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Fill

Many different insulating materials are available for sleeping bags. Outdoor professionals usually prefer either synthetic fill (e.g. PrimaLoft), or natural fill (e.g. down), and they have debated the merits of these materials for years.

Synthetic fill does not readily absorb water, dries easily, and provides some warmth even when thoroughly soaked. These properties may save the owner's life if, for example, the sleeping bag is accidentally dropped into water on a cold day. Synthetic material is also firm and resilient, so it insulates well even underneath a person's weight. On the flipside, synthetic fill cannot be compressed as much as down and it weighs more, causing such bags to take up more space and weight when not in use. Furthermore synthetic insulation tend to break down faster than its natural counterpart.

Down fill weighs less than synthetic and retains heat better, but usually costs more. Down must be kept dry; a soaked, down sleeping bag may provide even less insulation than no sleeping bag at all, leading to hypothermia. Newer, more technically advanced sleeping bags often have water-resistant shells and can be used in damper conditions. It is also recommended to keep a sleeping bag in a larger sack (storage sack) as opposed to the small traveling sack (compression bag) during long periods of storage. However, many regular backpackers and hikers agree that hanging a sleeping bag, taking care to move the position of the bag on the hanger at intervals so as to not create a "dead spot" (a spot where the fill has been crushed so that it is no longer useful), is the best method of storing a bag for long durations.

Other materials, notably cotton and wool, have also been used for sleeping bags. Wool repels water nicely and also resists compression, but it weighs much more than any alternative. Cotton suffers from high water retention and significant weight, but its low cost makes it an attractive option for uses like stationary camping where these drawbacks are of little consequence.

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