- Feb 3, 2005 at 5:11 pm #1215867
Im just getting into backpacking and am getting all my gear together (ive already bought an arcteryx bora 65, MSR Hubba Hubba, windpro stove, etc) The last major purchase I need to make is a sleeping bag, and i dont know much about them. Im going for relatively lightweigh gear but im not going crazy about it. I think i need a bag rated between 15 and 20 degrees. What do you guys think?Feb 3, 2005 at 7:17 pm #1335549
Welcome Cody! Hope you’re enjoying the process…
A couple of major variables here: the conditions you’ll face most of the time, the clothing you’ll use in conjunction with the bag, and of course your budget. I’ve owned a few bags in the 20F range. Lately, a Moonstone 800 Lucid (down) and a North Face Fission (polarguard delta). The latter is my current favorite, because I do the wet and cold thing a lot. I also once had a North Face Cat’s Meow, which is heavy, but very warm and a solid choice. These bags retail from $160 to $270 (in reverse order, sorry!). But be forewarned: backpackers usually end up replacing bags a few times before nailing down their needs, so err on the budget side at first. The good news is that this temp bracket is really competitive, and always changing, so shop around and you’ll find discounts. Campmor always has a few down and sythetic Marmot bags discounted to the $100-150 ballpark, which are very nice bags.
I’d recommend down for drier conditions, or when the trip is 2 nights or less; synthetic for wet, especially frigid and/or long trips. Synthetic-fill might also provide some extra room for error if you’re still learning in uncertain weather. Stay away from so-called “waterproof breathable” shells like dryloft or goretex, or “highly water-resistant” fabrics like epic–they are not breathable enough for general use. When the mercury plummets, internal condensation is much more of a danger than outside moisture, and shell fabric that doesn’t breath sufficiently can trap enough water vapor to soak your insulation in as little as a single night. Learn before you buy, and beware of sales pitches.
One catch, though, regarding temperatures: I wear a base layer, windshirt, balaclava and polarguard pullover, inside my Fission bag, inside a breathable bivy, and so far I’ve been cozy in temps around zero. With the Cat’s Meow, even lower. This requires a little figeting with layers in the early stages, but the learning curve isn’t steep by any means. (Just make sure everything fits–beginners can easily overlook this.) For normal 3-season use, a 20F bag might be overkill, even if you’re not terribly experienced. There are many good entry-priced bags in the 30F range, too.
Think about your needs, post some more info about your clothing and your locale, and I’m sure you’ll get some good advice. You might find yourself starting to slide towards the crazier end of the scale yourself : )
-JasonFeb 4, 2005 at 10:59 am #1335553
So it sounds like I should investigate synthetic bags as well…? Ive got a tent with a full rainfly, so I assumed that I would not need the waterproof abilities of a synthetic bag, but is perspiration enough over a week or so, to necessitate synthetic? Also, I would like to stick with The Northface, Marmot, Mountainhardware, or mountainsmith, as these are the brands carried by the local shop I try to give all my business to. Thanks for the help, do you have anythink else to add?Feb 4, 2005 at 1:03 pm #1335554
Well, I’m not trying to sell you on synthetic. I like both, for different kinds of trips. Here are the points to consider:
Tents really don’t provide significantly more shelter from most precipitation events and outisde moisture than a tarp/bivy combo (tho tents do have other benefits), so that’s seldom the deciding factor. Tents can be less breathable, but if yours has plenty of ventilation (mesh), and you don’t seal up the tent when you don’t need to, that shouldn’t be a problem either.
If you really are talking about trips as long as a week, then the deciding factor is mostly the overnight conditions and temperatures (regardless of the temp range of the bag alone). 1. If its mostly above freezing, and/or moderate humidity, than down is a great choice. Of the brands you mentioned, I’ve seen many excellent down bags by Marmot. 2. If temps are ~consistently~ below freezing, and esp. if the air is damp, then synthetic would be a safer bet, at least until you gain more experience. TNF and Marmot both make good synth bags. Again though, the shorter the trip, the less danger of a down bag going flat due to accumulated condensation.
1. Where will you be backpacking most of the time?
2. Are you thinking 20F range for extra security on trips that will mostly not be that cold, or are you using clothing to go colder than 20F?
Using a lighter bag (rated to average temps) + clothing (to extend into coldest temps) is almost always preferable–not just to save weight, but for comfort. Getting totally undressed on a chilly evening before hitting the hay, just so you don’t swelter inside a 20F bag on a 35F night, is neither efficient nor comfortable. Reversing that scenario on an even chillier morning is much less appealing still.
If you’re going the ‘added security’ route of a heavier bag, then I could run circles talking about how a down bag that’s warmer than it needs to be still isn’t so warm in the worst case scenario (if it gets soaked), and a bulky synthetic bag that’s warmer than it needs to be ends up being even bulkier!
But, if I had to choose between those two options in an overly-warm bag, I’d rather enjoy the lightness and compressibility of down on a daily basis, since ‘worst case scenario’ is more often the spin of some marketing exec than it is a real-world situation.
Sorry if this seems overcomplicated, but talking in theorieticals usually is. First things first. Tell us about yourself: where you’ll ~mostly~ be backpacking, what the temps usually are that time of year, and what your clothing setup is like. Simpler advice will follow. Cheers Cody! (Hope you’re not fed up yet!)Feb 4, 2005 at 10:19 pm #1335558
I really really appreciate you taking time to talk to me about this. I think most of my trips will be either in the Tenneessee/NC Smoky Mountains area, or in Colorado (the trip im getting ready for is to the eagles nest wilderness area where im told the temps will be just a little below freezing at night while we are there). You bring up a good and interesting point about sleeping with clothes. Yes, I am preparing for the worst in as far as the 20F rating goes; I will more likely be seeing around 32F. It sounds like in this case you would suggest getting a 30F and wearing extra clothes if its colder, right? As far as clothes go, I havent gotten quite that far in the outfitting so im open to suggestions and could get most anything. Thanks again for all the help.Feb 5, 2005 at 8:16 am #1335562
Talk like this gets us through the indoor days, and helped me out when I was getting started.
And yep, Tennessee to Colorado pretty much covers the spectrum from humid to dry. I’ll assume that you expect the colder conditions to be in Colorado, in which case I’m pretty sure the state flower is the 800 fill-power down plume : ) Just keep in mind that, in my experience, a down bag in the Smokies in April can be a more advanced affair. A bag that keeps YOU warm down to freezing sounds reasonable, but realize the difference between that and advertised ratings. If you put together a typical 3-season clothing system (around here that means base layer, windshirt, synthetic-fill pullover, etc), w/ plenty of headwear, a bag like that would certainly be reasonable. I’ve heard Marmots can be a snug fit, tho. Also, for the money of a down Marmot, I’d compare seriously with Western Mtneering. Others here will tell you as much. Most local shops are happy to special-order stuff w/out obligation to buy. Of course none of these bags are entry-priced by any means. Tho a moderately rated bag is more a versatile, less risky purchase. If you go warmer, the added benefit of a full zip might rule out some of those Marmots.
Maybe some others can chime in. And if you haven’t already, spend some time w/ articles like Clothing & Sleep Systems http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00036.html Put together your clothing first, then try on some bags.Feb 7, 2005 at 5:55 pm #1335587
Ok, so from what you’ve said I’m starting to think that a 30F bag would be the better choice, because I can always where some midweight Capaline long underwear at night if its going to be colder. You did bring up another point though: “A bag that keeps YOU warm down to freezing sounds reasonable, but realize the difference between that and advertised ratings.” Are bags advertised as being rated to say 30F often not good enough to keep me warm to 30F (I realize that two people using the same bag could have different temperature tolerances, so lets talk in generalities; or better yet, I normally sleep a little on the cold side) so what do these ratings actually mean to me? Should I consider a bag rated to 30F as only good to like 35F? Also, I was wondering if you could talk to me a little more about whether I should get a down or synthetic. Should getting a down worry me because I will be spending considerable time in humid weather on week long trips? Thanks again for all your help.Feb 7, 2005 at 7:42 pm #1335591
@daneLocale: Western Washington
I prefer synthetic fill, and I would recommend synthetic to any beginning backpacker. In particular either Polarguard 3D or Polarguard Delta…I couldn’t tell you which is better but it seems like 3D is preferred.
If you are very careful and skilled you can keep down dry and lofty in wet conditions, but this requires some effort, trial and error, and luck. The reason for going ultralight is to make backcountry life easier and facilitate positive experiences. Going through the trouble of keeping your down bag dry is more likely to make life harder for me, and spending a night shivering in a down bag with compromised loft doesn’t exactly facilitate positive experiences. And no matter how careful and skilled you are with down, on longer trips it will lose it’s loft unless you let it dry in the sun. This is impossible in a steady rain storm and if you encounter these conditions it might ruin your trip. Also UV light from the sun is bad for the shell materials of your sleeping bag.
If you want the option of using your clothes as extra insulation in conjunction with your sleeping bag, your clothes must be dry if using down. If you have a synthetic bag, on the other hand, you can go to sleep with your wet clothes on and they will be much drier, sometimes even fully dried, in the morning, with almost no loss of loft in your bag.
Most ultralighters trade luxuries for a lighter pack, but believe me sleeping warm is not a luxury. Waking up at 4 in the morning because you are too cold and then shivering until dawn is not a good way to spend your vacation time.
After a season or two of backpacking if you find that your trips are usually short, the weather is good, and your bag rarely gets exposed to moisture, then down would be a nice upgrade. A good down bag feels great, is very light, and packs down to almost nothing. Staying warm is more important though.
One last tip that has nothing to do with sleeping bags…try to avoid having high expectations of your trips. Most of my trips aren’t fun…they are often hard and painful instead. For me, going backpacking isn’t about fun, it is about facing new challenges, learning new skills, and experiencing things that cannot be experienced in civilization. It has always been worth it.Feb 8, 2005 at 11:22 am #1335596
>Should getting a down worry me because I will be spending considerable time in humid weather on week long trips?
Put like that, yes, definitely. Esp. if its humid AND cold. And if you live nearer the Smokies, and are just doing the occasional trip to Colorado, then I would indeed recommend synthetic. (I’m not sure that’s the case, though. Sorry, its taking a few posts for me to understand where your main requirements are). As I alluded to before, for long colder trips I recently replaced a down bag in favor of TNF Fission, which is one of the few synthetic bags I’ve seen w/ almost the warmth:wt ratio of down. Its rated to 20, but for a cold sleeper I’d say 25F w/ a question mark. I went back to synthetic for all the reasons Dane and I have stated (thanks much Dane!). But I don’t know how cold Tennessee gets during the seasons you like to hike in, either. At 45F or warmer, I’ve found that a down bag dries decently via body heat even when clothing and the air are quite damp (Appalachians damp!). 30F down bag + damp clothing ~in temps above 45~ would not necessarily be a horror story. But yes, IMO in Colorado, down is okay for a conscientious beginner in 3-seasons, but in the Smokies below 40-ish, synthetic is the choice. Also I believe Polarguard Delta is the upgrade from 3D, and Delta is both more compressible and slightly higher loft (warmer) for the weight than 3D. Both work very well, Delta is just the latest flavor. Look for P3D bags on discount, tho.
Dane, your parting thoughts speak volumes. I too have found that the exhileration of the outdoors takes hold of me most amid its greatest discomforts and challenges. I’d also agree that the joys of forgoing civilization’s securities (some of them fictional, others very real) are only fully known by those whose high expectations include a realistic expectation of risk and comfort. ‘Fun’ can certainly be a shallow expectation to have for every moment of a trip. But for the benefit of those less initiated, I can also say in all honesty that I’m never happier than when I’m in the outdoors, and very few were the times when I would have taken fun over that other kind of happiness.
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