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Product Knowledge
March 2014

What’s inside sleeping systems

Our cut-out-and-keep series to assist retailers with product knowledge.

For many people the comfort of their beds at home is one of their most treasured things. When going on an outdoor trip it is no different: comfortable sleeping is ideal.

The level of quality required for the sleeping items will depend on the environment your customers will be using them in. Those who camp in their caravans, chalets or any other building might not need the warmest of sleeping bags. Hikers will want the lightest option they can afford. While those embarking on an expedition in extreme temperatures will want the best insulation they can find. Canoeist will look at water-resistant options, etc.

How do you advise a customer which sleeping item is ideal?

Choose insulation

The conditions in which the bag will be used, as well as the length of time it will be used, are the deciding factors about the type of filling a customer will choose. You need to understand how the sleeping bag will sustain the duration of the trip before recommending one.

The most important function of a sleeping bag is to keep a sleeper warm — or insulated from the cold, by trapping the heat of the warm air produced by the body. The filling of a bag provides the insulation by keeping the air warm.

The loft — the thickness and fluffiness of the bag’s inner layers — determines how warm the sleeping bag will be. While thicker insulation will be warmer, it will also weigh more per square meter. The warmth and the weight will also be determined by the type of filling chosen — fine feathers, or down, offer more warmth at a lighter weight than synthetic materials.

Ratings for sleeping bags

Sleeping bags are rated according to the level of insulation they provide, and the ratings refer to the lowest temperatures in which they can be used.

The sleeping bag rating can be expressed in terms of the season it will be suitable for, or the temperature in which it will be used. These ratings can differ from person to person as not everybody reacts the same to temperature levels. It also depends on the conditions in which the bag will be used. Your customer can, for example, feel cold and uncomfortable in a bag as a result of the loss of insulation from wind chill.

Temperature ratings are based on a number of factors like gender, age, weight, etc.

•Comfort level offers a grown woman a com- fortable night’s sleep.

•Lower limit is the lowest temperature at which an adult man is guaranteed a comfortable night’s sleep in cold or hot conditions.

•Upper limit is the opposite of the lower lim- it and would indicate the highest temperature in which an adult male will enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep without sweating.

•Extreme temperature indicate that the bags can be used in the coldest conditions without the user freezing in extreme conditions. Seasonal ratings indicate the level of insulation offered that would make the bag suitable for use in specific weather conditions.

•One season bags are suitable for warm weather (summer), preferably indoors.

•Two season bags are good for use in slightly cooler weather (late spring or early autumn).

•Three season bags keep campers warm in cool and warm weather like spring, summer and autumn — and also our relatively mild winters. These synthetic bags are suitable for people who are more inclined to feel the cold than users of 1-2 season bags.

•Four season bags are good for extreme win- ter cold and will keep a consumer warm in extreme cold conditions.

•Five season bags are the most expensive and are the ideal choice for a customer embarking on an expedition in extreme conditions.

Synthetic and down are the two basic types of insulation commonly used in sleeping bags.

Synthetics fillings

There are various types of synthetic fibres — some are continuous and long, others are short. There are also various types of synthetic fillings that are proprietary to a specific brand.

•Hollow fibre polyester is the most basic synthetic fibre. These polyester fibres have different structures, which result in differing performances.

 A single hole in the middle of the fibre to trap warm air offers relatively low heat retention. The 4 hole hollow fibre provide a greater surface to trap warm air. It therefore provides more insulation for less bulk and weight than the one hole.

 Quallofil 7 is a hollow fibre with seven holes to ensure a lighter bag, with more body heat trapped. It has a soft feel, but is still fairly bulky. This type of filling is suitable for winter use and in extreme wet conditions.

•Polarguard is a better quality synthetic filling and is made of a number of continuous fibres that offer good insulation. There are different types of Polarguard available. The original Polarguard is a bit bulky, but offers better insulation than hollow fibre.

 Polarguard 3D offers as much insulation as the original Polarguard, but is lighter and less bulkier.

 Polarguard Delta in turn, is an improve- ment on 3D, improving the insulation abilities, while also reducing the bulk considerably. Top quality synthetic sleeping bags often have this filling.

Other top end synthetics: • Microloft is made of fine, dense, layers of ultra thin siliconised polyester fibres that trap the heat between them. This offers good insulation, while keeping the weight and bulk down. It is very water-resistant.

• Primaloft is a hi-tech, soft, lightweight and very fine microfibre blend that is also fast-drying and water-resistant. It has a very good weight-to-warmth ratio and compresses well — but it is expensive.

• Litelof is another top end short fibre poly- ester blend, but it is bulkier, and therefore more affordable, than Primaloft.

Pros of synthetics

Besides being more affordable than down, there are several other benefits to choosing a synthetic bag.

•One of the main benefits of a synthetic filling is the ability to maintain body warmth even in wet conditions. This does not mean that synthetic insulation doesn’t get affected by wetness, but synthetic fillings handle wet conditions better than down, maintain ing its loft, or thickness, when wet, thus trapping up to 65% more air and warmth than down when wet. Synthetic sleeping bags also dry quicker than down, making them more resistant to mildew and rot.

•Synthetic bags require less care when clean- ing and storing. They can be hand- or machine washed without losing quality.

•Customers with allergies will benefit from a synthetic fill, which is less likely to contain allergens than down.

Cons of synthetic

• Synthetic fibres are much heavier than down per square meter. For synthetic to provide the same warmth as down, more will have to be used, which will make the bag heavier and bulkier.

• Synthetic fibres lose quality faster than down. Customers therefore will need to replace their synthetic bags quicker than when using down fill.

• When synthetic is compressed into a stuff bag, the insulation can lose quality, which results in reduced performance.

Down fillings

Down is the natural plumage that forms the undercoating of waterfowl and consists of the fine feathers from the breast area of a goose or duck.

Not all sleeping bag filling will consist only of down. For example, when the label states that the filling is 90% goose down, it will consist of 90% down and 10% feathers. The higher percentage of down compared to feathers will result in a lower weight and bulk with better insulation. A product with a higher down grade will be more expensive.

There are different qualities of down.

Types of down filling

•Duck down is considered to be less fine than goose down and it is also less expensive. Insulation works by the feathers trapping a layer of air, which is then heated by your body heat.

•Goose down is very fine and provides ap- proximately 25% more insulation than the equivalent weight of duck down.

•Hi-Loft down traps more air than any oth- er type of filling. It is made of very fine goose down to provide more insulation. Where bulk and weight are vitally important, this type of filling will be used — for example, in top quality expedition bags.

Pros of down

•Geese or duck down provide the most com- fortable and lightest fillings for sleeping bags. Down is considered to be the warmest filling per weight ratio.

•Down offers more durable, higher quality insulation than synthetic fillings. With proper care a down sleeping bag will last longer than one with a synthetic filling.

•In cold conditions, down provides more warmth, and it is cooler in warm conditions. This ensures that a down bag will respond well to all weather conditions, meeting a customer’s personal requirements.

•Down insulation doesn’t lose its insu- lation benefits when compressed. The fine feathers are light enough to respond positively when compressed.

Cons of down

•Down bags are much more expensive than synthetic sleeping bags.

•One of the main negatives of a down filling is the poor performance in wet conditions, as down is not water resistant.

•Down takes longer than synthetic fibres to dry in wet conditions — sometimes more than a day. It loses warmth when it is wet and in continuous rain you might have to sleep under very cold and uncomfortable conditions. When stored while damp, the down can mould or rot.

•Compared to synthetic fillings, down bags require more care in cleaning and storing. The type of chemicals and washing tools used may have an impact on the bag.

Down standards

There had been some concerns in the industry about the ethical harvesting of down feathers and implications it may have for animal abuse — for example, when down obtained from ducks or geese used for making foie gras are used. This product, made from the liver of birds that had been force fed until their livers burst, is banned in several countries.

The North Face (TNF) is compiling a Responsible Down Standard (RDS) in collaboration with several animal rights agencies to ensure that all the down used in their products had been sourced responsibly and without any harm to the birds. Following on site audits of the full supply chain, down that meet the standards, will receive certification TNF has now announced that they will hand over ownership of their RDS to the Textile Exchange so that it could be adopted across the industry. The Textile Exchange will have the right to distribute and even update the RDS.

Sleeping bag liners

One way to prolong the life of an expensive sleeping bag or provide more insulation and warmth to a cheaper bag, is to add a liner. There are several benefits to buying a liner with a sleeping bag.

•A liner can be used to keep a sleeping bag clean — the liner can be washed with ease, thereby prolonging the quality of the insulation materials in the sleeping bag.

• A liner adds a layer of insulation and a good liner can make your existing sleeping bag about 15º warmer.

• In warm weather a liner can be used instead of a sleeping bag — providing a cost-effective, ultra-light sleeping option.

• Liners add little bulk and does not take up much space in a pack.

• Some high-end liners have been treated with anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and insect repelling chemicals that keep the bag cleaner, odourless and repel insects.

Cotton liners are the most basic and affordable, but they are heavier than silk. Fleece liners provide extra warmth, but take up more space than other liners. Silk liners are the lightest and most compact, but provide less warmth and are also more expensive. Silk has the added benefit that it wicks away sweat and moisture, preventing the sleeping bag from becoming damp.

Synthetic liners are made from various materials, including rip stop, that help keep the liner drier, warmer and more durable. Liners are available in mummy or rectangular shapes to fit the cut of the sleeping bag. The better the fit of the liner inside the bag, the better the insulation. Loose material from a liner can also be uncomfortable.

Sleeping mats

Cold air seeping from below and hard rocks pressing in your back can drastically reduce the comfort of the best insulated sleeping bag. A sleeping mat provides an insulation layer between the bag and the ground and padding to cover rocks.

The thermal resistance provided by a mat is indicated using an R-Value, which is the ratio that the temperature differs between the top (where you need heat) and bottom of the mat (on the cold ground).

•Closed cell foam create a firm, yet light- weight, sleeping mat. Air pockets in the foam provide some insulation and cushioning, but it is fairly bulky. Self-inflating open-cell foam cavities glued to the top and bottom that fill with air, are nowadays commonly available since the patent expired.

•Inflated sleeping mats are comfortable, lighter and less bulky to pack than foam pads. Manually inflated sleeping mats require a pump, or someone with good lungs, to inflate.

 Standard air core mats have a cav- ity, like an air mattress, that has to be filled with air, which reduces insulation.They take up little space when deflated.

 Insulated air core mats have insulation material attached to the bottom to offer better thermal protection than the standard air core. This can be synthetic material (more affordable), or the cavities can be filled with down, which is more expensive and heavier.

 Structural insulation, e.g. internal baffles, offers the best insulation in an air core mat. This advanced technology ensures high performance, but low weight.

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