PART 2: The Great Down Debate – What’s up with synthetic insulation?

Last week we talked all about the different types of down: duck, goose and new waterproof down.  But this new waterproof down is not fool proof, if you get soaked those feathers might dry faster but until then you will be cold.  So what is an adventurer to do if rain is in the forecast?


There are many types of synthetic insulation available in clothing and sleeping bags.  As of yet, no one has matched down, it is still the most light and warm fiber out there.  Synthetic manufactures like Primaloft are close, and working every year to reduce the weight of their fibers.  So when should you choose synthetics over down?

Big Agnes Cross Mountain Sleeping Bag

Big Agnes Synthetic Sleeping Bag

Synthetic fibers do not absorb moisture, they do not change their shape or lose loft when wet.  A wet sleeping bag might not be the most fun to sleep in, but with synthetic insulation your bag will still be able to trap heat and keep you warm.  With down, you will be up a creek without a paddle on a wet trip.  A synthetic jacket or sleeping bag will also dry out much, much faster than anything made with down.  Down is very slow to dry, on a trip it could take days!  Another little know fact about synthetic insulation, is that is can be great for people with allergies.

One of the greatest benefits of synthetic insulation is cost.  Gear for fast growing kids and teens can put a serious dent in your budget.   Since synthetic is so much less expensive, it is a great choice for your growing family.  A jacket will be easy to care for and last through a few hand me downs.  You can machine wash and dry most synthetic filled gear with ease.  Synthetics are super easy to care for, compared to dry-cleaning or spending a whole day cleaning your down gear.  I always recommend synthetic for gear that will be worn out quickly by rough users like kids.   Kids outgrow clothes so quickly; even with a pass off to younger brothers or cousins, synthetic kids sleeping bag and jackets are a great bang for your buck.  Additionally having a tiny bit more weight is not going to matter for most sleepovers and ski lessons.

So what are the downsides to synthetics? Like I have said over and over, it is going to be heavier than down.

  • Not quite as warm or lightweight
  • Won’t have the soft luxe feel of down – slightly stiffer
  • Shorter life – synthetic fibers will break down a little faster than down

The Final Score

So which is better?  The answer really depends on what your trip entails.  Down is going to last longer, keep you warmer and pack up smaller.  But if you have a chance of getting wet, or you are buying for kids synthetic insulation is your best bet!

8 thoughts on “PART 2: The Great Down Debate – What’s up with synthetic insulation?

  1. Not really a hard call for me. 100% synthetic. I generally err on the side of safety with my gear even if it costs me some weight. If I had down bags, I would have to either:

    – Buy synthetic bags in the same temperature ranges, doubling the number of bags I have to purchase, store, and maintain


    – Never leave the house when there’s a hint of moisture in the forecast.

    So, I go with synthetics, mostly Primaloft and some Polarguard 3D. Down is wonderful stuff, but I wouldn’t do anything other than car camp with a down bag.

  2. I’m allergic to down, so it’s not an option for me. You emphasize how synthetic is heavier. Question: how much can I expect my synthetic bag to weigh? I currently have one that’s 3lb 2oz (female mummy cut) and am not sure if I should be scouring the internet/stores to find a lighter one for a long trek.

    • Hi Mymeanderingtrail!

      Great question! Synthetic is heavier especially when you need a bag for really really cold conditions. The bag you currently have is fairly light, but you didn’t mention what the temperature rating is. If your bag is warm enough for the trips that you do, I would say stick with it. If weight is a big concern for you, take a look at what else you carry on your trips, pack included, and try and cut weight there. You can also increase the warmth of your bag by added a sleeping pad. Some ultralight favorites around our office are Kylmit’s Static V and Inertia X Frame.

      If this does not answer your question feel free to write back with the temperature rating of your bag and the temperatures you expect on the longer treks you mentioned.


      • (I didn’t realize until just now that my name didn’t come up when I commented. Fixed.)

        Thanks for the response!

        Be careful what you wish for because I’ve got a long list of gear questions. I’m thru-hiking the A.T. in the spring, and my sleeping bag (20 degree…should be fine) is the only thing I currently own as far as gear goes. I don’t suppose you offer 1) personal shopping services or 2) therapy? …because I may just need it by the time I’m done trying to figure out the right gear to get. : P

      • Sounds like an exciting trip you have planned, Jordana! We would love to help you find the perfect gear for your upcoming adventure. Please feel free to give us a call at 877.411.GEAR or drop us an email at to chat with one of our gear experts.

        We also can lend an open ear for any adventure therapy you may need 🙂

        Look forward to helping guide you!

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