Gear Advice: Sleeping Bag

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There are two basic types of sleeping bags you need to consider; fiber and down. The decision on which one to use depends on the age of the user, the activity it will be used in, and the climate. If you get serious about the outdoors, you will ultimately end up with at least two different sleeping bags.

Fiber bags tend to be less expensive than down, and they keep you warm even when wet. This is a good thing when younger scouts are involved, as they seem more accident prone. I realize this can be read in many ways, and that is intentional ?

The down side (so to speak) of fiber bags is that they do not compress well and they tend to be a bit heavy. If you are backpacking it is difficult to get a fiber bag into an internal frame backpack, especially if you are running a bag that is good for cold environments.

Down bags tend to be rather expensive, and if they get wet, they are useless. The better bags will have a waterproof shell on the outside, and this helps reduce the chance of a wet bag, but it does not eliminate it. On the plus side, you can get virtually any down sleeping bag into an internal frame backpack, even those that are rated to -40. In addition, they tend to be much lighter than comparable fiber bags.

You should be aware that down comes in a rating. Entry level down bags are rated with 600 power down, and the highest end down is rated at 900. The number is a rating of the down’s loft, and loft determines the heat retaining capabilities of the bag. The higher the number, the more expensive the bag, but you get more warmth per pound.

Another way to look at it is that a 600 down bag rated at +15 will be larger and heaver than a 900 down bag also rated to +15, but both will be much smaller and lighter than a fiber bag. For most people, the 600 down will be more than sufficient, but in winter bags, the better compression of a high quality down will be appreciated.

When my boys were under 15, I had them in fiber bags. You can get a decent zero degree fiber bag for around $50, and a summer bag for about the same. When they turned 15, I moved them to down bags for backpacking, and better fiber bags for winter use.

Bill's Choice

I tend to backpack year round, so I use down exclusively. My boys tend to car camp in the winter, so fiber bags are fine in that case. We have 10 good sleeping bags at the house, and they tend to be one of the following:
  • Summer: Marmot Sawtooth (600 Down, +15)
  • Winter: Marmot CWM (900 Down, -40)
  • Winter: Sierra Design (Fiber, -15)

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