Choosing a down bag

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Wandering Daisy
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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:48 pm

The new version of my expensive, very old WM Super Antelope is now upgraded and lighter, but the old one still works, albeit heavier. I really cannot justify spending $500 or more to save, at most, one pound. I am also looking hard at a new sleeping pad, but my very minimal (8oz x-sm Prolite) is not the most comfortable or warmest (but then it works with my overwarm sleeping bag). So my sleeping "system" is really not excessively heavy, just not the most comfortable. And if I need more pad I just throw in a 1/2 length blue foam. Needless to say if Santa were to gift me a new upgraded sleeping system I would be thrilled! I limp along with what I have. So far, it has not stopped me from doing all the trips I want to do. In my opinion, before spending a lot of money for a new sleeping bag (unless your old one really needs replacing or you really do not like it), make sure you have reduced weight the cheaper ways.

Free - be brutal about leaving non-essentials home. Something has to be either extremely light (like extra matches) or extremely useful/pleasurable/integral to my trip (such as my camera and fishing gear) to end up in my pack. The level of safety I perceive from my gear has to be based on actual risk reduction, not paranoia or being scared. I have a ton of "like-to-take" items. I get these under control by only allowing about 1 pound of these non-essentials. Some trips I take crocks for wading and camp shoes, but then leave out that extra down jacket and just shiver a bit each morning until the sun comes up. I ditched the compass years ago after never using it in 20 years. Sometimes I do not bring my camera, sometimes no fishing. Sometimes no artificial light at all, especially when there is a full moon. Avoid thinking, "it only weighs 1 oz so throw it in". Ounces add up. I now use very minimal stuff sacks. Personal hygiene items also add up. Only take the amount you really will use. Even first aid items. I rarely get blisters, so no longer take moleskin. Same with repair items- instead I fix stuff before the trip.

Also free- how much water and food do you really need? I now carry the Sawyer mini and only carry about 1/2 liter of water, if any at all. May not work for everyone. Luckily I am able to "tank up" and then go distance without water. Think about less cooked meals (I will never go full out no-cook).

Also free- just consider going with a partner or a group so cook gear and other "group" equipment is shared.

Use obvious lighter versions of gear. Yes, my Nalgene bottle is tough as nails and lasts forever, but I now take used plastic bottles from stuff that I use at home anyway. If it only lasts a few trips, so what. I have my 2-L platypus as a backup, so if it breaks, it is awkward but doable.

I have gone down this road of eliminating stuff, gone a bit too far, backed off, and now am fairly happy with my choices. It has been a long journey. I touched on the UL shortly, did not like it, and ended up in the "light" category, for now. New ideas always crop up, like quilts vs sleeping bags. That is one I may seriously consider. I am all for upgrading to lighter gear when I need to replace stuff; not yet ready to upgrade simply because it is out there as long as my old stuff suffices. But then, my family tells me that I am really "cheap". I readily confess to this.








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bobby49
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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by bobby49 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 2:07 pm

"how much water and food do you really need?"

Now I always try to carry more water than I think I will need. A few years ago I had a loop trail all figured out for Southern Yosemite. My plan was to go in one day and camp, then go back out on the second day. If the wildflowers were unusually good around the campsite, then I might stay there for an extra day. The map showed creeks converging there, so I didn't think much more about water. Late on that first day I arrived, but there was no water flowing anywhere. All I could find was some damp mud. Unfortunately, my water bottle was getting pretty low by then. I didn't think that it would be smart for me to camp there without water, so I kept walking. Eventually I found a spot where another creek entered, but even there the water was almost nothing. The water hardly covered the creek bottom gravel. So, I dug a hole in the creek bottom gravel and let the water flow in and out of the hole until the sediment cleared away. Then I could get a little water and filter it for my purposes. I still kept walking. Later that night just at midnight I got all the way around the loop and returned to my car.

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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:53 pm

I too have had a few tense moments with insufficient water. Even though miserable,I survived and it has only happened a few times. It takes about 3 days without water to kill you, and one liter will not make much difference one way or the other. I personally am willing to take that small risk in order to lighten my pack nearly a pound every day I hike. Food is even less critical. I have walked several days on nothing. I usually do not carry out much food out because one of the luxuries of being retired, is that I can just stay in another day if I have extra food. I plan pretty precisely, and it is usually just right. The longest I have gone in the mountains without food is 4 days walking 45 miles. Evidently one can survive up to 30 days without food. The old saying; 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 30 days without food. Obviously not always the case, but it does give you an idea of survival priorities.

There is luxury, comfortable, adequate and survival gear lists. The tricky decision is, when does the weight of the higher order of comfort negate your actual comfort or tether you to a ball and chain dragging down your entire trip.

Back to sleeping bags, it is one of your biggest "comfort" item as well as "safety" item. Thus, one should give it a lot of consideration. I spent $700 on my sleeping bag. But weight savings was only one consideration. I would never choose a sleeping bag based only on weight savings because it is so easy to get that weight savings other ways. I would also not push the envelope on temperature rating to save a few ounces. And my experience is that it is hard to have a "do-it-all" sleeping bag. Ideally I would like to have 3-4 sleeping bags or quilts for specific conditions. Maybe someday.

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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by kpeter » Sat Feb 15, 2020 6:55 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:53 pm
I too have had a few tense moments with insufficient water. Even though miserable,I survived and it has only happened a few times. It takes about 3 days without water to kill you, and one liter will not make much difference one way or the other. I personally am willing to take that small risk in order to lighten my pack nearly a pound every day I hike. Food is even less critical. I have walked several days on nothing. I usually do not carry out much food out because one of the luxuries of being retired, is that I can just stay in another day if I have extra food. I plan pretty precisely, and it is usually just right. The longest I have gone in the mountains without food is 4 days walking 45 miles. Evidently one can survive up to 30 days without food. The old saying; 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 30 days without food. Obviously not always the case, but it does give you an idea of survival priorities.

There is luxury, comfortable, adequate and survival gear lists. The tricky decision is, when does the weight of the higher order of comfort negate your actual comfort or tether you to a ball and chain dragging down your entire trip.

Back to sleeping bags, it is one of your biggest "comfort" item as well as "safety" item. Thus, one should give it a lot of consideration. I spent $700 on my sleeping bag. But weight savings was only one consideration. I would never choose a sleeping bag based only on weight savings because it is so easy to get that weight savings other ways. I would also not push the envelope on temperature rating to save a few ounces. And my experience is that it is hard to have a "do-it-all" sleeping bag. Ideally I would like to have 3-4 sleeping bags or quilts for specific conditions. Maybe someday.
Thanks WD. I grew up backpacking with Colin Fletcher's Complete Walker, and was inculcated with the single minded focus on reducing unneeded items. But I forgot those lessons when I was young and strong. My pack ballooned up to 70 lbs for a week's trip, by the time I was middle aged I got it down to 50, and more recently I have pared down to the low 40s. The older I get, the more I want to pare down further.

My sleeping bag weighs not quite 3 lbs and I see others rated similarly for 1 lb 4 ounces or so. That is a big difference--if the other bags really function as well--hence my question. My bag was not too expensive 12 years ago, since it used larger quantities of 600 down instead of smaller quantities of 900 down. It is definitely a trade of weight for dollars.

As for water--I learned a VERY painful lesson this year. Starting my Hetch Hetchy trip last June I started up the switchbacks on a very hot day with 2 liters of water. I was getting over a cold and not as recovered as I had thought, so it slowed me way, way down, and I ran out of water after reaching the top. It was a couple more miles to get to that first pond. By the time I got there, my urine was brown. I rehydrated, recovered, and went on as normal. No harm done, or so I thought.

Then this fall I suffered an attack of kidney stones, requiring two surgical procedures. The stones were not the most common stones but were composed of uric acid crystals--somewhat rare. My urologist told me that such crystals can form in a matter of hours if the solution of fluids in the kidneys gets concentrated enough, and once formed they normally take a number of months to break loose. Had I ever notice a time in the last six months when my urine turned brown?

The weeks of pain from those stones marked the lowest point in my life. I will never, ever, ever, ever allow myself to become dehydrated again. Of course, half the problem was trying to hike before I was fully healthy--but we tend to do foolish things when the mountains call to us.

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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Feb 15, 2020 8:23 pm

A few comments that I forgot to put in the other post.

Be sure you know exactly what kind of down you are getting, goose or duck, whether it is the treated for water resistance (if the treatment is chemical you may want to do a search and see if owners noticed smells or off-gassing like that in carpets) and inner and outer fabric specifications. I think some of the low weight of today's down bags are also due to thinner fabric. Not that a lower denier is necessarily bad, but it may be more fragile than old bags. I tend to get breaks in my fingernails and have snagged a fingernail on my bag when stuffing it (no damage done so far). Zippers are definitely skinny on new bags. Again I really do not know how light-weight you can get with a zipper before it affects its longevity. If baffles are too fragile they may burst and down will not stay in place. I am a restless sleeper and I put a lot of pressure on the inside of my sleeping bag. Also if you go with a temperature rating above 20-degrees, most of those bags do not have a draft collar. I think a draft collar is worth its weight in gold.

One thing I like about Western Mountaineering bags is that you can send them in for repairs, adjustments or even cleaning. Same with Feathered Friends. I believe both are made here in the USA - Feathered Friends in Seattle, WM somewhere in the Bay Area ( used to be). My husband has a half-bag from Feathered Friends, 900 down, and he really loves it. It weighs nearly nothing. He pairs it with his expedition down jacket. This is another "sleep system" that those who like to have their arms out and about prefer. I am TOTALLY envious when he gets up in the morning walking around in his big warm jacket! Both Feathered Friends and WM bags are more expensive and rarely go on sale, but they have years of solid reputation and are known for their high quality.

Both these manufacturers also allow you to choose a variety of materials. I got the DWR treated outer material on my bag and that cost me $100 more. In retrospect, I would not do that again. After many years of repeat stuffing, the DWR does not seem to work that well any more. Probably lots of little cracks in it due to use. It added about 3 oz to the bag. So now I have the weight without the function.

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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by Matthew » Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:28 pm

KPeter:
“I've wondered about quilts. I sleep about 50% on my back and 50% on my side and twist and turn a lot. Usually the mummy bags just twist and turn with me, on top of the pad. Would I risk opening up the quilt and letting in cold air with all those gyrations?”
>I have an Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt. I also sleep 50% on back and side. With the quilt I am constantly tucking it in ‘over my shoulder’ as I turn to keep me warm, but this is very natural process and doesn’t affect my sleep. So yes it is an issue, but for me not a big one.
“I use a 3/4 pad and shove my empty pack under my feet, and wonder how that would work out with a quilt? Does a quilt really need a full length pad?”
I use a full length mattress, but with the pack under the leg section. I don’t think that your approach would be a problem as the quilt covers all around your legs. It is your shoulders that need more focus in the quilt.
“My prostate forces me to get up in the night once or twice. I wonder about how easy it will be without a zipper.”
I get up too, for number one, but the quilt makes this easy.
So I am happy with a quilt. But I don’t have much experience in cold temperatures (<32F) nor with a mummy bag for a comparison. Also note that if I am cold due to breezes in the night, I do have, and do use, a very light myog bivy bag made of Momentum fabric upper and silnylon lower that cuts the wind and keeps in the warm air. Thus, even if the quilt is a bit breezy at times, the bivy makes up for this under my tarp. The bivy serves double function as a mosquito barrier.

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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by Snowtrout » Sun Feb 16, 2020 9:13 am

KPeter, both bags you are looking at from REI are fairly narrow, so I hope you are a skinny guy and don’t like extra hip room in the bag. If so, you might also look at the FF Hummingbird as another competing option if looking at bags.

If you are a smaller guy and want to get more bang for your buck, look at women’s bags. Usually same or more fill weight than guys/uni bags, shorter length but wider in hips. I have the FF Egret 20 and love it. Under 2lbs, 17oz of fill (warm), roomy in the hips and packs small with a 9L stuff sack.

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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by gary c. » Sun Feb 16, 2020 1:58 pm

Snowtrout wrote:
Sun Feb 16, 2020 9:13 am
KPeter, both bags you are looking at from REI are fairly narrow, so I hope you are a skinny guy and don’t like extra hip room in the bag. If so, you might also look at the FF Hummingbird as another competing option if looking at bags.
Paying attention to those girth measurements can be really import with today's ounce cutting bags. I'm kind of a big guy, specially around the waist compared to most backpackers. I bought a very lite summer bag thinking it would be great to find out that I couldn't even get it zipped past my thighs after it arrived. Another time I borrowed a friends down bag for a quick trip. Even though I could get it zipped all the way up it was tight enough to compress the down in many places and I froze most of the night until I thought to unzip it and use more like a quilt.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray

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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by bobby49 » Sun Feb 16, 2020 11:33 pm

The good news about a snug sleeping bag is that they can be more thermally efficient than a spacious one.

Gary (don't take offense here), but have you considered changing your own body dimensions?

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Re: Choosing a down bag

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 17, 2020 4:03 pm

Experience from the "other side of the coin". I am thin and my WM Antelope is too significantly wide for me at the shoulders and a bit wide overall. I got the "short" so length is fine. Bobby49- maybe I should change the size of my body. :D That would be fun- double deserts every night. Kidding aside, if you are average then the current sizes are fine; if too far to the right or left of the normal distribution curve, good luck on finding a bag that really fits. I now sleep with my puffy and fleece layer in my bag up in the shoulder area to minimize the dead air space. It works pretty well, but it is still frustrating that after paying more than $500 (current replacement bag $700+) that I have to do that. Bobby49 is absolutely correct that a too large width bag will not be as warm as one that fits.

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