Nov 12, 2008 at 12:04 pm #1232003Sean WalashekMember
@carazLocale: bay area
I thought I was the most informed man in the backpacking world until recently when I have heard very small and highly praised mentions for Valandre, a couple of which were on peoples wish lists above WM and FF bags. Upon briefly boning up on their bags I wonder what it is I am not seeing in their offerings. Please illuminate. I do notice that the majority of their bags are for much colder conditions than most of us typically see.Nov 12, 2008 at 4:13 pm #1458728
Valandre is not on MY wish list as I have a Shocking Blue; I also have and use down bags by FF, WM and a custom one by Integral Designs.
The Valandre Shocking Blue is, quite simply, the single finest sleeping bag I have ever owned, used, seen or even wanted. If, I were restricted to ONE bag for ALL my BC, Yukon, AB and NWT uses and after 44+ years of pretty intense wilderness work and recreation, it would, without question, be this bag, period.
It is so carefully designed that a -15*F bag weighs only 3 lbs., has lots of room inside and I am a husky guy with a 59" shoulder girth and mine is the "long" so I have plenty of room to keep my boots inside in sub-zero weather.
I now use this bag almost always and my three other highend down bags stay home on the shelf in my gear room; my only other bag(s) that I now use regularly are my ID North Twin/Andromeda Overbag combo for hunting trips.
There "may" be something better out there, but, I have had most of the name stuff and while PHD "may" be an option here, I seriously doubt that ANYTHING is superior to the Valandre SB, Lafayette, Mirage and the new Bloody Mary.Nov 12, 2008 at 4:49 pm #1458732
What about a custom made Nunatak ARC Alpinist? To be honest I have never heard of Valandre. At 22oz with 800 down fill and a 20 degrees temp. Hard to beet!!Nov 12, 2008 at 5:29 pm #1458739Doug JohnsonBPL Member
@djohnsonLocale: Pacific Northwest
Valandre is, in my opinion, one of the finest of all bag manufacturers.
Here is my review of the Mirage:http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/valandre_mirage_sleeping_bag_review.html
In design, Nunatak and Valandre are apples and oranges. Both are pushing the warmth to weight ratio but in quite different ways.
djNov 12, 2008 at 5:55 pm #1458744
I will definitely check out Valandre soon. I am was looking a Nunatak Arc Alpinist to buy right now.. What is the difference= apples and oranges??Nov 12, 2008 at 6:08 pm #1458747
Valandre's bags are extremely well made, IMHO, with, I think, arc cut baffles which almost establish the bag's shape without the support of their down . They're cut wide in the torso, to allow their user to wear a fairly thick jacket (as they go down in temperature rating, this roominess seems to increase.)
My only hesitation about them is that this shape almost requires one to wear a jacket, to avoid heating a larger than needed volume of interior air. In the three bags I considered buying (Mirage, Shocking Blue, and Lafayette), it seemed that the down fill in the chest area was kind of skimpy; the tubes looked like they might have a tendency to collapse a bit, again almost as though the designer expected the user would be wearing a jacket and wouldn't need as much down in the chest region. The tubes for the lower torso were, in contrast, quite plumply filled.
In contrast with a quilt, a bag with this much "structural integrity" won't collapse around ones body, as a quilt will, so there's always extra air to be heated, even with a jacket. In very cold environments, the absolute sealing out of any drafts may the correct tradeoff, though that comes at the cost of the down compressed beneath the user not justifying its carried weight. Down to 0 degrees F, I feel that a quilt like those made by by Nunatak (I have two and am buying a third) will have better contact warmth, greater temperature latitude, be warmer overall, be easier to adjust as temperatures change, and lighter, but may require more skill and attention to use, and more adjustment throughout the night.
It also seems that humidity builds up more in a mummy bags than in quilts, with attendant swelteriness and condensation. Why this is I don't know, but it may be connected with their narrower optimal temperature range.
But Valandre makes great bags, among the best of the classic mummies.Nov 12, 2008 at 6:49 pm #1458753
Thanks James for the Excellent information. I am leaning towards the Nunatak Arc Alpinist- but it is good to get a opinion on mummy Vs. quilt. There is rarely any humidity in the Sierra's. Over all I would much rather be warm then cold and I do understand skill level with regards to clothes and layering. I do have another problem and that is my size 6"3 235lbs. Still debating….Nov 12, 2008 at 7:18 pm #1458756
Like all great products, Valandre and Nunatak bear the imprint of their designers' personalities. So, for example, Tom at Nunatak gets very excited about a new, subtly lighter version of Pertex Quantum, which though not quite as robust, lofts better, packs smaller, and transmits water vapor better. He seems to value finesse and incremental improvement. You wouldn't want to drag one of his bags across a scree field, but, with minimal care, my four year old light-colored bag still looks brand new.
On the Valandre site, one finds copy like, "…this bag will outmatch anything in it's own weight class and even take on bigger guys. Game over." or "If the La Fayette was a left hand jab for the competitors, the Shocking Blue is the right hand uppercut that will finish them off and send them to the canvas for a full count." Tongue firmly in cheek, no doubt, but still. He uses fabrics, in his warmer bags, which emphasize ruggedness, justifiably, because his target audience, ice and high altitude big mountain climbers, have tents full of pitons and crampons. I have two of his jackets, and if one ever had to spend 6 months in Antarctica, one couldn't ask for anything better fitting, better engineered, or more robust. But I'll probably never take either of them backpacking.Nov 12, 2008 at 7:40 pm #1458761
Valandre bags are the most finely made I have yet seen, with the exception of Integral Designs. They are NOT a traditional mummy, far from it and they incorporate a level of very careful design that gives them a superior performance in very cold conditions. I refer here ONLY to the Shocking Blue as I have not had any others and V's "expedition" bags ARE very traditional in overall execution.
I have used a "quilt" type of bag, the FF "overbag" with it's pad pocket quite a lot and down to a measured 10*F, mine is rated at 30*F. I have found that these are not as efficient in really cold weather and now never use mine. A really GOOD mummy bag will both drape well around you and block the draughts that can make your back cold and this REALLY pizzes a person off at 03:00 when it is -30*F and you are awakened by these draughts.
I have not used a Nunatak bag, the few Yukon sheep hunters I know who have told me that their gear is spectacular and I trust their opinions. However,, IF, you had Nunatak build one of their mummy bags to the same size specs./down fill as the Shocking Blue, I think that the overall weight diference would be very small.
It all depends on what you want a bag to do for you and my uses are very probably different from the original posters. If, you LIKE quilts and are comfortable with them, great, buy a Nunatak. If, you want a no bullschit mountain bag to use in places like BC, AK, Yukon, NWT at the least weight for the maximum warmth, I think that a VSB is the best choice available at present.
It IS the drape of that roomy torso area of the bag that is one of the most impressive things about it; my FF, ID, WM and original Grand Junction Marmot bags do not drape nearly this well and this is due to the brilliant design, IMHO.Nov 13, 2008 at 9:22 am #1458830
Dewey, your point is well-taken. The Shocking Blue has enough new features that one shouldn't call it a traditional mummy bag. And it is very well made. Does yours have the Pertex Endurance exterior? And, if you've had a chance to compare, how is that different from what's used on the current bags, Asahi KASEI Impact 66 Polyamid rip stop?
You mention that the Shocking Blue was quite a departure from Valandre's very low temperature bags, like the Odin and the Thor. How would you compare the latter two with bags of similar warmth from Feathered Friends or Western Mountaineering?
Thanks.Nov 13, 2008 at 2:23 pm #1458869
Mine is the latest version, new last February and sent to me by a friend in the USA. It has the Ashahi fabric shell and is kinda bluish-grey in colour. After using this bag, I would not bother with an Endurance shell, it is close to "perfect" as is.
My Valandre impresses me like no other bag I have used or seen.At this level of quality, tho', it is pretty much impossible to get a "bad" bag and with ID's outstanding bags as well, one should choose based on what YOU like best.
I doubt anyone would be disappointed in any FF, WM, ID or Val. bag that fitted them correctly.For MOST backpackers, I think that the new Bloody Mary ism going to be a very serious option and a bit more suited to regular backpacking than a Shocking Blue.
I DO agree on the rather lurid rhetoric of their site, it kinda reminds me of the "cool" comments on the old Synergy Works gear from California. Super people, but, just a bit "over the top" when promoting their gear….that said, I would love to get another of their ventile expedition parkas.Nov 13, 2008 at 6:57 pm #1458891
I can't help myself…gotta chime in here… :-)
Disclosure: I am an authorized retailer for Valandre' gear.
I personally own the Swing 500, the Mirage, the Lafayette, and the Thor. And am buying the Bloody Mary when they become available.
What do I like about them? Well, they have great loft, but I can compress them better than I could my I.D. XPD2. The I.D. bag is a great bag, but it was so big and difficult to stuff in a compression sack. My Thor has tons of loft, yet I can compress it in a OR sack so that it is 10" in diameter and 12-14" long. Small enough to fit in the bottom of my McHale pack. Another thing about them is I sleep WARMER in them than any other bag i've tried, and I get to try a bunch of different mfgr's models. Their goose down just seems to be really high grade stuff.
I have tested the Mirage outside in 12 degree weather and I stayed warm. I have used the Shocking Blue in -20F and also was warm. I had a layer of icebreaker wool and a balaclava, plus I was on an Exped mattress.
Niels is a perfectionist. His designs are well thought-out. The bags are very efficient. I prefer his bags due to the design, the fill power, and the compressibility. BTW, they do not use Endurance fabric. Niels feels that it interferes with the breathability and he prefers to use fabric that will expel the moisture. We've talked about this on the phone.
Are they for everyone? No. You may like Valandre's features, maybe not. Thank goodness there are several top bag mfgrs out there to provide bags that suit different tastes. Kinda like some of us prefer chocolate ice cream, some like vanilla.Nov 15, 2008 at 8:44 am #1459047
Here's an interesting fact, which may explain my reservations about the Shocking Blue–Valandre's Odin (-40 F) has interior circumference measurements of 153,140,93 (in inches, 60,55,36.5). The Shocking Blue's (-13 degrees) measurements are 166,144,106, (in inches, 65,56.5,41.75).
So the Odin is a much narrower, more mummy-like bag. It seemed to me with the Shocking Blue (and the Mirage), the down was "stretched thin", in the chest region, that the fill there wasn't as plump–maybe because the torso tubes were greater in circumference, and, to keep weight low, the fill wasn't increased proportionately–which wouldn't matter if one wore a jacket. In the Odin, cut narrower, there might not be room to wear much of a jacket, but there'd be less interior air to heat.
This is not, of course, to compare the Odin and S Blue, because they're designed for different temperature ranges, but to suggest that Valandre itself has two different design strategies, with the Odin more "classical", and the S Blue more of a departure–making it easier to wear a jacket, but also more necessary. This might explain their specs; the S Blue is rated 0 F (comfort), -13 (extreme); the Odin, just -40, (extreme)Nov 16, 2008 at 3:14 pm #1459181
I just laid out my three main down bags for their monthly airing; my WM Alpenlite Super, my custom ID XPD-II overfill with 47 oz. of down and my Valandre SB. I carefully examined the SB for this and could find NO compartment of that bag that had less down in it than the others, or, struck me as being improperly filled.
A very critical examination of these bags showed me that the quality on all of them is fabulous, not even ONE stitch out of place, high lofting and quick lofting and sound designs. The SB simply uses a level of design that gives results a bit better than the more traditional bags and, to me, that makes it "best", an oftimes meaningless term, anyway.
I prefer a bag that I can move around in, except in really COLD weather when a snug 64" sack works well for me. I do not like bags with trippy little wallet pockets, cunningly slanted baffles or weird zip-in extenders, SIMPLE works best in the bush.
So, my best opinion is that one should choose from these makers and FF based on what you want the bag to do and be assured that you are getting a sack that will last a lifetime for most people. If, you LIKE the concept of the Valandre Shocking Blue, well, both Charlie and I can honestly attest that it is one FINE piece of gear….I was very skeptical, too, when I first heard about it, but, it is as good as Niels says it is, no bullschit.Nov 16, 2008 at 8:02 pm #1459232
Dewey, here's a Trailspace forum post from 2006 which says more clearly what I've been pointing to (perhaps you were in that discussion–there's someone there named Kutenay):
in which the Edward Ripley Duggan says, better than I've succeeded in saying (he's comparing a Shocking Blue he owns to a WM Antelope, one of which I have, and which WM calls a 5 degree F bag):
"The Valandre [Shocking Blue–48 oz, L] is a loose fit, clearly intended for serious layering. I can wear a near expedition-weight parka with room to spare, and I'm not a particularly slender person…In fact, there's almost room for my Antelope [41 oz, L] inside the Shocking Blue…The loft is a tad over six inches at the waist, but much more at the foot and upper chest. The WM [Antelope] is a solid seven inches, but that's evenly distributed at all points in the bag."
So I think that explains my reservations (it seemed to me that the low loft (6") tubes extended up into the chest area, on the bag I tried). I just couldn't see how a bag with 6" of loft in some areas would be warmer than the Antelope, a tighter fitting bag, let alone go to 0 degrees or -13, unless one were essentially supplying more loft by wearing a down jacket. WM only rates their 6" bag (Apache) to 15 degrees. Of course, the greater part of the S Blue's loft, according to the post quoted, was thicker, so you'd think, just taking the bag by itself, and forgetting about its greater interior volume, it would be somewhere between the Antelope and the Apache, (closer to the Antelope?), unless one were wearing a jacket.
But then why pay so much, for a low temperature bag, when you're going to have to supply some of the loft yourself to reach the lower temps? Unless, of course, the extra internal volume is a plus, because one wants the flexibility to be able to wear a parka in the bag without compressing it–which I think is a legitimate design choice, but one should know one is making that choice.Nov 17, 2008 at 6:54 am #1459256
I'm not sure I get your point here, I DID initiate that thread on TS and the person responding gave his opinions, which, btw, I do not agree with.
To compare the WM Antelope to the VSB is not realistic as the Antelope is FAR smaller than the SB. To get a REALISTIC comparison, use the WM Kodiak and THEN you will see that the differences are minimal. As Charlie and I, both of whom actually own and use these various bags, have posted, use whichever one YOU prefer and be happy.
As to cost, that is, to me, a subjective issue as I am concerned with suitability for MY uses and price is the last thing I worry about. If, that were the major criteria here, we would be discussing discount bags such as the "knockoffs" of the SB style sold by MEC.
As to layering in a down bag by wearing a down jacket, this is NOT a wise practice in cold weather camping for various reasons. It IS sometimes used by short term alpinists or those with lots of spare donated gear to cope with sudden weather difficulties, but, I never do this.
I doubt that Niels designed the SB for this and suspect that he made the torso larger to accomodate larger users and thereby developed the most comfortable down bag I have ever slept in.
If, you like a WM Antelope better, good, the SB is not for everyone and each person should buy what he prefers.Nov 17, 2008 at 8:31 am #1459277
Dewey, I appreciate the breadth of your experience in extreme cold, and would be interested to hear your hesitations about layering in a sleeping bag. I can imagine there might be problems with water vapor build-up–a VBL wouldn't protect the jacket, etc.–but I think it's a strategy that works OK with quilts. Or maybe not. I've never been in very cold weather for longer than a week, and even that was above 0.Nov 17, 2008 at 8:54 am #1459281
nmNov 17, 2008 at 8:56 am #1459282
"I just couldn't see how a bag with 6" of loft in some areas would be warmer than the Antelope, a tighter fitting bag, let alone go to 0 degrees or -13, unless one were essentially supplying more loft by wearing a down jacket. WM only rates their 6" bag (Apache) to 15 degrees."
James, Sometimes analyzing the specs online just does not cut it.
If I were looking at the Shocking Blue in the store or online, I doubt I'd be convinced that it would keep me warm below zero. BUT IT INDEED DOES, and it has, not only for me but other users as well.
In March of 2007, I took a group of Venturing age youth up cross country skiing and we spent the night up Logan Canyon in Northern Utah. As soon as the sun went behind the mountains, the temp started dropping like a rock. When I went to bed about 10pm, after making sure that all of the youth were faring okay, I checked my Kestral Weather Meter and it was -6F. Not having a chance to drink much or eat much before retiring (that was stupid) due to me tending to others, I recall that I was so dehydrated that my urine burned when going to the bathroom, prior to crawling in my Shocking Blue. I wore a Marmot Driclime windshirt, along with Icebreaker longjohns, and a Woolpower balaclava. The Shocking Blue has a Marie Antoinette collar that really seals the heat in (the antelope does not) and I had that and the hood really cinched down snugly for the night. I remember being amazed at how warm I was at those temps. I awoke at 5:30am to go pee, I checked my Kestral, and it was -20.8F!!!!
So I guess I'm saying that yes, compared to other conventional bags, one would and should be skeptical as to the abilities of the Shocking Blue. But all I can tell you is that it worked for me, in an actual field test environment.
Disclosure: I sell Valandre bags.Nov 17, 2008 at 9:46 am #1459294John HaleyMember
@quoddyLocale: New York/Vermont Border
One has to be careful evaluating based upon this number. The number of inches of loft is generally based upon total loft of both top and bottom layers, but some use only one side's loft which makes it appear that they get the same warmth with only half the down/loft.Nov 17, 2008 at 11:48 am #1459312Praveen MBPL Member
@prav66Locale: By the foothills of the Colorado Rockies
Dewey, could you clarify why layering in winter bags is a bad idea? I understand dew point/frost can be a concern with more waterproof bivy use in winter but I've haven't experienced it yet between my down jacket & sleeping bag. Then again I haven't hiked more than a week long on winter trips yet. One is already carrying the bulk of a down jacket and the Vlandre bags look plenty roomy and breathable.
Besides, if evaporation/condenstation were really a concern, wouldn't one really need a direct VBL layer between the body & the sleeping bag?
Just wondering…Nov 18, 2008 at 6:35 am #1459420
In MOST cold weather situations, I consider layering of down garments and down sleeping bags to be inefficient in respect of warmth for weight considerations for a number of reasons.
The first is that one carries a down jacket that protects/insulates ONLY the torso/head, NOT the legs which are the greatest region of heat loss on your body. So, to really insulate against cold, one should also carry a lower bag or use "salopettes". This, then, is FAR more inefficient than simply using a single bag rated to the lowest ambient temps. you will encounter, as the bag-garments combo is heavier.
The down jacket retains moisture from your day use and can/will introduce this into your sleeping cocooon if used to bolster bag warmth; again, this is highly inefficient and not desireable, IMHO.
The jacket will be crushed inside the bag and not deliver it's supposed insulation value as well as picking up further moisture which cannot escape through the several layers of fabric/insulation. To me, this is just a waste of pack weight and also uncomfortable.
FABRIC in your bag/garment shell is a CONDUCTOR of heat/cold, so, using a system with extra layers of fabric is NOT as efficient as using a bag suited to the conditions you are camping in. This is one reason why, after a couple years of use, I sold my Swedish double expedition down bag, used at -30*F several times and bought an original Marmot GT-down bag which weighed the same as the Swede one and was considerably warmer, comfy at -30*F and that, believe me, is friggin COLD!
I can see using a purpose-built bag and down duvet for short bivies on alpine-style climbs; this is what the Valandre LaFayette seems designed for with it's considerable girth. The SB is TOO restrictive for this and is, IMHO, best suited for an "all-around" bag for colder regions; it is as close to "perfect" for BC as I ever expect to see.
Last night, I tested my ID-XPD-II custom winter bag and my VSB side by side to see just which of these is most comfortable. The ID bag is, as with all of their gear, a simply superb bag and very comfy; BUT, the VSB is even MORE comfy and weighs 3 lbs opposed to 4.5 lbs. I will reiterate, I have never seen a bag this good and I expect to use mine for 85% of my trips from now on; I will keep my ID bag for sleeping inside my Kifaru tipi and Hilleberg Saivo tent on long cold trips where I am flown/packed in and like the width and Endurance shell for condensation drips.
That said, I could EASILY do ALL my treks, camps, fishing, hunting and traveling with the Valandre Shocking Blue and I have never had a bag before that I felt that about.Nov 18, 2008 at 9:12 am #1459443
Well, here's a thought:
If, with the Shocking Blue, one doesn't need to layer to be safe, or, in the experiences cited, even comfortable, down to -13 degrees F, if the collar is that effective, why not make a bag without all that extra interior volume? I'm sure there'd be a market for it; the much smaller WM Antelope feels generous to me, and there's probably a big market of people of similar medium build. If the VSB were of similar internal dimensions to the Antelope, it might be significantly lighter, maybe 4 to 6 ounces.
That would really be the "knockout punch"– a bag good to -13, 18 degrees colder than the Antelope, that weighed 42 ounces; I'd buy one in a heartbeat. It might even cost a little less to make. Then, when it wasn't quite so cold, one could treat it like a regular bag, as there'd be much less interior air volume to heat and reheat, without even having to have the Marie Antoinette collar locked down.Nov 18, 2008 at 2:10 pm #1459512
The SB comes in three sizes now, small, med. and large, which is what I have and prefer, due to the roomy cut and comfort. So, you CAN get one for smaller persons, regular dudes and Sasquatches with 19" necks, 49" chests and shoulders like a Neanderthal….me, for example.
It would seem that Niels and his crew have thought of everything, must be the French influence as they have always made some of the very best mountain gear, Galibier, Val'D'Or Eiger Darbelle boots, Jamet down clothing, Millet rucks and clothing and Simond ice tools, for some examples.
The French are a pretty impressive bunch, we "Brits" have been fighting them for centuries, but, we still respect them and boy, they KNOW how to make "vino"!Nov 18, 2008 at 3:20 pm #1459524
OK, you guys have been so persuasive I've just ordered a VSB. But I have to warn you, Dewey, if I fall asleep at -13 degrees and freeze to death, I'm coming back from the dead to Kutenay to kick your butt. Wait, did you say a 19" neck? In that case I'm going to hire Les Stroud, who's so tough that "Superman wears 'Les Stroud' pajamas to bed'" (BPL post) to come up there and kick your butt!
It definitely helped that Prolite Gear was having a 20% off coupon.
Sadly, this only managed to bring the cost of the bag to roughly its retail price of two years ago. I'm not sure if the lower prices from having the bags sewn in Tunis have worked their way into the system yet (Charles, do you know?), but the plunging value of the Euro relative to the dollar may give us some hope that Valandre prices will drop.
The new Bloody Mary may be an effort to bring to market a product that overlaps somewhat with the Shocking Blue, and better hits the market "sweetspot"–the online reviews I've read complain that conditions haven't been cold enough to test the lower limits of the Blue–but that costs less to make and can be sold in higher volume.
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