Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Down still not out

For a long time down sleeping bags and clothing have existed, but for the bushcrafter the fear of the insulation lose which can happen if the down gets wet has always put people off.

But because of its insulation qualities, its warmth to weight ratio and its general user friendliness the Bearclaw team have been trialing different down items over the last year.

Sleeping bags - in my youth, as a young soldier we were all issued the good old 58 pattern down bag and for at least 7 years I used one of these sleeping in trenches, ditches, under bashas and in tents, I have slept in a 58 bag which in the morning was covered in a layer of ice and looking back never seem to remember them letting me down - indeed with the water proof base and hood I remember many a time sleeping under the stars and when it started to rain simply rolling over so the bottom became a water proof top!!

So impressed with these bags am I that I now sleep in one still on all our expedition style courses. Their only down (excuse the pun) side is the bulk - being designed to roll into their own hood.

For courses when we're a foot and need to pack compactly I personally now favour the Fjallraven Distance P5 sleeping bag, this bag packs down to the size of a grape fruit, weighs next to nothing and is remarkably warm for its size - comfort rated only to 4c I've used my bag year round and using common sense (i.e sleeping in some of my clothes ect in really cold conditions) I've never had a problem with it. Indeed it is now my favourite of all bags!!

Another bag which has found favour with the team is the Alpkit Dream 500 - I personally have one but have never used it as the Distance P5 suits my needs but I know JP likes his. One thing with the Alpkit kit is the bivi bag while good quality is a little shy on volume being a broad shoulders chap I find them very confining to the point of actually being unusable!

Now onto down jackets, I dont know what it is about a down jacket but their is a comfort level which comes with these which is far more than just the jackets cut. The down itself seems to self regulate and thus far I seem to found that the jackets I've tried never seem to over heat?? Again weight and pack size is excellent. Going back to our fear of the lose of insulation in the wet - how many people go out into the woods without a waterproof jacket, poncho or ventile smock??

OK, ok maybe your one of the few, or your just unlucky and caught out without one, well the Montane Anti-freeze down jacket has a waterproof shell!! Simple!

Down jackets are the ideal thing for dry cold with out a shadow of a doubt, but our trials have found they hold their own in typical uk weather too ...................

As for the cost - well yes down is more expensive than most other insulation materials and that may inhibit some people - but look at it this way, your clothing is your first line of defence in the wilderness, if dressed correctly, for the temperature range and weather conditions you could survive many days without shelter, fire or a cutting tool - now consider how much you'd happily spend on a knife?? Suddenly down isnt so expensive.................

Lastly - another interesting thing I've found with down is you dont get the clammy feeling often found in synthetic bags or clothing!! Down may not be for everyone but its worthy of consideration - me and the boys are definate converts back to this simple, more traditional material and thats because we've found it works!


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