffy bag at the end of every day. My friends with stringy synth bags cried all night because their huge lumpy bags suffocated them and didn't keep them warm. They may also attract mice and GRIZZLY BEARS.

NB: your experience may differ from mine. I'm just saying, like so much other lightweight gear, down requires you to have skills to make up for its deficiencies. It is not magic.

Ryley Breiddal
(ryleyb) - F - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
huh, actual topic on 01/26/2011 13:38:19 MST Print View

OK, I see the actual topic was exclusively about down OUTERWEAR. In that case, I tend to agree - I don't really wear any insulated outerwear except in my tent. Seems obvious that you wouldn't want to wear down or synthetic insulation in the pouring rain? If it's hovering around zero just keep hiking until it stops raining or you camp. Once you're camped, get in the tent and don't get out :)