This post may contain affiliate affiliate links for your convenience, see my full disclosurefor more info.
If you’re brand new to hiking and starting to purchase gear, you’re starting to realize there are endless options of brands, products, price-tags, and quality out there.
So I’m gonna break down one of your big choices here – a down sleeping bag or synthetic?
This goes for puffy jackets too, do you go with the cheaper synthetic version or splurge for the down?
Is a down sleeping bag really worth the investment?
What’s the difference between down and synthetic?
Synthetic Sleeping Bags
Synthetic sleeping bags and puffy jackets are stuffed with fluffy polyester threads. Both synthetic and down sleeping bags are rated to certain temperatures – please keep in mind these are the temperatures you will survive in the sleeping bag, not necessarily the temp you will be comfortable at. And of course, every body is different, some people sleep warm and some sleep cold.
Pros of synthetic material:
- Usually cheaper than down products
- Easier to clean than down
- If it gets wet – you’re not totally screwed – it still has some insulating value
- It dries out much quicker than down
Cons of synthetic material:
- It is heavier and bulkier than a down product rated to the same temperature. (A 30 degree synthetic bag will be heavier and take up more space in your pack than a 30 degree down bag.)
- The loft (fluffiness) usually wears out and thins out faster than down, so you may have to replace it more often.
Down Sleeping Bags
Down is made from the warm, insulating undercoating of geese, ducks and other water birds. You will see down bags rated to a certain temperature and should also list the fill power. For example, if a down product boasts 800 fill power, that means that one ounce of that down fill takes up 800 cubic inches. Basically, the higher the fill power, the warmer you’ll be.
Pros of down sleeping bags:
- It is lighter and packs down very small compared to synthetic alternatives.
- When taken care of properly, it will outlast synthetic sleeping bags and coats.
- Some people just swear that down just is warmer and fluffier! (I can’t disagree, but not sure if there’s any science to back that up!)
Cons of down sleeping bags:
- More expensive than synthetic products, which can be a deal breaker.
- If it gets wet – it is basically useless. And takes a long time to dry!
- It can be persnickety to clean – must be washed in a front loading machine, with specific Down Cleaner, and tumble dried with tennis balls… even after doing this sometimes mine turns out lumpy and I need to rewash to get it fluffy again.
What sleeping bags do I recommend?
I used to swear by synthetics. For years! I was terrified of my sleeping bag or warm coat getting soaked through and then I would freeze in the night.
But that’s what they say, we carry our fears on our backs, right?
So I carried a heavy, bulky synthetic sleeping bag.
Until I got a Stoic Vamp 15 degree down sleeping bag, for relatively cheap, on Steep and Cheap.
I LOVE that thing! It is so cozy and warm. It has never disappointed me. And in over 1,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail it never got wet enough to be uncomfortable.
So, now… I absolutely recommend down sleeping bags and puffy jackets!
Do you love nerding out about backpacking gear? Check out these posts:
- Take Care Of Your Gear And Your Gear Will Take Care Of You
- How To Assemble Your Own First Aid Kit
- How to choose the Best Backpacking Tent
- How To Pick The Best Hiking Shoes For You! Part 1 and Part 2
Let me know in the comments whether you prefer down or synthetic and why.