Buying a Sleeping Bag When You’re Allergic to Down


For decades, down sleeping bags have been highly regarded in the camping and backpacking communities. It seems like all the best sleeping bags have down filling insulation. Down is by far the best insulator currently available. It’s extremely warm, lightweight and easy to compress into your pack.

But what if you’re allergic to down? Can you still get a warm night’s sleep with a synthetic bag? Yes, synthetic bags have come a long way and they’re often just as warm as down(although slightly heavier).

Don’t Give Up On Down Sleeping Bags Just Yet

Are you positive that you’re actually allergic to down? Down allergies are actually somewhat rare affecting less than 1% of the population.

Realistically, you’re probably not allergic to down! Most people that think they have down allergies are actually allergic to the dust, dander, and mold found in improperly cleaned bags.

I’m not calling you a slob, sleeping bags aren’t designed to be washed every time they’re used. You’re probably just more sensitive to common airborne irritants. Or you might be dealing with a mold or dust mite problem from an improperly stored bag.

Testing For A Down Allergy

Heading down to your local allergy specialist is the only surefire way to tell if a person is allergic to down, but who has the time for that? If you have never-ending congestion, coughing, sneezing and a runny nose you might be allergic to down(or it could just be a dust mite allergy).

To test for a down allergy your best bet is to rent a high quality down sleeping bag and bring along some Benadryl. The bag should be properly cleaned to minimize exposure to the allergens.

Common Symptoms

  • Sneezing, Runny/Itchy Nose, Nasal Congestion and drip
  • Tired, Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Postnasal drip
  • Cough, Chest tightness and difficulty breathing (wheezing)
  • Facial pressure and pain

To figure out whether or not you actually have a down allergy you first need to thoroughly wash your sleeping bag. Make sure you buy laundry detergent that’s designed specifically for sleeping bags(my favorite detergent).

Check out my post on how to wash a down sleeping bag.

Hot water immediately kills dust mites. If the allergy issues persist after washing your bag you’re most likely allergic to down. Even if you’re allergic to down you still have a few options.

Preventing Allergic Reactions to Sleeping Bags

It’s really hard to tell exactly what triggers allergic reactions. Most of the time the cause is actually unknown. Best of luck to you in your quest for a sleeping bag.

Even if you can’t buy down, synthetic bags have come a long way in the past 20 years. Nowadays there are synthetic bags that are just as warm and almost as light/compressible.

Go With a Synthetic Bag

If you’ve determined that you’re seriously allergic to down you have to go with a synthetic sleeping bag. Luckily, synthetic bags have come a long way in the past 10 years.

Even the United States military has switched to using synthetic gear over down(mostly for maintenance reasons). Synthetic bags can be just as warm as down. They tend to be puffy and heavy since they need more filling to get the same warmth.

Not All Down is The Same

Remember that not all down is the same. If your allergy is minor you might be able to get away with premium down and regularly cleaning your bag. Luckily, you can tell between low and high quality down by looking at its Fill Power.

Check out my post explaining down Fill Power.

Quality of down is a huge factor when it comes to allergies. Even people with severe allergies can usually use high fill power down(above 750) without having any symptoms. Plus it’s going to be warmer, lighter and easier to compress.

Multiple Washes Gets Rid of Loose Fibers

Manufacturers recommend washing a down sleeping bag before use. This should get rid of all the loose plumage and residue in your bag. After a few wash cycles, your allergy symptoms should start to subside.

Just make sure you use detergent designed specifically for down sleeping bags. If you use a product like Nikwax Down Wash Direct (On Amazon) it will also add a durable water repellent to your bag.

Use a Sleeping Bag Liner

Even if you’re not allergic to down you should still use a sleeping bag liner. Bag liners will protect your bag and reduce skin contact with down. It will also seriously cut down on mold and dust mites.

I’m a huge fan of the Sea to Summit lineup of bag liners(On Amazon), specifically the Thermolite Reactor Extreme. It adds 25 degrees to my sleeping bags temperature rating for the winter and it replaces my sleeping bag in the summer.

If you’re on a tight budget you might want to check out the Coleman Fleece bag liner. It’s by far the most popular bag liner in the world and it’s really nice for the price.

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