OUTDOOR BASICS

Down vs Synthetic Sleeping Bag: Which Materials are Best Suited for Your Needs

woman laying in a sleeping bag in a tent
Jessica Bayne
Written by Jessica Bayne

Sleeping bags come in various sizes and types, and choosing the correct sleeping bag might not always be the easiest choice that can make. We have set out to look at the best down vs synthetic sleeping bag and show you some of the differences, as well as the best uses for each of these sleeping bags.

You might think that any sleeping bag will be ideal for whatever outdoor adventure you have planned, but sometimes having the right type of sleeping bag can make all of the difference in the unexpected outdoor weather.

Down and synthetic sleeping bags are each unique and they contain their own set of properties that will make them a great fit for the specific situation they are designed for.

down and synthetic sleeping bags

To get a better understanding of some of the key differences between these two sleeping bags, you will need to understand from which materials these bags are made and which advantage each of these materials brings to the table for your outdoor adventure.

Down Sleeping Bags

Down is one of the more natural elements added to sleeping bags and it is predominantly bird feathers, which have been stuffed in between material to give the sleeping bag that added a layer of comfort and also promote better insulation.

Since down is a natural element and it is also extremely light, it should come as no surprise that down sleeping bags are much lighter and can also be folded up much smaller than the synthetic sleeping bags. Down also provides great insulation as the feathers will help to keep the air from escaping in all directions.

man in a down sleeping bag

Since down is a little thicker, you will also find that without a sleeping pad on the harder surfaces, the down sleeping bag will certainly provide you with a more comfortable space to sleep on.

Insulation

Down does provide a lot of insulation for those colder winter days. Depending on the quality and the price range of the down sleeping bag you have chosen, you will find the amount of fill inside the bag. The more fill inside the bag, the more insulated the sleeping bag will be.

Down also ranges in quality and better quality will also ensure that your bag is more insulated, while also providing you with a thicker cushion to sleep on. Better quality down will also loft more space. For example, 700 fill will reach a volume of 700 cubic inches per ounce, while 800 fill will reach 800 cubic inches per ounce.

man sleeping in a down bag with big cushion

To put this into perspective; 1 ounce of higher quality down will hold more heat than the lower quality down, but this can also be more expensive. Overall down perfectly does its job in terms of providing you with much-needed insulation when the liquid you encounter is solid.

Water resistance

Much like bird feathers in the rain, down does not hold up particularly well in the wet weather conditions. The down sleeping bag will still keep you warm when you are inside a waterproof tent, but once the water starts to leak through and fill up the bottom of the tent, you will find that the down also tends to suck up the water.

The lofting or insulation properties of down go to waste when you add water to it and this has always been the Achilles heel of loft products. The down on the inside of the sleeping bag will start falling flat once it comes into contact with moisture or liquid water, and this could spell danger for you in colder conditions.

Man in a sleeping bag covered in snow outside.

There are, however, waterproof materials that can be added to the cover of the sleeping bag and if you plan on backpacking or even camping in the tropical regions of the world, you might need to consider looking for a waterproof material to cover the down inside the bag.

Compressibility

Because of the air pockets created in the down sleeping bag that will give it a puffed up feeling, you will notice that down is extremely compressible and it is quite easy to push out all of the air in the sleeping bags.

folded down sleeping bag

Down sleeping bags can be folded up to a fraction of the size of the original spread out size when unfolded and this does come very handy when you are backpacking or hiking. The down sleeping bags can easily fit into your backpack and you will be walking for miles without ever noticing its presence.

Durability

The resiliency of down is one of its main features that will keep you investing in these types of sleeping bags. Down itself is quite resilient and the sleeping bags can even be stuffed and re-stuffed over time. The only thing that might compromises the durability of your down sleeping bag is the durability of the outer materials.

blue down sleeping bag on the ground

Down sleeping bags do have a projected lifetime of 10 years and depending on how many times the bag is actually used in strenuous conditions, this can even be extended, which will ensure that you have a good investment when you purchase your down sleeping bag.

Other issues

Unfortunately, there are a few other issues that people might not agree on or like about the down sleeping bags. Down sleeping bags are a byproduct of the food industry and this does not sit well with many green peace and animal rescue enthusiasts.

Down has also been linked with forced feeding of geese in the past to make more foie grass and there are also other inhumane situations that have arisen. Some of these include the live plucking of feathers from geese and ducks to speed up the production of the down.

feathers for down sleeping bag

Luckily, the Responsible Down Standard has recently been established and the focus on the humane treatment of the animals to ensure that the manufacturers only use down from traceable and reliable duck and geese farms.

Our recommendation for use

Since down can be combined with other waterproof materials to ensure that the down does not get wet, it will not be fair to say that down is not suited for wetter areas, but it is definitely not recommended for the tropical regions of the world.

Down is typically chosen as a better sleeping bag for the natural elements it includes, which have evolved with the animals over time to help them withstand the cooler winter temperatures. Down is best-suited for colder temperatures where the moisture and liquid you encounter tend to be solid.

man in a down sleeping bag on the snow

Finally, it is worth mentioning that down does vary in price but down sleeping bags are generally more expensive than their synthetic counterparts. If you are looking for an investment of quality, we recommend you try out the down sleeping bags for your next camping and especially backpacking trip.

 Synthetic sleeping bags

Since the arrival of Avian flu in ducks, people have started to gravitate away from fowl, which has significantly driven up the price of down sleeping bags. Down in sleeping bags are only used when the animals are ready to be slaughtered for the food industry, but if people avoid that type of meat, the animals do not get slaughtered as often and this has helped the synthetic sleeping bag to enter the market.

The synthetic sleeping bag is a little cheaper than down since it is not made from natural animal products and it has also become the number one sleeping bag choice for casual campers and backpackers.

man and woman in synthetic sleeping bags

Let’s look at some of the features that you will generally find in the synthetic sleeping bags and how they differ from their more expensive down counterparts:

Insulation

Synthetic sleeping bags do not offer as much insulation as the down sleeping bags, but it does keep you warm enough in some of the more tropical regions of the world. With multiple different companies creating their very own version of the proprietary fill, two of them have arisen as the most popular.

Short staple fibers and long continuous filaments are the most common types used by companies today. The short staple fibers will mimic down’s 3D plume structure and they will also fill the bag with air to keep you insulated.

black synthetic sleeping bag on the ground

These fibers generally compress well, but since they are not as durable, they do give up a lot in terms of providing you with longevity. The long continuous filaments do give up more in terms of compressibility and this means that they will not fit as easily into your backpack.

These filaments are much more durable and they also offer higher lofting capabilities, which means that you will have better insulation at a cheaper price that down, but you will also be carrying a little heavier.

Compressibility

While synthetic manufacturers have managed to capture and synthetically recreate the lofting abilities of down, they have unfortunately given up a lot in terms of durability and compressibility. When you put a folded down and synthetic sleeping bag next to one another, you will immediately see the difference in size.

compressed synthetic and down sleeping bags

The synthetic sleeping bag is a little heavier and it is also a little bigger to store in your backpack, which could be an extra load that you need not have when backpacking for longer distances.

Water resistance

Synthetic sleeping bags actually do have the edge over down sleeping bags when you add water to the fray. Synthetic sleeping bags do still have buyers reaching out for them for the ability to keep the warmth and insulation when almost fully soaked.

This means that when the tropical thunderstorm comes around and you have a synthetic sleeping bag, you will somehow manage to stay dry and warm and still enjoy a good night’s sleep. Synthetic sleeping bags are also waterproof in their construction and this means that they do not let any water into the fill.

water on synthetic sleeping bag

You will also find that they dry out much faster after being soaked than your average down sleeping bag and having to wait for your sleeping bag to dry can set you back significantly on your backpacking outing.

Pricing

The synthetic sleeping bag also has pricing on its side and with no shortage of materials and the production also being sped up for these types of sleeping bags, the chances are much higher for you to strike a bargain deal for your synthetic sleeping bag.

sleeping bags in a shop

The quality of the materials do vary and polyester is commonly used in all its forms and grades and this does make the sleeping bag one of the more popular choices.

Our recommendation for use

While serious campers and backpackers might still want to invest in their trusted down sleeping bag, casual campers, backpackers, and animal rescue enthusiasts are gravitating more toward the synthetic sleeping bag.

two sleeping bags in a tent

We recommend this sleeping bag for campers looking to enjoy the tropical regions of the world, but backpackers willing to carry a few extra pounds in order to save a few bucks will also find that they could possibly still get a good night’s sleep and save those extra few dollars when they choose the synthetic sleeping bag.

Which one is ultimately the best?

It actually all depends on the situations and the reason for purchasing a sleeping bag. The down sleeping bags are the best in terms of a long term investment and they will also keep you warm in colder temperatures, but the synthetic option will save you a few bucks and ensure that you stay warm in the rain.

laying on the ground in a sleeping bag

Down is much lighter to carry and also easier to stash away in the smaller areas of your backpack, but synthetic bags will dry out much faster and save you that waiting time when they eventually get wet or when you need to go through a river.

So choosing between the two bags is quite hard and depending on your needs and the situation you will be using the bag in, you will need to make that best choice decision.

Now the decision is in your hands

Now that you have the facts, you should be able to make the best decision for your needs when it comes to the down vs synthetic sleeping bag. We hope that you have enjoyed the article and we would like you to share your opinion on these two types of sleeping bags.

We would also like to encourage you to share some of your positive and negative experiences with these sleeping bags in the comment section.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Bayne
Jessica Bayne

Jessica believes that the only things you need to explore the world are a good backpack and a bit of courage to make the first steps. She also loves the beauty of a sunset seen from the mountaintop and the delicious flavor of a meal prepped over the camping fire. Ready to start a new adventure at any given time, Jessica knows how to be prepared for any situation and understands how important is to find the right gear. She also knows a lot about the type of gear to have and how to choose the products you actually need.

  • Jessica Bayne

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Jessica Bayne

    Thanks for letting me know!

  • Jessica Bayne

    I don’t know about you, but down bags are suitable for ultra-light backpacking. They only prove challenging when used in humid or wet environments. On the other hand, synthetic bags have proven to be quite resourceful in humid and wet conditions.

  • Jessica Bayne

    I will strongly advise you to choose between a down and a synthetic bag with respect to the environment you will be camping or hiking in. A synthetic bag is ideal for humid/wet environs.

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