15 comments on “Ultralight Shopping– Winter Sleeping Bags

  1. Considered a quilt at all or quilt and bivy combo? You’re already tarping, so why not?

    The Sawatch from Katabactic Gear has a very good reputation. Since you’re already supplementing with insulated jacket and pants, you may not need more. At 24 ounces in a regular, that’s pretty tough to beat.



    Personally, I love WM bags and have a couple, but given the choice to cut weight for the same performance, I’d do that any day of the week.

    Good luck.

  2. My criteria goes in this order:
    1. Pick the right tool for the job
    2. The tool must be dual purpose or used regularly.
    3. Pick the lightest possible tool.

    Price is not part of the equation because it could adversely affect quality. Resources and money will be saved if all the criteria are met.

    Heavier items such as homes and furnishings divided by multiple users would equal something light or dual purpose.

    Each step is recursive. Upon considering each step I will then reconsider the previous step. For example:

    1. Pick the right tool for the job. I must consider whether the job really needs doing in the first place

    2. The tool must be dual purpose or used regularly. Upon picking the the right tool I must consider whether I really need anything at all or can make do with what I already have or borrow to accomplish the task.

    3. Pick the lightest possible tool. Lightness emerges from careful engineering combined with end user testing and redesign.

    This concept has legs. These words, more of less, were given to Andy Skurka to speak on a documentary we were producing. He did use part of it. Then I heard these words spoken back to me some years later by an outfitter working in the Yosemite Valley.

  3. I own the Marmot Lithium and have only good things to say about this bag. Its warm enough for any conditions shy of Everest (esp. when you wear your down jacket!), rugged, super compressible and very light. I have taken it to Rainier and even Aconcagua but the most impressive was a -65 night in Maine on Mt. Katahdin.

  4. Anonymous– I use a quilt for all of my three-season backpacking, but I don’t feel quite up to trying quilts for deep winter yet. Maybe someday. For now, I’m sticking with mummy bags.

    Michael– I agree, although price does enter the equation for me at some point. I try to narrow the shopping list first by quality, but if two bags are in the top ten percentile of quality, a price difference of a hundred dollars would sway me. Fifty bucks… maybe not. Depends. As I’ve said, my budget is very limited. On the other hand, what happens quite often in cases like this is that I spend so much time deliberating on what would work best, and saving up money, that eventually the season passes and I decide to wait until the next season, when the process starts over again.

  5. Rabid Outdoorsman– I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Lithium, so it’s looking like the most likely outcome. I’d sure love to test it out in winter up in Baxter!

  6. Guthook,
    In testing these bags, I agree that usage is essential. I think there is more to a bag’s usefulness than just total and fill weight. In a true depth-of-winter sleeping situation, I place a lot of importance on the inner baffling over the zipper. I have slept poorly even in a heavy bag that still leaked cold through the zipper zone.

  7. Tom, you’re absolutely right about that. The weight and fill are only the beginning of my decision on which bags to try, though. Narrowing it down by weight and fill is my way of trying to make an objective observation based on my past experience with winter sleeping bags (the Lynx). After narrowing it down by objective comparisons, I’m going to test whichever bags I can, with some help from other people’s recommendations. I think the traditional route is to go by other people’s experiences, but not everyone sleeps the same, so it’s more important to rely on your own observations.

    For example, if I’d gone with the general consensus about sleeping bags on the PCT, I would have needed a much warmer bag than I went with. But I’m a relatively warm sleeper, I guess, with a little help from puffy jackets and down pants, so I was nice and toasty with my old 30 degree bag.

    Similarly, I bought my ULA Circuit pack because people said I would need the extra capacity for water and a bear canister for the desert and the Sierra. Turns out I could have used my MLD Exodus for the whole trail– I hiked with people with similar styles to mine who used the same pack or the smaller version the whole way through.

    Anyway, because of the reviews out there, the Lithium is sounding like the obvious frontrunner. I really want the Mountain Light to be as good as it sounds, and it might be, but the only reviews I’ve heard so far make it sound like the zipper is a pain in the rear. I may see if I can borrow one to test on an overnight before deciding.

  8. Hi Ryan,

    You got one cool blog. I’ve been going through the same considerations for a sleeping bag. But with a slight difference. I do all of my packing during the shoulder seasons, and want to add more down to my FF Swallow sleeping bag. Right now it has 16 oz fill and I can’t decide on how much more down to add; 3 or 4 oz. Any recommendations??

  9. White Pine, thanks for the comment! I can tell from your sleeping bag that you must either hike in colder locations than me, or be a colder sleeper. 16 oz fill seems like a lot to me to still be cold in shoulder seasons, but I know there are major variations in how warm people are in sleeping bags. I wouldn’t doubt that adding a few ounces of down would make that bag a toaster, though.

    If I may suggest something else… this may cost a bit more up front, but comes with added benefits. In really cold weather I’ll sleep in a pair of down pants and a down jacket inside the sleeping bag. It doesn’t need to be a big puffy jacket, but a light one certainly helps. This adds a good deal of warmth to the sleeping bag (as long as it doesn’t get too tight in there), and when you get out of your sleeping bag in the cold, cold morning you’re toasty warm right out of the bag… it’s like wearing another sleeping bag that you can walk around in!

  10. Hey Ryan
    FF and Valandre are also bags you might want to consider. Very pricey but great reviews, I can’t say I’m familiar with their bags since I use WM bags.If I hadn’t gotten such a good deal on my bags, FF was my only other option. IMO wm and ff are in a class of their own. WM bags fill weight have been rated up to 900+ but they only advertise it as 850. Down quality, I believe, makes a difference also. I’ve been told European down is superior to US or Canadian. I also heard that a lower fill weight will maintain their loft better over the years. My WM bags are 8 and 3 years old and have been used extensively, they still have a new look, loft to them so I’m not sure if that’s true. Both WM and FF will overfill their bags and you can choose where you want the overfill if you want or have it dispersed throughout. Gives you more options on choosing a temp. rating. Good luck on finding the bag that’s right for you – Steve

  11. Steve, that’s generally my impression as well– WM and FF being the top of the line. I do like that idea of overfilling, also, although getting in touch with WM in order to start that is a process I haven’t figured out yet. Their website is informative but not up to modern standards with contact info 🙂

    As for the lifetime of different fills, I hadn’t heard that about lower fills lasting longer. Whatever the case, down in general seems to last a heck of a lot longer than any synthetic I’ve heard of.

  12. Ryan — thanks so much for the awesome post. I’m interested in your comment: “The only extra feature that I’d pay a lot of attention to is whether the baffles are continuous or blocked, which tells you if the down can shift around to better insulate one area or another.” Do you prefer a continuous or blocked baffle? I am seriously considering a ZPacks continuous baffle bag with my wife for a PCT thru hike, but I have never owned a continuous baffles bag before. We like the ZPacks design as we could zip them together and the warmth to weight ratio seems great. I am nervous about the continuous baffle, but curious about the benefits of being able to shift the down to different areas.

  13. Good question, Chris. In theory, continuous baffles mean that you can shift down around in order to get more or less insulation depending on the situation. I’ve owned only blocked baffle mummy bags, and continuous baffle quilts (ZPacks sleeping bags being similar to the quilt). In general, blocked versus continuous is a matter of personal preference, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. If the continuous baffles are well filled, the down won’t shift around too much in a bad way. Just before you go to sleep, shake the bag around a bit to get the down distributed to where you want it. Everything I’ve heard about ZPacks products suggests they’re top notch. Gotta love those small, homegrown companies.

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