The state of my gear: sleeping bags

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.

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16 thoughts on “The state of my gear: sleeping bags”

  1. yet again Robin, another excellent article the content of which echo’s alot of my own experiences with sleeping bags.

    I started off with synthetics although I backpacked from the start with these. After my camping “break”, when I started up again, I got a lightweight synthetic Jack Wolfskin 2 season bag. I quickly realised my metabolism wasnt what it used to be and needed a better bag.

    After searching around I came across Alpkit and like you I bought 2 bags. I got the Alpinedream 500 and the Pipedream 400. I got the AP500 1st and its a good bag but relatively heavy. I soon got the PD400 and like you I found it was brilliant for most trips and very light (and cheap). I still use the PD400 but I suppliment it with the Golite ultra 20 quilt.

    I use the golite quilt all year round although if it is going to be really cold I will take the PD400. I actually like the quilt although the weights are wrong too. Its still impressive at around 600g and as long as you dont mind the lack of a hood, quite versatile.

    Like you, I have no intention of getting anymore bags as my current 2 favourites the quilt and the PD400 cover all my camping needs

  2. One very warm bag for winter, Something good to -1 for the times outside a warm summer trip and winter. One light bag for summer is my take. Interesting read Robin. Like it.

  3. Hi Robin,
    My story is similar to yours. I had an old down bag that i used backpacking and i bought a ME synthetic bag for base camp use but my old down bag was getting passed it. I eventually bought the Rab summit 300 which was good to around -2 C.
    But i have been cold in it at around 0 C. Above 3 degrees and it’s a fine bag. I am considering getting the PHD Minim Ultra bag which weighs 345gr for summer use . I could then put both down bags together for below zero backpacking and still only have a combined weight of 1145gr. What do you think? Another opinion is always good to hear.
    http://www.phdesigns.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=198

  4. Hi Robin,
    Yes your right. I was thinking down the lines of :- I use my PHD minimus down jacket to supplement the inadequacies of the summit 300 when the temp drops down. So for roughly the same weight i get a whole sleeping bag with better down quality, ie 900 grade. The total weight is no higher than a lot of -10 c rated bags anyway and i also get a very light summer, 1 -2 season bag as well.

  5. another big fan here of the Alpkit PD 400. Have owned it for 2 years now and love it. I have thought about making the switch to quilts but still undecided. I use it combined with PHD minimus clothing to take my camping into lower temps.

    1. The PDs are excellent. My concern with a quilt is that I’m a restless sleeper. I can’t see the advantage for me in saving a few grams at the expense of some warmth and comfort.

  6. You say the Quantum 350 fill power is low, though I see the current model is 870 fill power on the website, which surely is a high figure. What makes you say it is low? Perhaps you found its loft unimpressive?

    I am interested in buying the quilt version so your answer would be helpful.

    1. I think you have misread. I say that the down in the Cumulus Ultralight is not the highest spec. There has been an unresolved debate as to whether Cumulus are using US or European measurements. US give higher readings.

      Leaving that aside, the Quantum uses high quality down. In my experience (from my bags), the highest quality down is used by Western Mountaineering. The down Cumulus uses is not quite as good, but better than Alpkit. The Quantum is a good bag, which I still use.

  7. Thanks Robin, I noticed that discussion of measurements on my search.

    Perhaps relevant, I read recently that because Pertex bags are inherently not very breathable, it can take some time for them to gain their full loft, where as a fully breathable shell will allow down to loft more instantly. That suggests to me that judging a bags loft by looking at it just after pulling it out of the bag may be misleading.

    1. Not noticed a huge difference in breathability myself. It always takes a few minutes for down to loft properly after being stuffed in a rucksack. The other thing to note about Cumulus bags is they are a bit short compared with some. Fine for me at 5’9″, but not for 6′ and over.

      1. Other issue is the factory refusing to sell to the UK, with UK sellers giving about 40% markup it seems. I may go for the synthetic Thermarest Regulus at £120 (or the down version for £159).

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