Synthetic or Down?

1:07 a.m. on November 12, 2007 (EST)
Spion
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Hey guys,

I recently went to my local MEC just to look around, get some non-important stuff, etc. I happened to go the the sleeping bag section and I overheard the perosn talking about the differences between Synthetic, Down, or a hybrid bag.

I currently have a MEC pharoph (mispelled) I believe, anyways, what is important is that it is a -12, and down filled. I have only taken it on one night outings so far, and it has performed well. My only concern is that being a down, they lose insulation when they absorbed mosture, and being on the west-coast that isnt such a good thing.

Now, which sleeping bag would be a good choice? A down, synthetic, or a hybrid?

Thanks you all for the help, and I know that I miss spelled heavily, it is late at night.

1:47 a.m. on November 12, 2007 (EST)
Tom D
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There are plenty of posts here about sleeping bags. You should be able to find many of them using "search." You can buy a lightweight bivy sack like the Bibler Winter Bivy to keep a down bag dry under most conditions.

There are a couple of members here in the PNW who use synthetic bags. A -12 bag should do for most conditions I would think. My bag is a -5C down bag, but I don't go out all that often and not in really cold or damp weather.

11:59 a.m. on November 12, 2007 (EST)
Bill S
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As Tom says, this topic has been discussed extensively here in Trailspace. So a bit of searching will get you the fine details, plus lots of personal prejudices, er, I mean preferences.

In brief, the advantages of down are warmth for weight and compressability (Primaloft comes close to down, being about the same as 500-600 fill down), plus long-term durability. The disadvantages are loss of insulating ability when it gets wet, extremely long time to dry (virtually impossible when you get it soaked on a winter snowcamping trip), and very expensive (though cheap in the long run because of its durability.

The advantages of synthetics (remembering that there are big differences among various synthetics) are cost (at least in the short run), they do not hold water and so dry much more quickly, they provide at least some insulation when wet. The disadvantages are poorer warmth for weight than down (Primaloft is good, but 700 and up fill down is better than Primaloft, while all other current synthetics are poorer than Primaloft), much poorer in general than down for compression (this means you have a heavier and bulkier bag when stuffed for backpacking).

In my experience, hybrids seem like the worst of both worlds, though some will say they combine the best of both.

Down is the better choice if you have the money, will take care of it, are going for the lightest possible bag for the conditions, will be camping in conditions where you can keep it dry (dry climates, very cold temperatures, meaning below -15 or -20C), or you have enough experience to keep the bag dry. I use a bivy sack under some conditions, but you have to remember that your body moisture will condense on the inner surface of a waterproof bivy sack, unless you know the tricks to preventing a buildup of condensation.

Synthetics are the better choice if your budget is limited or will be camping in damp conditions and do not yet have much experience in keeping the bag dry (not only from rain and wet snow dragged into the tent, but also from your own body moisture condensing in the insulating material).

12:52 p.m. on November 12, 2007 (EST)
Spion
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Living here on the rainy west coast of Vancouver Island, I can say that it rains almost the whole year. My only quesion now is that can you get a sort of overbag for your down bag to help keep out mostiure? and how well do those work?

8:25 p.m. on November 12, 2007 (EST)
DtEW
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3 forum posts

Re: synthetic fill fatigue, i.e. reduction in the ability to loft after repeated compression/lofting cycles. I also hear this issue is more pronounced in the newer, higher-void (i.e. warmer) synthetic Polarguard Delta than in the older, lower-void Polarguard 3D.

10:34 p.m. on November 12, 2007 (EST)
kutenay
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Having spent a lot of time in the bush on VI, up around Holberg and Winter Harbour, as well as around Bella, Ocean Falls and Stewart all the way to Dease and into Watson in the YT, i have used both down and synthetic bags in this region.

I don't think much of MEC bags, been a member for 37+ years and the one I had was a pos. They DID stock WM bags, but, now have these Valandre-style knockoffs that I find crappy. You GET EXACTLY what you PAY FOR in bags as in most serious backpacking/wilderness gear.

I now use Integral Designs Primaloft synthetic bags and an Exped Pl. Wallcreeper for a lot of my stuff and I would suggest an ID Renaissance or North Twin for you, in the correct size. NOBODY makes better gear than ID and these bags can be bought at Mountain Magic in Surrey, they are VERY good with mail order and I find them excellent to deal with.

If, you decide on a down bag, go with a WM Super Alpinlite in an ID eVent Unishelter, just a super combo and I have one which I love. The "downside"is that this WILL cost you a fair bit of $$$$. I prefer the WM lite down bags for summer camping, ID Pl bags for hunting/wilderness work and fall/spring trips and ID, WM and maybe a Peter Hutchinson down with DPM shell bags for cold winter camping. HTH.

12:17 a.m. on November 16, 2007 (EST)
Spion
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Is there some kind of light overbag that you can put over your sleeping bag to help prevent it from absorbing moisture? Not a bivy sack, I camp in tents mostly.

12:56 a.m. on November 16, 2007 (EST)
Bill S
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Yes. Integral Designs (kutenay's favorite outdoor gear maker, and mine, too) has an overbag that is waterproof and breathable. There are some others as well. These are basically just a shell, where the "overbag" term usually means a light bag that adds to the insulation. It sounds like you are looking for the shell only.

However, most of the moisture that collects in your bag overnight is from your own body moisture(unless your tentmate spills his coffee or soup - we know that you would never spill stuff on your own bag). So some people (like me) use a VBL (that's Vapor Barrier Liner) to keep the sweat from collecting in the insulation. VBLs work well for some people (like me) under some conditions, but many people find them to be clammy (if I recall correctly, kutenay said he does not like VBLs). Again, ID has a VBL that can also be used as an extremely light-weight bivy sack for emergencies.

Since most of the moisture that collects overnight is from your own body, you may want to consider a bag that has a microfiber outer shell (like Pertex). Microfiber will breathe well, letting the water vapor out, but is moderately water-resistant and will keep spills from leaking through, at least slow them down enough to wipe the spill off the bag. The top-quality manufacturers - Integral Designs, Feathered Friends, Western Mountaineering - offer all their bags with one or more types of microfiber. Over the years, I have gone to using bags with Pertex in all seasons - from my summer ID with Primaloft to my Arctic and Antarctic expedition Feathered Friends with 800-fill down. Oh yeah, your overnight perspiration amounts to about a liter of water, but you can breathe out that much and more. So make sure your breathe out through the face hole and not into the bag (which will leave the upper part of the bag very wet by morning).

2:44 a.m. on November 16, 2007 (EST)
Tom D
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1,902 forum posts

I have an MEC Emperor Penguin overbag. I really like it. Mine has some kind of proprietary cover called F.O. H2O, which MEC told me was a "no-name membrane" somewhat waterproof material, not as good as Goretex, but about as good as DryLoft. which is what their new model uses.

The insulation is Primaloft and it is rated at +12C, so it would work as a light summer bag on its own. I have used mine over a down bag and inside a Bibler Winter Bivy, but never had to really test it in the rain, so no idea how waterproof it really is.

4:06 a.m. on November 16, 2007 (EST)
kutenay
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At present, my warmest bag is a custom ID Himalayan OF and I have an ID VBL for it, but, do not care to sleep in them unless absolutely necessary.

I had my old custom Martmot (orig. Colorado made) GT-down bag for 21 years and seldom used the VBL,, only dumped it last year due to degradation of it's coating, this after 29 years. I seldom used THAT VBL, either, but, do carry one snow camping as they can be a useful thing to have.

I am not totally happy with this ID bag, beautiful workmanship, warm and comfy, but, too bulky for easy winter morning packups, so, am talking to Peter Hutchinson about a new bag with "Driclime" panels at spots where you breathe, etc. Could be the answer for cold weather/snow camping.

As to favourite gear makers, I certainly DO like ID, but, Mystery Ranch, Western Mountaineering and Hilleberg are among my top favourites; Mystery Ranch makes superb packs and their customer service is peerless, just fantastic folks. The WM Lite bags are, IMO, about the best for most backpacking and once you have slept in a Hilleberg tent, you realize that Bo Hilleberg is a genius and his daughter Petra is super nice and VERY efficient.

12:17 p.m. on November 16, 2007 (EST)
Bill S
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kutenay, you haven't met Bo's son? He is also a gear genius (and taller than Bo), so along with Petra, the company will be in good hands for at least one more generation.

9:12 p.m. on November 17, 2007 (EST)
Spion
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All I am looking for is a lightweight overbag or bag liner that prevents condensation being absorbed by the bag.

7:28 a.m. on November 18, 2007 (EST)
jeffrey
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123 forum posts

These Might help?

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/vapr_pertex_quantum_ultralight_bivy_sack_nano.html

Or

http://www.backcountry.com/store/ODR0240/Outdoor-Research-Micro-Night-Bivy.html?avad=397_1528_df_2737_366512

I have not tried these two bivys. I own an ID bivy that is way to heavy for your application.

Sewing your own may be the best option?

7:33 a.m. on November 18, 2007 (EST)
jeffrey
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123 forum posts
12:03 a.m. on November 21, 2007 (EST)
Spion
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55 forum posts

Hey guys,

been away for a while, and just realized that I need a new therma-rest to replace my old one. Any recommendations? I'm pretty much looking for something compact, warm, and light. Comfy is a bonus. I would also like it to be a MEC product preferably, but will consider others.

1:21 p.m. on November 25, 2007 (EST)
calamity
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141 forum posts

I normally use some sort of down bag with a 1-pound bivvy formerly available from OR with a waterproof bottom and water resistant (not waterproof) top. Typically I use it in a floorless tarp shelter, and often forego a groundsheet.

The bivvy does nice job of protecting against moisture from outside, and also provides several other advantages, but interior condensation from body moisture is slightly greater that would be the case with no bivvy.

I am uncertain whether a "waterproof breathable" bivvy would result in additional condensation relative to "water resistant" fabric. This of course is a greater concern with down compared with synthetics, however, I've not found it to be a significant problem.

In terms of protecting insulation, the ideal would be a bivvy plus vapor barrier liner. But this introduces other issues.

I've been extremely miserable in a wet winter down bag in subfreezing conditions, perhaps even dangerously so, due to heavy wet snow, and a very small, fully coated tent with floor that collected water. But this probably could not have occurred had I used a bivvy, and after several years I've gone back to down almost exclusively because of its advantages for packing.

11:02 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
rambler
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243 forum posts

IMO condensation problems are way over-rated as a reason for not using down. Most of us are not going off in the winter on long multi-day expeditions to the artic. For the average winter weekend warrior, condensation in your bivy, tent or shelter walls or on your bag is like having a minin snow storm. The secret is just do not let it melt. Get out of your bag quickly, put on something warm and then brush off the condensation. Shake the white stuff off your bag or shelter. Presto, moisture is gone. If you are still worried, expose it to a little sunshine, and or wind, later in the day. Even carry a lightweight wisk broom, which can also be used for brushing snow off a tent floor, out the door. I remember one night well below zero, about eight of us were crammed into a shelter with no window and closed doors. We cooked dinner, boiled water to melt snow filling the place with the steam. Next morning you might have thought we were on the inside of an igloo. The ceiling and walls were coated with condensation, along with the tops of sleeping bags, and a few beards. We shook the stuff off, packed up, and hiked out of there. No problem. New sleeping bags have shells that shed moisture and snow before absorption. If it is a starry night, just sleep outside your shelter. In short, condensation is a nuisance, but do not worry about it.

June 3, 2020
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