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Old 12-13-2013   #1
Read_N_Run's Avatar
Niwot, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 749
Sleeping bag - down or synthetic?

I came from a mountaineering background so almost my entire fleet of sleeping bags are down. The more serious bags are gore-dryloft.

What is the going theory on using down vs. synthetic for trips?

Cascade just sent out a deal on a kelty bag that actually has treated down (dridown)- which I haven't seen before.


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Old 12-13-2013   #2
cataraftgirl's Avatar
Sandy, Utah
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 3,120
I use down all the time. Spring, summer, fall trips. I like the warmth, lighter weight, and packability of down. I do know that I need to take extra care to keep it dry. I use waterproof stuff sacks, and keep it in a Watershed dry bag. For spring & fall I use a regular down bag. In summer I use a light weight down top quilt. A top quilt has a cinched footbox and snaps up to about the knees. The top portion is open and doesn't go all the way underneath you. Keeps my feet warm, but offers better ventilation for my top half when it's warm. You can also open it up all or part way as a simple cover.

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Old 12-13-2013   #3
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,928
Always comes down to intended use and abuse.

I backpack as much as I raft so down is still the best solution for the environments and intended uses. Its lighter, more compact and if treated properly will last longer. That was important for me as I try to decrease pack weight and volume for trips.

I bought a Sea to Summit Traverse II last year and love it. I have used it for more than 40 bag nights in less than a year and have no complaints. The dry down and Waterproof/Breathable membrane they use have both proven indispensable and completely functional. Its the first bag I have owned where the water beads on the surface in the morning from my body's "sweating" at night. I used it in the Uintas this past September during record breaking rains and it never seemed to get the down wet. I am talking 3 continuous days of rain, hail, frost and fog at elevation. I spent one day in a tent from 11 am onward through 10 different hail storms and near continuous fog and never got damp in my bag. It was one of the most challenging environments I have experienced for a sleeping bag since laying over for 3 days along the AT in a adirondack shelter during Hurricane Floyd. The bag continued to perform above temperature rating for the remainder of the trip when temperatures dropped precipitously after the storm clouds disappated.

The technology has seemed to come a long way in the last decade and doesn't seem to be just hype.

Best of luck.

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Old 12-13-2013   #4
Louisville, Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 520
I use the same crappy old nylon/down bag 25 degree for almost every river trip. It packs up tiny and I always line the stuff sack with a trash bag. But, I think the type of bag you want depends on the weather and your camping set up. On hot trips I just bring sheets, blanket, bug net, and a tarp. In fact, I really like having a bottom sheet on the paco pads no matter the weather - because they are sticky. No tent? That makes down riskier if it rains/snows/dews.

My husband also has a collection of extra warm, big, mountaineering bags - but on every river trip he uses one of my lighter down bags. The bag he uses is slightly newer, warmer, and longer than the one I use. I bought it so I could layer the two together for colder situations.
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Old 12-13-2013   #5
Beersheva, Israel
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: Nov 2013
Posts: 26
Sounds like your sleeping bag situation is good, I'd put your money into a quality outfitter dry bag. I've got the NRS Bill's Bag, and it's never let me down. It's gone through a couple flips over 6 years of expedition use and nothing inside has ever been wet/ruined. Jack's Plastic Welding makes a good outfitter bag too.
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Old 12-13-2013   #6
Jenks, Oklahoma
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,407
If a person takes proper care of the bag, I think down bags work just fine on river trips. IE waterproof bag and proper time in the sun ever so often.

I have a Marmot Helium with their version of GoreTex outer covering. My bag of choice when self support out of a kayak. Packs up small, I have one of the compression bags with the gore tex type bottom and I can get this bag down really small. I also keep this bag inside another light weight roll top bag and after several years have had no problem. Marmot bags are expensive, but my experience with them has been really good better than most. I think they are assembled in CA which is a good thing.

For the summer time I have a Marmot summer bag synthetic that works just fine but it does go into a water proof bag on the raft or canoe. I have gotten synthetic bags wet several times and they do dry out fairly fast.

When it really gets cold (these days I rarely go out if nights are going to be below freezing) I have one of the Wiggy's synthetic bags. It supposedly goes down to close to zero. I have had it out down just below freezing and was super warm and wore just a tee shirt and light weight pants with my usual wool sox. In the past I have had on hats and a bunch of fleece in other zero bags and froze. That was some time ago. Wiggy's bags come in really wide and really long sizes. Which is great for me as I like the extra space. I also have the overbag from Wiggy's that is supposed to take my regular bag way down. I doubt if I will ever use it. These Wiggy bags are not for back packing as they are heavy and do not compress much. But for warmth and comfort if you are truck, canoe or raft camping - this is the best bag I have found. A plus is the CEO told me just toss the bag into a commercial washer anytime as washing helps the bag out. Plus these bags are made in Grand Junction CO by Americans which is a plus for me. The CEO, Jerry, is a controversial figure on some message boards, but has answered several questions for me in person and easy to work with.

Bottom line keep your sleeping bag aired out and stored in a dry bag and I do not think it matters down or synthetic. Except some designs are more comfortable, warmer and compress more than others. If your bag is a bit light weight for cool weather add a cap, fleece tops, fleece bottoms and thick wool sox to be comfortable. A nice thick pad will help keep you warm as well.

I have been using JPW dry bags for many years. Never had a leak and other than getting a few outside stains, I don't see any wear. It does not matter how good a sleeping bag you have, if you let the bag get wet in transit - probably going to be a cold sleep that night.
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Old 12-13-2013   #7
don't bogart that
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Frosted Flakes N of Baytuckey, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 180

Watershed and Western Mountaineering you can't go wrong, just 303 your zippers!
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Old 12-13-2013   #8
Read_N_Run's Avatar
Niwot, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 749
Originally Posted by catwoman View Post
My husband also has a collection of extra warm, big, mountaineering bags - but on every river trip he uses one of my lighter down bags. The bag he uses is slightly newer, warmer, and longer than the one I use. I bought it so I could layer the two together for colder situations.
Hmmmm, husband sounds like he has a very similar background and equipment store as me. I'd like to meet him
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Old 12-13-2013   #9
Orange, California
Paddling Since: 2013
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 34
I use a down bag, but I carry it in a waterproof stuff sack (with a roll-down top) inside my larger dry bag. Extra protection for a critical piece of equipment. I also own a synthetic bag and can say from experience it will keep me going when wet (not necessarily comfortable), whereas down is pretty useless and slower to dry when wet.
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Old 12-13-2013   #10
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,928
Wiggy's, the scariest most homemade catalog in the industry.

Not many people know about 'em. We used them in wilderness therapy for their durability. They are bricks but they do keep you warm. We used one of the bags all season and then an outer bag when it dropped below zero in the Uinta Basin, which was common. Never got cold in them down to -20F that way. Granted, they took up half of a 6000 cu in pack for the limited time I was willing to use them.

I would never use them again but fully understand why people do.


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