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Downfilling

 

Types of down

Down-filled sleeping bags are generally warmer and lighter than their synthetic counterparts. Down is considered the best insulation in cold, dry weather conditions and expedition use and comes in the following varieties:
High loft goose down is made from very fine down and provides the best insulation over any other filling because it traps the most air. High loft down is mostly used in expedition sleeping bags and outerwear, where minimal bulk and low weight are critical.
 
Goose down is very fine and more reasonably priced than high loft down.
Duck down is less fine than goose down and considerably less expensive.
 

Fill power

Down is rated according to fill power. This specifies the number of cubic inches one ounce of down will occupy. For example, if one ounce of down takes up a volume of 700 cubic inches, it is given a 700 fill power rating. Loft refers to the thickness of the insulating material in a sleeping bag or garment. The quality of the down is directly related to its fill power rating. In other words, down warmth is a function of both fill power and the amount of fill in a sleeping bag or garment. High-quality down has a high fill power and is loftier than down of lower quality, requiring fewer ounces of down to create the same insulation.

Most companies use only goose down, which has a minimum fill power of 500 to 550. The higher the fill power, the better the down will insulate, because there is less of a chance of cold spots. Today’s higher-end manufacturers offer 600 to 750 fill power down as their standard fill. If a label doesn’t specify fill power, it is usually because the down falls in a range below 400 cubic inches or the item contains less than 75% down.
Down also comes in a number of different grades (or qualities). For example, a 90% goose down garment will consist of 90% down and 10% feathers. The higher the percentage, the purer the down. High-percentage grade insulation will also be very low in weight and bulk, but higher in price.
 

Advantages and disadvantages

Contrary to popular belief, down insulation is not made of feathers. Instead, down is actually the fluffy undercoating of a bird's plumage (geese, ducks, and other waterfowl) and looks like interlocking wisps of dandelion fluff. Down works for you just like it works for the bird; it keeps you warm by trapping an abundance of body heat within its tiny clusters. And because it is also breathable, down allows unwanted moisture to escape.
 
The advantages of down are:
  • It is warmer than all manmade fibres on a warmth-to-weight ratio basis
  • It retains its shape and loft and can last a lifetime if properly cared for
  • It wicks body moisture and allows it to evaporate
  • It is highly compressible and lightweight
But there are also disadvantages:
  • Down loses its insulating properties when wet and it is slow to dry
  • It requires labour-intensive cleaning
  • Down is not entirely hypoallergenic
  • Prices of down-filled items are usually higher
     

Tips for Down

Leaking down
High-quality down sleeping bags come with a very tightly woven shell that prevents down from leaking. However, if a few downs get through the material or stick out between threads, it is nothing out of the ordinary. Just remember not to pull them out! Try to work them back into the bag by pulling on the opposite side. The small spaces visible first between the threads or in the fabric will close or reposition themselves. By not pulling them out, you avoid that the downs will leave bigger holes that will not close by themselves anymore.
 
Broken Fabric
Carry some Nylon repair tape for small holes or tears while on the road. Avoid the use of regular or duct tape since you may never be able to remove it completely, leaving ugly spots and sticky residue. Once back home, consult the manufacturer or your retailer to get the hole or tear repaired if the repair tape is not sufficient.
 
Storage
Some tips regarding storage can help prolong the lifespan of your sleeping bag. After a camping trip, make sure to air out your bag inside out for a couple of days and let it dry completely in case there’s moisture in the bag or fill. If you do not need your sleeping bag for a while, store it in a spacious and breathable cotton sack instead of the compression bag. Roll it up loosely. Your bag will benefit from this and stay clean and fluffy for a long time.
When you are out hiking, store your bag in a waterproof compression sack. 
 
Zippers
If your bag has two zippers that meet at a middle point don’t use one end to go all the way around the bag. This puts a lot of strain on the zipper and increases the chances of a zipper jumping off of its teeth and jamming. Try to have the zippers meet at a near halfway point to balance the load and the distance the zipper has to travel.
 
If your zippers jam, be very careful when trying to release them. Do not use force since this may break the zipper or tear the material around it. If your zipper breaks, contact your retailer to get it fixed by a professional.
 
Restoring Water Repellency
If your sleeping bag is equipped with a water repellent finish, you may want to refresh it from time to time. This will also help keep the bag cleaner overall. Check with your manufacturer or retailer what products are available.

 

Synthetic Insulation

Synthetic insulation is basically polyester threading that is moulded into long single threads or short staples to mimic lofty down clusters. Thinner and lighter threads fill voids and trap warm air more effectively, while thicker strands sustain the loft and durability.
 

There are advantages and disadvantages regarding synthetic insulation:

 
Synthetic insulation is great, because:
  • It is water resistant and provides insulation even when wet
  • It dries quickly, actually in a matter of minutes in direct sunlight
  • Synthetic is generally less expensive than down
  • Most synthetic fill sleeping bags are machine washable and dryable
  • It is completely hypoallergenic
  • Is available in a greater range of options for different budgets
 
But there are downsides, too:
  • Synthetic insulation can be bulky
  • It is heavier than down
  • Synthetic fibres gradually break down over time
  • Some less-expensive synthetic fills can be stiffer than down and cause comfort problems
 
Continuous technological advancements in synthetic materials will change the fact that synthetic insulation is still the runner-up behind down insulation.
 
 

Different Synthetic Materials

Micro Fibre
Micro fibre mimics down extremely well and will store plenty of air for great insulation. It has a soft touch and can be compressed easily.
 
4-Hole Fibre
This slightly stronger fibre is very robust, which guarantees a long lifespan of the fill and durable stability, even after compressing the bag several times.
 
7-Hole Fibre
A 7-hole fibre is even more durable and of higher quality than the 4-hole fibre.
 
Spiral-wound Hollow Fibre
This fibre has the shape of a feather; it allows the micro fibres to link optimally, which generates additional loft.