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Advice needed - synthetic vs down sleeping bags for Scottish cycle touring

(51 posts)
  • Started 6 months ago by Claire
  • Latest reply from sallyhinch

  1. Claire
    Member

    Hello folks, I know there is a wealth of knowledge on this forum for cycle touring and camping. I am looking to upgrade my woeful camping sleeping accommodation and am torn between synthetic vs down bags.

    Because I am basically a lizard in human form and am constantly freezing, I was initially going to go for a down bag as it's warmer and lighter, packs smaller etc. However, warnings from folk about down being affected by damp and wet conditions is putting me off a bit. Especially because of Scotland's notorious drizzly weather.

    I am keen on an Alpkit bag, as they receive consistently good reviews and seem to be excellent value for money. However, I am not sure whether to go for synthetic or down.

    Does anyone have experience/recommendations on a down vs synthetic bag for cycle touring and camping in Scotland? Any guidance would be much appreciated. Thank you!

    Posted 6 months ago #
  2. I were right about that saddle
    Member

    Claire,

    I am in this same quandary. Miserable skinflint that I am I've always gone for cheap synthetic ones and suffered in due course. Took to carrying fleece trews as an additional layer.

    First bag I ever used was a down ex-US Army Korean war surplus. Very warm, but could barely be dried once damp and also huge.

    Down jacket I got in the sales astonishingly warm.

    I am also eying Alpkit synthetic bags.

    Let us know how you get on...?

    Posted 6 months ago #
  3. gembo
    Member

    More expensive synthetic should be OK.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  4. Claire
    Member

    IWRATS, I'm putting my hand in my pocket for some reasonable kit. Absolutely fed up of loving camping until I have to sleep, and then being baltic all night. I've bought a Thermarest NeoAir as a camping mat, a silk liner and now just deciding on the sleeping bag.

    Having spoken to loads of folk about all this kit, quality gear seems to last literally decades before it gives up. So I'm going to make an investment. The last piece of key kit is the sleeping bag...

    Mixed perspectives, although more folk seem to be inclined towards down. My concern is getting it wet due to Scotland's standard climate, but it seems to be less of a stress than I initially thought... I'd also purchase from Alpkit - their down is ethically sourced and until someone pointed this out to me I hadn't appreciated issues with down at all.

    Saying that, synthetic is cheaper and more robust, so my quandary continues... Hopefully some good experience on this forum can help!

    Posted 6 months ago #
  5. I were right about that saddle
    Member

    I've always put the money into the tent. My 'intimate three-man, comfy couple' tent is 25 this year and still fine for summer use. Hilleberg Akto is a one-man Hilton hotel.

    I think what I'm saying is that I'm going to copy what you do.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  6. gembo
    Member

    @claire, the birds do still die for the down to be produced ethically. However, the synthetic stuff probably has bad carbon footprint?

    Posted 6 months ago #
  7. I were right about that saddle
    Member

    the synthetic stuff probably has bad carbon footprint?

    Not necessarily. The birds are raised for meat using feeds based on Haber-Bosch fixed nitrogen. Synthetic could well be better.

    Down scavenged from old eider duck nests would be best (once the lice and fleas died down).

    Posted 6 months ago #
  8. chdot
    Admin

    “Synthetic could well be better.”

    Yet another unknown/dilemma in the great sustainability concerns nexus.

    Apparently it’s better to put your jeans in the deep freeze to sanitize them than wash them - which (can) add more fibres to the sea.

    (Heard on radio - not going to bother to google!)

    Posted 6 months ago #
  9. gkgk
    Member

    I have the pipedream 400 - older version which cost £150 to today's £230. I'd lean towards the 600, as I find the 400 never really too hot but occasionally too cool (lowland UK/France summer). Especially if your mat is the xlite rather than the xtherm. The synthetic equiv to the pd600 might be 1500g, which makes the feathery one sound light.

    To avoid the foot area getting wet if your toes push the bag against the tent inner, some people like to zip their jacket around the bottom end of the sleeping bag, like a wee sausage roll, or like a jacket potato, too, I suppose.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  10. Arellcat
    Moderator

    My sleeping setup when camping is a a Rab silk liner inside an Alpkit Skyehigh 600 down sleeping bag, on an Exped Synmat and Exped Air Pillow, both inflated with the Exped Mini Pump.

    I was dismayed to find that my sleeping bag uses Chinese goose down rather than locally sourced, but I must put my trust in Alpkit to source ethically.

    And yes, when I toured Snowdonia in 2015 I really worried about my sleeping bag getting damp (or rather, it and everything else not getting a chance to dry out). In the end I bought some waterproof pannier covers and carried on but dry bags might be better.

    Home away from home is a Wild Country Zephyros 2XL Lite.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  11. I were right about that saddle
    Member

    Apparently it’s better to put your jeans in the deep freeze to sanitize them than wash them

    Unless they're infested with insects probably of little value.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  12. gembo
    Member

    My sleeping bag is so old it was made in Norway way before Ajuginlak became Mammut and indeed way before production moved to China.

    Ajuginlak Compact 3 season.

    Will be 34 years old this year.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  13. I were right about that saddle
    Member

    some people like to zip their jacket around the bottom end of the sleeping bag

    Clever. Shall steal.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  14. Claire
    Member

    I've been looking at this Alpkit SkyeHigh 700 down bag: https://www.alpkit.com/products/skyehigh-700

    Also this synthetic Alpkit bag, which is bulkier, but cheaper and almost as warm: https://www.alpkit.com/products/mountain-ghost-300

    Alpkit have signed up to the Responsible Down Standard. While it's obviously not fullproof, their supply chain has been audited and the birds have a welfare standard that means no force-feeding, live plucking etc.

    Arellcat, I have bombproof Ortlieb waterproof panniers which should keep a bag dry, but would also use a drybag, regardless of whether the bag was synthetic or down.

    gkgk, the mat is an Xlite - valuing packability and lightness on this one. It will be a zillion times better than my £5 foam mat from Trespass :D I've also purchased a Rab silk liner to help with heat and to keep the bag cleaner.

    Great tip on the jacket at the end of the bag. Even more valuable as my feet are usually the first to get freezing.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  15. steveo
    Member

    Your kit shouldn't be getting wet anyway, good drybags and not taking your bag out till you've set camp are usually sufficient. A damp synthetic bag might theoretically hold more warmth but you'll not be able sleep in the thing anyway. Damhik.

    In a tent your bag shouldn't won't get damp enough to effect heat retention, in a bivvy I usually plan to have a dry stop for every couple of wet night's to dry out kit (bothy, yh, 5 star hotel)

    I much prefer a down bag but mainly because it packs much better. Down bags aren't inherently warmer they just have a better warmth to weight ratio.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  16. Claire
    Member

    steveo, yes good point. I suppose the attraction of the down for me is that for the same level of warmth as a synthetic bag it will pack smaller and lighter.

    Does condensation ever cause you issues with your down bag? I suppose if I am using a tent for over a week, then I'd be concerned about the down bag not being able to dry out if the weather's rancid. But then again, I'd probably not plan a week long camping tour if the weather was going to be consistently wet and horrid...

    Posted 6 months ago #
  17. gembo
    Member

    Fortunately The Glums is just about to come on BBC1 9pm or I would still be in that Alpkit site. Noticed the skyehigh900 4 season down bag is in the sale making it ten quid cheaper than the 3-4 season bag.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  18. Claire
    Member

    @gembo yeah it's a bargain. It's a bit heavier, though, and I dunno if it might be overkill for me. Plus it's down and I have the choice paralysis. However, a great deal regardless.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  19. gembo
    Member

    @claire, yes I am sensing your dilemma.

    Alpkit themselves have decided you should go for down unless it is very wet

    Posted 6 months ago #
  20. wingpig
    Member

    I've never been cold in my 27-year-old synthetic SnugPak. Not even when it's been thoroughly dampened at the feet end from condensation. Then again, I'm never cold anyway.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  21. steveo
    Member

    I've never noticed condensation being an issue tbh. You need keep the tent ventilated and if the weather is foul it can be a bear to get stuff dry but if you do get a break in the weather you kind of need to stop and air your kit out if not seek out a youth hostel :)

    Posted 6 months ago #
  22. steveo
    Member

    I suspect a four season bag will be overkill for most people most of the time. A lighter bag and more layers are more versatile, it's very inconvenient to wear your sleeping bag while you are cycling!

    Posted 6 months ago #
  23. Osmond Walls
    Member

    I'd go for the down, I've got an alpkit 600 & it's great. Only tend to do 2/3 nights & give it a good airing once home. It's too warm for me in the summer, but I sleep warm (prob too much info).

    Posted 6 months ago #
  24. unhurt
    Member

    I'd go for the down. I'm always cold at night (until I'm boiling, at which point a full length zip is a must so I can temperature regulate by poking all or part of a liner-covered leg out until I'm freezing again; rinse, repeat) and down is just cosier. Tundra good but pricey. Biggest issue with my summerish down bag is it's far too long, but that does mean plenty of space to stuff clothes down the foot so they aren't cold and clammy in the AM.

    Not sure how anyone sleeps on an inflatable pillow. I have tried several and I haaaaate them. Have gone back to either packing the ridiculous foam stuffed camping pillow or stuffing every single item I can find into a biggish and still dry drybag.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  25. Claire
    Member

    So I've gone for the Alpkit SkyeHigh 700 - it's a 3-4 season down bag. I am going camping on Saturday (snow forecast and -4C), so I will soon find out if the new kit is up to standard.

    With a Thermarest, silk liner and decent down bag, coupled with lots of merino layers and a synthetic down jacket I'm hoping the combo should keep me warm-ish...

    Thanks for all thoughts on this thread. If anyone has any other tips on keeping warm, dry etc I'd also appreciate them!

    Posted 6 months ago #
  26. unhurt
    Member

    Metal water bottle, fill 3/4 full with hot (not too hot) water at bed time, put in a sock = hot water bottle substitute.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  27. unhurt
    Member

    Staying dry: consider camping somewhere that isn't Scotland?

    Posted 6 months ago #
  28. Snowy
    Member

    I'd go for down too. I've had a duck-down Rab Atlas since the 1990s which was 'mid-range' being rated to -15 or -20, but more importantly dries out pretty quickly. It's been on a couple of multi-week treks, and kept me warm above 4000m. 95% of the time, it's way too warm for the UK, but then I do have plenty of natural insulation. 30 minutes airing (ie while you have breakfast) has always got rid of any dampness from condensation.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  29. steveo
    Member

    If you have a fire reheat a rechargeable hand warmer just before bed, dry it and chuck it in your bag. It'll preheat your bag nicely and if you get cold during the night then set it off and get a few extra watts of heat.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  30. gembo
    Member

    The tension was taught, the thread was on a knife edge but now it will be warm cosy down

    Alpkit had a dirtbag which translated as a portable mattress in a bundle with a dry bag and the sleeping bag Claire went for.

    Posted 6 months ago #

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