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Down Sleeping Bags vs. Synthetic Sleeping Bags

by Staff Writer

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Camper sleeping in a sleeping bag

Deciding between synthetic and down sleeping bags is an important decision to make when you are shopping for sleeping bags. The two types of sleeping bags offer very different benefits, and knowing how down and synthetic sleeping bags differ will help your get the right bag for your outdoor adventures.

Synthetic and Down Sleeping Bags:

  1. Weight: Down fill has a better warmth-to-weight ratio than synthetic fills; so between two comparable sleeping bags, the down-filled bag will usually be significantly lower in weight.

  2. Compressibility: The higher loft abilities of down allow down sleeping bags to compress to smaller sizes than a similarly rated synthetic sleeping bag. As a car camper, this shouldn't have much impact on deciding which type of sleeping bag to buy, but backpackers prefer the space-saving quality of down sleeping bags.

  3. Warmth: Sleeping bags are given a temperature rating regardless of whether they are filled with synthetic or down fill; however, down loses some of its insulating properties when it becomes damp. So if you plan to camp in wet conditions, you might prefer a synthetic sleeping bag.

  4. Cleaning: For the most part, down and synthetic sleeping bags should be treated the same. Keep them as clean as possible. When you need to clean your sleeping bag, wash it by hand in a bathtub with cold water. Synthetic bags can be washed in a front-loading washing machine without the agitation. Be sure to use a very mild soap and rinse thoroughly. As an alternative to soap, mild cleaning products have been created specifically for washing down materials. Allowing your sleeping bag to air dry is best. If you decide to tumble dry your sleeping bag, add a couple clean tennis balls to the dryer to prevent the insulation from clumping.

  5. Shape: Both synthetic and down sleeping bags come in rectangular and mummy shapes.

  6. Price: Synthetic sleeping bags are much more affordable than down bags, making them a very popular alternative to down sleeping bags, especially among car campers. But many backpackers are willing to pay the higher price for the savings in weight and packed size that down sleeping bags offer.

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