I’m going on a kayaking trip to Alaska’s Prince Willliams Sound at the end of June, and was wondering if it would be appropriate to use a down sleeping bag. I know the area is fairly wet and rainy, and was wondering if I can get away with down, or would a synthetic bag make more sense. I would love to hear from someone that has been there.
Try a Wiggys
I heard good things about the Wiggys. Cabelas sells them and they are synthetic. I used one in Mysty Fjords outside of Ketchikan last year. I really can’t say how good they are when wet because we had perfect weather with no rain for 9 days!
Less is more
Summer conditions will vary considerably in Prince William Sound. We paddle in Southeast Alaska (more rain than Southwest) and camp from February through November. Most people bring too heavy a bag for our weather. Its not going to get too cold unless it turns out to be a cold summer and you are near a glacier. My wife uses a Marmot pounder plus rated to somewhere in the 20s, I use a Primaloft bag rated to 40 degrees. We both use light weight bivy sacks, which add some degree of warmth, and use tarps for shelter. When its cold (20-40) we use a floorless Pyramid Tent that weighs 26 ounces. Above that temperature we use a 10x12 tarp that weighs about the same. Total shelter for the two of us is under 40 ounces, excluding the bags. I mention this because in the Sound, as here, the tides are such that hauling stuff up and down the beach is the real chore and its better to be as light as possible. See http://flickr.com/photos/umnak/ for pictures of how we camp here.
Sleeping Bag for Southeast Alaska
Umnak was right on the mark about the weather in Southeast Alaska. Temperatures all year stay pretty much between the mid 40’s and low 60’s. The 180’to 220’ of rainfall also comes all year round. Down is still lighter than any synthetic although Delta Polyguard is getting close. Many manufacturers now make down bags in Dry Loft, Gore tex or DWR coatings that make the down bags vertually waterproof. Problem is you pay top dollar for waterproof versions of down bags as opposed to the synthetic bags with Climateshield, Delta Polyguard,Polyguard HV or Primaloft. Down bags are filled with grades of down from 550 to 800. The 750-850 versions are superlight and super expensive.
I don’t know what you want to spend or your weight requirements are, but here are some of the best of both down and synthetic bags:
I. Down Bags:
l. Western Mountaineering-Sycamore 25degree
$345. Weight 2.0 pounds total 850fill
2. REI-Sub Kilo+20 20degree $235. Weight
1.13 750 fill
3. Mountain Hardware-Piute- 20degree $205.
2.10 600 fill
4. Campmor-Down Mummy- 20 degree $175 3.00
II. Synthetic Bags:
1. The North Face- Cats Meow- 20degree $145
Weight 2.10 Delta
2. Lafuma- X Pro 950- 20 degree $120. 1.7
Weight Proprietory synthetic
3. Kelty- Light Year XP 20degree $130 2.13
Weight Climateshield Synthetic
Many trippers in Southeast Alaska carry bivy sacks to put over their bags to keep them dry and use a tarp or lightweight tent. My pick for the best two man lightweight tents are The Sierra Designs Flashlight, Big Agnes Seedhouse 2, Kelty Gunnison 2, All are under 4.5 pounds.
I’d stay away from
down. Get a synthetic. There's nothing worse than being wet and cold, especially at night. In south central AK, while May and June are usually the best months w/less rain and July and August being wetter, sometimes it just doesn't matter. Pretty much all of last years summer was rain. It's not going to be that freezing cold, but in June there's still some snow left. If you camp near a glacier, you'll get that cold wind whipping off of it, though. I survived 3 years there w/a synthetic and did just fine.
Bring lots of tarps. It's great having a couple of people hold a tarp over you while you're setting up tents and it's pouring down rain. Less chance for them to get wet inside. My recomendation would be, if you're going to get a synthetic bag, get a 0 degree one. They're pretty much the same size as one rated for 20 degrees and you get the best of both worlds.
Don’t need a winter bag
In June '04 I paddled from Ketchikan to Skagway. I brought an ancient Polarguard sleeping bag originally rated to 20 deg; it had lost enough loft that I gave it a personal rating of about 45 degrees.
It was enough on that trip. The only cold night was the one where the bergie bits from LeConte Glacier ground by all night, as well as a frigid downdraft from the mountains.
We met another long-haul paddler who’d brought a down bag rated to 0. He said it was way too hot.
You’ll want to store your sleeping bag (either down or synth) in a dry bag, so it should never get soaked anyway. “Damp” is another story. The air can be so humid (esp. at night) that it feels like everything is soggy. I have not-so-fond memories of compressing a damp sleeping bag into its dry bag, then grimacing as I later pulled out the still-damp sleeping bag for that night. Get used to it But the location is absolutely worth the discomforts.
There is no accepted standard in the US for rating sleeping bags (some of the European countries are working on one). Additionally, some people sleep warmer or colder than others. In my experience, the North Face rates its bags for colder than where one is comfortable. I’ll never buy another North Face bag and I’m not alone. There are many of us that bought one once but won’t get burned again! I’ve found Marmot bags to be very good and I also like Mountain Hardwear.
I can’t add anything about the weather.
If you’re going on a supported trip and you have plenty of room for a synthetic bag then it won’t matter. If space is an issue then a down bag will pack down much smaller. As long as you have a good dry bag and trust your hatches (and the inside of your tent) will stay dry, you’ll be fine with a down bag.
I used summer down bags in AK
and didn’t have any trouble. It’s not any different up there using down than it is in the lower 48. I’m not advocating down in particular, but if you’re careful and do not get your bag wet, they’re fine. I guess if I was replacing mine I’d check out all the new synthetic bags and the down bags covered with a breathable, waterproof fabric. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to take my summer weight, down bag up to Alaska again.
When we did Glacier Bay we used
synthetic bags and kept them in small dry bags. You could do the same for down bags also.
Down is fine
I have paddled most of PWS. I use a 0 deg down bag from REI. (REI brand)
I don’t use a tent, only a tarp or bivy. I have never had an issue with down.