High-tech synthetic insulations are giving dowm a run for its money in the sleeping bag market, but thay are also creating some confusion at the retail level.
Although down is still considered the premier sleeping bag insulation by most of the hardcore outdoor audience, retailers report that advances in new synthetic insulations are beginning to chase the goose’s feathers even at the high-end of the market. - https://github.com/campinglife/Sleepingbag/wiki/How-To-Choose-The-Right-Sleeping-Bag-For-Camping
High-tech insulations, such as 3M’s Lite Loft, DuPont’s Micro-loft, Albany International’s Primaloft and Hoechst Celanese’s Polarguard HV, have reportedly helped to create new demand in the bag market for quality alternatives to down at competitive prices.
“DuPont and Celanese have spent a lot of money in promoting the fact that synthetics are better than down when wet. And Albany International’s Prima Loft is even trying to sell the oxymoron of ‘synthetic down,’” says Jerry Watt, sleeping bag product manager and buyer, Recreational Equipment, Inc (REI). “But synthetics are getting a lot closer to down–they’re about 90 percent of the way there.”
In some cases, increased recognition of high-performance synthetic fills are cutting into the sales of down products. “In the outdoor industry, we’ve gone so far in promoting the value of synthetic insulation to the customer, that it’s getting harder to sell down,” says David Wallace, camping buyer for Blue Ridge Mountain Sports. “Down bags are now out there for only the customer with the most specific of needs.”
While similar in their pursuit of imitating the best qualities of down, synthetic insulation manufacturers differ on their approach. Products such as 3M’s Lite Loft, DuPont’s Micro-loft and Polarguard HV have stirred a debate over which loft-to-warmth-to-weight ratio is the most effective.
Lite Loft, a mixture of polyester and olefin fibers, touts its high-warmth-to-low-weight ratio, as well as a high degree of loft. On the other hand, Micro-loft, a micro-denier polyester fiber, claims a high degree of thermal performance and a high ratio of compressability-to-loft-retention, while sacrificing a degree of loft.
Hoescht Celanese takes a different tact with Polarguard HV, a high-void update of its Polarguard continuous filament fiber, which is positioned to compete on cost, durability and loft resiliency.
Albany International’s Primaloft, made of .5 denier synthetic fibers, is marketed as being as warm as down and warmer than other synthetics at equal weights and densities.
Although the differences between the new fills are often subtle, retailers say they are changing the way sleeping bags are being sold. “We have trained the consumer in the past that the loft of a bag is the best factor for determining temperature rating,” says Rich Amodio, sleeping bag buyer, Eastern Mountain Sports. “But that theory has changed with the new fills on the market.”
He adds that until synthetics can match all the qualities of down, a good deal of confusion will remain in the market. “Most customers seem to be comfortable going with synthetics over down, but there is the potential for a lot of confusion with the variety of new fills out there. A well-trained staff is going to be key to the sale.”
DuPont is willing to share some of the blame for the confusion at retail. Robert Van Dyke, account manager for the DuPont Fiber Fill Group, stresses that the advantages of Micro-loft–warmth (https://github.com/campinglife/Sleepingbag/wiki/How-To-Know-What-Size-Sleeping-Bag-Should-I-Get%3F), compressability and loft retention–have to be stressed on the sales floor because the fill has a thinner profile.
“The teachers on the floor have to know that Micro-loft will provide better warmth, although it is not taller. This means more work at the point of sale,” says Van Dyke. “The theory on the high-tech level is that loft is most important, but retailers now have to rethink this issue.”
However, some retailers believe that trying to sell the point of lower loft with greater warmth will be difficult. “Loft is still the primary driver in the market,” says REI’s Watt. “How a bag looks and hangs off the shelf is still the primary factor in the sale. What gives Lite Loft an edge is loft. With Micro-loft, people don’t understand the less-loft-with-more-warmth ratio.”
MAKING A CHOICE
On the manufacturing end, vendors are choosing insulations based on a combination of price, performance and how its bags are positioned in the market. Sierra Designs, for example, has introduced six new bags for 1994, including Polarguard HV versions and a 650 fill down bag. Overall, though, the company has gained a reputation for its use of Lite Loft in its higher-end synthetic bags.
“When Lite Loft came on the market for clothing, Sierra Designs pushed 3M for a sleeping bag version, because the insulation was lighter and more compressible than others on the market,” says Paige Springer, marketing director, Sierra Designs. “We use Lite Loft as our higher-end material. We never dropped Polarguard, but we adopted HV. It still has a place as an extremely durable product and is good for the lower-end camping market.”
Rather than classifying fills strictly as high- or low-end products, many manufacturers are choosing insulations based on how well they fit their construction techniques. The North Face, for example, uses Polarguard HV, which costs nearly half the price of Lite Loft or Micro-loft, in its top-of-the-line synthetic bags. The company says the shingle construction of the insulation provides the most durable, lightweight synthetic bags on the market.
Marmot, which has introduced a whopping 25 new bags for 1994, uses a combination of Lite Loft and Primaloft in many bags, citing the insulations’ warmth-to-weight compatibility. According to Marmot, Primaloft appears too thin to the consumer to stand alone, so the company decided to use a dual-fiber insulation in most of its synthetic bags.
MZH’s Expedition Trails line is still using DuPont’s seven-hole, high-loft Qualofil in most of its bags, but plans to add more Micro-loft into future models. The company is also manufacturing multi-layer bags with Microloft on the inside and Qualofil on the outside layer for better loft.
According to Geila Hocherman, MZH’s vice president, Micro-loft is a high performing insulation that requires special attention. “The problem with Micro-loft is that it cannot stand on its own–it depends on the bag’s construction,” says Hocherman. “A lot of companies are out to make the cheapest Micro-loft product as possible. But that’s like saying you want to use silk to make a baseball cap.”
Manufacturers claim that there are some problems with Lite Loft, as well. By using both polyester and olefin fibers, manufacturers warn that Lite Loft has a lower melting point than 100-percent polyester insulations, and therefore a greater possibility exists for mistreating a Lite Loft bag. “You have to be careful about heat when storing the bag in the trunk of a car, because the outer layer of insulation has a lower melting temperature than the inner layer,” says Sierra Designs’ Springer. “But as with any piece of technical gear, you have to treat it right.”
And while most of the news in sleeping bags has been dominated by synthetic insulations of late, down is far from dead. Manufacturers are introducing better-performing down bags with increased minimum fill powers (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-types-sleeping-bags-dave-stenie), as well as greater down-to-feather content.
In addition, the recent introduction of DryLoft fabric from W.L. Gore & Assoc. is designed to improve down bags by keeping moisture out, while allowing moisture from within to escape.
Many retailers expect the high-end techy consumer to head straight for the DryLoft down bag as the industries’ next standard of performance.