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non toxic/green sleeping bag choices

I am severely chemically sensitive and in need of a down three season bag that is free of finishes that are based on petroleum products, etc.  I am wondering if anyone has any experience with this topic and any recommendations.  The related article that is posted here at Trailspace lists bags that are all discontinued.

I would be interested in either knowing about specific bags, or specific companies that would have leanings in this direction.

I can use nylon fabrics pretty well, the teflon (DWR) and polyurethane finishes are things I want to stay away from.

Thanks for your help!!

I would contact one of the newer cottage industry companies that are poppin up everywhere. You could have a bag or quilt made with whatever your allergies require. I have a buddy with similar issues, he uses a quilt somebody made to order for him. I would look on, they have a lot of listings for these style manufacturers. Good luck, let us know how you make out.

You might also try getting a used bag that's been around for a while so it has finished outgassing and some of the residues have been washed off.

My boss is severely chemically sensitive and had bad problems when she bought a new car (new car smell...), so she sold it and got a car that was a few years old - problem solved.

This is a very interesting question!

Natural down filling would be a good starting point, and as hotdogman suggests, I would begin with smaller manufacturers that can answer questions directly about what chemicals they use in their products.  Check out the following manufacturers to see if they might be able to make you a down bag with a plain nylon shell:

Another option is for you to make your own sleeping bag or sleeping quilt.  There are a lot of do-it-yourself instructions out there, mainly on ultralight forums, and Ray Jardine sells one set of instructions through his website:

Please check back in and let us know if you find something that works!

Thank you all for your support and for taking the time to give me these great leads! I will definitely get back to you all on this.

REI told me that they have a bag "Joule" that has the least amount of finish on the fabric and I could return it if not tolerable.  it still is a polyurethane...hard to imagine isn't it...but it's not DWR.  They couldn't give me a fabric sample, which is what I has hoping for.

But I am going to look into these others first.

ammasgirl  - All of these will have nylon or polyester shells.  I'm not familiar with the off-gassing profiles of these fabrics, but I assume that when the manufacturing residue is washed off, it would be relatively low.  Your mileage may vary! Making your own quilt seems to be the most difficult option, but the only one that would empower you to determine you can tolerate all the component fabrics before you make it.

Another fine option from the cottage industry, and they will build to suit your needs.

I own quite a few of their quilts, and could not be happier with their quality. The customer service is amazing too.

I went and looked on hammockforums, and several of the manufacturers there will send you samples of the materials they use. I would think that would be the safest and easiest way to check for reactions. Hopefully a small controlled reaction in a contact area of your choice, instead of enveloping your body in a bag and hoping for the best. Doctors test for allergies by exposing your body to a small sample of the agent in question, ought to be good enough for a sleeping bag test, but I would get a quilt instead.

go to rayway and get quilt plans and make your own quilt. that way you can use whatever you like.

Maybe something made with Epic.

(Nunatak use that)

Epic is nylon or polyester and even cotton  encapsulated with silicone and that may (I don't know...) be OK for you.

Langcows answer is the most straightforward.  Buy a used bag and wash it by hand in the bathtub with Woolite.  Let in drain thoroughly before picking it up to preserve the internal baffles.  Dry it outside on a sunny day.  Then tumble it in a dryer with some tennis shoes to break-up the clumped down.

Keeping a used bag in circulation is the greenest option because it prevents the manufacture of a new bag altogether.

I am very fortunate not to suffer from allergies but when I was in my early teens there was a type of PVC used for car seats and bags that emitted a gas that was nauseous to me. Nobody else in the family could detect that smell but all I had to do was to open a cupboard where my mother kept a bag made from it and I would feel sick. This lasted as long as we had the same car and that bag... The odd part was that I would feel "car sick" inside my father's car but not in others, that caused my father to be upset with me till I figured out the problem. So, not sure if the sh suggestion will work or not for the OP.

Some of these suggestions are assuming its an off gassing problem. It could be a contact skin issue, im not sure an older bag will be ok. Those chemicals are still present alrhough more stable. A little more info from the op will help clarify the problem.

Hello, All.  Thank you so much for all of your suggestions and feedback.

My best bet at this time is to get fabric samples and test them for tolerance. I have done that already with Feathered Friends, and will try these other links that you have given me.

Some of it is an offgassing problem, you are right, and some is skin contact.  Washing helps reduce some of the chemicals, but not all. The fabric samples will help me with that...I have at times, with other things, washed fabric samples to see how they respond to the products that I can use.

While I appreciate the suggestion about used bags, my sensitivities extend to petroleum products in fabric softeners and detergents as well, and many used bags are embedded with those.  They are almost impossible to remove.  So that is not an option at this point.  

I can look into sewing my own, but I'm not that great a seamstress and would still have the fabric tolerance issue, so would rather just buy something that I can then air out and wash to make it fully compatible. 

I have to say that I am really touched by the level of thoughtful and kind responses.  There are many people with my condition that just get laughed at for their "sensitivities", and disbelieved.  So the response here has been so great and a wonderful surprise for me.

I am actually thinking about sharing these suggestions with fellow chemically sensitive people. We have a support group via a website.  some with this illness end up homeless AND struggling with tolerances to tents, bags, etc.  So sharing these suggestions and my process with them will be helpful to them as well.

I will report back after I have gotten more samples and let you know what I found. 

thanks again.

I haven't seen a doctor for over 40 years nor do I take any form of medication, still aware that others are not like me...

A silk bag liner might be helpful.  Especially if combined with a gently used bag.

Also, if you use a waterproof stuff sack and are just going on short trips, a regular Egyptian cotton down comforter modified for shape could be quite comfortable.  I would begin with a twin size and draw a large sleeping bag shape outline with a marker then work the down to the center as most have open baffles.  Just fold the now void of down fabric over and use it as the seam and sew along the line.  Then cut off the excess.  It will be vulnerable to moisture, but so is all down.  I use my cotton down comforter at base camp or when tent vacationing with the car and have never had any failures after many a storm. The cotton doesnt get clammy in the heat either.  You will have to use caution when testing its comfort levels for colder seasons though.

Just curious what your using for sleeping mat, pack, boots and shelter.  Its hard to find any of these items with out petroleum additives.  We used to use sheep skins years ago, they are pretty nice, until they get wet.  Ewwww. 

this is a great suggestion and thank you for the specific instructions.  

I have some Lowa's that are all leather that I have been airing out and will use those.  For an underpad, I have a very old Thermarest.  Since I am not packing now, but rather more camping and stationary, I have used blankets on top of the Thermarest and a sheet in the past.  I am interested in learning about options for pads for the future.  

this is a follow up to the other comments above.

I spent a few days calling all the links that you all suggested, including looking at making my own.  Since I'm not really in a position to make my own, and getting a used one can more complicated to get all the previous owner's laundry products, etc out of the fabrics, I have pretty much decided to get a bag made.

The companies were most generous in sending fabric samples.  I also learned that DWR has been an issue that is being visited from an environmental point of view...the manufacturing and waste products from how it first evolved were found to just be too toxic to the environment.  So now a lot of DWR and other "finishes" to fabrics used in making sleeping bags, etc, is actually how the material is processed, rather than a chemical added to it.  Jack at Jacks R better was the most helpful in explaining how it my layperson ears, it sounded like the fabrics were altered in the weaving and heating and pressing processes which made them more or less water resistant, and thus rendered using additional chemicals unnecessary.

I have found several fabric samples that I seem to be fine with and now just have to finish looking at cost factors and timing of getting a bag/quilt for myself.

This whole thread was so super helpful to me.  Thank you again for all your suggestions and your support!

If you have an old Thermarest self inflating bag in the traditional rectangular design, you could also by one of their fitted sheets (cotton I believe) to fit over it and protect you - very compact and has straps to hold it in place. Might work well if you're Summer camping and a bag is just too warm. Best wishes in your quest for a new bag!

Huh. I have some asthma and a little bit of allergic problems, but I have much more difficulties with down than I do with synthetic insulation.

Making a simple sewn-through down quilt isn't very hard at all. Basically, lay out two pieces of fabric of the size and shape you want, pin them together and sew around it on three sides.  Now turn it inside out. This hides the seams. Next, sew lines lengthwise down it every few inches apart.

Now take it outside and stuff the quilt with down. Don't even think of doing this inside! Do it in the spring and the down that gets away from you will be used by birds in the nests they are building that time of the year.

Last, sew up the open end.

Such a quilt will be very light, but it will have cold spots where the quilt is sewn through. The solution to this for cold weather use is to make two and layer them! This is a very old idea. Calvin Rutstrum wrote about making quilts like this in his 1946 book, Way of the Wilderness.

Any "down prof" fabric will do - You can go to a local fabric store and see what tickles your fancy - and annoys your skin.  Any synthetics would be preferable to cotton - How do you feel about polyester blends?  I've made backpacking quilts from what is available at the local JoAnns, and the results are heavier than the fancy expensive stuff, but certainly usable. Some of my quilts even use fleece on the inside! Talk about nice and warm!

I find that ordinary 1/2 inch thick, 6 oz. per yard polyester quilt batting, combined with a fleece lining and 1.9 ounce nylon top ( the lightest JoAnn sells )  makes a heck of a warm quilt and will be about two pounds if 45" wide. I made one 56" wide this way that my wife and I can use together and it's about 2-1/2 pounds. By comparison, our Ray Way kit quilt is 64" wide with two layers of 1" insulation, 1.1 ounce shells and also weighs about 2-1/2 pounds.

  Or, you can buy fabrics on-line. Silk might be a good idea. It is very light - Lighter than nylon even, and worst case, it absorbs only about 5% moisture. Nylon can absorb about 4% moisture, so the performance is very similar.

Silk isn't quite as durable as nylon though, but with care you could have a very light and comfy quilt.  You can order silk from  Thai Silks or Dharma trading.  4.5 mm or 5 mm Habotai silk ( that mm is short for "momme", and is pronounced "mummy" - Hey, I don't make this stuff up! ) is often used for the liners of very light synthetic quilts, but for down, I'd go to 8mm ( about 1 oz. a yard ) or even 12 mm fabric ( about 1.5 oz. a yard ) 

I'd probably use silk only for the lining and something else for the top, silk is very breathable, and the quilt would be warmer with a less porous top.  

Uh, is synthetic insulation a real problem for you if it is completely isolated by the exterior fabric?   

Anyway, I've recently started making my own backpacking quilts now ( under my wife's careful eye, she has made over 90 quilts to date ) and I know I'll never buy another sleeping bag again. If I can sew one, anyone can!

A simple tied synthetic quilt is hands down the easiest thing to sew that there is, and once you get used to sleeping under a quilt instead of inside a bag there is no going back!




October 23, 2020
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