1. John Ladd
    John Ladd September 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    I agree with Ray’s recommendations (down with a good shelter’ synthetic with a minimal shelter). My personal choice is down for sleeping bags, though I prefer polar fleece (esp. High-Loft Polartec) for clothing insulation layers. My thought: it’s quite possible with a good shelter and a waterproof stuff bag to keep your sleeping bag dry, but harder to keep insulation clothing layers dry (e.g., you slip into a stream while gathering water, as I did once). The thing I would add about down bags is that the down will gradually pick up some moisture when you sleep in it – partly because your own body off-gasses some water vapor which tends to turn into liquid water as it passes through the bag, and partly from the inevitable condensation or leakage in your shelter. A compact stuff bag will tend to result in this moisture clumping the down in the bag. So if you can. leave the bag as loosely compressed as possible under the circumstances allow (e.g., in a larger-volume backpack) and/or take it out at your lunch stop and let it blow about in the breeze. If you do neither of these, you may find that your down bag looses a bit of loft each day on a long trip.

    1. Ray
      Ray September 22, 2012 at 6:17 am

      Thanks, John. Great tip regarding letting your bag breathe a little on trips. If I may add, if you own one of these bags, make sure you take care of it. This is a good primer: http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/caring-sleeping-bag.html.

  2. Mina Loomis
    Mina Loomis September 21, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    We have been using down sleeping bags with tarps for several years now, with good success, including all-night downpours and days of drizzly weather. It is not difficult to keep down dry under a tarp if you are careful and if the tarp is wide enough. We have an 8 x 10 silnylon flat tarp for the two of us that works well.

    One other important difference between down and synthetic is that down, with care, will hold its loft (and thus insulating value) for much longer. My first down bag lasted me 20 years. Synthetic materials tend to lose roughly half their loft in 3 or 4 years, and need to be replaced if you want the same warmth as before. So in the long run down can be less costly.

    1. Ray
      Ray September 22, 2012 at 6:12 am

      Thanks, Mina! Many, many backpackers have proven that a tarp can be just as safe and comfortable as a heavier tent. I do believe, however, that they take a bit more skill to properly pitch than a tent (or, for some of us, even a bit more than a bit). If you’re confident in your skills, taking along a down sleeping bag with your tarp is a great way to pack less weight and to stay warm. If you are still learning the finer points of tarps, using a synthetic bag will provide a bit more margin of error. Thanks for commenting!

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