MY FEATHERED FRIEND
At the end of any long trip there is a bit of shell-schock. A rhythm and pattern to each day arrises in the mountains. Crawling out of a warm bag, a hot brew followed by an all day trudge with a heavy pack and toboggan in tow. Our pace in the mountains is glacial compared to planes, automobiles and the dizzying numbers of people. Life becomes a fast moving blur, full of responsibilities, payments, phone calls; full of the disorder of urbanism.
Sleeping bags however decompress quickly and handle change in stride. Every morning stuffed wet into a small bag and yet every evening when pulled out it rebounds immediately. Unwaveringly they have to meet high demands; full loft and boundless warmth. No compromises. Not all sleeping bags are created equal and if there is one piece of gear that I don't compromise with in terms of quality, it's a sleeping bag. It doesn't matter how tough my day is, if I can sleep it off, chances are I'll make it. On a mountain like Logan in the St. Elias, spring means arctic temperatures where the quality of the sleeping bag is the difference between misery and comfort- failure or success. I'd never been anywhere so cold for an expedition so I sought out what I knew to be the highest quality sleeping bag brands out there: Feathered Friends. My expectations were quite high, almost to an unfair extent but I've been impressed. Read on to learn more about my feathered friend and my experience putting it through the wringer as a guide on a Mount Logan expedition in the Yukon's St. Elias Range.
About the Bag:
A little physiology about me:
Height: 6'4'' Weight: 185lbs Sex: Male Age: 22 (fairly-warm sleeper)
Sleeping Pad Set-up: Thermarest Neoair Xlite (women's) & Evazote 1.5cm foam pad. Total 'R' value of roughly 6.
About the climate:
Elevation Range: 2700m to 5959m. Highest sleep at 5200m.
Average temperatures: -15 to -25 degrees celsius.
Number of nights slept in the bag on the mountain: 15
My thoughts on the bag
All of my past expeditions in the Coast Mountains have been completed with a -7 degree celsius sleeping bag. I was confident I could brave nights as cold as -30 to -40 degrees celsius with a bag rated to roughly -25C. Lightweight gear is important to me. I've got a tall but light frame, which is a polite way of saying I'm not strong enough for monstrous loads. As an assistant guide on Mt Logan, going lighter meant I could haul a larger share of the group gear (and suffer less). The nature of your sleeping bag is an easy way to either shave weight or add a ton but one has to be careful. Without compromising warmth, feathered friends offered a sleeping bag weighing barely 1.6kg with 900g of that being 850+ down fill. It compressed down to take up roughly 10-15L of my 80 litre pack.
Feathered friends is known for high quality goose down and the Widgeon is no exception. It packs small but lofts up big-time every day. The fit of the long bag was perfect for me. There was some wriggle room but not so much volume inside that I was swimming. Enough that I could add down layers inside should the going get tough. I've learnt that getting the right size is pretty important. Being too tall for a bag means not fitting into the hood properly. The hood is a pretty important part to the bag. Most sleeping bag companies design a hood that assumes you'll be sleeping on your back and not moving. Which works fine if the bag is so tight that when you roll around it rolls with you but otherwise you end up endlessly trying to keep fabric from obstructing your mouth when the hood is cinched. I was really happy with this bag's hood and it's wide oval shape. Additionally it is thick and I attribute it's comfortable puffiness to many of my coma like sleeps. On the nights where the hood is left open more, the job of retaining most of the heat in the bag falls upon the draft collar. The collar does a great job and cinches nicely but I'd wake a lot of mornings to find the button clasp undone. I prefer buttons to velcro because it's less scratchy but a little stronger might be better. From inside the bag you wouldn't know that a zipper existed. The layers of draft tube secure the heat inside the bag and still there is a zipper guard. I felt however, that the zipper guard didn't do much of a good job. My only real complaint about the bag is that more times than not it would snag and frustrate me as I tried to close in the desperate heat with cold fingers. Even being extra careful I had issues so I started resorting to worming into the bag with minimal use of the zipper.
The first night on the mountain was also my first night with this bag and I was cold. I was pretty disappointed but as I said my expectations were unfairly high. My body quickly adapted it's metabolism to the cold and I wasn't uncomfortable a single night following that first one. On a few occasions I woke up a few hours into the night overheating. With warm sleeps like I experienced I can only rave about my new sleeping bag. As a bonus to this bag is the Pertex Outer. At first I wondered how light the bag would have been with a lighter shell fabric but I quickly came to appreciate it. A wet bag is a heavy useless bag. The shell fabric is breathable but offer stellar water repellency which I appreciated. The condensation from your breath indadvertedly accumulates on the shell around your neck. The layers of water or ice were never an issue.
One evening the wind picked up and our vestibule wasn't perfectly sealed. Additionally, I had left the tent door open a crack for ventilation and spindrift entered throughout the course of the night. Rich woke me and we were covered with a centimetre of snow all over everything in the tent. Immediately the snow rolled off my bag. It was looking as lofty as ever. The great shell fabric was really appreciated then. In addition, being a tall guy I don't have to worry about my toe box brushing with the tent wall and its frozen condensation.
The Pertex fabric also breathes slower than some other fabrics which is a non-issue but noticeable when it balloons during the routine morning compression sack stuffing. In the nights I would worm into the bag and the air couldn't escape fast enough, causing it to balloon. Poof! Instant loft!
I want an expensive bag to last me a long time. This bag is well built- the construction is rugged- and I expect it will last me years and years. I trust the high quality down will survive at least a decade, if not more.
I would highly recommend this bag and other Feathered Friends bags for anyone looking for the lightest, warmest and most reliable package when tackling high cold places like Mount Logan.