Guide to Sleeping Bags Part 2: Down Insulation
Down insulation comes primarily from goose or duck feathers, and this material has been used for stuffing blankets, pillows and sleeping bags since they've been in existence. However, down feathers provide varying levels of protection. Here's a more detailed look at how to find the perfect down sleeping bag for your next adventure.
Benefits of Down
Down is lightweight, ideal for cold weather conditions, and the material can be compressed easily without losing it's insulating qualities. Down is also soft, breathable and durable. Down tends to bounce back and “fluff up” after being compressed, and people can get years of steady use out of down material before it needs to be replaced.
However, down is often more expensive than synthetic sleeping bags, and they can take forever to dry if they get soaked. Consequently, down sleeping bags are ideal in dry conditions or when they can be protected from rain or water.
Goose vs Duck
There are not many differences between goose or duck down, and duck feathers are in greater supply these days. Consequently, many sleeping bags on the market are filled with either primarily duck or a mixture of duck and goose feathers. Goose down is available as well, but they tend to be the most expensive.
Down feathers are primarily sold by poultry producers after the birds have been slaughtered for their meat, and this may raise some ethical concerns for some hikers and campers. However, there are products that are sold by companies that treat birds humanely throughout their lives until they are processed. These feathers are also considered to be of better quality as they tend to come from healthy birds.
Fill power is an indicator of the insulating properties of the feathers that are used in a given product. Higher ratings indicate that the feathers provide greater insulation, and this translates into fewer feathers needed to provide comfort under certain temperature ranges. Lower numbers indicate that more feathers may be inside the sleeping bag in order to provide the same level of thermal insulation. Consequently, lower rated bags may be heavier and more bulky whereas higher rated ones will be lighter and more-compact.
Finally, some products now contain down that has been treated in order to make the feathers more water-resistant. However, the level of resistance will depend on the quality of the product as well as how doused the material gets. Remember that water-resistance doesn't necessarily mean waterproof, and any kind of down material will require time and warmth in order to dry out.
Consider these factors when shopping for down sleeping bags in order to choose the right one for your needs. While down may be more expensive than synthetics, you can end up getting more value for your money over the course of time while also increasing your level of comfort once you slide in, zip up and drift off to sleep.