Is DryLoft on a down sleeping bag worth it?

Is DryLoft on a down sleeping bag worth it? I've noticed that it's not appearing as often as it used to on down winter sleeping bags. David Morlock St. Paul, Minnesota

Sep 18, 2003
Outside Magazine
A: That's an excellent question. DryLoft, in effect a "thin" version of Gore-Tex, was introduced about seven or eight years ago. It's marketing pitch was this: Used over insulating garments or sleeping bags, it would shield the insulation itself (particularly down) against moderate moisture -— a flurry of snow blowing into a tent when the door is opened, that sort of thing. Yet it also would be more breathable than regular Gore-Tex, which many bag and parka makers were then using. That's an important consideration, as condensation trapped inside a sleeping bag or parka can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the insulation itself.

I've always been sort of ambivalent about the stuff, even though I have several pieces of gear that use it. For one thing, it added quite a bit to the cost of an item —- close to $100 for a sleeping bag, for instance. And to me it was effective only in a fairly narrow temperature range -— say, between about 20 to 45 degrees. Colder than, and it still increased the chances of moisture becoming trapped inside a bag, where it could freeze. Warmer, and, well, so what if the bag gets a little damp? DryLoft wasn't protection against a real soaking, anyway.

Since its introduction, DryLoft has sparked plenty of competition, which I think is why you see it mentioned less often. On the one hand, nearly all bag makers now used nylon or polyester shells that are treated for water-repellency, a process that results in a bag that is more breathable than the DryLoft equivalent, cheaper, and nearly as water-resistant. On the other hand, some makers have introduced bag shells that are MORE water-resistant than DryLoft, the logic being that people who want a water-shedding shell on a bag, want a good one. Feathered Friends, for instance, uses a PTFE material (Gore-Tex is based on PTFE, basically Teflon) it sources from a non-Gore maker, hence saving money, and that is more water-resistant than Gore-Tex. Mountain Hardwear, meanwhile, uses a proprietary coated fabric it calls Conduit, which is essentially waterproof, except for the seams a bag will have.

Myself, I think the best shell is a polyester microfiber that's treated for water-repellency. Soft, durable, breathable and water-resistant. Western Mountaineering uses such a shell in bags such as the Super Apache MF ($335), a superb 15-degree bag. Interestingly, Western touts this shell as its most "extreme-use" shell, even though it also makes and sells DryLoft-covered bags, which it calls its most "water-resistant" bags. Which is true, but it sounds to me like they really prefer the polyester shells.

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