OUTDOOR BASICS

Duck Down vs Goose Down: The Better Insulator

two sleeping bags
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

Long and cold nights should not be something to worry about with a down insulated sleeping bag. Down has become an exceptional insulator with very meaningful characteristics. It’s a perfect solution for cold and dry weather conditions. Goose and duck down are the two most common types of down that are used in products with natural filling.

Duck down vs goose down is an important question because the sleeping bag insulation depends on the inside filling and the material itself. Down insulated bags have superior value over synthetic fill bags, and for that reason, they are a more expensive choice. The advantages of the down material are that the sleeping bags made from it are extremely lightweight, easy to compress, soft, comfortable for sleep and breathable.

Duck Down vs Goose Down

Although versatile synthetic insulation was very attractive several years ago, the first choice of the adventurers is down insulation sleeping bags. There is no better explanation for this than the fact that when it comes to maximum warmth and minimal weight, down insulation is your best option.

Why Down Insulated Sleeping Bags?

Down is like wool. It is a natural way of keeping birds warm. The waterproofness in a bird comes from a thermal barrier that its feathers create. The science behind it is very simple, yet incomparable to any other material. The feathers are constructed of a fluffy material that we call down.

The density of the down is trapping the air in small spaces, therefore, creating a thermal barrier. These spaces or pockets are very small which is why it is possible for the heat to be trapped inside.

insulated down bag

It is very difficult and almost impossible for this great and natural warmth system to be duplicated by the producers of synthetic sleeping bags. Goose and duck down filling are much warmer than the synthetic filling.

Characteristics of Down Sleeping Bags

All down sleeping bags have some common characteristics. Some of them are explained below:

  • Down sleeping bags are much more compressible compared to synthetic sleeping bags. So, you can pack your sleeping bag into a very small space or in your backpack.
  • If you can take a good care of your down sleeping bag, it can be very flexible and will insulate for a long time. This may be one of the most important aspects when choosing a sleeping bag.
  • To maintain warmth, down needs air to build a thermal barrier. If you compress your down sleeping bag, you may lose the insulating characteristics.
  • Down sleeping bags are not water repellent so they will lose the insulation if they are wet. By having this in mind, you may use some water repellent spray, because water repellent treated down absorbs about 30% less water, plus they dries 60-70% faster.
  • Although high loft down sleeping bags are more expensive compared to synthetic insulation sleeping bags, they last longer, which means more saving over the long term.

down wash spray

Duck vs Goose Down Sleeping Bags Factors

The industry of outdoor equipment usually uses duck or goose down in order to produce insulated sleeping bags with natural fill. Both duck and goose down may be proportionately good insulators, as the effectiveness is related to the quality of the fill and fill power rather than whether the fill is a duck or goose down.

The quality of down filling, however, is directly related to every factor from the feed of the birds to the duration of their life. Which one you choose is also dependent on several factors:

Availability and price

As a more consistent source, duck down happens to be more available but also more affordable. Because of the demand of duck meat and eggs over that of geese, the availability of duck down in comparison with goose down in also bigger, making it less expensive.

Durability of the down

When it comes to durability, it’s the same with duck down and goose down because of the fill power. They have natural fat and oil content, so the durability of the down depends on how high are these contents. Because down is an organic product, the content will vary through the year, even taking into account the condition the bird is living in, feed, and weather conditions.

down durability

The fill power may decrease over time, so you must be careful when you wash your sleeping bag. If you over-wash the down, you will remove the percentage of natural fat and oils, so the sleeping bag will dry out and may be destroyed. Lately, there are some high-quality processors that could wash and clean each group of down, so you don’t have to worry about the performance and durability of your sleeping bag.

Odor

There is a small difference in odor between duck down sleeping bags and goose down bags. Just like wool, down is a natural product so the amount of fat and oil will also take part in the scent. The feeding is different between goose and duck, so the small differences may arise in the smell of these two species.

Duck’s feeding is more diverse while geese only eat grass, so goose down has fewer problems with the odor than the duck down.  You are able to minimize that odor by using the benefits of durable water repellent spray to treat your down.

Accessibility of higher fill powers

The down from older and more mature duck or goose has higher fill power than the down from the young ones. The down cluster develops with the ages of the birds. So, while producing the sleeping bags, the industries sort through small or large down cluster in order to achieve the desired fill power of the products.

down fill power

There is a small difference between the highest fill powers of goose down in opposite to duck down. The highest fill power for duck down is approximately 1200-fill power, while the highest fill power of goose down is around 1000-fill power. Although, these fill powers are only available in limited quantities, and they are more expensive.

The fill powers that are more common for duck and goose down are from 450-fill power to 850-fill power. Regardless of the improvements in the process of sorting, the duck down reached the higher place on the market. The duck down in 850-fill power is now more available thanks to the additional fibers in the content and also the small down clusters.

Color

The goose and duck down are available in white and light gray color. In the past, the bedding industry used only down with white color. They preferred the white color because most fabrics for bedding are white, so they can hide the presence of the down.

goose down color

There is only visual difference between the white and gray colored down, and no differences in their performance. So, no matter what color you chose, you will have a sleeping bag with same characteristics.

Maintenance

Down bags should only be washed with cold water and as quickly as possible. No matter if it’s a duck down or goose down, handling your sleeping bag too much while it’s wet will increase the chances of damaging the sleeping bag. So, if you own a duck down or goose down sleeping bag, the best option is to leave the cleaning job to the professionals, because they are very delicate for maintenance.

The down sleeping bags have very specific construction because it’s made with an internal baffle construction to ensure that the warmth is rendered throughout the sleeping bag. These baffles may be damaged if you wet your down sleeping bag. So it’s very important to maintain your sleeping bag dry, whether is duck down or goose down if you don’t want to lose the warming and lofting properties.

Ethics

Some of the down sleeping bag producers focus on down ethics and tend to use only traceable down. They use only down from birds that are not fed by force and are ethically and humanely raised through their lives from the farm until the producing factory.

The Combination of Down and Synthetics Filling

Lately, some of the producers of sleeping bags combine down filling with synthetic fill. While down is lightweight, easy to compress and is suitable for dry conditions, the synthetic filling is non-allergenic, quick-drying and suitable for wet conditions. By combining these two types of filling, they use the benefits of both materials and offset their disadvantages at the same time.

a girl inside of sleeping bag

The down and synthetic filling can be blend together through the sleeping bag, or the lofty warm layer might be on the inside while the durable synthetic layer might be on the outside of the sleeping bag.

Conclusion

Now that you now know the differences between goose down and duck down, the important question is which down to choose. Both of them have characteristics and features that are very compelling. However, if you still find the choice to be difficult, at least now you know the desired features you should look for. Keep in mind, however, that one sleeping bag can rarely satisfy all of your feature needs and if that happens, the price for that sleeping bag may be pretty high.

man in sleeping bag

The suggested sleeping bag characteristics are really practical and useful, and in some cases they can be really necessary depending of the area you are camping. At the end, the individual sleeping habits and the sense of warmth and cold are the most important factors that will impact on your choice.

Which down sleeping bag is your favorite one? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section bellow and help the whole outdoor community with their choice!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Carl Anderson

    Thank you Daniel for the comparison. I am also glad to know that some of the down sleeping bag producers only use birds that are not fed by force for ethical reasons. I think I will go with those brands. Anyway, thanks again, this article is really helpful. Kudos to you!

    • Daniel Carraway

      Thank you! We are glad you enjoyed!

  • Jon Morgan

    I agree with you that the camping area should also be considered when it comes to your choice of sleeping bag. I think it all boils down to personal preference and just like what you have said, individual sleeping habits. For me, I will go for anything that has been manufactured with high ethical standards.

    • Daniel Carraway

      We absolutely agree with you!

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