I needed a new sleeping bag. That is, I no longer had a bag, and wanted to rectify that.
My old bag is a Marmot Hydrogen: nominally rated at 30°F, weighing 24 ounces. It served me well since 2004, keeping me comfie for a week in the Emigrant Wilderness, a week and a half at Philmont, a week on Catalina Island, four weeks spread across two World Scout Jamborees, and numerous weekend outings. It is this gossamer collection of fabric, down, and air: a ridiculous extravagance, even on sale as it was when I bought it.
I had outgrown it, though.
No, I’m not too tall, nor to wide, nor too big. As I experience more trips of 600 million miles or so, I become a little more sensitive to cold weather. Not even cold, but cooler temperatures. A bag that once kept me warm into the low-30s now won’t cut it at 45°. Sure, I can take extra clothes to wear at night—in fact, I do wear more to sleep now than I used to, especially when backpacking—but there becomes a limit when money, space, weight, and time all conspire in the wrong direction.
Add to this Joshua’s need for a new bag. His, a synthetic-fill bag, dated back to about 2000, or perhaps earlier, and was no longer really serviceable. It has seen more and tougher duty than mine (add to his tally, over mine, several more weekend trips, several weeks at summer Scout camp, and a through-hike of the John Muir Trail). Besides, synthetic fills, especially those at the lower end of the quality scale, are much less durable than down. With his desire for a new bag, and mine not serving me well, it made eminent sense to give him my Hydrogen.
What to get?
Step one: temperature range. In the early and middle spring around here, it’s certainly possible for nighttime temperatures along the ridges (e.g., Castle Rock State Park) to descend deeply into the 30s. Overnight temps can certainly match that in the early summertime in the Sierra. I wanted something with an honest rating, for me, of 25-30°F while wearing reasonable clothes for sleeping*. I didn’t really care about the manufacturers’ ratings, or someone else’s ratings: I cared about my ratings.
Step two: technology. Did I want a conventional sleeping bag, an ultralight sleeping bag (no zipper), or a quilt? Gosh: I’d never used a backpacking quilt. The idea of a quilt certainly was intriguing: perhaps lighter, maybe less expensive, less bulk, and more versatile. Versatile? Sure: easy to vent and cool off, I imagined. But, would I be comfortable with it? Would I toss the thing off as I rolled around on my pad? How would it feel sleeping directly on the pad with no thin bit of nylon between it and me?
Step three: compare among the viable options, including finding some manufacturers.
Step four: decide and buy.
In fact, I did the first three steps together and in parallel. And, I got lucky: after finding no where around to rent a backpacking quilt for a night or a weekend, I asked a number of backpacking friends if they had a quilt. No one did, but Walter has a colleague at work who does, and who was willing to lend it to me. Lucky? I’ll take it, and I arranged to borrow the quilt.
It was cold the Friday night of my planned backyard trial campout. Barbara was more thoroughly convinced than ever that I was utterly off my rocker. But, Friday was the best of the weekend nights for me, so the tent went up, the pad went down, and I crawled in. This would be a good test of three different things: sleeping out with a quilt instead of a bag, sleeping right on the pad (i.e., without the thin layer of sleeping bag material between the pad and me), and the temperature rating of this quilt (an Enlightened Equipment quilt, the ProdigyX-20).
The experiment was a great success: I gathered good data on all three points for investigation!
I had no problem sleeping directly on the pad. Its surface warmed just about as quickly as a sleeping bag’s would have.
Sleeping in the quilt was both comfortable and comforting. The closed foot box (closed with a light zipper) ensured I wouldn’t pull the quilt off my feet. It felt very cozy to pull the quilt around me and, sometimes, tuck it in under the sleeping pad, other times tuck it in beneath my shoulder. The quilt comes with very small sewn-in loops along its long edges, with detachable straps, to allow the sleeper to secure it beneath the sleeping pad. I did not use this option.
The nominal 20° rating of the quilt was certainly not that for me, though. I had on a light wool base layer, thin long-sleeved silk t-shirt, watch cap, and fleece, and I was cold around 4:30am, with the outside temperature at about 30°F. That, though, is easy to rectify.
I checked around the Web for other backpacking quilts, and they all seemed to be roughly comparable: very high loft down, light weight shell, sewn or zipped foot box, similar weights and lofts for similar comfort ratings. Since I had slept the Enlightened quilt, I decided to stick with them. I also liked that you could get essentially the same quilt with more or less loft (as the loft increases, they increase the baffle size), and you could over-stuff the quilt a little, too. I settled on the RevalationX 10° quilt, 5’6″ regular size, with an extra ounce of down. I’m guessing this will give me a solid 25-30° comfort rating and a weight of 25.5 ounces: much warmer than my Hydrogen for a mere 1½ ounces heavier, but with, I think, more versatility and less than a comparable sleeping bag.
*For me, this means no more than a light wool base layer, a long-sleeve silk t-shirt, and perhaps a lightweight fleece, along with a watch cap. Ideally, it would be just the silk t-shirt and the watch cap, though…