Getting "down" with insulation
Synthetic vs. down jackets
Synthetic or down-filled? That is a common question that's going to come down to your preferences. If you're the hunter who prefers light-weight gear, extreme warmth and have a few more pennies to spend, then go with the goose down. However, synthetic insulation is great for day trips when weight isn't a factor or if your hunting style is a little more active. After owning both, I decided to opt for the Stone Glacier Grumman Goose Down Jacket because of its warmth to weight ratio. In the past, I have used synthetic insulation for more "on the move" hunting or when I knew I was going through dense areas. In these situations, goose down could make you overheat if you're too active; whereas, synthetic breathes better and, typically, has a more durable face fabric for times when you rub up against rough brush or trees. In comparison, all of the goose down jackets I've owned have lighter face fabric to shed overall weight since you're typically wearing it while glassing or sleeping when abrasion isn't a major factor. No matter the type of fill material you pick, both will keep you warm if you buy a jacket from a reputable company!
Your sleeping setup completely depends upon your needs as a hunter. A goose-down-filled bag is light and packs small. If you're a hunter who sleeps in the truck, off the road or hikes in a mile or so for a day or two, then a quality synthetic bag would work well, too. Synthetic bags tend to be slightly more water-resistant (not waterproof) than the down-filled counterparts, which is nice when it comes to condensation or bad weather. The down-filled bags really excel, once again, in the weight to warmth ratio. Although they will cost you in price—almost double that of a synthetic bag—they are worth it. If properly taken care of, a down-filled bag can last you nearly a lifetime, which helps make the sticker shock a little less painful. Think of it as an investment; your return on investment is a pleasant snuggle sack when weather rears its nasty head. Just be sure that whatever bag you decide to go with meets your needs whether synthetic or down. There was a time when I settled for a cheaper bag and regretted it as soon as the weather decided to throw a curveball. Since then, I purchased a high-quality down-filled bag, which cost quite a bit more than synthetic; however, I've been very happy and warm!
Here's my current sleep setup, depending on the weather:
Warm weather (40 degrees and above)
- Stone Glacier Grumman Down Jacket (if needed)
- Lightweight Stone Glacier Helio Bottoms
- Big Agnes Down McKinnis sleeping bag liner (sub 1 lb)
This setup is awesome and surprisingly warm for how light it is. I will typically sleep with my pants, midweight hoodie, beanie and socks on. If needed, I add the Stone Glacier Grumman; it’s light and good insurance against any unforeseeable weather changes.
Colder Weather (40 degrees and below or inclement weather)
- Stone Glacier Grumman Down Jacket
- Stone Glacier Chilkoot 15 Degree Sleeping Bag
- Lightweight Stone Glacier Helio Bottoms
- Lightweight merino gloves
- Mid/heavyweight merino wool socks
Once again, I sleep with pants on with a midweight top and almost all of the above, depending on temperatures. I personally like to have a lower rated bag for the versatility in various temperature ranges. Better to have more and not need it then to need it and not have it!
Sleeping bags and jackets aren't the only stars of the show. There are other accessories that you should consider, especially when it comes to cold, late-season hunts. One item I use from late-season into my winter coyote/wolf hunting is synthetic-filled mittens. There are also down-filled ones, but the synthetic ones are awesome when it comes to keeping your digits safe from the frigid cold. Check out this article on late-season handwear options here.
Another interesting article of clothing to consider would a pair of down-filled puffy pants like the Stone Glacier Grumman Goose Down Pants. These will keep you nice and warm when glassing or sleeping. Lastly, is an item that I didn't know about until I saw a picture of hunters using them in British Columbia on a late season archery mountain goat hunt: down-filled slippers. I will be grabbing a pair in the future!
Tip: If you really want to cut weight for a sleep setup on a mid to late season hunt, then consider using a higher temperature rated sleeping bag paired up with a down-filled jacket and down bottom set. This is not only a warm setup, but can pack down into almost nothing.
Be sure to leave a comment below to share what setups you use for which seasons!
Stay safe and hunt hard!