Sleeping Bag Mods — Adding More Down Fill

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Preparations continue here for our Wyoming wilderness adventure. Much of the gear we’re using translates to backcountry skiing, especially our sleeping bags. I just got another Marmot Fusion sleeping bag. As no gear in the Dawson household shall remain unmodified, I opted for the 30 degree rated Fusion, then added 12 ounces of extra goose down to the upper tubes in my torso area, for a total weight of 3 pounds. This should result in a bag that can be used upside down during warm nights, but used in normal position with the stuffed tubes on top, should easily keep me warm down to 15 degrees or so.

All this with the Fusion construction, which places fiberfill on the outside of the bag to protect the down from moisture.

Marmot also makes a 15 degree rated Fusion “15″ that weighs just over 3 lbs. After my son has tested the 15 all summer, we figured the 15 is really only good to perhaps 20 degrees, so my modified Fusion 30 bag is warmer and weighs less — that’s the theory anyway! Mods aside, both of the Marmot Fusion sleeping bag models easily offer the best combo of weight, reliability and warmth on the market today.

Tech details: For years I’ve “overstuffed” down filled clothing and sleeping bags. It seems like almost all down filled items are made with enough volume for more fill. I’ve been told this is intentional, as it allows the down to achieve maximum loft and thus you get the most insulation for your money (and for the weight of the down). In theory. In reality, I’ve never found any dow- filled equipment that didn’t benefit from a bit of extra packing. The trick is to figure out where to slit the fabric, and how to sew it back up. Simplest method is to just work from the inside where appearance isn’t an issue (a must with Fusion products, since the outside insulation layer is Primaloft).

Heat a thin knife and use is to hot-cut slits that’ll just fit your hand. On a sleeping bag, make your slits at the end of the down tubes, near the seam that defines the side of the bag (between top and bottom). Stuff down by hand through the slit, measuring by handfuls. Don’t over-fill. You just want enough down added to plump out that tubes. Close the slits by hand stitching, then seal with urethane seam sealer so down doesn’t leak from your stitches. Hand filling with down makes a big mess. Make a temporary “down room” in your house by using a draft free smaller room such as a larger bathroom or small bedroom, or set up a dome tent inside your house. Go in your down room with all your tools, including dust mask and vacuum cleaner. Lock the door behind you, do the deed, then vacuum the evidence.

Older sleeping bags that haven’t been too abused can work well as down donors. Good quality down (few larger feathers) lasts well unless it’s been washed many times or contaminated with who knows what. You can tell if the down is bad by examining a sample; look for matting and clotting of the feathers. If in doubt, buy new down from any of the do-it-yourself outfits. If you buy new down, get the good stuff, at least 700 fill. Don’t use down from pillows, quilts or cheapo sleeping bags — it’s low quality stuff that’s not worth the effort.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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