Restful Camping Slumber

June 1, 2005
Filed under Camping Gear, Sleeping Gear

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Embracing the feud between synthetic and down insulation, the Moonstone (800/390-3312; moonstone.com) Delta Morpheus (20 degrees Fahrenheit, $180, 2 lbs. 11oz.) and Slumberjack (800/233-6283; slumberjack.com) Ellesmere (20F, $170, 1 lb. 7 oz.) actually combine the two insulations this year into one bag.

The Moonstone Morpheus three-season bag, for instance, uses synthetic Polarguard Delta on the underside and footbox — areas prone to condensation, and 650-fill down on top, while the Slumberjack Ellesmere combines a Thermolite Extreme synthetic bottom with comfortable and warm 600-fill down top. Combining the best of both worlds, these bags are lighter and more compressible than typical synthetic bags, and less expensive but still as warm as traditional down bags.

Accommodating changing weather and temperature are characteristics of some new bags. The Wenger (800/267-3577; wengerna.com) Swiss Alps (0-40F, $65, 4 lbs. 8 oz.) offers three variable temperature ratings in one bag by being convertible. It features a removable fleece liner, a removable hood, and conversion zippers that transform the bag from a mummy to a rectangular bag. It allows for two bags to be zipped together. Wenzel’s (800/325-4121; wenzelco.com) Multi-temp 4.5 (20-60F, $35, 4 lbs. 6 oz.) is another bag that adjusts to changing temperatures, and features a zip-in fleece liner for warm summer camping.

Waterproof/breathable shells are becoming more common. Known for its integrated sleeping pad sleeve, Big Agnes (877/554-8975; bigagnes.com) offers the Nugget (45F, $229, 2 lbs. 2 oz.). It’s not only waterproof, it’s also seamlessly constructed, eliminating punctures from stitching so heat can’t escape and weather can’t penetrate.

Other new construction technologies include welding, which laminates the insulation to the liner. This method is used on the Mountain Hardwear (800/953-8375; mountainhardwear.com) Lamina 45 (45F, $90, 1 lb. 14 oz.), and it eliminates stitch punctures. The Sierra Designs (800/635-0461; sierradesigns.com) Nitro/Spark (15F, $310, 2 lbs. 1 oz.) features tuck-stitched baffles, which are recessed to protect the threads and also increase the bags’ longevity.

The Mountain Hardwear Cloudburst SL (32F, $250, 2 lbs. 9 oz.) is a waterproof bag that highlights techy features such as a moisture-managing liner and common-sense notions such as extra room. A number of other companies are offering moisture-managing liners, too. Among them is Slumberjack’s proprietary SlumberWick liner inside the Sonora (30F, $95, 1 lb.).

Maybe most exciting this year are the amount of features available at affordable prices. Take again the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 45. This is a roomy synthetic bag made for summer adventures, but weighs less than 2 pounds and costs less than $100. Then there’s the Eureka! (800/572-8822; eurekacamping.com) Copper River (30F, $60, 3 lbs. 13 oz.), a heavyweight indeed; but with a ripstop nylon shell, full-length draft tube and interior MP3 pocket, you get a lot for your money.

Two other great examples of affordable technology are the synthetic Kelty (800/423-2320; kelty.com) Sonora (20F, $100, 3 lbs. 2 oz.) featuring a quick-drying ripstop shell and the synthetic Wenzel Windy Pass (0F, $30, 4 lbs. 8 oz.) featuring a full-length draft tube and 5-inch shoulder collar.

The Kelty Light Year 25 (25F, $150, 2 lbs. 2 oz.) is maybe the most notable quality, three-season, 650-fill down bag that hovers near the 2-pound mark at an affordable price. It also comes in women-specific models, which is tailored for slimmer shoulders and wider hips while adding extra insulation in key spots like the footbox.

While more and more companies offer women-specific models tailored to their circulation needs and body shapes, the Slumberjack Go-n-Grow (30F, $45, 1 lb. 8 oz.) synthetic bag accommodates kids’ growing structures with an expandable footbox, allowing for 10 inches of growth.

Accommodating the plethora of body shapes, as well as sleeping habits, some bags such as the Sierra Designs Black Out (35F, $150, 3 lbs. 4 oz.), have flexible elastic baffles that move with your body, eliminating twisted bags and excessive air. The same Sierra Designs bag built for women is called the Moon Beam.

Another example of built-in flexibility is the Slumberjack Big Bend (20F, $210, 4lbs. 2 oz.), which uses Lycra-constructed comfort zones to allow free movement in a mummy bag. Others like Sierra Designs LX 20 (20F, $145, 2 lbs. 7 oz.) modify the silhouette, making it extra wide and roomy for big guys.

Golite (888/546-5483; golite.com) took a unique approach to fitting body types in its Feather and Flite sleeping bag series. Instead of gender-specific bags, the company utilizes its proprietary SmartFit bag sizing system that allows its buyers to order bags in Short, Medium and Long height and Trim, Regular and Wide girth. Golite also uses half-length zips that go straight down the top, not the side of the bag.

Enhancing these new technologies are advances in ventilation and heat retention. For example, many bags this year also have footbox ventilation. Among the companies offering this feature are Kelty, Sierra Designs, Slumberjack and Golite.

Slumberjack also offers a new expandable footbox for extra foot room when temperatures are warmer; while other companies such as Mountain Hardwear feature a Comfort Footbox specifically engineered to let feet rest naturally: slightly angled out with toes pointed. Golite bags use a simple overlay instead of zippers for footbox venting.

Draft tubes, an insulated flap that runs the length of the zipper to keep warm air in and cold air out, have become standard in good sleeping bags. The better models also offer hoods that cinch down, engulfing and insulating your head.

Pad locks are also prevalent. These straps let you attach the bag to a sleeping pad so you don’t slide or squirm your way off the insulating pad in the middle of the night. Interior stash pockets that hold extra clothes, a warm thermos; or more likely, an MP3 player, are also becoming more common.

The best way to go about buying the right bag for yourself is to shop smart. Go to the manufacturers’ websites to find your closest retailer and to compare more features. Many companies offer online sales options, but we recommend actually seeing and feeling the product. Lay bags down on the floor, climb inside and move about. Get personal with the product first, then if you can get a screamin’ deal on the web, do so. Ask about in-store or web sales in the near future that might offer products you’re considering for purchase.

With a little extra legwork, some attention to detail, and the wide variety of options and quality products available on the market, you’ll find the bag that’s right for you.

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