I thought it was worth doing a follow-up to my post on my sleeping bag collection, just to give you a quick assessment of them in the hope that it helps you if you’re looking for a new sleeping bag (I’m out of the market now!).
Synthetic sleeping bags: don’t bother if you’re a backpacker, they’re too bulky. While both ME synthetic bags are fine for base camping, I don’t use them for backpacking. Of the two, I prefer the Firewalker, as I find the elasticated section of the Sleepwalker a bit uncomfortable.
Down has to be the only sensible choice for backpacking, now that Alpkit are selling down bags for the price of synthetics, there’s no excuse. They’re lighter, warmer, compact better and last longer. What more could you want? The only time I can see a synthetic bag being an advantage is in a situation of constant high humidity, where it is impossible to air and dry a bag (Tropics?). If you’re worried about damp from the outside, carry a bivvy bag or get a bag with a water resistant cover.
On to my down bags, I won’t bother with my ME Annapurna bag as it’s ancient, but it’s still in good condition, showing the longevity of down and superb workmanship.
Western Mountaineering HighLite: weighs 465g (on my digital scales) and has about 230g of high grade down (probably the best I’ve encountered). It claims to be comfortable to 2c, but for me it’s more like 5c. It is a part stitch through, part box wall design. The fabric is very light but reasonably robust. The cut is quite generous. As I mentioned before, it’s only really a summer bag. It does have some drawbacks. It only has a half length zip. I would never get a bag without a full length zip again (the reason I didn’t get the original Alpkit Pipedream 400), as it is annoying if you’re feet get too hot. The other irritations are that the hood design is not very snug and there is no zip baffle. The latter is annoying both because it makes the bag colder than it should be and because you get a face full of cold zip when you lie on your side (I had to get my mother to sew a short face guard). Verdict: could be better, but I carry it if minimising weight is a priority.
Cumulus Ultralite 350: weighs 747g, with 350g of down. The down is definitely not as high quality as the WM HighLite or the Alpkit bags. It doesn’t have quite the “spring” of the best quality down. The outer and inner are Pertex, which is wonderfully silky. The top is a trapezoidal box design, which is superb for avoiding cold spots. It’s quite a slim design with a smallish foot plug (the reason for mentioning this is that I have size 8 feet and I think if you had much larger feet the Ultralite might feel a bit constricting). Overall, it’s a very comfortable bag and warm to around 0c (not the -3c claimed, but I sleep cold). The hood is good and I like the elasticated cords. It could do with a neck baffle. Overall, this is a good bag and been very comfortable to sleep in. It has been my “default” bag.
Alpkit Pipedream 600 and 400: weights 970g and 740g respectively. The 600 is the previous version with red piping. The Pertex material is lovely and silky and the loft is excellent, reflecting the good down quality, almost up to WM standards. I’ve not had the opportunity to test it to its temperature limit, but it is very warm and would more than cope with anything other than extreme winter conditions. My only criticism is the hood, which is a bit skimpy. I bought the 400 because it has 50g more filling than the Ultralite 350 and higher quality down for the same weight, so I would expect it to be comfortable to below freezing, but have had no opportunity to test it yet. The material is not quite as silky as Pertex but still nice to the touch, but feels slightly more robust. The big improvement over the previous Pipedream is the hood, which is more generous and has a better shape. The cut is slightly more wider than the Ultralite and the foot plug is slightly larger. Both bags highly recommended.
In summary, I expect that my Alpkit bags will get the most use over the next few years (mainly the Pipedream 400) and that I will only occasionally use my WM HighLite. I won’t be disposing of the others as they may be useful for my daughter when I can drag her off camping. If you’re in the market for a bag, I think you would be mad not to look at Alpkit first; I’m very impressed with the quality. The re-design of the hood has made it almost perfect (perfection would be elasticated draw cords as well!).