Should I buy a Synthetic or Down Sleeping Bag?

When choosing a sleeping bag an important decision that can help you narrow down the range is whether you should pick a synthetic or down sleeping bag.  But what is the difference?  We’ve put together this guide to help you choose.

When we talk about Down vs Synthetic we are referring to the filling within the sleeping bag.

Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Synthetic Sleeping bags have a filling made from layers of fibres sewn to inner and shell fabric to keep them in place. These fibres can be hollow like animal fur trapping in warm air.  Most Synthetic Sleeping bags are generally more bulky for the same warmth rating as the comparable down sleeping bag, so they can be good if you’re camping with the car as they are generally cheaper than down sleeping bags and they’re easier to care for and will cope with more wear and tear.  If you have a family to kit out they can be a cost-effective easy care solution.

Benefits of Synthetic Sleeping bags

  • Synthetic (Man-made) sleeping bag fills are water-resistant so will even keep some insulation when wet.
  • Synthetic Sleeping bags are generally more durable and tolerant of damage; ripping the outer doesn’t mean that the fill will spill.
  • As well as being water-resistant synthetic sleeping bags will dry much quicker than down bags as the moisture is between fibres rather than being absorbed into then.
  • Synthetic sleeping bags are easier to care for, always follow the washing instructions!  But generally synthetic sleeping bags are easier to clean.
  • Being Man-Made Synthetic sleeping bags are hypoallergenic so safe for allergy sufferers to use.
  • Synthetic sleeping bags can be considerably cheaper than Down sleeping bags.

Down Sleeping Bags

Down sleeping bags are filled with natural feathers, down is the very fine feathers found in adult ducks geese and water birds under the outer layer of their feathers.  Down makes an excellent insulator, additionally it is light and highly compressible while still being able to quickly regain its loft quickly.

Benefits of Down Sleeping Bags

  • Down Sleeping backs have a much better warmth to weight ratio than Synthetic bags due to Down being much warmer.
  • Down Sleeping Bags can be compressed much more than synthetic sleeping bags making them great for lightweight small backpacking sleeping bag.
  • Down comes in a number of different grades/qualities. As an example, 90% Goose Down will consist of 90% down and 10% feathers.  The higher the % of down the lower the weight and bulk, but the better the insulation.  However the higher the grade the higher the price.
  • Generally Down Sleeping Bags are more durable than Synthetic so if cared for well they can last considerably longer, which may make the extra expensive worth while.

So which is best?

Both are Down and Synthetic are great choices what makes one better is how you will use it, here is a summary of what you should consider

  • Weight / Size - Down - If you are concerned about weight (perhaps you are backpacking) Down will be significantly lighter and pack smaller as the same warmth rate synthetic bag.
  • Warmth - Down - Down is much warmer than Synthetic.  The Bulk/Weight to Warmth ratio will be much lower than a down sleeping bag.
  • Price - Synthetic - A Synthetic Sleeping Bag will generally be cheaper than a Down bag, but long-term it may not be the best value
  • Washing - Synthetic - If you have a family and may be needing to clean sleeping bags regularly you may find a Synthetic Sleeping Bag easier to care for.  But every sleeping bag is different so check the washing instructions.
  • Wetness - Synthetic - It’s never good to get a sleeping bag wet but a down sleeping bag will take much longer to dry and will not provide insulation while wet.  A synthetic sleeping bag will dry quicker and still provide some insulation while wet
  • Resilience - Down -  Despite Down appearing to be more fragile, it’s loft and insulation will last much longer than a synthetic bag.  As much as 2 - 3 times as long.

Our Final Thought

The phrase “Nature knows best comes to mind.  We would pick a down sleeping bag for the warmth to weight ratio and the easy pack size.  But if price is an issue or you may be in conditions where the bag could get wet then Synthetic is still a good choice.  Synthetic technology is always moving forward.

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