Cold weather sleeping bags...

5:54 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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Synthetic or down fill? 

I have a feeling many of you are going to say down is the way to go due to its loft, light weight, the ability to compress better than synthetics, etc.

I have always gone with synthetic insulation due to the fact that if down gets wet its insulating properties are null and void. This can be a real bummer in the backcountry. 

Synthetic insulation on the other hand is heavier, doesn't compress as well, and typically doesn't loft as well as down.

Hmmm, sounds like a pick your poison scenario to me. 

On the flipside if it gets wet it will still insulate to some extent. To me the main purpose of a bag is simple...

...keep me warm when the temps plummet plain and simple. 

So Trailspace members as winter is upon us what do you use and why?

6:10 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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In "cold" weather--perhaps we can agree that "cold" is anything below 0F--I go with down. This notion that a down sleeping bag will be bollocks if it gets wet was started when sleeping bags did not have the wonderful shells that they have today. Pertex is an amazing material, and it, or some copy of it, is used in many down bags these days. In cold weather, one would have to work very hard to get their down sleeping bag wet to the point that it's insulative capabilities were reduced to that of a synthetic sleeping bag, methinks. In cold-ish weather, maybe that for which one would buy a 15F-rated bag, the argument for a synthetic bag gains momentum, and even then it is a poor one. Synthetic insulation is gaining ground though, and I'd expect a plastic fiber/cluster to come very close to the performance of down within the next 3-4 years (saying nothing of its durability/longevity), though I still wouldn't use it in anything but a summer-ish, 30F bag anyway.

The worry that you'll get your bag wet is often resultant from the worry that you don't know enough to keep your bag from getting wet.

6:23 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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Good points pillowthread, thanks for sharing that. I agree that technology has come a long way in regards to DWR coatings, wp fabrics, etc. 

Have you noticed any loss in the breathing characteristics with these water repellent materials?

I have quite a few bags. Another -deg synthetic bag is on its way. For cold weather I was using a TNF Darkstar but for anything other than VERY cold conditions it is complete overkill. 

6:27 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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i have used both in the upper northeast mountains, in the winter (adirondacks, green mountains, white mountains).  old military down bag was my first; double-bagged for a while, a zero degree down bag with an oversized synthetic fill overbag for cold days; north face darkstar for a long time; now back to down, a mountain hardwear ghost.  i plan for temperatures down to 30 or 40 below and have spent many nights sleeping out in -10 or colder. 

the basics that you laid out are all accurate in terms of loft, weight, packability.  my -40 synthetic bag was a space-eater in my pack, even well-compressed.  but it was good to -30 for me without wearing lots of layers, so it served its purpose well.

otherwise, i have a few thoughts:

-how well a bag functions depends a lot on your physiology and what you eat and drink.  some people sleep 'warmer' than others or perspire more than others.  i think a fair number of people who get cold don't eat and drink enough, which can slow your metabolism down.  good hot meals and hot tea in large quantities after a long day in the bitter cold, baby. 

-dimensions are important.  if you are particularly broad or narrow, make sure the inner dimensions of the bag work for you.  also, make sure you like how the foot box and hood work for you, because those are crucial parts of keeping warm in cold weather.  at this point, most upper-end bags do these features pretty well. 

-if it's really cold, sub zero, the opportunities to get your sleeping bag wet are more limited.  it's usually not going to rain. 

-wet down truly does not insulate, but wet synthetic fill bags only retain a marginal percentage of their insulating properties when wet.  i'm guessing they are only 25-50% effective, depending on circumstances.  you still end up losing a heck of a lot of heat sleeping in a wet bag.

-some of the modern synthetics loft pretty well - and a key to that is how you store them when they aren't crammed into a compression stuff sack.  ideally, you will hang your bag rather than using an oversize storage bag, it's the best way to preserve the loft in a synthetic bag.  over time, though, synthetic bags will tend to lose some loft from getting compressed.   

-i'm on the fence about waterproof-breathable outer shells on winter bags.  i have one, and it hasn't bothered me, but i don't think i have benefited much from it either.  i'm not sure they are necessary.  i guess it's good if you accidentally spill something, or for preventing spindrift melt from penetrating the shell.  i could see it being useful in a snow cave, for example, or during a bivouac without a bivy bag....but i think a fair majority of folks don't consider those scenarios or try mightily to avoid them.  i'm much happier in a tent. 

6:34 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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I could never for the life of me figure out why TNF not only supplied you with a compression sack but a mesh bag for long term storage. Do people actually use these things? I mean seriously. They still compress the bag to some extent. 

To me for seasonal storage this kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it? I feel hanging is the way to go. 

I even keep my tents separate in big Rubbermaid tubs with a thin fabric cover over them as a lid so the material can breathe.  

I think one of the biggest things for me when it comes to synthetics is the price point. 

As long as it does the job I personally don't mind a pound or so more. 

7:10 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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Dewey has a Valandre Shocking Blue and I think he also has a couple of ID synthetic bags that he has talked about here before. The Valandre uses a water resistant polyester shell made by Asahi instead of Goretex or similar fabric.

http://www.valandre.com/eng/Sleeping_Bags_and_Outerwear/sleeping_bags/shockingblue.html#axzz1hJKuemMl

My MacPac bag has a ripstop shell of some kind-very soft hand and very comfortable. Never spilled anything on it, yet. The bag I just got, an old Marmot down bag, also has just a taffeta shell, so I will be sure to keep it as dry as possible.

9:01 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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I currently have an Integral Designs "Himalayan" custom bag, with overfill and an Endurance shell, it will probably take me to -40, based on my past experience with cold weather and many different bags. I also have a Valandre Shocking Blue and it is a fine bag, the ID bags, with some now listed back on "ID Tactical" website and the Valanadre are the finest bags I have ever used.

I have had original Marmot Mountain Works, WM, FF, Swedish Caravan double expedition bag, Pioneer made in Vancouver back in the day, Fairydown Camp Seven and these two since my first down bag in 1968. I have used most of the other big name bags over the years and in every month of the year all over BC.

I prefer down bags for any backpacking trips and good synthetics for hunting and working in the wilderness, but, many down bags are not as useful as good synthetics such as ID's various models.

For most uses in cold weather either will work and one should buy what he/she can afford and go from there. WM bags are very good, can often be found "pre-owned" at major discounts and this is one brand to always consider for a good value and fine bag.

9:38 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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Dewey, what is your experience with the breatheable/WR fabrics like Goretex at extreme low temps? The wintertrekking guys say that Goretex in particular doesn't work well at low temps when you are working hard because your moisture freezes in the laminate. They prefer old school wool pants and shirts and canvas anoraks, but  I'm sure some people think that is more of a style and cost choice than anything else.  They also hot tent and build fires, so they don't like the idea of getting sparks on a down parka.

I presume the same thing would apply to bags that have Goretex or eVent shells, although I haven't found any hard facts about cold weather testing other than personal anecdotes.

10:44 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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The whole 'synthetics insulate when wet thing' is blown way out of porportion. Go soak your sleeping bag and tell me how warm it is. Yes, synthetics still remain some loft when wet, but still practically useless for all intensive purposes.

10:59 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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At the same time synthetic fiber doesn't absorb moisture like down which in turn would mean synthetic dries substantially quicker than down because the retention factor isn't there..

Also if wet its easier to wring the moisture out of a synthetic fill bag based on the above characterisics which in turn will keep you warmer quicker based on the fact that less moisture is retained in the insulation.

1:18 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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+1 Rambler.

Actually Rick, some recent testing (@ BPL.com) indicates that synthetics don't dry any more quickly.  While synthetics will retain some insulative value when wet, they may take longer to dry than down.  Synthetics absorb the same amout of water according to the tests.

Use down with a breathable shell (waterproof shells on sleeping bags often work poorly by not allowing moisture to escape from the down that has accumulated from your body) and a vapor barrier in truly cold, wet conditions.

1:41 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Interesting. Everything I have ever heard contradicts that.

At least in regards to certain synthetic fibers. ...you have a link in regards to any info?

I'm interested in reading on this matter.

Thanks...

1:51 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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I do but you have to be a member to get the article.

In a nutshell:

-the synthetics retained more warmth when wet compared to down at initial soaking.

-After 30 minutes of drying, the down had dried more and gained back more loft compared to the synthetics.  By 80 minutes, both synthetic and down had fully regained their loft.

2:27 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Interesting.

6:56 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Rick I have a down Western Mountaneering bag. I love the comfort and also how small it compress's to store when hiking.Down bags can and have been used in numerous weather conditions without getting your bag wet, I would suggest you take that plung and buy one of their bags and see why there so well reviewed.Just FWIW...

8:37 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Most synthetic fibers can hold the same if not more water than down. You see down is not porous. Synthetic fibers however are. Synthetic fibers do not dry faster than down unless you are in the sleeping bag to provide the heat source.

Lets be realistic about the synthetics insulate when wet thing. This is only in regards to cold/winter weather. Say its 0F outside. You somehow manage to get your sleeping bag wet. If you get in your sleeping bag you are now surrounded by wet material and will get any clothes you are wearing damp or wet. This is a recipie for disaster. It would be a mistake to crawl into a soaked sleeping bag even if it was providing marginal insulation due to being wet. IMO your better off staying in your dry clothes(if you have them) and keep moving, as long as your moving you will stay warm.

That being said, there have been quite a few tests done on this and it is a fairly big difference in how easily it is to soak a synthetic bag vs a down bag. The downproof fabric along with a dwr make it very difficult to soak a down bag, whereas the synthetic bag just has a dwr. Have you ever tried to wash a down bag? You really have to squeeze it and move it all around to get it soaked. The downproof fabric dramatically slows down water absorbption.

10:46 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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denis daly said:

Rick I have a down Western Mountaneering bag. I love the comfort and also how small it compress's to store when hiking.Down bags can and have been used in numerous weather conditions without getting your bag wet, I would suggest you take that plung and buy one of their bags and see why there so well reviewed.Just FWIW...

I have probably spent more than enough over the years on bags to be able to purchase multiple top of the line bags. 

Anther question on the whole moisture retention subject.

Wouldn't different synthetics(Primaloft, Polar Guard, Climashield) all have different levels of moisture retention due to the difference in each different fibers structural characterisics as well as being the different types of synthetic fibers have different levels of surface tension?

I am curious how many different types of synthetics down was tested against as well as which ones. 

I think this would have great bearing on the testing results solely based on all of the different types of synthetic fibers are out there and the different characteristics of each different type of fiber. 

I am really interested in this.

Please do not think for a second that I am, doubting this because this is not the case. I am actually just trying to gain as much information as I can on this matter.

Anytime I become interested in something I do a ton of research to learn as much as I possibly can.

My wife calls me a plethora of useless knowledge.

What can I say; I'm a gearhead lol.. 

Here are others saying that synthetics dry quicker than down:

1)http://www.sleepingbags-cumulus.com/techinfo.php?cat=sleeping_bags&art=190

2)http://www.sierratradingpost.com/lp2/down-vs-synthetic-guide/

Here is Trailspace's take on it(2 parts):

Synthetic(notice the pros):http://www.trailspace.com/articles/synthetic-insulation-explained.html

Down(Notice the cons):http://www.trailspace.com/articles/down-insulation-explained.html

I could go on and on with links that supports that synthetics dry quicker due the the fibers characteristics as I have stated above.

Now you all know why I am so confused. 

11:52 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Definitely different synthetic fibers have different properties.

I think a good general statement is provided there is no excess water in said item, synthetics will dry faster than down. However since many synthetic fibers have the capability of holding more water, if there is still excess water in the synthetic item it will take longer to dry. Whereas down is incapable of holding excess water as it is not porous.

Once down is wet it is useless, once a synthetic is wet is has severely reduced properties, but since it is porous still provides some trapped air for insulation.

12:04 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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If synthetics appear to dry faster "in the field" it is because, as you said Rick, one can often take their synthetic bag and literally wring the water from it, and the fibers--usually bonded into some form of mat--will want to "spring" back to their original configuration (re-loft). We know almost instinctually that this wringing will work, as we understand the "springiness" of such matted insulation through the wearing clothes of clothes and sleeping on beds. This "springiness" characteristic is a function of the size of the fibers, the resiliency of the fibers (that itself a function of the material from which they are constructed), and the way they are bonded. As you well know Rick, down clusters have much finer fibers within their respective clusters, and those clusters are not bonded to each other in any way. Hence, when if one tries to wring the water out of their down bag, one is left with a clumpy mess. All of this does not even touch upon the hydrophobic (synthetic) or hydrophilic (down) nature of the fiber itself.

As I understand it, the bottom line is that it is actually much more difficult to soak a down bag through to the point of clumping, while it is also more difficult to dry it once soaked to the point of clumping

This is all the more reason to make sure your bag doesn't get wet in the first place...and make sure you have a camp towel to wipe up spills ASAP.

12:16 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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I use down sleeping bags, Valandré bloody mary and shocking blue. I didn't have the opportunity to try the SB yet though. I tried a vbl. it's really nice, your bag stays clean and dry. you don't have to wash it so often+ it adds some warmth. The down side is that it's a little bit tedious to get in and out of the bag. Another good point with vbl (i quote someone, it's not my experience here) is that if you use a peeing bottle and you have an accident your bag is protected. 

I will always use a vbl now.

12:35 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Those links are fine but they re-hash what we have all been told.  I would prefer to rely on real world experience and objective testing.

Of note, the testers were just as surprised because the results countered what they had always been told.

Apart from the moisture 'thing,' the weight difference, and cost difference, there is another reason to consider down.  It lasts way longer.  Synthetic insulation slowly starts to degrade as soon as it's made and is one of the reasons that you hear things like, "My 5 year old synthetic bag isn't as warm as it used to be."

If I trekked in really wet climates (i.e.rain forest) I might go synthetic if it would be impossible to dry out the insulation at any point over the duration of the trip. 

1:28 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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really good point CWF. That's specially true for high quality high FP down. With low quality down the clusters are small and fragile. The more mature the down the better and the more durable. I don't know if lower quality down last longer than good synthetics though.

1:50 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Tom D said:

Dewey has a Valandre Shocking Blue and I think he also has a couple of ID synthetic bags that he has talked about here before. The Valandre uses a water resistant polyester shell made by Asahi instead of Goretex or similar fabric.

http://www.valandre.com/eng/Sleeping_Bags_and_Outerwear/sleeping_bags/shockingblue.html#axzz1hJKuemMl

My MacPac bag has a ripstop shell of some kind-very soft hand and very comfortable. Never spilled anything on it, yet. The bag I just got, an old Marmot down bag, also has just a taffeta shell, so I will be sure to keep it as dry as possible.

 Actually the asahi fabric is a polyamide. It behaves better at low temp than polyester I think (it's less crinkly too).

concerning fabrics, I have garments and sleeping bags with pertex endurance and quantum drishell and asahi. 

I tested the water repellency.  It is better on the endurance and quantum but the yarn are more tightly woven on the drishell and asahi. All in all there are all pretty similar, but the drishell, quantum and asahi are nicer and smoother than the endurance fabric. Visually the asahi seems to be the toughest one. The quantum is really fragile and not water resistant at all (but it's not intented to be). 

2:35 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Brumo,you are right. 

Apparently Valandre uses two different Asahi fabrics-Asahi KASEI Impact 66 Polyamide WR Rip-Stop / Asahi KASEI Polyester WR Rip-Stop. Not sure what the difference is, but Valandre's website has very detailed tech info on how they make these bags, much more than the other manufacturers. I clipped the fabric info off the site.

They go into great detail about how the bag is made. I suspect, but it isn't clear, that the polyester is in the interior and the polyamide is the outer shell.

2:46 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Pertex Endurance and DriShell fabrics have a membrane laminated to the inside, which puts them in the same category as something like Gore's Paclite. On the other hand, Pertex Quantum and Asahi Kasei are simply tightly-woven fabrics with a DWR coating on the outside face.

I wouldn't say the Quantum isn't water resistant at all; in fact, my old Marmot Helium used this fabric, and on the few occasions it did get wet, whether from condensation, spray, or even from liquid pooled below the bag, the Quantum fabric repelled the moisture very well. As I now have a SB and BM, both of which employ the Asahi fabric, I can say it is very similar to the Pertex Quantum in terms of water resistance--if better--and, as Brumo notes, it has a higher denier.

Said another way, Pertex Quantum is a very fine fabric with which to shell down--one of the best out there--and, in my experience, I prefer only the Asahi fabric to it. This assessment is, of course, based on the compromises with which I feel comfortable...if the best "performance" at the lightest weight is desired, the newest .8oz Pertex Quantum is the way to go. For a bit more durability, go with 1.0oz Quantum, for even more durability, Asahi Kasei.

Personally, I would never go with a bag fully shelled with a membrane-laminated fabric. They just don't breathe well enough in my experience. There is something to be said about using eVent in the outer hood/foot area, however.

3:04 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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It's polyamide inside and outside. you can check in their catalogue. The asahi fabric seems to be similar to the pertex microlight. A little more water resistant though. 

3:12 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Brumo said:

It's polyamide inside and outside. you can check in their catalogue. The asahi fabric seems to be similar to the pertex microlight. A little more water resistant though. 

I should mentionned that I was talking about the sleeping bag outer fabric here. the outer shell of the garments is different

3:37 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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TomD, I have used GT and Endurance shelled bags all over BC and into AB's wilderness areas since 1978 and in every month of the year. I have used these at temps from -41*F to about 65*F in perfect comfort and have never had a problem with those I have had. These are an original Marmot Mountain Works custom "Penguin" bought in 1978 and extensively used for 21+ years, a Feathered Friends ultralight bag bought in 1989 and used a fair amount and the ID I mentioned, bought in March, 2003.

When, I went to wpb shells, it was because NO down bag I could find for ANY price would stay dry in the West Kootenay winter camping I was so active in and the then available synthetics, such as my Paul Petzoldt Expedition Bag were OK for warmth, but, far too bulky for much backpacking.

The wpb fabrics DO "breath" well if correctly used in a good bag and I have experienced this during my almost 34 years of using them. My ID Himalayan custom bag will stay dry in the wettest conditions and will kick my Valandre SB's ass in this respect. It is also beautifully made and superbly comfortable, I may well buy a ligher one like it now that Evan is making them again in his tactical line.

Synthetics perform BETTER in cool-cold WET conditions than ANY down bag will and I prefer a Primaloft bag for such conditions. When, you finally stagger back into your sheep base camp after a 15 hr. day of climbing and it is pouring rain and you just want to crash and "die", the Pl bags will deal with the dirt, sweat, blood, lymph, rain and condensation better than a down one will and that works for me.

3:54 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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I had catastrophic collapse of down / loft on two separate long trips in very cold, wet conditions due to body condensation.  There is a reason that there are limited WP sleeping bags made - you would be better off with a WP bivy and / or a vapor barrier.

Single night bivy hunts are a different story.

Down collapse from internal moisture takes some time to accumulate and usually rears its ugly head on the 3rd wet, cold day of a 5 day -25C trip.  

4:18 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Yes, I have mentioned this issue here before and have also had a couple of near catastrophes due to wet down bags in cold, wet conditons, while on solo mountain trips in January and February and one incident in 1972, in July, while alone for three months in the mountains north of Stewart, BC. This, was before the "Stewart-Cassiar Highway" was built and the closest humans were almost 100 air mile from me, it was really wild in those days!

However, this was largely due to the type of "ripstop" nylon shell covering that was all we could get back then and if I had a GT or Endurance shelled bag, none of these would have happened. With the latest shell fabrics there is less use for a wpb shell on a down bag, but, they ARE a useful tool in many conditions and I have found them very useful for 33+ years.

BTW, your assumption about my bivy hunting is not correct, most of my trips begin on a Monday morning and end on Friday afternoon. Given the high costs of travel within BC now, I prefer to drive up country and spend the entire "workweek" camping, fishing, hunting and refreshing my ecological knowledge through using my field manuals from my former employment to study eco-interactions.

I have always carried and often used a vbl with my wpb bags and only an accident can/has wetted them and this can happen quite easily in the remote wilderness of BC. I use bivies and am buying another from ID in the early spring, however, I have used a wpb bag at temps far lower than -25C and they worked very well.

In my longer trips, up to four full weeks using the wpb bags at low temps, I have found that they work just fine if you use a vbl and use them correctly. The most comfort seems to come from using a vbl, the wpb bag and a good shelter and making sure to air your sleeping roll every morning.

6:43 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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CWF said:

I do but you have to be a member to get the article.

In a nutshell:

-the synthetics retained more warmth when wet compared to down at initial soaking.

-After 30 minutes of drying, the down had dried more and gained back more loft compared to the synthetics.  By 80 minutes, both synthetic and down had fully regained their loft.

I am inclined to assume this test was conducted using a dryer, based on the times quoted, thus are irrelevant to backcountry situations.  Experience has taught me a synthetic bag is hard to dry in the back country, but a down bag is almost impossible to dry without placing it before a big fire for many hours.

Ed

6:52 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Not exactly.  These were done with smaller samples, cut for testing purposes (loft).  Wrung out and hung to dry.

You need a controlled environment to complete such tests.

whomeworry said:

CWF said:

I do but you have to be a member to get the article.

In a nutshell:

-the synthetics retained more warmth when wet compared to down at initial soaking.

-After 30 minutes of drying, the down had dried more and gained back more loft compared to the synthetics.  By 80 minutes, both synthetic and down had fully regained their loft.

I am inclined to assume this test was conducted using a dryer, based on the times quoted, thus are irrelevant to backcountry situations.  Experience has taught me a synthetic bag is hard to dry in the back country, but a down bag is almost impossible to dry without placing it before a big fire for many hours.

Ed

 

7:04 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Rick-Pittsburgh said:

I could never for the life of me figure out why TNF not only supplied you with a compression sack but a mesh bag for long term storage. Do people actually use these things? I mean seriously. They still compress the bag to some extent. 

 I used TNFstorage bags with no loss of loft for thirty years.

Ed

7:50 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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I guess that the size of the mesh sack is depent on what TNF bag ya get and what temp rating. I had a bag awhile back that came with a mesh bag that still compressed the bag too much.

On the flipside the mesh storage sack that came with my TNF Tundra could have been really useful back when I was in college as a laundry bag.

Its large.

+1 on the Primaloft. My Darkstar and Tundra both utilize PL(Infinity.)

3:20 a.m. on December 29, 2011 (EST)
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Thanks Dewey. Very helpful. I don't expect to get out in the kind of environment you are in since I just get up to the Sierra for a short trip or two in winter, but it is good to know what works.

9:16 a.m. on December 29, 2011 (EST)
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CWF said:

  These were done with smaller samples, cut for testing purposes (loft).  Wrung out and hung to dry. 

If the samples were small, cut, and hung like you mention, I would expects drying times of a full bag in real conditions to be four or five times longer. 

2:22 a.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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synthetic,quarter the price,double the weight for same temperature.weight/insulating/price ratio=SYNTHETIC winner.until i win lottery.

11:41 a.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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unk said:

synthetic,quarter the price,double the weight for same temperature.weight/insulating/price ratio=SYNTHETIC winner.until i win lottery.

My TNF Tundra -20(Primaloft) weighs 8oz less than MH 800 fill down Wraith -20 so your twice the weight remark is not necessarily spot on. 

2:27 p.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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I will bet my Valandre BM, though, that the MH down bag will keep you warm at a considerably lower temp. all other factors being equal, that the NF Primaloft one will.  I love Primaloft and have lots of gear using it, mostly ID, but, I have found that topend down bags and jackets will keep you reasonably warm at far colder temps than they are rated for and the Pl gear does not do this, IME.

Lots of opinions here, kinda confusing to an old geezer like me, but, since I have damned near died in  the BC mountains due to a wet down bag, I still prefer Primaloft bags for solo treks such as hunting and in much of BC, as it is so wet here. I pay very little attention to "tests" and "techno-babble" and mucho attention to the comments of old mountainmen, like BillS, who have BTDT......and I don't care about the "T-shirt"!

3:07 p.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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Sierra designs in introducing a new sleeping bag this summer called DriDown

DriDown™ by Sierra Designs is natural down treated with a molecular level
polymer. This polymer is applied through a proprietary method, creating a
hydrophobic finish on individual down plumes. DriDown™ stays dry longer, lofts
better, and dries faster than regular down.

When wet, regular down plumes collapse, reducing loft and insulating
efficiency. DriDown™’s water tolerance far exceeds that of regular down, staying
dry 7-times longer in the presence of natural body moisture, humidity, rain
andsnow, offering superior loft and thermal efficiency for a warmer, more
comfortable night’s sleep

there is a Youtube but for some reason it's not letting me link it, you can just google Sierradesigns DriDown

the youtube shows the down floating on water over and over as it is dumped - pretty cool

3:17 p.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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funny, i'm like Rick except that the bags i have used are a North Face Darkstar and a Mountain Hardwear Ghost, both rated to -40.

the darkstar weighed about 3/4 of a pound more than the ghost, 5 1/2 for the down bag, 6 1/4 for the synthetic one.  not much of a difference.  the down bag is warmer - it lofts up more and has some kind of waterproof/breathable outer shell.  whether it is 'considerably warmer' is kind of hard to tell.  the coldest nights i have seen were -30 or so, and I was pretty warm, considering, in both bags, with minimum layers on. 

the main reason i moved from the synthetic bag to down was the packability factor.  even with a great compression stuff sack, the darkstar was a space-eater, even in a very large backpack.  a secondary reason is that i felt like the synthetic insulation started losing loft after a number of years, despite close-to-optimum storage while not in use.  

Unlike Dewey's experience in BC, i can't recall ever getting rained on in the white mountains or adirondacks in the winter - down is a pretty safe bet in the upper northeast US in the winter.  if i were camping out in the mid-atlantic in the winter, i would definitely want a cold-weather synthetic bag as an option because the risk of rain is so much higher.  especially this year....

9:50 p.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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The past two days in Vancouver, saw sunny temps to roughly 50*F, then several inches of snow, a night well below freezing, leaving chunks of hard ice and glazed, smooth ice on the roads and byways....then, the temps warmed to about 35-40*F and it has rained steadily for two days. This all happened from Tuesday to this evening, Friday and it will supposedly rain all weekend.

I have experienced snowfalls in excess of a foot remaining on the ground in June, July and August and blizzards at the beginning of our general hunting season Sept.10, to the point where entire towns were "blacked out" and highways blocked by massive mud-snow slides, this in southern BC. So, since I have had down bags soaked by accident, I am not inclined to risk using one on solo trips in most of BC during most of the year.

I have never seen a down bag dried in the bush and trying to do so over an open fire is a waste of energy and will probably ruin the bag. I prefer down in  real cold and it is more "comfy feeling" to sleep in, the Valandre BM  on an Exped Deluxe 9 is simply an exercise in sybaritism.......just fine with me! However, a good Primaloft bag kicks butt in cold, wet conditions and there IS a margin of safety when using one that makes me feel good, YMMV, of course.

10:50 p.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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Maybe it is time for me to chime in, since I have used both down and synthetic bags with shells including cotton, plain old ripstop nylon, wpb such as various kinds of Goretex, and microfiber, such as Pertex, in "cold" conditions ranging from -40C and below (very dry, always - I stay away from polar oceans, so Antarctic inland, Denali high altitude, Tetons midwinter) to temperatures hovering around 0C/32F with mixed rain and snow, melting snow, etc. (Sierra, Cascades, Rockies).

Down - definitely the best choice, IF... conditions are dry and you can keep the bag dry. If you are highly experienced and diligent, you can stay dry in Sierra/Cascades transitional conditions (0C down to 15-20F). But when I go out with Scouts or less experienced people, then it is synthetic, including when I have to share a tent with the less experienced adult. New England, I always stuck with synthetics, having been out in the Presidentials when a Noreaster blew in, sucking in warm, very wet air with rain and melting the snow that was on the ground (unless I was pretty sure of the forecast that it would stay at least below the 15F mark).

Drying wet bags - Dewey is absolutely right - you can't dry down in the field. If you got it wet because of mixed snow/rain, or because your tent partner dragged wet snow in with him, you have a wet bag until you get home. Sierra Designs et al promise great things with their magic polymer down. Having no experience with it, plus its being brand new to the market, I am extremely skeptical (as I am of all "new, wonderful, greater" things that are life and limb critical - I learned a thing or two from having survived this many decades).

Synthetic - a lot has changed with synthetics since the first ones I used. If you get them wet, one thing you can do with the latest ones is roll them up very tightly several times and squeeze a lot of the water out (this does not work with down). This allows the fill to fluff up a bit. If you then put a VBL liner in, remove your wet clothes and put on dry longies (if you have them), you do get a bit of warmth. It ain't toasty warm if it is cold outside the bag, but it is a lot warmer than if you had no bag at all. Yeah, you are warming the water that remains (a lot less after squeezing). You may still be shivering, but I haven't had anybody get hypothermia doing this in an emergency (if you soaked the bag, it IS an emergency! we did put them in a tent on closed cell foam pads and kept them supplied with chemical hand warmers and hot food and drink - but remember that the human body contains something like 50-70 kg of water, so pouring 1 liter of "hot" drink at the maximum standable 43C/110F isn't going to add much to the body heat of a border hypothermic person).

The best synthetic currently in my experience is Primaloft. I have gotten my Dolomiti jacket pretty damp while belaying someone on an ice climb on a wet, "frozen" waterfall. Then squeezed it out and put it back on, and was fairly comfortable (thanks in part to exercising hard on the climb). I should have had my ID eVent belay jacket on, but had left it at the bottom of this "short" climb.

I am not saying this will be the same for everyone - witness the number of companions I have had on snowshoe tours and backcountry ski trips who got soaked while I stayed completely dry. Experience teaches you a lot about how to handle wet conditions (as everything else outdoors). These days, I rarely get the down in my jackets and sleeping bags damp, though I am always very aware of the possibility and continuously monitoring myself (and companions).

Back to the OP - Tom, I believe you have enough experience that it doesn't really matter whether you use down or Primaloft. I don't say this for everyone who reads Trailspace, though. You have a few trips under your belt on the rim of Yosemite Valley, which is a pretty damp "winter" environment.

Rick asked:

I could never for the life of me figure out why TNF not only supplied you with a compression sack but a mesh bag for long term storage. Do people actually use these things? I mean seriously. They still compress the bag to some extent. 

To me for seasonal storage this kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it? I feel hanging is the way to go.

Rick,

Yeah, hanging the bag, or even stacking them up on a shelf is a good way to go for long term storage. But not many people have enough closet or shelf space to do this (at least not when you have as many bags as Barb and I have per person). Using a large mesh bag or a cotton or cheesecloth laundry bag compresses the bag only a minimal amount (assuming you use a large enough bag), and lets the sleeping bag (and down jackets and down pants) breathe. Obviously, make sure the bag is thoroughly dry and aired out (or freshly washed and completely dried and aired) before you put it in even a very breathable storage bag. This takes up less space than hanging in the closet or stacking on shelves (or, in our case for a few years, on the Kid's bunk beds when he headed off to college). And the cotton storage sacks keep the bag from collecting dust and slows the critters from making it their home. Then again, our bags don't stay stored very long between uses.

2:15 p.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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Hmmm ....   And now --  another point-of-view.

To paraphrase baseball legend,  Lou Gehrig, in his farewell speech,  ... "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth .... ".

I've been at this thing  (hiking, climbing, camping, backpacking) since about 1955.   Thousands of miles ... hundreds of days.

Mostly, cool, cold, extreme cold weather activity.  (I loathe  the Summer heat; with attendant perspiration, bugs, traffic, people, tourists, poison ivy).   

Have never suffered life-threatening frostbite, hypothermia, unabated chills.   Using common-sense, a basic understanding of backcountry survival techniques,  and fine vintage gear  (mostly; but, some modern),  I seemed to have survived the cold, much as  homo sapiens /  homo erectus / hominids have done for thousands of years, never 'benefitting' from high-tech, ultra-lightweight sleeping-bags and asundry gear.

Hence; I ... like Mr. Gehrig ... am a very lucky man.

I am never too proud to admit my mistakes, and the error(s) of my ways.   Once again, I realize  I am NOT an expert.   Never will be.

It MUST be rocket science, after all.

                                 *

                       pax vobiscum

                           ~ r2 ~

           an idiot ... but, a very lucky one

                                 *

Live simply ... that others may simply live ....

5:27 p.m. on March 12, 2012 (EDT)
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I fail to see what a long dead baseball player has to do with the topic here or why anyone would deliberately deny the benefits of contemporary, high tech gear in actual backcountry activities. So, RR, your last post is rather confusing and I am left wondering just what motivates these remarks given the previous posts on this rather basic and important topic?

I won't debate who among us here has the greatest real cold weather and wilderness experience, I think that most members of TS can decide for themselves whose advice they find most useful and experience-based. I do, however, take exception to your seeming dismissal of some opinions posted here as though they are somehow less valid than yours due to being ...modern..., etc.

Perhaps, you simply have a sense of humour that I find somewhat wanting, given our obvious cultural and livelihood differences. Since I am concerned with both safety and factual advice, I must say that I cannot see how your last post benefits anyone here who is seeking advice on how to choose a sleeping bag for cold and perhaps wet conditions.

Maybe, we should try to stick to sleeping bags of the type backpackers currently use and not worry about your other concerns? JMHO, no offence intended.

7:31 p.m. on March 12, 2012 (EDT)
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I've been keeping up with this thread and I wanted to say I appreciate the advise, insight, and discussion of things you don't learn by reading labels and such.

Mike G.

11:37 a.m. on March 13, 2012 (EDT)
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down with Down

11:40 a.m. on March 13, 2012 (EDT)
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tested my Marmot Sawtooth Membraine 15F bag in 7F it was cold but survivable

September 19, 2014
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