Selecting new ultralight sleeping bag

Selecting new ultralight sleeping bag is hard given all the options: sleeping bag, quilt, down, synthetic, waterproof, etc. There are also a myriad of resources posted to help one select the best to buy. I default to a simple ‘supplier selection’ variable matrix that I used in a previous life. Here is the process I used and its result (an order was placed).

Answer: Why a new sleeping bag needed?

My current sleeping bag, REI Magma 30, is showing its age at 5+ years. Down has lost some fluff and clumps appear magically. Several nights last summer season were way cold and I ended up sleeping with every layer in my pack. The next couple hiking season plans include more miles in higher elevation and colder temperatures, and extended backpacking into shoulder season.

A new sleeping system is needed to a) replace a bag no longer at peak performance, and b) to meet tougher environmental requirements over then next few seasons.

Research sleeping bag options

Now some education. What type of bags are currently being used by hikers like me? What are the options available from my favorite retail outlets and cottage brands? Which options will best meet my feature requirements and cost envelope? If sleeping bags overall are weirdly new to you, look at REI primer on the topic.

First, I needed to answer – quilt or bag? Garage Grown Gear has a representative blog post on the topic – there are hundreds like posts. Digging into that question, I realized that I needed to answer ‘what kind of sleeper am I?’

As a tent-based ground sleeper, I sleep cold, on my back mostly (sometimes stomach), and I toss & turn all night long.

Second, I needed to understand environmental constraints and risks with different options. For example, what happens when your bag gets a bit wet? How does it work in cold winds? What is the weight / heat ratio to minimize ‘extra’ weight in backpack? These questions then boil down to, down or synthetic? One blogger posted a great answer, “The deal is pretty simple actually. Do you wanna save money? Buy a synthetic. Do you wanna save weight? Go with down.” (Source)

If you select down, then there is another branch of study of fill, down type, extra fill, treated down, ethically sourced, etc. As well, the outer / inner nylon fabric and its feature sets and risks.

From talking to other hikers, watching what people were using last season, and reading surveys from AT and PCT hikers, down quilts are the most carried sleeping bag option.

Set up selection criteria

From that education, I set up the criteria or features and specifications that were important to me – to make the best possible decision on a new sleeping bag

  1. Temp – Comfort to 20 degrees F
  2. Fill – Down 850+ waterproof treated and ethically sourced
  3. Weight (what weighs in backpack) – <25 ounces
  4. Shell fabric toughness – 10d minimum
  5. Cost – <$350

Pick top set of options

After reading another myriad of reviews on specific sleeping bags / quilts, I found the top contenders that met most of my criteria. Price being the least important to start, and I also was leaning toward a quilt, but kept the style open to cast the widest net.

I found 6 viable options. I needed an easy way of comparing them.

Complete the table

Building a simple matrix table seems to always be a good starting point. I color coded on the variable that was not a ‘in / out’ criteria but a ‘best choice’ criteria – cost.

Make decision

Four options met the performance criteria: Enlightened 850 and 950, Hammock Premium and Feathered Friends Flicker. Cost then played into it and Hammock was both lower cost (after site-wide 15% discount) and higher fill than the Enlightened 850. I could not justify the higher cost of the 950 or Feathered Friends for marginal performance gains. Transitioning to quilt at lower price for same / better features seems common sense – cheaper to return to a bag, or splurge for an upgrade quilt.

I selected the Hammock Premium Burrow quilt and placed an order, adding the pad attachment kit and an additional 1 ounce of extra down.

Once my new sleeping bag (quilt) has 5+ nights of backpacking, I’ll post a review.

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