Q:

Can you help me choose a compressible, lightweight sleeping bag?

My 16-year-old daughter's Venture Scout troop is doing an eight-day horseback trek in northeastern New Mexico this July. They have to store all their gear in a large stuff sack (and two midget saddle bags), so she needs a lightweight, compressible sleeping bag to maximize space in the stuff sack. They'll be sleeping in tents at altitudes up to 12,000 feet, so the bag needs to be rated to around 30 degrees—and affordable. Easy, right? Lou Oak Hill, Virginia

Jan 22, 2004
Outside
Outside Magazine

Mount Washington bags

A: Sure, that's very easy. The only issue is: How much do you want to spend? Because you can go anywhere from $50 to $300. If your daughter thinks she'll do more of this sort of thing, then maybe spend more to ensure durability (plus lighter weight and maybe a little more warmth, as all 30-degree bags are not created equal, temperature-wise).

Anyway, your daughter would do just fine with a light mummy bag like Slumberjack's Super Guide, which uses a synthetic fill called Thermolite (made by DuPont, so not a no-name product). Cost is only $70 (www.slumberjack.com). The Super Guide also weighs a very respectable two pounds, eight ounces. And, it has a nicely tapered shape that's efficient without being too constrictive. In my experience, Slumberjack bags are slightly overrated temperature-wise, but in this case I think it would work fine. The next step up would be something like L.L. Bean's Mount Washington 20-degree Polarguard bag, which sells for $175 (www.llbean.com). What do you get for that money? Well, a warmer bag, for one thing—a 20-degree bag works well for cool-weather summer camping, and gives you some flexibility in other seasons. The Mount Washington also uses a more expensive fill than Thermolite, one that's softer and more comfortable, and that will likely last longer. It's a little heavier than the Super Guide because of the extra warmth, but at three pounds, six ounces, it's competitively light. And, it comes in a mummy style that fits women up to five-feet-six.

At the top of the heap would be the Marmot Arroyo ($259; www.marmot.com). This is a superb bag rated conservatively to 30 degrees, complete with down fill that's longer lasting and softer than synthetic. It's also lighter; the Arroyo weighs about two pounds.

For any bag, you can easily reduce its volume with a compression stuff stack. This is simply a nylon stuff bag that has extra straps that can be cinched to squeeze the thing down. Kelty makes an 8-by-17-inch sack, which could handle any of the bags I just mentioned, that sells for only $17 (www.kelty.com). It'll take a bag that's the size of a small watermelon when stuffed and turn it into a cantaloupe.

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