l to r: Western Mountaineering Highlite, Alpkit Pipedream 400, Cumulus Quantum 350 (click on picture for slide show)
While sleeping bags are not quite as mission critical as footwear, rucksacks and tents, getting the right bag can make a huge difference to comfort and enjoyment. As countless experts will tell you, down bags are really the only choice the majority of the time.
When I was base camping, I had some synthetic sleeping bags from Vango, Ajungilak and Mountain Equipment. The Vango bag was a bit of a disaster as the outer material wasn’t very air permeable for some reason and it was a sweat box. After a couple of tries I had to ditch it and buy the Ajungilak.
When I started backpacking again, I had to forget the synthetics as they were too bulky and heavy. The first bag I bought was the Cumulus Ultralight 350. This is quite a sophisticated bag with trapezoidal baffles on the top side. The only criticism I had is that there is no neck baffle and the down is not the highest fill power.
The next step was to fill either side of the temperature continuum. An Alpkit Pipedream 600 for colder weather and a Western Mountaineering Highlite for warmer temperatures. I’ve not used the Pipedream 600 that much because I’ve not done much cold weather camping. I have the older version made from Pertex. Apart from the hood, which is a slightly odd shape, it’s an excellent and very warm bag.
The Western Mountaineering Highlite is one of the lightest bags you can buy at 470g. It has an unusual quilting pattern. The down is contained in rectangular boxes, where the horizontal baffles are sewn through and the vertical ones are box wall. This is a very effective way of ensuring an even distribution of a modest amount of down (c.225g).
The disadvantage of the Highlite is a lack of a zip baffle. Not only does this make the bag a shade colder than it could be, but it means that the cold zip puller dangles in your face if you sleep on one side. Fortunately, my mother sewed a small zip baffle and zip garage to cure this. At the same time she also added a neck baffle. These two mods have transformed the Highlite into an excellent summer bag, warm down to about 5c.
I was seduced by the next iteration of the Pipedream 400. With new materials and a reshaped hood, this is a really excellent bag. Weighing a modest 740g, it is warm down to freezing and slightly beyond. Compared with the Cumulus Ultralight, it has more loft and an excellent neck baffle. The hood is also markedly superior to the old style Pipedream. The material is not quite as luxurious to the touch as Pertex, but still very pleasant. Although the price has risen to £150 (mine was £120), it still represents superb value for money. If I just had to have one sleeping bag, this would be it.
My last sleeping bag is a morality tale of not believing advertised weights. The Cumulus Quantum 350 is advertised at 665g. I had inspected a friend’s bag and liked the Pertex material. For a higher spec of down and Pertex, as well as more sophisticated trapezoidal baffles, I thought this would be a good buy. When I weighed it, the bag was 727g. I’ve moaned about this before, but it is irresponsible of manufacturers and retailers to advertise the wrong weights.
Despite this disappointment, the Quantum 350 is a very good bag. The material is silky smooth and the trapezoidal baffles eliminate cold spots. The neck baffle is a bit on the small side, but generally it’s a very nice bag. It also packs down smaller than the Pipedream. However, taking everything into consideration, I would say that the Pipedream 400 shades it over the Quantum 350.
Given the longevity of down bags, it’s unlikely that I’ll be buying another for some time. The Pipedreams and the Highlite cover most situations. As a side sleeper and a restless sleeper, I don’t fancy a quilt. IMO, it’s difficult to beat Alpkit bags for a combination of value and quality. If you are solely focused on quality, then Western Mountaineering should be on your list. That’s not to say that I’m unhappy with my Cumulus bags, both of which are very good.