Touring - which sleeping bag?
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06-18-10, 07:32 PM
I'm planning my first bike trip across the country for next year and am confused about which sleeping bag to buy. After a lot of research, I like the Marmot Arroyo, but I am not sure if it may in fact be too warm for summer riding. I am traveling from west to the southeast then up the eastern seaboard to Maine. Would a synthetic bag be better? I've studied the pros and cons of each, but getting feedback from those who've been there, done that, is most important. Thanks.
06-18-10, 08:10 PM
Love my Feathered Friends down bag. It's less than 2 lbs.. good to 20 degrees for real. Costs a small fortune but I'll still be using it in 20 years.... and it's way overkill for quite a bit of any tour.. I can alway open it up or sleep on top if and when it gets to warm. I'm a big fan of being to warm than to cold. YMMV.
A 30 deg rating is not an excessively warm bag, you just might be glad to have it at higher elevations. If you feel too warm, unzip the bag and use it as a blanket.
Down bags are nice because they're very comfortable, very lightweight for the insulation they offer, and they stuff down to a very compact package. On the debit side, they lose all insulating value when they get wet and they are hard to clean without destroying the down. They also should be stored fluffed up, leaving them compressed in a stuff sack for too long will wreck the down. I use a silk liner at all times in my down bag, I'm obsessive about storing them unstuffed when I'm not on a trip, and I get 15-20 years from a bag. I also am very careful about packing the bag in a good waterproof stuff sack when I'm on a trip.
If you have the money and are willing to take care of your bag, down bags are the way to go. If you expect to be in a situation where it will be impossible to keep things dry, consider synthetics.
I've found Marmot and Western Mountaineering to make excellent sleeping bags, and I've heard good things about Feathered Friends. None of these brands have ever been called cheap, but they make high quality products that will give a lot of use and satisfaction for a long time.
I myself prefer down. I have one synthetic bag which really only lasted five years before it went from being a 20F bag to a 50F bag. My other bags are all down, and the favorite among them is a Western Mountaineering Megalite that is about 8 years old but which I still consider "new" despite very extensive use (guessing well over 1000 nights). At 30F, though, it's a bit light for a lot of what I do, so I'm currently shopping for a new bag for an upcoming tour. Since I'm going to be at higher elevations the whole time I'm going for 15F. Note that the rating on bags is basically whatever the manufacturer wants to say. Usually it's something fairly close to the EN rating for men, but not always.
For example, I really like the Marmot Helium. It's rated 15F and has an EN "comfort" level of 16F for men, 28F for women. I'm a cold sleeper, so I split the difference between the two, meaning for me it's probably a 22F bag. REI gives EN numbers for many of the bags they sell, but not all bags are tested in this way.
On the whole down vs. synthetic debate... well, I just haven't used synthetic bags extensively in the last 15 years and while they obviously have come along way every time I shop for a new bag I end up finding I can get a warmer bag for much less weight, so even though I know it's gonna cost, it will also last way longer.
In my searching I've found some great deals right now on a couple of good down bags through REI outlet:
REI Mojave 15F (http://www.rei.com/product/798893) $118
REI Sub Kilo 20F (http://www.rei.com/product/780903) $159.93
I'm seriously thinking about the Mojave, 'cause that price is hard to ignore. But it's not on par with the Marmots in terms of quality of construction.
You might find this Sleeping Bag Comparison Matrix (http://www.backpacking.net/gearbag-chart.html) helpful as well.
Edit: in response to markf's comment they are hard to clean without destroying the down. This is completely not true. Get a bottle of NikWax down wash and either find a front-loading washing machine or throw it in a bathtub. I usually put it in the spin cycle of either style washing machine, then in any dryer with some tennis balls on medium heat. I've washed my down bags many times, and they are always the better for it.
I have a Mountain Hardware bag with Thermic Micro insulation. It's as light as down for the same temp rating, and just about as compressible. If I'm expecting lots of wet conditions that's the bag I go with, otherwise I have a couple down bags I choose from depending on temperature.
That Marmot Arroyo looks like a great bag, excellent choice if you go with down. With a 30 degree rating, I wouldn't think it is too warm.
06-18-10, 11:55 PM
My wife and I bought a Marmot bag over two decades ago for touring. Five years ago, we broke a zipper. We called Marmot and shipped it back. They not only replaced the zipper for free, they relofted the bag as well. That's the kind of service that really locks me in as a customer. I would have gladly paid for the zipper and relofting, but they insisted on doing both for free. They even paid to ship it back to me. IMHO, you can't go wrong with a Marmot.
LHT in Madison
06-19-10, 07:11 AM
For summer where you will use the bag for several months, I suggest synthetic instead of down. During summer camping you will be in highly humid conditions in the tent every night and the insulation material will absorb a lot of moisture. Although a synthetic bag takes twice the amount of room packed as a down bag, a three season or summer bag is small enough that the extra volume should not be too critical.
Even a synthetic bag should be dried out, when you get to the campsite each night and pitch your tent, if the wind is not too high you can throw your bag over the tent and let the sun shine on it to dry it out a bit before the sun goes down. But once the sun is setting, get it into the tent before dew starts to form.
For a trip across the country, you should not use price as the determining factor because of the amount of use it will get.
07-11-10, 10:32 AM
does anyone have any experience with this montbell (http://www.backcountry.com/outdoorgear/)? is it worth the money?
07-11-10, 11:09 AM
I really like the Marmot sleeping bags. The Arroyo (30F) and Pinnacle (15F) are the slightly heavier and bulkier versions of the Hydrogen and Helium. The difference is in the quality of the down - Hydrogen and Helium use 850 fill, Arroyo and Pinnacle have 800 fill. So the higher the rating, the more loft it has, and so the less they have to use, which makes the bag lighter. Also there are differences in the materials used: The Arroyo has slightly heavier liner, and lighter weight outer material, whereas the Hydrogen is the other way around. You can see the specs on their site:
I have the Pinnacle currently, though I kind of wish I got the Helium instead since it's a little lighter and not quite as warm (I think the Pinnacle is probably too warm for most activities which I use it for). I think the Hydrogen would be almost the perfect bag for a trans-america tour - only 1 lb 8 oz, and very compact, and full length zipper (so you can open it out almost completely to use as a quilt on hot nights). The Arroyo is nice too (and cheaper), and it weighs 2 lbs. I had an Arroyo on my 1998 TransAm, and it worked fine - though it seemed to not have very much down in some spots, in some places it felt like it was just two layers of material there with no down at all. After I got back from the trip, I didn't store it very well and after a while it didn't seem to have much loft left, so I gave it away. But I have since learned about how Marmot will often re-loft these bags for free or nominal fee (if they've been otherwise taken care of), so now I wish I'd kept it. My current Pinnacle is very nice, but rather warm for summer use.
If I had the choice now, I'd probably get a Hydrogen for summer tours in the USA, and a Helium for more iffy conditions where it might get cold. In fact, I think the Hydrogen could probably handle most conditions, especially if you use a layering approach - take along something like the Sea To Summit Reactor Extreme bag liner, or a nice silk one, and that'll add some warmth to the bag on cool nights. Then add wool underwear, wool socks, and a wool cap for really cold nights, and I think you'll be able to handle a very wide range of temperatures. On hot nights, just use the liner (and have the bag there next to you ready to pull over as a quilt, since I find I often cool down in the night and get cold around 1-3am). This will see you for most conditions you'll see in summer in the USA, I think, especially if you have a decent tent.
It's true that you should keep down bags dry. However I have never actually had my bag get wet. If you have a good tent, and take care not to camp in locations that are going to get flooded if it rains in the night, and carry the bag in a waterproof stuff sack, then I don't think it's going to get wet very often, if at all. In any case, you're not going deep into the wilderness here, it's a road tour in the USA. If you get stuff wet then you can just take a day off in a cheap motel somewhere to dry off.
Down vs. Synthetic depends on preference and anticipated conditions. Unfortunately, it is the unanticipated conditions that can casue the problems. Neil is right in that there is not much that is going to happen on a bike tour (unless you are in Mongolia)affecting your sleeping bag that is life threatening. Mountaineering is my other passion and I have 3 synthetic (-20,+25,+40) bags and 1 down bag (sub zero). The down bag seldom gets used for all the reason listed. The new synthetics are almost as warm and as compressible as down. The +25, Marmot Pounder Plus, is light and is used on ski trips as well as bike tours. The + 40 is a summer bike tour /backpacking bag. I think most folks can get away with either down or synthetic fill material. Economics, anticipated present and futures uses, weight, size, and personal prefence are all factors.
The sleeping bag (Marmot Pounder Plus,+25 degrees and <2 pounds) is in the yellow compression sack, the tent in the blue. The orange is a full length Thermarest Prolite 4 (good for summer and snow)
The water bottle gives the bags some scale. The sleeping bag and our tent compress down into packages the size of a small loaf of breadhttp://i783.photobucket.com/albums/yy112/Doug64_photos/TentandWaterbottle-1-1.jpg
Unexpected, but not unanticipated in August- a few hours earlier we were climbing in shorts. Generally not encountered on bike trips;)
I have the arroyo 30. It's definitely too warm for night temps over 55F. I just use a silk liner and maybe a light fleece coverlet in. Summer.
07-11-10, 11:31 PM
I also prefer a down bag. The one I use for bike touring is a North Face Blue Kazoo that I bought in 1976 and have used on multiple times each year since then. Yes, it must be kept dry, but that has yet to be a problem. And I consider it more of an issue for winter backpacking trips where lack of a usable bag could easily be life threatening. When bike touring there are usually options available if the worst happens and the bag gets soaked. Mine is rated to 20 degrees and I've used it with reasonable comfort down to 0 degrees with a VBL. On warm nights I just leave the zippers open and only partly get into the bag - or not at all if it's really hot.
In comparison to synthetics, I find that down still allows for a more compact bag when in its stuff sack, a wider comfortable temperature range, and better durability when properly washed and maintained.
07-12-10, 02:19 AM
Exped Insulated Air mattresses are a excellent compliment to any Bag, down or fiber filled or one filled with Chipped foam in it.
the latter won't compress as small but still will be support even if punctured ..
07-12-10, 08:17 PM
Doug, what tent is that?
07-12-10, 09:00 PM
no love for Big Agnes in this thread? I love my pitchpine SL and at 1 pound and a compressed size of 6X4 it doesnt get much better for a summer bag
07-12-10, 09:25 PM
I can only speak from my own experience.
I used to own a high quality synthetic Qualofil bag. The bag was huge and heavy and developed an odor only I could tolerate. After 20 ++ years of steady use, and cleaning, I pitched my synthetic bag in the dumpster this last spring. It was a sad day. Hopefully the newer synthetics are lighter and more pack friendly.
I'm left with three down bags, a 15 degree, 40 degree and a 0 degree. The only bag I've used in the last couple years is the 40 degree bag. I now use the 40 degree bag with an Exped down mattress and I stay warm at temps below 30 degrees - I sleep like a rock.
In all my years of bumble headed adventures -I've never had any of my down bags get wet or so damp I couldn't stay warm. I should note that I always travel with a good quality leak proof tent and waterproof panniers. If I toured exclusively in wet weather that constantly hovered around the freezing point, in which it was constantly raining every single day...I would bet you I would have a synthetic bag or I'd quit outdoor sports. As it is, I don't tour in those conditions.
Remember - the bag is part of a system that includes your pad and your tent.
I'll post a picture of my Thermarest 3/4 length pad, Exped full length 3"+ thick down mat, and the 40 degree Marmot down bag.
Two each, 3/4 length, thermarest pads + protective bag weigh 1 1/2 pounds
Full length Exped weighs 2.5 pounds
Marmot Atom 40 degree bag weighs 2 pounds
See pictures - Good luck. Mike
07-13-10, 09:02 AM
Marmot is a great choice, across the board. I have a +15 Pinnacle, a +15 Helium, a -20 ???, and my newest, an Arete. http://www.campmor.com/marmot-arete-40-degree-down-sleeping-bag-regular.shtml?source=CI&ci_src=14110944&ci_sku=46589 This bag packs down to absolutely nothing, yet the 800 fill down makes for a warm bag for summer use. When you add in the fact I always have a polartec, etc. jacket with me, I can use this down into the thirties and be alright. Great summer bag. Not the cheapest, but once I've bought it I never think about hte price again. Stuffed, my Arete weights 1lb, 7 ounces. Combine it with a T-rest Neoair mattress (14oz) and you have an amazing 2lb, 5oz sleep system.
Doug, what tent is that?
It is a Sierra Desings "Lightning"-- > 4 lbs with rainfly and poles. Rainfly and tent stuffed into compression sack. It has been a good tent that has seen a lot of tough use.
On bike tour
Early spring ski trip.
07-14-10, 12:25 AM
If someone is honestly looking to spend some coin on their first quality sleeping bag, i so strongly suggest a versatile sleeping bag, get one you can walk around in at night with pockets like the exped wallcreeper or the feathered friends rock wren or winter wren.
marmot used to make the Alpine NEST series bags, which rocked. the exped currently is available as either down or synth. the large size expeds are HUGE so be careful if you are contemplating the large size sleeping bags from exped.
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