Helium (courtesy, Marmot)

What’s the best sleeping bag for a trek to Everest Base Cp?

This is one of those "I want it all" questions. After sleeping uncomfortably in my Cat's Meow mummy bag while trekking the Inca Trail, I gave it to our Peruvian guide. I'm now looking for a sleeping bag that will work for a trek up the Gokyo Valley to Everest Base Cp next fall. So it needs to be roomy, light, and warm, without costing a fortune. Pipe dre? Craig Brooklyn, New York


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I dunno if it’s a pipe dream or not. You don’t mention why you were unhappy with the Cat’s Meow—bags from The North Face are usually pretty good—nor do you define a “fortune.”

Helium Helium

In any event, in four cases out of five I will opt for a down bag over anything else. Down bags do cost more than comparable-temp synthetics, sometimes by a ratio of three to one. But that is made up for in part because a down bag will last longer—usually by the same ratio. So in terms of dollars-per-night, it’s a wash. Beyond that, in almost all cases down bags are more comfortable (they’re softer and drape better), lighter, and more compressible than a synthetic of equal temp rating.

Take the case of your late, lamented Cat’s Meow ($159; www.thenorthface.com), a 20-degree synthetic bag that uses Polarguard Delta insulation and weighs two pounds 12 ounces in a regular size. Western Mountaineering’s AlpinLite, on the other hand, is also rated to 20 degrees, but weighs a mere one pound 15 ounces, and packs down to about half what the Cat’s Meow can manage. Of course, you pay for these advantages: the AlpinLite sells for $325 (www.westernmountaineering.com). Or you can get a Marmot Helium—a 900-fill bag rated to 15 degrees—that still weighs only one pound 13 ounces. Price: $359 (www.marmot.com). Finally, Feathered Friends’ 20-degree Swallow may be the best buy of all. Made with light nylon shell material, it weighs a mere one pound 11 ounces and costs a not-unreasonable $270 (www.featheredfriends.com).

The knock on down, of course, is that it loses loft when wet. Which is true. But you have to soak a bag pretty thoroughly for that to happen. And all the bags I mention above have shell treatments that go a long way toward shedding the little drips and drops that will get into a tent. I’ve been using down bags for many, many years in the wet Pacific Northwest, and cannot recall a time when I felt my down bag had become so wet that it was useless.

Good luck once you get to Nepal!

More kayaks reviewed in Outside‘s 2004 Buyer’s Guide.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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Lead Photo: courtesy, Marmot