Mount Rogers is a winter wonderland in February. This afternoon you backpacked up Wilburn Ridge, trekking through the deep snow, taking in the scenery of the breath taking 360 degree panoramas. The blue sky, crisp air and quiet solitude left you in a state of euphoria. As you set up camp, the wild ponies congregated and gave you their hungry “Hey buddy how ‘bout a hand out” look. After dusk, clouds rolled in and snow began to fall. The temperature dropped to 28. The wind howled outside your tent as you settled in for the night.
Now it is 2 AM and you are shivering uncontrollably. The 1960’s Army issue flannel sleeping bag you bought yesterday at the surplus store is not cutting it. It must have cold spots. You never should have trusted the salesman, who put down his Soldier of Fortune magazine to sell you the bag. The sign near the shotgun above the counter saying, “Sorry, this one is not for sale. Shoplifters will be shot,” should have tipped you off that you were in the wrong store. The bulky bag you bought took up half the space in your large pack. It was heavy before you got it wet. You are miserable. You could have done better.
Here are some considerations when choosing your bag among the more than fifteen bags we offer:
Down vs. Synthetic Fill
Down affords you an awesome warmth-to-weight ratio, is very compressible, offers great comfort and loft and will last many, many years. Down owners love their sleeping bags. Down does loose thermal property when wet and can take forever to dry. Most experienced backpackers are careful and have no fear of getting their bag wet. Still others fear ambient moisture from humidity can dampen their bag even if they meticulously wrap it in a plastic bag before stuffing it in a waterproof stuff sack.
The Kilo by North Face alleviates any concerns. It features a 30D nylon ripstop shell treated with durable water repellent material to keep out moisture.
Fill Power 600 or 800+?
The fill power number may seem more difficult to understand than an abstruse astrophysics concept or an advanced calculus equation. Fill power is refers to the volume displaced by one ounce of down. An 800 power fill bag provides high loft, decreasing the quantity of down clusters needed to provide the desired warmth.
Synthetic fills have evolved to give you many of the advantages of down. They require less of an initial investment, are easier to launder and quicker to dry than down, and are less likely to set off your allergies. The advent of Polarguard Delta in many The North Face bags has made an even lighter more compressible synthetic filled product. Synthetics will lose loft and temperature rating over time. Even leaving your stuffed synthetic sleeping bag in a 100 degree car for a few hours could degrade the fill. Always store your bag, regardless of whether it is down or synthetic, out of its stuff sack.
Manufacturers attach temperature ratings to the sleeping bags they produce. These ratings give you some idea at which temperature you will remain toasty, but many believe them to be arbitrary. Many factors play heavily in relative sleeping bag warmth. Your metabolism, length of exposure, intensity of activity, how well you have been hydrating and eating, level of rest and alcohol consumption all factor heavily. Don’t be fooled. The nips of corn whiskey provide only temporary warming. You and your spouse could both be utilizing 20 degree bags in 20 degree weather. Your lips may turn blue while he or she snoozes comfortably.
The temperature ratings do indicate relative warmth among a series of bags in a manufacturer’s line. In The North Face Alpenglow sleeping bags series, the zero degree Snowshoe provides more warmth than the 20 degree Cat’s Meow, which in turn provides more warmth than the 35 degree Kilo. The Snowshoe fills the winter bag niche for our climate. The Cat’s Meow and Kilo are great three-season bags. Some down bags feature continuous baffles, allowing you to shift the down within the bag for added comfort and temperature regulation. Be conservative. Choose a bag rated at a slightly lower temperature than the coldest mercury reading you would regularly encounter. No bag blesses you with four-season comfort. If you are an avid year round enthusiast, your backpacking arsenal likely will feature two different temperature-rated sleeping bags. A fleece liner will give you the equivalent of about 10-15 degrees of additional warmth rating. The liner can also be used in conjunction with a sheet as a warm weather alternative to a sleeping bag.
Compressibility and Weight
The 35 degree Western Mountaineering Highlite stuffs to the size of a Nerf Ball and weighs one pound. The Mountain Hardwear Switch 35 boasts a 7.5 X 15” stuff size and fits well into panniers on your mountain bike for overnight rides, like a weeklong trip from the slickrock of Moab, Utah to the mountains of Durango, Colorado. Stuff sacks we carry from Sea to Summit scrunch your bag into a ball, greatly reducing stuff size. Super light weight bags save weight with half zippers, ultra light shell materials and narrower shape.
Most of our bags are modified mummy designs. Rectangular shaped bags though roomier are not as thermally efficient. A sleeping bag traps air heated by your body within its insulation. The more internal volume the harder it becomes for your body heat to warm the interior. If you require more space, or suffer from claustrophobia, we have two bags catering to your needs. The Ultralite by Western Mountaineering is wider in the shoulders and the hips. The Switch 35 by Mountain Hardwear permits the user to adjust the bag’s volume based on girth and preference. Unzip for more room to thrash and ventilation during warmer conditions, and when Jack Frost unleashes brutal fury, zip for more warmth retention.
Now that you have decided on the style you desire, ask the smiling Great Outdoor Provision Co. employee to pull the bag off its hanger. Climb in. Take your boots off unless you normally sleep with them on. Your feet should not compress the foot of the bag, nor should you have 12 inches of emptiness beyond your dogs. If you are over 6’ in height you probably should opt for a long, otherwise the regular will likely be a better fit.
Right Handed or Left Handed?
Is backcountry romance on your mind? Want a double sleeping bag? We carry some styles in left and right zipper configurations, such as The North Face Cat’s Meow and The Blue Kazoo. This allows you to zip two bags together to form one tandem. Just hope your partner will stay on his or her side once it is time to slumber and not kick you while asleep. A disadvantage of the tandem is the inability to draw the hoods should generated body heat times two not be enough to fend off the chill.
More tips to keep you warm in blizzard conditions while you bundle up in your bag:
- Bring two sleeping pads if possible. A Therm-a-rest along with a Z-Rest can increase your protection from conductive heat loss from the ground.
- Before turning in for the night, place a Nalgene bottle of hot water in the foot of the bag. The inside will be warmer once you climb in.
- Do twenty sit-ups to generate extra body heat. This will tighten up your abs after the gluttonous backcountry gourmet meal, too.
- Pull the hood over your noggin. Leave only your schnoz and pie-hole exposed. The hood draw cords in The North Face bags are color and texture coded for easy one hand in the dark adjustment. You have always heard you suffer mega heat loss (As much as 85% of body total) from your head. Don your toboggan.
- Wear Performance Baselayers (such as Patagonia Capilene or Layers Thermion) as your pajamas.
- Zip your Siberian Husky in the bag with you.
- Build a snow cave.
Now that you are set with your sleeping bag, talk to us about alternatives to your jeans and cotton socks.