Cocoon with a View

Innovations in synthetic insulation and a glut of high-quality down are making bags lighter and warmer than ever. We burrow into six of the best.

Feb 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

If the current downward spiral in weight and compressibility continues, we won't need sleeping-bag compartments in our packs anymore; we'll just drop mini stuffsacks into the main well with the rest of the gear.

Two things are fueling this technological Oprah diet: First, thanks to the opening of new markets in Eastern Europe over the last five years, the availability of ultra-high-quality goose down has increased. The new supply is often superior to Asian down: European birds, it seems, are allowed to mature longer because old birds make for tastier pâté de foie gras and loftier feathers. An ounce of the best Polish or Hungarian stuff lofts to fill 750 or 800 cubic inches, as opposed to 600 or 650 c.i. for top-notch down of a decade past.
Second, mad fabric scientists striving to hatch the perfect artificial goose have refined insulations like Polarguard HV, which is 25 percent lighter than the original, and, in the case of Polarguard 3D, made from a finer, more compressible polyester filament. (A piece of Polarguard 3D pulled from a bag, incidentally, floats around the room like a feather.) Down is still tops for packability and longevity, of course, but synthetic bags are a lot less expensive and they work better in damp conditions.

We've collected six of the best bags for backpacking, where warmth and light weight are paramount; for mountaineering, where warmth can save your life; and for sea kayaking, where you need bags that won't fail in high humidity. All of the bags we tested were chosen because they incorporate the latest materials and designs. As for the manufacturers' temperature ratings, view them with skepticism, adding or subtracting ten or 15 degrees depending on what you know about your metabolism. We have, however, included some numbers that are almost as important to a night's restÑshoulder and foot room in inches. Buy a bag too tight and you'll wake up with your long johns in a twist. Whatever you do, don't delay. Any one of the bags on these pages is better than that ripe mouse-nest roll you've been hauling.

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