Gear Guy

Does a sleeping bag's "down fill" really matter?

I would like to know what the difference is between Marmot's 800-fill Couloir and 600-fill Never Summer sleeping bags if they both have a rating of zero-degrees. I'm going to Patagonia in January and would like to know which bag you would use, although I'm not yet sure what elevation I'll be at. Hans Norton, Massachusetts

A: It's true—one bag can have 600-fill down, the other 800-fill down, yet they both have the same temperature rating. The 600-fill down will cost less, too. The Never Summer you mention sells for $250, the Couloir for $490. A substantial difference. So why buy one over the other?

Mainly because an 800-fill bag requires less down to give you the same insulation, so it weighs less. In a 32-degree bag the difference is negligible, but in bags rated to zero or lower it starts to add up (more on this momentarily). Such a bag will also compress more, taking up less space in your pack. And, as a general rule, a higher-fill down is a better-quality down, with more fully developed down plumules. So it will last longer and withstand more stuffings and unstuffings than a 600-fill bag.
When comparing the Never Summer and Couloir bags, the down is not the only thing that has an effect on the weight and price. The Couloir is clearly a higher-end bag, with better and lighter materials. Bottom line: the Couloir weighs 3 pounds, 6 ounces, the Never Summer 3 pounds, 12 ounces. Not a huge difference, but for weight-conscious campers and climbers perhaps a worthwhile one.

Overall, I'd say a zero-degree bag should be fine for Patagonia, unless you go to quite high elevations, in which case a minus-ten bag might be better.