Questions RE: Lightweight/Low Volume Bag Setup for Climbing


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Messages 1 - 16 of total 16 in this topic

Mountain climber
Berkeley, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - May 31, 2012 - 05:23pm PT
OK, to start, I already have a plenty fine setup of a synthetic bag & puffy, so let's not get into the down/synthetic debate here. However, I've come to see the light and am looking at getting a down setup for the niche use of 2-4 day fair weather climbs in the Spring-Fall season to keep my pack smaller. I also have some alpine trad climbing plans that require carryovers, so naturally weight is also a consideration here.

1. I'm wondering what some climbers here recommend for a light, small compressed size down setup for say, 0 to 20 degrees, though most especially in the 20 degree range. I tend to stay warm when climbing but get very cold when sleeping, so it is worth losing a bit of the weight/bulk advantage to being comfortably warm in the high 20s at night.

I'm especially looking at Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering bags, although I don't mind trying to be cheap so long as the bag stays reliably warm, compact & light, though the durability and waterproof features are less important to me.

2. I'm also being tempted with the idea of getting a half bag and supplementing it with a warm down jacket, which can add some versatility to the system, although it might not be as comfy. Anyone have opinions/suggestions about this setup vs. a full length down bag and me optionally bringing my current synthetic puffy?

Specifically the system I'm thinking of here is the Brooke's Range Elephant Foot bag combined with the Brooke's Range Alpini Mountain Anorak Hoody

May 31, 2012 - 05:45pm PT
check the mec bags

Trad climber
Portland, Or
May 31, 2012 - 06:03pm PT
I 've had an Ushba Summit for years and have used it in a variety of situations. Very light and compressible but still pretty warm. If you have a puffy and wool socks plus are wearing a Schoeller or similar lower layer, you are comfy down into the mid-20s (perhaps even colder- haven't been out below that) at night.

May 31, 2012 - 06:11pm PT
My brother has a Feather Friends down bag that packs down to the size of a womans thong...I get thong envy as he goes light and still sleeps warm. He's had it for over 20 years I'd bet. Being a brother and all, I've looked to "borrow it" so it could be put in my basement for future uses but have been strangely unsuccessful.

Finally gave up and got a couple of nice RAB bags when I had extra $,....still have thong envy.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Social climber
Retired in Appalachia
May 31, 2012 - 06:57pm PT
Look no further:

Western Mountaineering

I bought a FF and now wish that I had a WM bag.

The elephant's foot and down jacket combo was how we did it 30-40 years ago. You need a pretty beefy down jacket for a bivy to 20 degrees. Such a jacket is too warm for anything else, so why bother? Might was well get a dedicated ultra-light sleeping bag and a separate, lighter down jacket that is more usable in more conditions.

Trad climber
South Lake Tahoe
Jun 1, 2012 - 11:20am PT
SLR, why the love for Western Mountaineering over Feathered Friends? My 20deg is FF, and my 0 deg is WM. I am pleased with both.
Max Neale

Jun 1, 2012 - 11:01pm PT
Id suggest separating the bag and the jacket purchases. 

Bag: Can you describe what and when you plan to use the bag for?  Half bags are best for alpine climbing and impromptu seated bivis- how often will you do this? And, most importantly, do you have wide shoulders, are you 6'2 or taller?

For the lightest and most versatile down bag consider the Katabatic Gear Sawatch (15 deg). I've been testing 10 or so down quilts for the past year (for Outdoor Gear Lab) and Katabatic Gear steals the show. Their bags are super warm, overstuffed with the best down and have top quality fabrics. The Palisade (30 deg) in a wider cut could be a good versatile choice. Add down jacket for winter. 

If you haven't already, read the Sawatch  review and the FF Hummingbird, FF Vireo, and BR Elephant Foot. 

WM vs FF is a model specific debate. FF offers their bags in 4 different cuts (widths), 2 down fill options, and 2 or more fabric options-- so their bags are generally better. The Versalite and Antelope MFare likely WM's best bags.  But any traditional style bag is HEAVY compared to a quilt. 

Jacket: OGL hasnt tested Brooks Range down jackets. Based on experience with their other products I'd suggest FF or WM. read the FF Volant review- super warm and box baffled, unlike most ultralight jackets. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer (7.5oz) is awesome if you care about performance and looks. It comes out this fall. Nunatak also makes killer high performance down jackets. Check them out for sure. 
Sierra Ledge Rat

Social climber
Retired in Appalachia
Jun 2, 2012 - 08:29am PT
Why WM?

I lived in San Jose back in the 1970s when WM was making these funky bags with an integrated sleeping pad on the bottom... No one took WM seriously back then. But they sold other stuff, like climbing gear, so I was in there a lot. I still remember this totally hot chick who used to work there, Carol, whom I dated briefly. She had beautiful curly brown hair and blue eyes...

Anyway, back to topic at hand.

Recently I went on a trip to the desert of Jordan, it was about 38 degrees F at night. I had a FF Hummingbird and my friend had a WM bag. I was toasty and warm and loved my bag.

But I was totally jealous of my friend's WM bag. It just looked and felt much nicer.

Mountain climber
Jun 4, 2012 - 12:27pm PT
Check out Nunatak.
We custom ordered an ultralight 2 person mummy from them for alpine climbing in Nepal and it was awesome. Unfortunately due to crap conditions we never slept above 6500m but still used it down to maybe 15F inside a BD Hilight single wall tent. It was actually too warm with both of us in there. Since our time above 6000m was going to be only a night or two, our sleep system was going to be wearing all the puffy clothes we had (Patagonia micro puff and DAS parka) with the bag overtop. Also had 2 down balaclavas of same material. Im sure it would have been plenty warm.
The bag was really well made and totally customizable with down, fabric etc. We got 900 fill down and 0.8oz pertex quantum and it was super light and small - the double bag stuffed down to about 2 nalgenes worth - and thats for two people.
For your use you may want to check out their ARC Expedition or ARC alpinist. They have an open bottom that you can cinch closed or open up a bit to use as a 2 person. The flexibility would allow you to wear as much or as little clothing as you need and cinch around you. Because of the open bottom you do need a ground pad (or bivi pad with pack/ropes etc underneath).
They are not cheap but the best I have found.

Trad climber
Jun 4, 2012 - 10:53pm PT
'Nuff said.

Social climber
Graham, Washington
Jun 5, 2012 - 01:43am PT
Back in the mid 70's I had a custom sew shop where I designed and sold, packs, down clothing, sleeping bags, etc. I found you sleeping bag artical very interest and brought back many memories about sleeping bags.

Just to make a long story short, when you slide into your bag what is below you is compress and no good for insulation/warmth. So I tailored the bag so less insulating on the bottom and more around you and the bag weight was the same. So when I made a 3 inch loft bag that was what was on top, sides and feet, around you. The bag was smaller on the inside so you would have a true 3 inch loft. That was even true on my jackets and pants. I have been out of the climbing view since the late 80's and have not kept up on what is going on. Yes, I still have most if not all of me climbing equipment and thinking about selling it.

Keep up the good work.

Ed Tieman

Jun 5, 2012 - 07:32am PT
Steep and Cheap has good deals on lightweight sleeping bags. I recently picked up a new utralight Stoic 850+fill down bag rated 15F for $169. Perfect for High Sierra spring and fall. I would bookmark Steep and Cheap and keep refreshing.

I have an even lighter old Feathered Friends Rock Wren from the mid 1990s rated to 35F for a summer bag. It was too hot in the Valley last week. Packs to the size of a football. With my bivy sack this is a versatile lightweight summer High Sierra sleeping system.

Mountain climber
Seattle WA
Jun 5, 2012 - 11:25pm PT
Check out the Feathered Friends Vireo depending on where you live the bag might be right for you.
Basically it a topless sleeping bag with less fill in the top (You wear your puffy in the bag). Popular with many alpine climbers in the NW.

They are not cheap but they are made in the USA....


Mountain climber
Berkeley, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 6, 2012 - 04:31pm PT
Bag: Can you describe what and when you plan to use the bag for? Half bags are best for alpine climbing and impromptu seated bivis- how often will you do this? And, most importantly, do you have wide shoulders, are you 6'2 or taller?


In general I would be planning to use the bag during the May-October season, mostly in the Sierra, but occasionally on some trips to the PNW or the CO/WY Rockies, and only during periods where there is a good forecast with a high confidence that it does not deteriorate too much (e.g. most 2-4 day periods in the Sierra). It would be nice to have a system that could be used specifically to:

1. Frequently - Carry in for bivying at the base of a climb.
2. Occasionally - Bring on climbs for carryovers or bivies (impromptu, seated would be nice, but a rare occasion). Basically it would be nice to be leading say 5.8 with a pack that is not too heavy or bulky with overnight gear in it.
3. On a handful of occasions - Sleep on Yosemite & Zion Big walls that are 2-3 day climbs (it seems a water-vulnerable system is safe in this regard if it is for the shorter-duration walls?). It was sad to see how much space my synthetic bag took up in the haul bag!

At least in the Sierra I would hope to do at least 3/4 of my summer season climbs in this system. Also, for most trips these days I rarely use a tent but instead use a stout alpine bivy sack, which serves me well up to 13k' winter bivies in the Sierra, so while I would hope to leave it behind in favor of a lighter sack cover at some point, I can bring this as an option to add warmth/dryness/impermeability to my setup.

I'm 5'9" and don't have that wide of shoulders, though I usually sleep best lying face down or on my side (obviously less of an issue on a sitting bivy).

Thanks for the valuable suggestions everyone! It sounds like I wouldn't want to do the puffy jacket-bag combo as the jacket would be too warm/big for the other ways I'd want to use it on the same trip. I just got back from the mountains last night, so I'll look more closely at the links and suggested Gear Lab reviews tonight.

I am wondering about the quilt systems as a way to go. One of my friends suggested the following combo for light alpine outings in the Sierra:

Nunatack Arc Alpinist (20F)
Montbell Ultralight Sleeping Bag Cover as a basic wind shell.

Certainly by the specs there is no comparison with volume and weight to normal bags! I do wonder how reliably warm they are, such as if they are mostly good for lying on the ground, or work well sitting upright, etc.

I also wonder if the quilt bags limit what sort of ground pads are used? For some trips I might forego a ground pad and use the foldout internal pad of my Andanista Wild Things pack as that works pretty well and saves a lot of bulk, although I doubt it would work with this system?

Trad climber
Jun 6, 2012 - 05:00pm PT
I have the Nunatak Alpinist quilt and love it. Its what I go to for 3 season stuff in the sierra.
Its light and very compact. In a tent i'm comfortable down to 20-25 degrees with a warm fleece hat. Probably be warmer in a bivy, when the temps are warmer just throw it over you and your fine.
The company was great to work with, I had a custom length made, plus they will add extra down if you like etc...
Max Neale

Jun 10, 2012 - 02:35pm PT
Mark, knowing more about what you want to use the bag for I'd definitely recommend a quilt. I've been using the Katabatic Gear Palisade (30deg) and Nunatak Arc Alpinist (20 deg) head-to-head for the past few months and have the following conclusions:

The Palisade is both warmer and lighter (~2 oz.) than the Arc Alpinist. Yes, it's warmer!! The Palisade's pad attachment method is easier and more secure than the Arc's (it lies on top of your pad and does not wrap around the pad like the Arc's). See photos and description [url=""]here[/url]. Katabatic gear quilts have exceptionally well designed features. The neck closure, for example, has an overstuffed down collar that seals in warm air while being very comfortable at the same time. It's the most comfortable neck closure of any quilt I've tried. Go for the Sawatch (15 deg) if you want extra warmth. Also consider a slightly wider model of if you plan to wear down pants or a lightweight jacket in the winter. IF you want a hood check out ZPacks Goose Hood, which is more comfortable than Katabatic Gear's hoods.

Katabatic Gear Sawatch
Katabatic Gear Sawatch
Credit: Max Neale
Nunatak Arc Alpinist
Nunatak Arc Alpinist
Credit: Max Neale
Feathered Friends Rock Wren (left) and Katabatic Gear Palisade...
Feathered Friends Rock Wren (left) and Katabatic Gear Palisade (right).
Credit: Max Neale
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