Best Sleeping bag for the Money

2:52 a.m. on June 10, 2008 (EDT)
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Okay, I've been looking now for a month. I look at one bag, then look at another, someone gives it a bad review. What is the best 20 degree bag for the price? Is it down, polarguard, primaloft, and so on. If your sleeping in a tent, how can you do better than down?

11:32 a.m. on June 10, 2008 (EDT)
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"Best," for me, equals low weight and high loft. Given these two factors, goose down tops all else. In that case, I'd look at Western Mountaineering, Feathered Friends, or, if your really progressive, Nunatak. And then, of course, one could look into Valandre...

If there's a strong possibility your sleeping bag will see 2+ consecutive nights of very wet weather, however, you might want to go with a good synthetic insulation bag. In this case, I'd say an Integral Designs bag, or, if a quilt might work for you, the offerings at are great too.

As far as reviews go, you just have to decide if the specific complaint someone has with a bag would be applicable to you. Many people have these little things they hate that, when seen or smelled or experienced, instantly make them demonize a certain sleeping bag, even if it was their friends bag, and they never really slept in it, but still think they know everything about it from touching the stuff sack.

And you're absolutely correct, I think, that if you're sleeping in a good tent, and have a down bag from one of the companies listed above, you can't do any better.

12:09 p.m. on June 10, 2008 (EDT)
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As pillowthread begins, assuming you have the money, stick with the top names - WM, FF for down, ID for synthetic. And as he says, no matter what the bag and no matter what the quality, someone will have a complaint and give a bad review to even an excellent bag that was actually the best for their purpose. WM, FF, and ID have excellent customer service and will work hard at making sure things are right for you, at least in my experience (every company makes a lemon, and every customer support department has someone with an off-day - my son ran into that yesterday with a company he had always had excellent relations with)

You do need to decide between down and synthetic. Down is still the best for weight to warmth and compressibility, as well as long term durability. It is, however, the most expensive. It also comes in various grades (these days, you should look for at least 700 fill). But, as you no doubt know, you have to take care that it doesn't get wet. My advice is that until you have slept in wet conditions a number of times and kept everything dry, you should probably stick with synthetic.

Having a good tent does not necessarily guarantee you will keep the bag dry. A couple of days in a heavy downpour will increase the likelihood of heavy condensation is almost any tent, and camping in snow in temperatures around the freezing/melting level will almost certainly result in dragging wet snow into the tent with you, especially in a blizzard. A major part of keeping your bag dry is learning how to get into the tent from being out in the rain with your rain suit or poncho dripping wet (or worse, with your clothes soaked) without getting everything in the tent soaked, too. It took a while, but I eventually learned to get into a bivy sack while keeping the bag dry. Tents with vestibules help a lot.

4:20 p.m. on June 12, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks for the feed back. Got to thinking, what about buying a lightweight 20 degree down bag, and using a sil nylon bivy or gortex bivy for extra warmth and protection when wet? I am really new to backpacking. I love the outdoors, just didn't really know how technical it was untill I picked up a lighweight packpacking book.

Thanks for the advice. :)

4:40 p.m. on June 12, 2008 (EDT)
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Don't get sucked into the trap of making time in the outdoors too technical. When deciding on gear the three things I try to keep in mind are climate, use and money. If you look at some of the high quality down bags you will probably find that they are made with a water repellent finish. That combined with a good tent will go a long way towards keeping you warm and dry. A bivy bag over the sleeping bag, inside a tent is probably overkill.

A few months ago I was having the same problem you were. After using the same equipment for years I decided to upgrade and go as light as possible. For several weeks I kept poring over customer reviews and kept changing my mind about what brand to go with. Writing down my criteria for a sleeping bag, tent and rain wear and then keeping notes on the equipment I was looking at helped simplify things.

If you are new to backpacking and live near an REI why not try renting gear a few times and get some experience before you buy? You might decide that a 20 degree down bag would be overkill, or that you really don't need to worry much about down getting wet, because of where and when you are going backpacking.

7:37 p.m. on June 12, 2008 (EDT)
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The problem you will find with rental gear is that it most likely won't be what you eventually buy. The reason is simple-it has to last a long time and take a beating, therefore it will most likely be heavy and very sturdy-like the pack I rented at REI a while back.

A lot of lightweight manufacturers assume, rightly so, in my estimation, that if you buy lightweight gear, you realize you have to be careful with it-not that it isn't well made, but that the materials are lighter and therefore more susceptible to damage.

I stick my down bag in either an overbag in winter or a Bibler Winter Bivy, which isn't totally waterproof, but will keep my bag clean. My bag doesn't have a waterproof shell, so the bivy adds some protection from the elements.

The "best for the price" is probably a good synthetic bag-won't be the lightest, won't be the smallest, but it should last a long time if taken care of-i.e. don't leave it stuffed in the stuff sack once you get home. The price will probably be half that of a down bag-so "best" has a lot of variables. If you are out many times for many years, price won't mean so much after a while, but for the casual hiker on a budget, it probably will.

12:23 p.m. on June 13, 2008 (EDT)
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Silcoat is non-breathable and completely waterproof. So you will probably get a fair amount of condensation on the inside of the bivy. Goretex is somewhat breathable, but as much as you might like. So you are likely to get some condensation. (note: Gore makes a whole family of materials that are referred to as "Goretex". Some are much more breathable than others.)

As dm1333 noted, most top-quality bags, both synth and down, have outer shells that are highly water-repellent (Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering for down, Integral Designs for Primaloft and down). Look for microfiber (Pertex is an excellent microfiber, and what I have on my Feathered Friends and Integral Designs bags, as well as my FF down pants and ID Primaloft bag and Dolomiti jacket). While microfiber will eventually wet out and let some water through in a multi-day downpour, it will hold water out longe enough that when (not just "if") your buddy spills soup on the bag in the tent, you can brush it off without it getting into the bag fill.

2:16 p.m. on June 13, 2008 (EDT)
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This is the best forum I have ever been to.
Thanks for all the contributions. I'm saving up to get a lightweight 30 degree western bag and going to use some type of winter overbag. I like layering, modular seems to be the most versatile.

2:32 p.m. on June 13, 2008 (EDT)
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I have an overbag from MEC, the Canadian company, that I use with my down MacPac bag. My bag is rated to -5C (+23F) and the overbag adds a few degrees of warmth, so I am good to around +15F or so. The issue with an overbag is matching up the zipper with the inner bag. My overbag only has a half zip, but at least it is on the same side as my regular bag. When I use the Winter Bivy, it only has a cross-chest zipper, so getting the three of them all stuffed together and sorted out takes a bit of practice and can be a hassle.

Make sure the overbag is big enough that it doesn't mush the inner bag. Loft=insulation. If your inner bag doesn't have enough room to loft up, you may lose a lot of the warmth of the bag. For extra warmth, I will lay my parka on top of my bag. It seems to help, plus I can grab it easily if I have to get up in the middle of the night.

11:23 a.m. on June 15, 2008 (EDT)
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There's certainly some good advice here regarding consideration of climate/season/weather and the way you plan to use the bag. As for quality and value, I purchased a Marmot "Never Summer" down bag last year for about $200 and have been very pleased. Overall quality was very good- I found the hood and draft tubes well engineered and comfortable, the zippers worked smoothly and didn't snag (especially in the middle of the night), and the bag temp rating to be generous. The bag compresses well and, as a reference point, fits into the sleeping-bag compartment of my Osprey Aether 75 pack. I use the bag late-fall to early-spring here in the mountains of northern NM, sometimes in a tent or tent-less with a bivy sack.

This bag is billed as a 0F bag so may be too warm for your planned use but I've had pretty good luck with a variety of Marmot products in the last two years. You may find the balance of quality and value you're looking for in their product line.

11:29 a.m. on June 22, 2008 (EDT)
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Back to first principles. The question of down versus synthetic, in my book, comes down to two things: (1) what weather conditions you expect to hike/sleep in, and (2) how light you want to travel. If it is likely to be wet for extended periods (day and night), synthetic is probably best, even though it will add a pound or two. If you are hiking in more arid climates, it is hard to beat down for weight, warmth, and comfort.

I've been hiking almost exclusively in the Sierra Nevada for 30+ years, mostly during the summer and fall. Through most of that time, I've used down bags. That's because the Sierra climate lends itself to that. While it is common to have thunderstorms in the summer, they are usually over by nightfall. From July to September, mornings are almost always sunny...which allows you to dry out a slightly damp bag. That won't be the case in other regions (e.g., North Cascades, Appalachian trail, etc.), where it may rain for days on end.

In the last 5 years, I've moved from tents to an Outdoor Research bivy sack...with very satisfying (and weight reducing) results. On clear nights, I sleep out, with a bivy (without its poles)over the bottom 2/3 of my bag (leaving my head out), as the bivy keeps off the dew. On the occasional rainy nights, I install the bivy poles and zip it shut as much as needed, while trying to keep as much ventilation as possible (wind permitting). I've slept comfortable and dry through several midnight thunderstorms in summer, and once woke up one September morning under a blanket of 4 inches of snow with temperatures in the teens. The only issue I in that instance was frozen condensation in the head area of the bivy (no doubt from my breath). In this regard, I was probably lucky that is was as cold as it was. With the condensation frozen, I was fine. Had it been liquid, I probably would have had a damp night. Again...I think the bivy/down setup is prefect for where and when I hike, but may not be good in other climates.

As for "best buys", my advice is to go high end. Treated well, a good sleeping bag can last many, many years. (Store it unstuffed in a dry place, and if you go with down, wash it only with down soap, and then as infrequently as possible). I've had my North Face bag (+15 degree) for almost 20 years and it is still as functional and warm as ever. Paying $250-$400 for a high-quality bag may seem like a lot...but when you spread it out over 20 years, it is pretty darn cheap. My North Face has served me well. Friends who own high end Marmot and Mountain Hardware bags also seem to like them.

12:16 p.m. on June 22, 2008 (EDT)
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SierraHiker99 Hey, Your are so right, you must match your gear to the climate it will have to perform in!
Like you, I have been going to the same area for a number of years, Southern Appalachians/Cumberland Plateau.
I use trails that let me spend some time on top so I can enjoy the overlooks on the way in, and then descend to a valley floor so I can camp on a stream. Lots of times the descent is a bushwack.
Simply put the Apps. are a mountain/watershed mountain/watershed configuration. Rain is heavy at times, as you mentioned, which produces lots of waterfalls and streams.
We also have a lot of ground seepage, water constantly drips from rock walls. You can get wet just by walking in some areas from all the water vapor.
Even though I have an affinity for natural products like down and wool, I have to use a synthetic bag and a bomb proof tent if I really want to stay dry and comfortable.
Both add more weight of course, but it is necessary.
I am currently using a mountain hardwear (MH) bag and a MH tent/footprint with exceptional results, everything stays dry with some common sense. Those who want to go with cheap gear in wet climates should consider how hard it is to do a ascent on the way out with wet gear, you may pay for your choice on the backend!
I'm not nessasarily endorsing any particular brand, But I agree that going with cheap gear is not a "best buy" nor is it wise. My MH gear has kept me dry for 12 years and was a darn good investment.

1:56 a.m. on June 28, 2008 (EDT)
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So then I gather the consensus here is to buy well made, name-brand stuff, and use your head a bit to take good care of it. I could not agree more. I've had a few sleeping bags over the years, and my current go-to bag, a 15 degree Marmot Helium, is the best piece of kit I've ever owned. I look forward to 20 years with it.

9:40 a.m. on June 28, 2008 (EDT)
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The "BEST" 20* bags are the WM Alpenlite Super and the Integral Designs XPD Sierra in down and the ID Renaissance in Primaloft. Another option is to get a light bag that will go even colder and here the finest I have seen is the Valandre Shocking Blue. I own and use all of these, except my ID bags are heavier models in both down and Pl. and nothing else I have seen compares in quality or utility.

They DO cost a bit, but, for me, that is a minor consideration in a piece of gear used all over BC and which will last for decades if properly looked after. I would say that the single finest and most "all around"bag I have EVER used is the Shocking Blue, simply a work of art and only 3 lbs., while good to -15*F, what more could you need?

7:33 a.m. on June 29, 2008 (EDT)
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Best sleeping bag for the money is the one you use.

For example

I now have three bags:

A 0 degree Marmot Merlin (3D Polarguard) 4 lb weight

A 15 degree MountainSmith Vision (down) 1.8 lb weight

and I just bought a fleece sleeping bag at Walmart for $9.95.

Given, I live in Florida and the daily temps are now 94 during the day and 75 at night, the $9.95 bag is absolutely the best sleeping bag for the money at this time of year.

4:01 p.m. on August 5, 2008 (EDT)
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I have always used Ajungilak Kompakt series bags (synthetic) very warm and excellent price.

3:36 p.m. on August 11, 2008 (EDT)
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Wow, great thread.

Let me ask a question: Do you REALLY need a 20 degree bag? (Read this post before you answer!)

I've been trying to cut my pack weight and have begun to think in terms of a total sleep and insulation system. This includes your tent or bivy (tents are to keep out rain, wind, and bugs, and aren't really made for insulation, per se; still, they do add warmth).

But the rest of the "system" is just as important as the bag itself . The role of the sleeping pad is all-too-often viewed as a "comfort" issue, but its real value is its insulation factor. The ground literally sucks the warmth out of you. An inexperienced hiker will sleep on an air pad (almost no insulation), then get frigidly cold, and spend the entire night cursing his innocent bag.

Also included in the system is a bag liner (highly advisable for high dollar bags and unbathed hikers). Silk is great--and can add 10 degrees to the bag.

Added to this is any other insulation gear you might be carrying, whether it is fleece, wool, or down. And definately remember a thin, but warm, piece of headgear. A beany works for me. The end result is a system that is flexible, from summer to winter.

A LOT OF PEOPLE BUY A BAG FOR THE COLDEST WEATHER THEY MIGHT ENCOUNTER...AND THEN SUFFER FROM A BAG THAT IS HOT, SWEATY, AND STUFFY. Aim for the middle, but be prepared to "add to the bag." The worst thing that will likely happen is that you'll get caught in a cold snap and have to snuggle up to somebody. You will, however, live.

The end result, for me, is that I only need a thirty degree bag, even for twenty degree weather. But I need a slightly roomier bag to accomodate for the layering.

For a really innovative idea or two, check out Jack's R Better. Your insulation clothes and and your sleeping bag can actually be the same thing!

7:41 p.m. on August 24, 2008 (EDT)
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I've only tested out my Mtn Hardwear Flip bag for this year, but so far I'm quite impressed. More liked use the California lingo! Admittedly, I had my doubts about how well the 'flip' concept would work (25 degree one side/40 degree the other side)....but I figured the MH name made it worth a try.

It's a $100 dollar bag that I managed to get down to $72 (with some promo codes). For that price and temp rating, I'd expect the weight to be at least 4lbs -- somehow MH managed to get it down to 2lbs 14oz.

Since when do you find a bag that can get you down to 25 degrees, have the versatility to convert into a 40 degree summer bag, weigh under 3lbs, cost you under $100, and come from a reputable company like MH? There are still times where I wonder if there's something I'm missing...because it almost does seem too good to be true.

9:42 p.m. on August 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Sleeping in your clothing on a backpacking trip will tend to dampen it, thus impairing insulation value. I do not do this or advise others to do so, based on experience trying it. Woolen clothing will dampen your bag and may render it quite uncomfortable, while layering other clothing on top of it can crush the insulation, thus, again impairing the bag's function.

There ARE certain types of specialized "bags"meant to combine with jackets, etc. for specific types of climbing, I use one such as my day hiking emerg. bag and am getting a Wildthings "Elephant's foot" to serve as my emerg. hunting bag. However, these are short term expedients and will not serve you for backpacking as well as a regular bag will.

If, you use your "duvet"during the day, it may well be too wet to use for sleeping in at night and may also dampen your bag. Sometimes, the way to go is to have the right bag for your conditions, an appropriate pad system and cut weight elsewhere. I do not think that a silk liner will give anywhere close to an additional 10* of "warmth", in a bag, that is about what an insulated overbag, such as my Integral Designs Andromeda Overbag will give.

I also hate bag liners and wearing light longjohns is a FAR more efficient method of keeping warmer in an inadequate bag than any silk or microfiber liner is. Wearing FRESH socks plus a beany will help a LOT and I do this in my fall and winter camping and can use lighter bags because of it.

12:11 p.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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I agree with kutenay that getting into your bag in clothing you have worn during the day, and hence have a buildup of moisture from perspiration is uncomfortable at least. You can change into dry, wicking longjohns, which does add a bit of warmth. Some people I go on expeditions with, carry a set of long johns for just this purpose.

I also agree that silk liners do not add anything like the warmth claimed by some people. The few times I tried one I found no benefit at all. A fleece liner will add maybe 10 deg, but note that these are thicker and they are wicking (silk, like wool, seems to hold the moisture and dry slowly).

There are situations where wearing your down gear in the bag can help. But these are extremely cold, dry conditions when the down parka and pants are dry, such as at high altitude on clear nights (not during wet storms, which tend to be warmer anyway). As kutenay points out, your sleeping bag has to be large enough that any clothing, like your down parka, is not compressing the insulation in the sleeping bag. Layering clothing on top of the sleeping bag, I find, doesn't so much compress the insulation as just slide off during the night.

Some people try to dry damp gear off by taking it in the bag with them. The theory is that body heat will help drive the moisture off. The problem is that the moisture gets into the sleeping bag's insulation, and wet down just is not as good at insulating as dry down (same for synthetics).

kutenay mentions headgear as a way of adding warmth. One of my professors in grad school swore that he could stay warm on the coldest nights, just by wearing warm headgear. Considering that as much as 70% of heat loss from the body is through the head, there is a lot of truth to this. When camping in cold climates, whether Sierra or Tetons in midwinter, or at altitude in Alaska or in Antarctica, I almost always wear some type of warm headgear (often a balaclava, so it stays in place). Just as putting a hat on helps you stay warmer in winter, so does headgear when sleeping in cold places.

8:39 p.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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I can take my Patagonia Capilene 3's inside my 1lb, 4oz. Lafuma 45 degree bag down to 35 comfortably. This is with a full length Z-rest, and a 3/4 length EMS inflatable torso pad.

Cap's (top and bottom)=$23.00 (Ebay)
Lafuma 600 Extreme bag=$45.00 (REI)
Z-rest, trimmed-to-fit=$32.00 (REI)
EMS self-inflating pad=$14.00 (Ebay)

Total cost:-----------=$114.00

This covers 90% of my backpacking needs, and takes up almost no space in my pack, because the Cap3's can be worn for days straight, with no worry for smell. I've pushed them over a week straight, no washings, with great results. Much better than I expected; let's put it that way.

As for the Lafuma, I didn't want to believe that such a light, small-packing sleeping bag could be so warm, but, the thermolite insulation they used, coupled with a tactel microfiber shell/lining, really surprised me. Roomy, as I need the long length; this unavoidably creates a more roomy upper torso , and more room to roll around. This extra room is made downright cozy with the Cap3's on.

Best, for me, right now.

9:21 p.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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I'm not keen about wearing clothes in a bag. I've done it a couple of times, but don't like it. I do wear my Capilene top and bottoms though unless it's warm out. As far as wearing headgear, I sometimes wear a Turtlefur beanie, my favorite, but I also have a fleece balaclava. The balaclava feels like I'm being smothered in the darn thing, so it takes some getting used to, but it's warm.

I've been looking at liners, but Bill may have talked me out of it. There's a new one at REI, but I'm skeptical about the rating.

As said above, tossing a park on top works pretty well too-better than trying to wear it in the bag.

4:16 a.m. on August 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Liners, IMHO, are best seen as accessories for keeping your bag clean, especially if you use your bag a lot. It's a lot easier to throw your liner in the wash than clean your bag!

7:52 a.m. on August 26, 2008 (EDT)
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No question and if they are comfortable for you, then they are a great addition to your bag. I always carry with me, even on day hikes, a silnylon stuff sack that contains a pair of spare socks, liners, cheap MEC silkweight lonjohns top and bottom plus my beret. This is light and what I use to sleep in, I used silk for years and wool before that, but, the synthetics are lighter, dry fast and easy to rinse out on longer trips.

They cost squat, weigh not much more and are an good emerg. backup clothing if I get soaked and lost and it CAN happen, no matter how much experience in the bush one has. The Cap 3 sounds VERY good for winter and I have been wanting to test some out; I prefer Icebreaker merino to anything for a base layer, but, I will buy some Pat.-Cap. and use that for cold weather, good idea, thanks PT and Tom.

10:30 a.m. on August 26, 2008 (EDT)
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I wear a Smartwool balaclava to bed in very mild temperatures in addition to cold weather. Keeping my head and neck warm goes a long way for me in staying comfortable. I also wake up less congested from allergies; these symptoms are magnified by sleeping on the ground. Beyond that I sleep in long underwear tops and bottoms and that's it. Bill is right about jackets over the top of the bag - it works great until the jacket slides off.

9:47 p.m. on August 26, 2008 (EDT)
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I wear a generic 200 weight polartec beenie. Maybe a fleece neckwarmer, and smart-wool trekking socks. I shy away from liners because they're dead weight; the walking base layer is the sleeping base layer. Anything coming off you will go into the wool of the Cap3's, and will not go into your sleeping bag, thus serving the purpose of a liner.

5:49 p.m. on August 27, 2008 (EDT)
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If someone wants to sleep in their Caps after a long day's trek, that's certainly their prerogative. I for one am ready to get those clothes off when I hit camp! :)

11:41 p.m. on August 30, 2008 (EDT)
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Just my opinions. Some shared by a few of the above posts.
Best Bag: The bag for the conditions. Which probably means you will end up purchasing more than one bag. The better quality bags may initially cost more, but in the long haul are of better value.
Silk Liners: Personally have not noticed a significant improvement (10F) in warmth. Found up to a point adding a layer or layers of clean, dry clothing works better. One of the added layers has been a polarfleece helmet liner reserved for sleeping only.
The Pad: Insulation can make a significant difference in comfort level.

11:24 a.m. on September 2, 2008 (EDT)
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I would suggest you look into mummy bags from The Backside, their X-Fiber series. I know from experience they make great bags.

As for those other BIG name brands out there, they do not interest me at all. Not one bit.

12:16 p.m. on September 2, 2008 (EDT)
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Those look much like certain "name" bags in the mid-range of quality and price, quite possibly factory "over-runs" and/or "seconds". The problem with gear of this level is that the usual quality control standards are pretty variable and so, you can get a good one or a crappy one.

While this is not particularly crucial in backyard suburban "winter camping", it can be VERY significant if camping in actual wilderness where immediate succour from the authorities is not available at a cell phone squeal.

In any event, they WILL NOT ship to Canada or Alaska, kind of odd, if they are selling supposedly high quality COLD weather gear, eh........

All bullschit aside, you get exactly what you pay for in backpacking-mountaineering gear and buying the better equipment to start with will save you mucho grief in the real world. Funny how those here with decades of such experience keep making that same comment......

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