Snowboarding versus skiing. Fat biking versus mountain biking. Apple versus Android. All of us have engaged at one point or another in these answerless debates. Possibly the biggest debate amongst campers is the timeless synthetic versus down sleeping bag.
When it comes to performance, they both have their pros and cons, so making sure you choose the best insulation type for you can turn a comfortable and freezing night to one fantastic outdoor adventure.
Down and synthetic sleeping bags have a significant price difference, which makes it the deciding factor for some campers. Down is more expensive due to demand, and a down bag can start around $300. Nonetheless, the price can change, depending on the global supply of down.
For example, China’s down supply was wiped out by the outbreak of bird flu, meaning down bags became more expensive. It’s also worth mentioning that duck down has become more readily available, and is a cheaper option than goose down.
Bottom line: If you are on a budget, and price is your primary concern, a low fill-power duck down or synthetic sleeping bag should be your choice.
Warmth to weight ratio
Down wins the warmth to weight ratio battle hands down. Down has the advantage due to its fill-power, which is a cubic inch measurement of how many ounces of down can fill a lab container. Basically, the fill-power will gauge the fluffiness or loft of the down. The more fill-power the bag has, the warmer it will be.
Synthetic insulation is made with polyester fabrics, and therefore has a more substantial warmth-to-weight ratio, also affecting the compressibility of the synthetic bag. Accordingly, a synthetic sleeping bag that has the same temperature rating than a down bag won’t pack down as small and will be heavier.
Bottom line: If you’re an ultra-light trekker, or just someone that thinks a compact and light load is essential, stick with a down bag.
When it comes to water resistance, the kiss of death for down enthusiasts is usually water resistance. And rightly so, as when it comes to camping in the snow or playing in the rain there’s no doubt that the safer bet is a synthetic sleeping bag. Synthetic insulation was manufactured to maintain insulating qualities no matter if it’s dry or wet and dries a lot faster than down.
Bottom line: If you usually camp in humid or rainy environments, a synthetic bag is your best bet.