Better Feathers

As paddlers, we clearly love the water, but when it comes to our camping gear, we’re among the most hydrophobic of outdoor aficionados. We have to be—we spend large portions of our day immersed in the wet stuff. Which probably explains why many paddlers are still sleeping synthetic.

For years I heeded the warm-when-wet wisdom of touring with a synthetic fiberfill bag. My transition to down was cautions—first, a hybrid bag with synthetic bottom and feathers on top (you’re only likely to get damp on the bottom, right? Right?). But, once experienced, a night spent ensconced in goose or duck down is not soon forgotten.

Forget warm when wet; down insulation has unrivaled warmth to weight. A perfectly toasty three-season bag packs down to the size of a small melon—no more cramming that oversized synthetic bolus into your canoe pack or stern hatch and then using the Jaws of Life to retrieve it. Feathers also breathe better, keeping you comfortably cool on warmer nights.

You do need to be careful to keep your down dry. Unlike soaked synthetic fibers, soggy feathers lose their loft and therefore their insulating warmth. Happily, many down bags now feature DWR-treated feathers to resist dampness and hasten relofting. Either way, however, we don’t recommend sleeping wet—just be sure to avoid storing your sleeping bag on the bottom of your boat, and always pack it in a heavy-duty dry bag.

Properly cared for, a down sleeping bag is also longer-lived than a bag filled with man-made fibers. Our MEC Merlin is an economically priced, -3°C-rated down bag that has withstood seven springs, summers and falls of abuse with only a few stray feathers to show for it. For colder shoulder-season paddle camping, we love the strategically placed, space-saving insulation and roomy cut of Therm-a-Rest’s -7°C Antares down bag. Whichever sleep season you’re shopping for, remember, feather makes it better.


$240 and up | |





Paddling Jan2014coverThis Field Test gear review originally appeared in the January 2014 edition of Paddling Magazine. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read every issue of this new monthly magazine here.



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