Gear Guy

What’s the deal with water-resistant sleeping bags?

I've been reading your archived responses regarding water-resistant sleeping bag shells with great interest as I'm trying to decide between down bags from several of the companies. After your initial (and maybe continued) ambivalence about Dryloft, I was surprised by your negative view of Epic. Especially since many manufacturers seem to have jumped on the Epic bandwagon as having better breathability. On what basis do you believe that Epic is "a condensation trap" in sleeping bags, and why do you think so many are suddenly using it if indeed it doesn't breathe well? Is it just a fad, too early to tell, or should I stick with Dryloft? I look forward to your reply, if you care to go another round on this topic. No Name Given

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This whole water-resistant bag-shell thing baffles me. I sort of see the point-it’s reasonable to think that even a careful camper may bring some snow into a tent with himself, or that an open fly could allow some rain to blow in. And heaven knows many tents cause interior condensation, which then can “rain” down on a bag. This is most damaging to down bags, of course, as once down is wet it is very difficult to dry.

But how much water is going to get on or into a bag through that route? Not much, really. Meanwhile, each night the average person exudes one or two pints of water. That’s a lot. So you do NOT want that water to become trapped in a bag. And face it, ANY water-resistant barrier is going to slow the transpiration of that moisture. So my view is that the best sleeping bag shells err toward the breathability side. I like polyester microfiber for a shell. It’s light, durable, breathes extremely well, and polyester is naturally water-resistant.

So, in the case of products such as Dryloft and Epic, which are now often found as bag shells (Dryloft in particular was largely designed by the Gore folks as an insulated garment/sleeping bag shell), I’m not convinced there’s a problem that they solve. I’m particularly skeptical of Epic, which uses silicon-encapsulated threads. It became very popular because it was much cheaper than Gore Activent, a fabric that Epic pretty much shoved out of the marketplace. But while Epic is light, water-resistant, and wind-resistant, my experience is that it breathes very poorly. I’ve had conversations about this with the folks at Nextec, makers of Epic, and they think I’m full of it and that their tests support the position that Nextec makes a very breathable fabric. But, one of the designers at a major outdoor gear maker that uses Nextec agrees with me.

Ultimately it’s a case-by-case thing. If I camped a lot with a down bag in a wet climate in the 20- to 40-degree range, then maybe I’d consider a more water-resistant shell. But if it’s warmer than 40 degrees, it doesn’t matter. Colder, same story-cold weather is dry weather (Don’t believe me? Try getting water from a pot full of packed snow on Denali). And when it’s cold, condensation in the shell is even more of a concern, so the nod really goes to a breathable shell.

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