My group was doing a winter camping outing a couple weekends ago here in southeastern Michigan. It wasn’t so much to go winter camping, but to put our 72 hour kits to the test of a worst-case scenario: dead of winter, must leave home, no friends/family/hotel to relocate to.
My 72 hour kit included a sleeping bag, but it is a summer intent bag rated at 30F. With our weekend outing seeing lows of 16F, it was unlikely to provide enough shelter in the winter months. I had been eying an expensive winter bag rated to -40F for some time (The North Face Darkstar), but the finances didn’t line up well with the timing of the trip, and I opted to try an inexpensive route. This not only allowed me to go on the trip, but let me try a piece of gear that the average non-camping, non-preparedness individual might try out if assembling ideas for his first 72 hour kit.
- Product name: Proforce Snugpak Sleeper Xpedition
- Website: http://www.proforceequipment.com/product-details.php?id=179&catid=4
- Price: $75.00
- Pro’s: Affordable, realistic temperature rating
- Cons: Weight, compressibility
- Best Uses: Emergency bag, car camping, affordable or entry level cold weather camping
- Review Date: 3/11/2013.
- Event date 2/23/2013
- Style: Mummy
- Rating (extreme): 0 degF
- Rating (comfort): 10 degF
- Total weight (lb, oz): 5,12
- Fill type: Isofibre
- Shoulder girth: 60”
- Length: 86”
Before the product was even received, one of the hidden costs on it can be shipping costs. Ensure you are pricing not only the cost of the bag, but shipping costs added on. For me, the shipping was an extra $15, which is an important consideration on a cheaper item like this.
The sleeping bag arrived in its compression bag, and took quite a bit of time to initially loft up. It is likely these are being stored at the factory this way. While not a problem, it did take an hour or so to fully loft up, and this is best done when you get it rather than when you need it. As an aside, it is best to store your sleeping bags in a loose, uncompressed way. This ensures the bag will air out properly after use, the insulating filaments aren’t unnecessarily crushed, and decreases loft time when needed.
The compressed bag is not small, measuring in at 14” x 14”. I had trouble fitting it into the sleeping bag compartment in my backpack. The problem was solved by forgoing the included compression bag, and manually stuffing it into my backpack. This way, the compressed bag got to take the form of the compartment it was going into rather than the predetermined form of the compression bag.
The bag is heavy for its rating. Similarly rated bags from big name outdoor manufacturers weigh in at between 4 pounds and 5 pounds for this temperature rating. But, these other bags also start at double the price of the Sleeper Xpedition.
The insulation listed is Isofibre. According to the manufacturer, “The Snugpak Isofibre is a synthetic fibre insulation added to the Snugpak sleeper range. The Isofibre is a silicon fibre with a hollow centre which allows warm air to be trapped between the fibres for ultimate warmth. The hollow centre of the fibre can be easily compressed for packing but will also spring back to its original loft.” I could not find a manufacturer of the Isofibre material.
The day of the trip came, and everything was ready to go. I packed up the sleeping bag into its compartment. While only one night out in the outdoors, we depend on this gear to get us through. The sleeping bag is a primary shelter item, arguably more important than a tent. It is what will keep you warm at night. While shelter can be made in the wild, it’s a bit harder to find suitable insulation and bedding materials, especially in the rain and snow.
We hiked a few miles. Some on trail and some off trail. The ground was covered with snow and ice in spots. We even saw the tracks of what was likely a coyote with a ripped up pinky claw. Each step had a slight blood mark in the snow belying its injury. We saw only one other person besides our small group, and traded pleasantries and speculation on the weather.
We got to our camping spot, a small peak in the hilly area surrounded by taller peaks here and there. The wind blew steadily from a single direction up through the lower areas of the woods, letting me position my tent perfectly (I have a hoop tent rather than a freestanding dome that has no real optimal setup concerns from wind). After setting up the tent, I immediately inflated my air mattress and set the bag atop it.
After the day’s activities, including building a fire, haggling over MRE contents, eating, collecting snow to make water, etc, it was time to retire to our tents. I dutifully emptied my bladder before sleeping, did a brisk in-place run and some other exercises to generate some warmth, and got into the tent.
I slept in my polypropylene long underwear and wool socks, leaving my fleece mid layer and shell layer off. I will say that the girth of the bag is tight. I am 6’2” and have no issue with the bag’s length, but I weigh 210 pounds and had a hard time getting the bag zipped up around me. I ended up having to squirm quite a bit to get the bag zipped and the hood tied down.
The bag warmed up as I lay there and was quite comfortable for at least an hour. I had dozed off at some point, content. Roughly two hours later I awoke and was chilled. I was using only one sleeping pad, and could feel the cold up through my back. I repositioned things a bit and just the act of moving around allowed me to warm up some and get comfortable again.
Sleeping bag ratings are very subjective. People often give themselves a “correction factor” when determining a bag’s suitability, depending on how warm or cold a sleeper they are. I tend to be a cool sleeper, and a bag’s rating is generally 5-8 degrees too low for me. Tonight’s weather proved me spot on, as it got to 16F and I was ever so slightly cool.
The 2 hour re-awakening repeated itself through the night, and each time I did several leg lifts and sit ups to generate some body heat before drifting back off to sleep. I could do these exercises without the need to get out of the bag. This sounds like a lot of effort, but in the outdoors, where a hamburger isn't waiting for you at the drive through, it is remarkably little effort for such an important gain. Also, for at least the first few nights in the outdoors, the unfamiliar noises, coolness, and general surroundings also cause people to wake up periodically, so the effort of a few exercises to rewarm the bag is truly miniscule.
Morning came, and it was time to leave the warmth of the bag and start the day. Winter campers know this means hurriedly transitioning from the bag to the insulation layers of clothes, getting out of the tent, and setting to some activity with plenty of movement and diligence. This generates some more heat to warm up the cold clothes, and helps keep one's mind off the temperatures.
I drag the sleeping bag from the tent and hang it on a branch to let the insensible perspiration evaporate as much as possible. As heavy as this bag is, I don’t need an extra 4 pounds of water weight in it.
The moment of truth comes when it’s time to pack up the backpack. What is a difficult but manageable chore packing up on the living room floor is far more difficult in the outdoors, on the ground covered in leaves and snow, with temperatures inhibiting man and gear. To my surprise, the bag was just as easily repacked into the sleeping bag compartment of the backpack as it was in the comfort of my home. It was not easy, but it didn’t seem harder than it had been, either.
The walk out with our gear was a bit shorter, as we took known trails and didn’t cross country anything. Aside from some muscle soreness, everything worked as expected.
Returning home, the bag was hung on a line to air out. I inspected it for any wear or damage, and as expected for an over-nighter, there was none.
- The sleeping bag is very affordable.
- It is a bit bulky, so ascertain how much bag room you have.
- It is a bit heavy for its rating, as much as 2 pounds over some high end synthetic bags.
- Its rated temperatures are very honest and accurate.
- It is best suited for slender people. Or at least non-bulky people.