Lofty down prices spur more efficient sleeping bag designs and synthetics for 2014

Check out the top products and trends in sleeping bags for 2014 from Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Thanks to water-resistant technologies and high fill powers, consumers are flocking to down sleeping bags.

So why are so many brands at Summer Market talking about innovations to curb their use of the natural insulation? Prices are through the roof, and consumers can expect to feel the punch in 2014.

For the past several years, manufacturers have put aside steadily rising prices of the commodity to jump on the down bandwagon, but that surging demand, coupled with dwindling supplies and this year’s heavy bout of avian/bird flu, have tightened the draw cord on the fill — sleeping bag prices on the show floor for 2014 are up as much as 20 to 30 percent.

By no means are brands abandoning the insulation — especially with plenty of room to run with new water-resistant down adopters — but you’ll hear manufacturers talk about new and more efficient designs, non-standard fill powers, duck down and a bump in new synthetic sleeping bag options to help hit reasonable price points.

Sierra Designs stays committed to its water-resistant DriDown technology, but not to traditional sleeping bag designs with the innovative, zipperless Backcountry Bed series (MSRPs $249-$349). The bags abandon snagging and noisy zippers, yet include a hood, by employing a circular entry inspired by a shoe’s tongue. It allows the bag’s top core to be tucked in to seal off drafts or provide a blanket-like cover. They are meant to be used with a pad for underside insulation (another way brands are cutting back on down) and are available in EN-rated 15- and 30-degree options with either 600 and 800 fill power. Sierra Designs also debuts the Mobile Mummy series (MSRPs $249-$439; 600-800 fills; 15 and 30 degrees; men’s and women’s), a sleeping system built more like a garment that sits on your shoulders like a jacket, with a long central zip plus zipperless self-sealing arm ports and a lower exit for the legs for mobility while still wearing the bag.

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Education on the show and sales floor also will play a key role with rising down prices, as consumers will be convinced to pay up for the best product.

“There is still no better option than down in sleeping bags,” said Shelley Dunbar, marketing director of Sea to Summit. “The consumer needs to be educated — the products are going to be more expensive, but price is the only reason you wouldn’t want to buy a down bag.”

Sea to Summit (#16001) expands on last year’s introduction of its ultralight Spark 1 sleeping bag, with the 16.4 ounce Spark II (MSRP $359; 35 degrees, EN lower limit, men’s) and 22-ounce Spark III (MSRP $439; 25 degrees). Both are filled with 850-fill, water-resistant Ultra Dry Down, which is box-wall baffled to increase loft in the torso on the Spark II, and throughout the entire bag on the Spark III. Montbell enters the ultralight 900-fill power sleeping bag game with its Down Hugger 900 #5 (MSRP $419), which employs a super-thin, 8-denier nylon to come in at just 15 ounces. The bag is EN-rated to 38 degrees at the comfort limit (women’s), and features the brand’s signature spiral baffle stretch construction with Insotect FlowGate to distribute warmth.

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Another key point of education, said Sam Kilgore, marketing manager for Rab USA, is to let consumers know that the price jumps are due to the down itself, not the advent of water-resistant down, which, in fact, is relatively inexpensive. She said she’s overheard some within the industry use the easy, but incorrect cop-out with to explain why prices are soaring.

Rab, which enters the water-resistant down category through a two-year, exclusive partnership with Nikwax’s new Hydrophobic Down, worked with the University of Leeds in England to reduce (and in a few cases increase) the individual baffle heights, tailoring each baffle its most efficient insulation. In sum, it shaved an average of 30 grams of material from the bags, such the Andes and Neutrino, while maintaining or even improving insulation results. Millet brings a full line of sleeping bags to the U.S. for the first time, and takes a dual down approach — 800-fill goose down up top and 700-fill water-resistant DownTek duck down below — in its 3-pound, 7-ounce World Roof bag (MSRP $599), EN-rated to a lower limit of 3 degrees. There’s a combination of vertical baffling in the core area for better heat flow, and horizontal baffling in the legs. Mountain Equipment also mixes it up, using 725-fill, water-resistant down on the top and synthetic PrimaLoft Synergy on the bottom of its new Matrix series of alpine sleeping bags (MSRPs $280-$400), with EN ratings from 20 to 32 degrees.

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Nemo targets more temperature options within a single bag with its Thremo Gills, which can open and close to regulate temperature without letting in a big rush of cold air. It introduced the innovation at Winter Market for extreme negative temperatures, and for Summer Market hits the 0-degree category with the Coda 0 (MSRP $700) with 850-fill goose down. Building off last year’s debut of its sleeping bags, Therm-a-Rest also hits the 0-degree mark — in this case for women — with the 2-pound, 4 ounce Adara (MSRP $500) that pairs with a sleeping pad below.

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One sure way to lower the price of a sleeping bag — switch to synthetics. Rab enters the synthetic-fill sleeping bag category for the first time. It’s a direct response to the down’s rising prices, Killgore said, and making sure the brand is a player at all the right price points. The new synthetic, short-staple fill Rab Ignition series (MSRP $125-$155) includes seven different bags (some with extra-large size options) at EN lower limits of 20, 26 and 32 degrees. Big Agnesalso expands its synthetic line-up, introduced last year with Pinneco Core synthetic insulation coupled with Insotect Tubic vertical baffled construction, with women’s bags such as the 25-degree Moon Hill (MSRP $200) and the 10-degree Pristine (MSRP $230), which also come in 5-foot “petite” sizes that are $10 less. Montane introduces the Prism 32 (MSRP $289) rated right freezing with PrimaLoft insulation and a Pertex Microlight shell.

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Synthetic value can be found with a new line of continuous filament sleeping bags from Peregrine. The Saker 0, 20 and 35-degree EN rated bags (MSRPs $80-$100) are affordable, but come with higher-end elements such as draft tubes, snag-free zippers and waterproof stuff sacks. The 35-degree Saker weighs in at a respectable 2 pounds, 3 ounces. Eureka updates the synthetic fill its is performance mummy bags (MSRPs $79-$119), which cover lower limits of 0 to 45 degrees in the brand’s switch to EN ratings.

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There are still affordable down sleeping bags, too. “We locked in pricing earlier, so we can offer the consumer value,” said Andrew Coutant, director of equipment at The North Face “Granted, we’re hoping down prices taper off for 2015.”

TNF also employs lower down fills, such as 550 for an entry-level line of down bags in the 20-degree Furnace (MSRP $169, men) and Tephora (MSRP $179, women) with water-resistant Pro Down and a layer of synthetic fill on the bottom to reduce cold spots from compression. They provide a less tapered cut for more room and weight in at 2 pounds, 10 ounces for the men’s and 3 pounds, 2 ounces for the women’s. Mountain Hardwearbrings the 32-degree Ratio for men and the Heratio for women (MSRPs $230) that feature a crisscross ThermoTrap Baffle technology that locks its Q.Sheld water-resistant, 650-fill down into smaller chambers for less migration.

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Kelty introduces 800-fill water-resistant DriDown bags to the masses at a moderate price (MSRP $299) in its 20-degree TraiLogic Sleeping Bag, weighing in at 2 pounds, 1 ounce. And Marmot aims to keep the price low by introducing a line of 700-fill, water-resistant Down Defender bags in is Outdoor series (MSRPs $259-$329; EN-rated comfort limits of about 0, 15 and 30 degrees) that mimic its ultralight Plasma bags in design, but with a little wider of a cut.

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--David Clucas

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