Price | $368
DUCKS CAN’T GET a break. From birth we are taught that they are inferior to their rival, geese. There’s the goose that laid the golden egg, Mother Goose, the Ugly Duckling. Lame duck. See? As adults we’re told that goose down is superior to duck down, which they say is only suitable for those rectangular bags to be used in the severe conditions of Cub Scout jamborees.
But aren’t feathers feathers?
First off, down isn’t a feather. Feathers have quills and almost no insulating value. Feathers are a bird’s outer layer and have the inglorious job of keeping the all-critical underlayer of down dry. Down is the cottony clusters that go next to skin and insulate by creating puffy dead-aid pockets. Duck down behaves just like goose down but is considered inferior because ducks are smaller birds and are usually slaughtered younger for meat, a point that also drives down the price. A young duck’s smaller, less mature down clusters are less thermally efficient than the larger goose-down clusters.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Down harvested from mature ducks can have larger clusters than goose down harvested from young geese, and ducks from cold climates produce better down than geese from warmer climates. Indeed, the very best down is from the Eider, a far-northerly bird that just happens to be a duck! Unfortunately, the Eider duck rare, its down prohibitively expensive.
The merits and cost benefits of duck down are not lost on Valandre. Their three-bag Swing series is duck-down insulated, delivering lofty performance with not-quite-so-lofty pricing. Located high in the Pyrenees, Valandre sources its down (goose and duck) from local markets. Their “Pyreneean fat duck” down has a fill power of 650. Good goose down, typically ranges from 600 to 800 fill power.
I tried out the Swing 700, the mid-range bag of the set. This 2.8-pound bag has 25 ounces of duck down and is rated to 5 degrees F, according to the European extreme scale, which gives the bottom-end survivable temperature, not bottom-end comfort. I’d hate to use the bag down to 5 degrees. For my meatless bones, 20 F was about it for me.
The 700, although a mummy design, is roomy. It tapers at the feet, but instead of straitjacketing your arms, it gives you plenty of room from the waist up to splay out. This was the feature I liked the most. A wide Velcro strip effectively seals the shoulder draft tube, but felt scratchy when the tube was undone, as I was inclined to leave it when I got hot. A full-length, two-way zipper lets you vent your dogs; a nicely cut hood seals tightly around your face. If Valandre hadn’t told me it was duck down, I would have had no idea. The bag compressed practically to nothing, then lofted back up just like any other down bag I’ve used.