The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 106: Bags for the Cold

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Winter camping is cool. But it isn't cold if you have a warm sleeping bag to crawl into. This week on The WildeBeat; Bags for the Cold.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one oh six, made possible by your membership donations.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Cold weather camping sounds extreme to a lot of people. Granted, it requires more preparation and caution, and you do need to have the right gear. One important piece of that gear is the insulation that you sleep in. For most people, that's a winter sleeping bag rated at zero degrees fahrenheit or below. Three testers from Backpack Gear test recently completed reviews of winter sleeping bags.

STEVE: Michael Wheiler lives in Southeastern Idaho. As in all Backpack Gear test reviews, Michael starts out by telling us about his outdoor experience.

MICHAEL WHEILER: My experience in backpacking started back when I was a teenager. I spent seven years as a scoutmaster myself, and just generally spent a lot of time in the outdoors. I would describe my style as being one of a mixture of the styles that are out there. One of my favorite times to camp is during the winter time. It's beautiful, it's quiet. Obviously here in southeastern Idaho we have a lot of country available to us. I particularly like to spend time in the Grand Teton range.

STEVE: Michael reviewed the lightest of these bags.

MICHAEL WHEILER: I tested a product made by Sierra Designs called the Cirque sleeping bag, and it's a men's down sleeping bag, made of eight hundred fill goose down. It's got a dry-zone waterproof breathable exterior fabric, and they listed it at three pounds, eleven ounces. I weighed it at just a little bit heavier than that, four pounds, one point five ounces on a digital scale. Packs down to about nine inches by nineteen inches. What distinguishes this bag from other bags that I've seen, number one, is the color. It's kind of a bright, lemon-lime green. It does have a mummy-style taper to it, and it's a little snug in the shoulders, and it's got what they call an expedition hood on it; fits right around your face. It's got removeable pad locks on the back, which then allows you to move around in the sleeping bag without rolling off of the pad and loosing the added insulation and comfort of the sleeping pad. My testing plan was essentially to -- I wanted to get as close to that comfort rating on this particular sleeping bag as I could. And actually never did get to those temperatures. The Cirque was certainly warm enough for me even when the temperatures dropped to about eight degrees. This is the perfect bag for the person who likes to get out early spring, during the winters, and maybe even late fall where you're going to be pushing some of those colder temperatures. And those who are just the occasional, want to get out in the summer and hike a couple of miles, they're probably going to want to go with a little lighter bag.

STEVE: Our next reviewer is Jennifer Koles of Salt Lake City, Utah.

JENNIFER KOLES: I started backpacking approximately four years ago in the Uintah and the Wasatch mountain ranges in Utah. I carry a tent while backpacking, and I try to pack lightweight. I'm not an ultralight backpacker by any means. I'm a four-season backpacker. Last year I started getting into more winter camping, and it's been quite fun. Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is one of my favorite places to visit.

STEVE: Jennifer got a much warmer bag to test.

JENNIFER KOLES: I tested the Sierra Designs Electra women's sleeping bag. This is a minus twenty sleeping bag. It is constructed of a dry zone waterproof breathable fabric shell, and this fabric is claimed to allow moisture to escape the bag while keeping the water out. The bag is constructed of eight hundred fill goose down. The shell of the bag is a light green color with purple trim around the hood. The interior lining is patterned in light green and dark green. The manufacturer claims that the women's specific sleeping bag line is more tailored to fit a woman's body. They are also constructed with more insulation in the torso and foot-box areas. I was very impressed on how small I could compress the bag to fit in the small stuff sack to fit in the storage in my backpack. The seams on the shell of the bag are a welded construction type. This creates a stronger and fully-waterproof seam. The underside of the bag has two pad lock straps. This is to prevent the pad from sliding out from under the sleeping bag. The hood is an expedition jacket hood. My testing plan consisted of four trips, two of which were in the state of Wyoming at Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. I found the bag to be a little too warm, even at a temperature recorded at seven degrees fahrenheit. The water proof fabric of this bag is awesome. I was very surprised that the water did not pennetrate the bag when my rain fly became somewhat undone and snow and rain fell onto the fabric. This bag is a cold weather bag, rated at minus twenty degrees fahrenheit. It is intended for winter backpacking, or winter mountaineering. This sleeping bag would not be ideal for backpacking during the summer months.

STEVE: Our third and final reviewer is Andy Henrichs from Carbondale, Colorado.

ANDY HENRICHS: I've been backpacking for six years. Most of my backpacking has taken plan in Colorado. I definitely lean toward the lightweight side of backpacking. You know, I've tried to go ultralight and, frankly I kind of like having some comforts along on the trail. Most of my backpacking has been fall, summer, and spring. I have done some winter backpacking, but I've been limited in that just because of the gear that I've had.

STEVE: Andy got the men's version of the same bag.

ANDY HENRICHS: The product I tested was the Sierra Designs Echo sleeping bag. It is a negative twenty degree fahrenheit sleeping bag; features eight hundred fill goose down, and it comes in dark blue outer shell. The inner shell looks really cool, it's kind of a pin-stripe, green and dark blue lining. The bag weighs four-pounds, eight-ounces in the long version, and it's cut snug. Most of my testing took place in the Elk Mountain range of western Colorado. The bulk of the testing was on ski-backpacking trips to some alpine lakes and up some nearby ridges. I think my first impression initially was that this bag is really, really warm. There were several nights where the low dropped to about ten degrees fahrenheit, and I was absolutely roasting. But I was very impressed with how the dry zone fabric breathes. I was very impressed with the craftsmanship of this bag. I found it to be very, very durable. I think this is a bag that will last a long, long time. I thin the Sierra Designs Echo would be an ideal sleeping bag for fairly serious mountaineers. This probably isn't the best sleeping bag for people who don't get out in the cold weather. This bag is overkill unless you're going to be sleeping in temperatures of zero dgrees fahrenheit or colder.

STEVE: My thanks to Michael Wheiler [Wy-ler], Jennifer Koles, Andy Henrichs, and the editors at Backpack Gear Test, for making this edition possible. Please remember that these opinions are those of the individual contributors, and don't necessarily reflect those of Backpack Gear Test, or of The WildeBeat. Backpack Gear Test is looking for qualified volunteer testers. To get qualified, you start out by writing reviews of gear you already own. After that, you could be offered free gear to review.

STEVE: We'd like to hear your comments or questions about the gear mentioned on this show, or about anything else we do on the Wildebeat. You can e-mail us at comments at WildeBeat dot net, or call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. To find out more about becoming a tester, or to read the original text reviews of these products, please follow the links on our web site.

STEVE: And we also want to thank Wilderness Press. For a limited time, become a WildeBeat member and get up to five books from Wilderness Press as a thank you gift.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. We need your help to bring you future editions of this free service; please just on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one oh six. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- inner city outings.

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