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  1. #1
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    Default Down vs synthetic sleeping bag for thru hike

    I am thinking about getting a down sleeping bag because its more light and compressible. But being in some of the shelters and stuff afraid of it getting wet and then being screwed because they have a harder time drying out. any advise would be highly appreciative. Hopefully I will see some of you on the trail in 2012.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nelson7fl View Post
    I am thinking about getting a down sleeping bag because its more light and compressible. But being in some of the shelters and stuff afraid of it getting wet and then being screwed because they have a harder time drying out. any advise would be highly appreciative. Hopefully I will see some of you on the trail in 2012.

    You have stated one good example against down.
    Don't get down for that reason. If they get wet they loose insulating value and are heavier.

    I like...http://wiggys.com
    Last edited by ALLEGHENY; 08-03-2011 at 20:40. Reason: add to

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    Registered User House of Payne's Avatar
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    Wait, down should not be disregarded just for that reason alone. I would think that the bag getting wet is the one big CON, yet there are so many more PROS to consider. Aside from lower weights and compactability most down bags today have 'water repellent' shells now, enough to shed light amounts of water without compromising the fill.

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    Registered User nathan2's Avatar
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    I'll be hiking nobo in 2012 with a 15 degree down bag and a summer down bag. The summer bag already has 800 or so AT miles on it and has never been wet although I've hike through a lot of rain with it. I wouldn't sweat it too much either way, but I have a hunch you'll see more down bags then synthetic on the AT.

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    Registered User nathan2's Avatar
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    I lied. It was wet my first night on the AT even though it didn't rain. I mistakenly thought an emergency bivy would increase its insulation and the condensation had me drenched. It was dry by the next night though.

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    In 2010, I used down bags the whole way. I started with a Western Mountaineering 20 degree bag (I don't remember what model) at 2 lbs. I switched out in Waynesboro to a mont-bell at 1 pound for the rest of the hike. Except as noted below, I never had problems/fears of getting the bags wet. I used a water proof/resistant stuff sack (not the ones that came w/the tents).

    I wouldn't unpack the bag until close to bed time and I would re-stuff it early in the morning to squeeze out potential moist air. At time when I was in towns or what not, I would let the sun dry the bag just in case there was moisture accumulating. I never had a problem. I also used a bag liner. On many warm nights, I only slept with the liner.

    I started the hike with a tarptent and I could not manage the moisture. The condensation would be dripping even if I had full ventilation open. Therefore I changed tents. I was happier w/the bigger, stronger tent anyway.

    So - in my opinion, the weight savings is worth it and you can certainly take care of/manage the moisture/wetness.

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    Sure, there are hundreds of deaths a year on the AT from people using down sleeping bags. Gotta watch out for that, er, maybe not.

    Actually, plenty of thru hikers use down bags. They have many advantages over synthetics: warmth, weight, compressibility, and long life among them. Sure, you need to keep it dry, but that's really not so hard.
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  8. #8
    Stir Fry
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    You get your bag that wet it will not matter what its made of you will not be worm. I have spent over 100 nights on the trail in last 6 years never had a problem keeping bag dry. If you are that worried about shelters leaking just cover with ground cloth, or stay in your tent when it rains. Realy, its not that big a problem staying dry.
    If it do'nt eat you or kill you it makes you stronger
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    Both down and synthetics have their pros and cons. You've got to make an educated, informed decision in regard to what qualities you're looking for in a sleeping bag. REcommending synthetics over down solely because it retains most of it's insulative value when wet isn't making an informed, reasonable decision. There are many other factors to be considered. Sure, down does indeed lose its insulative value when wet, but with the advances in shell materials and DWR treatment to help shed moisture, they're getting easier and easier to keep dry. Keeping down dry has got to be a priority if you want it to stay that way. Pack liners and dry bags, among other precautions, all help to keep that down nice and dry. When your down is outside of the pack, one of the best things you can do to keep it dry is good tent/tarp site selection, especially in bad weather. Personally, I use a down top quilt and down underquilt in my hammock and have always stayed dry and warm.
    "If you play a Nicleback song backwards, you'll hear messages from the devil. Even worse, if you play it forward, you'll hear Nickleback." - Dave Grohl

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    Registered User RevLee's Avatar
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    In a shelter you might get a little splash in a heavy rain, but almost all down bags have some form of DWR finish. You would have to be in a puddle or the foot of your bag sticking out in the rain to get soaked in a shelter. You could always use your rain jacket to protect the part of the bag closest to the rain, but I've only had to do that under a tarp, not in a shelter.
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    I went from Katahdin to Springer in 2009 with down bags. There was rain of epic proportions that year. I was wet. My camera got so wet it died. Nearly everything in my pack was wet numerous times.

    My down bag never got wet. I had my priorities in the right order. It's not difficult to keep down bags dry in the worst conditions with a little effort.

  12. #12
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    Down is best and should not be avoided for fear of getting it wet. PrimaLoft is good and reasonably compressible if you scare yourself into synthetic.

    Some facts:

    - It is difficult to get any sleeping bag wet. Ever try to wash one in a bathtub? Biggest part of the job is getting the darn thing to become saturated.
    - A bag that is stuffed into a stuff sack is virtually impossible to get wet.
    - Any sleeping bag will gradually accumulate moisture each night, just by the fact that you sleep in it and perspire.

    Some tips for any bag, but particularly down:

    - Stuff your bag into a plastic bag inside a stuff sack when it is stored on the trail - not at home.
    - Remove your bag from the stuff sack a couple of hours before you go to bed to allow it to "fluff"
    - Each dry morning, if you have time, place your bag out to air, preferably in a sunny spot. This will allow some or all the night time accumulated moisture to evaporate
    - If you bag starts to feel damp, take advantage of sunny lunch breaks to spread your bag for drying
    - On cold, cloudy, damp mornings stuff your bag IMMEDIATELY when you get out of it, before you go to pee. This forces most of the moist, sweaty air out of the insulation before the bag cools and it condenses onto the insulation.
    - On really wet, humid days, keep your bag stuffed until you are ready to use it.
    - Once a week or so, take advantage of town to run your bag through a dryer cycle or two. Just watch it closely so that it doesn't overheat. This will take care of the gradual accumulation of moisture that is the biggest degradation to any bag's effectiveness.

    This sounds like it's complicated, but it's not at all. Down offers many advantages over synthetics, and the fears of a wet down bag are greatly exaggerated. They are true however, down is useless when saturated and takes a LONG time to dry. The thing is, short of being lost at sea without a boat, there is no real reason for your down to become saturated while on the trail, unless you really try or are totally mindless to what you are doing - like sleeping the night in a puddle of standing water. Synthetic in this case can be wrung out and probably keep you alive, but as others have said, it will NOT be comfortable.

    Either will, and has, worked. If you are really worried about it, buy synthetic and remove that worry. Be aware, however, that as you gain experience and skill, you will probably prefer down. It doesn't take long to develop that preference. My recommendation would be a good down bag, but it's your decision.
    Last edited by Lyle; 08-04-2011 at 08:33.

  13. #13
    Super Moderator Ender's Avatar
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    Use down. Unless you fall into a river with your bag unpacked and in your hands, the chances of you getting it wet enough to "screw" you are slim to none.

    All good manufacturers of bags use shell materials that don't soak up every little drop of water. I used a down on my AT thru (and PCT hike, and every hike in the last 20 years), and one night woke up in a leaky shelter with a rather significant puddle of water on my down bag. I brushed off the puddle, rolled over, and went back to sleep. The down barely even got damp.

    On an AT thru, it's just really not even a worry unless you do something monumentally stupid to get your bag soaked. And even then, you're rarely more than a days hike to a town. So, go with down. The pros far outweigh the cons.
    Don't take anything I say seriously... I certainly don't.

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    lemon b's Avatar
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    I've been on the fence on this subject for years. Right now I use synthetic. To be honest the reason is i've been wet before usually caused by my own mistakes in putting up my shelter. Bottom line at my age I know plenty of people are more skilled then I at keeping equipment dry. I'm glad lyle wrote what he did. I intend to make the switch at some point since alot has changed over the years in both equipment and good old common sence. The biggest end of common sence for myself is to think things thru and always assume it just might be windy and rainy. The most experienced hikers almost all use down.

  15. #15
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    I started my hiking career decades ago with a synthetic bag, being afraid of the wet. When I finally switched to down, I kicked myself for waiting so long. There's no comparison, in my opinion. After 100 miles of hiking in steady rain, day and night, any bag is going to get damp, but I've never had my down compromised enough to make me worry about it. Great tips from Lyle on maintaining the bag--I do all those things automatically and didn't even realize it. Like Big Cranky says, wet bags really aren't a problem on the AT, with a little care.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  16. #16
    Registered User Wise Old Owl's Avatar
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    Regardless of Down or Prmaloft, why not discard the stuff sack, find a comparable Sea to Summit Dry bag that's lighter and we will never have to have a thread like this again!
    Dogs are excellent judges of character, this fact goes a long way toward explaining why some people don't like being around them.

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    Registered User House of Payne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Old Owl View Post
    Regardless of Down or Prmaloft, why not discard the stuff sack, find a comparable Sea to Summit Dry bag that's lighter and we will never have to have a thread like this again!
    I just spoke to a sales rep at a local outfitter in Boston today, he showed me a Granite Gear Cuben fiber dry sacks. A bit pricey but so close to bullet proof.

  18. #18
    Registered User Lyle's Avatar
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    Waterproof stuff sacks are fine, but a plastic bag inside the standard one that comes with your sleeping bag is virtually as effective and a lot cheaper. Besides, I don't think I've ever seen or heard of a sleeping bag getting wet when it was packed away, at least not to the point of being a problem. They are vulnerable when they are unpacked and being used. The type stuff sack you use won't make a bit of difference then.

    Just to clarify for the newbies.

  19. #19
    the dreamer stars in her eyes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by House of Payne View Post
    I just spoke to a sales rep at a local outfitter in Boston today, he showed me a Granite Gear Cuben fiber dry sacks. A bit pricey but so close to bullet proof.
    ZPacks makes a few cuben fiber dry bags too. I don't own one, so can't comment on the performance.

    I've only ever used down bags; like most everyone else in the thread says, it's easy to avoid getting them wet if you pay attention and use your noggin.

  20. #20
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    Wiggy's. That's hilarious. I used to love it when the owner himself would get on the Backpacker forum and tell everyone they were crazy and stupid.

    Keeping a down bag dry is a skill set somewhat akin to walking and chewing gum simultaneously. A synthetic bag will lose about 30% of it's temp rating the first year you use it. And a synthetic bag that is wet is way over-rated as far as keeping you warm.
    Con men understand that their job is not to use facts to convince skeptics but to use words to help the gullible to believe what they want to believe - Thomas Sowell

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