Synthetic and Cruelty-Free LW Alternatives

Disclaimer: This is not created with intentions to shame anyone. While preparing for my thru-hike I found many sources on how to maintain a plant-based diet on trail but very little (if any) on lightweight gear without the use of goose-down. This is a resource for future hikers that would rather not use down products while still achieving a light base weight. Something not possible a few years ago.

Why Consider Synthetic Over Down?

Anyone that enjoys spending time in the backcountry has heard and has hopefully followed the words, Leave No Trace (LNT). This motto suggests that you leave nothing but footsteps to preserve and enhance the experience for other hikers behind as you would have liked the hikers to do before you. This includes and is no limited to selecting campsites responsibly, packing out trash, personal possession and yes, even toilet paper…

It’s an easy rule to follow on trail because you can see the positive or negative impact of the your decision in front of you. You wouldn’t condone someone killing or harming a wild animal on trail, but majority of people will have no problem using equipment that has involved killing or harming multiple animals. The argument could be made that it is better and more acceptable to harm an animal in the wild because it has likely had a long and fulfilling life unlike animals raised from birth to be slaughtered.

Rant over. Now for fun gear specs.

Insulated Jackets

The puffy jacket I will be taking with me on the Pacific Crest Trail is the Patagonia Nano Puff Bivy Pullover. We’ve had some seriously cold temperatures where I live in Toronto, Canada this recent winter and the Nano Puff has been my go-to jacket. Miraculously keeping my core warm at nearly -30°C/-22°F. 2017 Thru-hiker Chocolate Balls  wore a Nano Puff jacket on his 2017 PCT thru-hike and highly recommended it in his post trail gear video.

 Essential Features:

Weight: 354grams (12.5oz). 74grams lighter than the Patagonia equivalent down jacket.

Size Can be easily packed down to fit inside a wide-mouth Nalgene bottle. Not that I would do that, but as a size reference.

Versatility: Continues keeping you warm in damp conditions. Down is virtually useless while damp and is more maintenance to dry without compensating longevity.

Cost: $70 cheaper than Patagonia equivalent down jacket. 22% savings!

Sleeping Bag

This is where things got very difficult. The first two words that would come to my mind while thinking about synthetic sleeping bags were heavy and bulky. Two words that would be the doom of anyone aiming for a light base-weight. Then I found HyperLamina™ Flame sleeping bag by Mountain Hardwear.

 Essential Features:

Weight: 1105grams (2lbs 7oz), regular length. Comparable or exceeding down bags of a similar price range.

Size: 8 cm x 41 cm/7 in x 16 in stuff sack with included compression straps.

Temperature: -6°C/20°F

Cost: $240 Standard Retail Price.


I acknowledge this may be a controversial topic and that there are better/lighter/cheaper down insulated items than ones I was comparing to above. This isn’t about that. This is to be used as a reference for people looking for alternative options. There are hundreds of places for you to banter about Ultra-lite. Hike your own hike. My projected base-weight as I finalize my gear is 15lbs.

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Comments 2

  • Mark Whitcombe : Feb 13th

    That’s an interesting trade-off of ‘cruelty-free’ against the issues of sustainability. I, too, prefer synthetic materials for clothing and warmth, but I am disturbed by my increased use of non-renewable and unsustainable materials. Almost everything I use backpacking is made from essentially one-use products. Yikes!!!

    • Christina Crescimanno (Maybelline) : Feb 13th

      Yeah, I noticed during my 2015 LASH how much garbage long-distance hikers produce – mostly with food. Its all individually packaged in plastic and really unsustainable.

      As for down vs. synthetic – I think it depends on what company you go with (as with anything). Some down-sleeping bags can be ethically made (without live-plucking or painful removal methods), while some synthetic ones can be polluting the environment.


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