Gear Guy

Q:

Is Pertex a reliable shell material for sleeping bags?

There is a UK firm called Snugpak that makes equipment for both civilian and military use. Some of their sleeping bags are made with a Pertex shell and a special type of fill that is supposed to be both a good insulator and compress very well. They claim some of their sleeping bags (rated to minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit) will compress into a very small package and weigh only a few pounds. Is Pertex a good product and does Snugpak's down-fill live up to its promise? Are their products worth the money? Mark Tucson, Arizona

A:Stuff made abroad always interests me because overseas makers seem more innovative with their materials than those in the United States. Here, for instance, Gore-Tex dominates the waterproof-breathable market, making it difficult for other materials to gain any traction. This despite the fact that Gore-Tex has been around for more than 20 years; you'd have thought someone would leapfrog it. And in sleeping bags, Polarguard has a nearly complete hammerlock on the synthetic-fill end of things, with Primaloft in a few niche products. Again, one would think there would be more diversity.

Anyway, back to Snugpak. It's based in the United Kingdom, as you mention, and makes a wide range of outdoor gear (www.snugpak.com). Nothing too unusual about the shells on their sleeping bags—Pertex is a superb material (I use it in the singular sense, but the "it" comes in several iterations). It's very light, durable, and water resistant, even though it's made from nylon, which tends to soak up more moisture than polyester. Several U.S. makers use Pertex in their bag shells, including Marmot. For the fill, Snugpak uses a Swiss-made material consisting of strands of insulating material that has been given a different finish and is "crimped" in different ways. It's similar to some European-made bags I recall from the mid-1990s, and which are no longer available. Those bags worked well—the stuff lofted nicely and seemed durable. I certainly like the idea, and am willing to opine that the Snugpak bags match or supercede anything made by U.S. makers.

Snugpak's warmest bag is the Softie 18 Antarctica, rated to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit) or minus 50 (minus 58 Fahrenheit) in extreme cases. Which means you'll (probably) live, but you won't be warm. Weight is just under five pounds, which is good for a synthetic bag but not necessarily spectacular. The North Face's Polarguard-filled Tundra ($239; www.thenorthface.com), for instance, is rated to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit and weighs four pounds, four ounces. Several Snugpak bags are much lighter, but of course also not as warm as the Softie 18, which costs 134 pounds Sterling, or about $220 U.S. I expect you can find a U.K. Web retailer who would sell you one, and then you can report back to us!

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