29/01/2015 14:34:50

Words by NeedleSports

Sleeping Bags

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Needle Sports stocks the very highest quality mountaineering sleeping bags and these are mainly down bags. Here are some notes on the selection and care of a down sleeping bag.

Rab

Rab Carrington has been one of Britain's top mountaineers for a lot longer than he was making sleeping bags and he was making bags for nearly twenty years. His experience of climbing in such inhospitable climates as found in the Himalayas, Patagonia and Scotland in winter resulted in production of what is rightly recognised as one of the finest and most specialised range of bags on the market. Rab has recently retired but the Rab brand lives on!

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OMM

Mike Parsons has put his extensive knowledge of outdoor gear manufacturing (many years at the helm of Karrimor) and an untold number of KIMMs/OMMs to good use in designing a small range of specialist bags aimed at the mountain marathon competitor. Mike has also retired but OMM continues to thrive under new ownership.

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Montane

Montane are relative newcomers compared with Rab and OMM but have established themselves as specialists in lightweight mountaineering and mountain marathon gear and produce a range of sleeping bags each one of which is targeted at a specific use.

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Mountain Hardwear

Mountain Hardwear are a large American outdoor gear manufacturer who make some of the best artificial fibre bas on the market.

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Temperatures & Season Ratings

A very rough guide to the approximate use you might expect from a sleeping bag is given by the use of season ratings. These indicate the temperatures at which a sleeping bag should keep you comfortable if camping outside using a tent or bivibag and a reasonable mat for the conditions.

Season Rating UK Seasons Temperature
1 Season Summer only ca +5ºC and above
2 Season Mid Spring to Mid Autumn ca 0ºC
3 Season Spring and Autumn ca -5ºC
4 Season Winter ca -10ºC
5 Season Expedition use only ca -15ºC

As a result of EU legislation most good quality bags now display something along the lines of the following rather confusing ratings:

New Rating Meaning
Upper Limit The temperature above which a "standard man" would be sweating profusely
Comfort Temperature Officially the lowest temperature at which a "standard woman" would be comfortable
Lower Limit Temperature Officially the lowest temperature at which a "standard man" would be comfortable
Extreme Temperature The temperature below which a "standard woman" would not survive

Needless to say this is a typical example of EU legislation making things far more complicated than they need be and also unfortunately the whole testing procedure is flawed in that it is possible to "fiddle" the results by careful positioning of the bag's fill. Moreover, bags are tested using a copper mannequin and there is only one supplier of such mannequins - so a vested interest in promoting such testing is possible, if not probable. We feel it much better to rely on the accumulated experience of years of manufacture and that none of the top firms, Rab, Mountain Equipment, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear etc are likely to fib about their bags' capabilities. The temperature ratings we give are thus the manufacturer's, not the EU version.

Sizing: The obvious way to make a bag lighter is to make it smaller and many budget companies do just that. However most of these sleeping bags are generously sized. They are definitely not budget bags! In addition, special lengths may be available for some bags to order. Unfortunately Rab have had to drop special widths and no zip options as they are no longer economical to produce. Any extra short bags that are specially made to order will have the extra down redistributed - not taken away - so you end up with a warmer bag than the standard model - however this is not the case with the off the shelf models. Extra long bags that are made to order have about 10% extra down added to fill the extra length.The term right-hand zip means the zip is on your right as you are lying in the bag. In general right-handed people prefer a left-hand zip and left-handed people a right-hand zip, though it isn't really that important.

NB Please note, that whilst we are prepared to accept the return of unused standard bags, we cannot do this for any specials ie Extra Long, Extra Short etc. Please do not order these bags unless you are sure that it is what you want. Non-standard bags may take anything from 2 to 8 weeks to make.

Repairs and Bespoke Work: may be able to be undertaken on Rab bags. Please contact Rab .

Weights: are approximate. You may notice that they vary from those published. The reason for this is that the weight of each bag consists of three components: the Outer Fabric, the Down, and the Inner Fabric (ie the baffles). Whilst the weights of the Outer Fabric and the Down are virtually always the same, the manufacturers will try to use the lightest suitable fabric that they can for the hidden components of the bag such as the baffles. However if such fabric is temporarily unavailable, they may use the next lightest suitable fabric that they can get, rather than not make any bags at all, and this can increase the weight of a bag by as much as 100g. Another factor is that the baffles are all filled by hand and, if having filled all the baffles bar one, the filler realises that he is a bit short of down he will just add a little more, rather than redistribute it all. The weight of the stuff sack is not included in the bag weight so allow an extra 50g or so for this.

Down Quality: On Rab bags this is the best in the world. The down is sourced in Eastern Europe and it is cleaned thoroughly before use, so removing nearly all of the "bird dandruff" that makes some people allergic to down. This is not always the case with many Far Eastern sourced bags (especially cheaper ones). In addition all the bags are filled to order in Derbyshire (as opposed to being filled in the Far East - often in humid conditions - and then spending months closely packed in a warehouse and on a container ship). By keeping our stock levels low, Needle Sports' Rab bags are as freshly filled as they can be and are never kept densely packed.

Most of the down used is goose down as this is widely believed to be of better quality as the spines of the feathers are softer and so less likely to pierce the outer fabric of the bag. However the most important measure of down quality is fill power.

Fill-Power: is a measure of the loft that the down fill produces. Due to different measuring methods used, USA fill powers show higher figures than European ones for the same down. Here is an approximate comparison chart for fill powers. More and more firms seem to be using USA fill powers these days (as the figures are higher!) so if there is no mention of the figures being Euro then it's best to assume that they are USA.

Euro Fillpower Equivalent USA Fillpower
750+ 850+
660+ 725+
560+ 610+

Construction Method: Down is sewn into baffles (sausage like tubes). On cold weather bags, to prevent cold spots along stitching lines, two lots of baffles may be offset. On some recent artificial fibre bags, a glued together shingle method of constuction eliminates sewing altogether and results in a warmer bag. Other aids to warmth include having the bag shaped to your body (mummy shaped), a neck collar to prevent warm air escaping, a well fitted hood and a down-filled baffle behind the zip.

Washing: please see the instructions for Nikwax Downwash . Please note that sleeping bags should not be dry-cleaned as noxious fumes can build up inside the bag (more noxious than usual that is!). If you do not fancy cleaning your sleeping bag yourself, Rab will do it for you.

Bivi Bags & Keeping Your Bag Dry: Sleeping bags can only get wet two ways, from the outside and the inside. For the outside we highly recommend Rab's Survival Zone which is light enough to carry virtually anywhere. It can be used as a bivi bag in the fiercest of of weather but also just as a bag outer to prevent condensation problems when sharing a tent. The main way that the inside of the bag gets wet is when you get into it with wet clothes on. Use of a vapour barrier liner (which can be as simple as a large bin bag) will prevent this – or take any wet clothes off first. If your bag does get wet, don't panic, put it in a tumble drier on a low setting with an old training shoe or similar to knock it about a bit. When done, air well. In fact air well after every use.

Artificial Fibre Bags: Why use an artificial fill sleeping bag, when good quality down is warmer lighter and lasts longer? Well, maybe you are going somewhere very wet, or you are allergic to down, or possibly you are a vegan. Whatever the reason, artificial bags have the place in the great mountaineering scheme of things, and though they are invariably heavier (warmth for warmth) than down, and bulkier, and last about half as long, they are also cheaper. Mountain Hardwear use a special "Lamina" process to make very efficient and reasonably price artificial fibre sleeping bags.

 

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