Was It Gear Testing or Shralping, or Both?

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 12, 2009      

This is exciting. We’re starting our gear testing for Denali, which means we have another excuse to go skiing! This session was executed up at Montezuma Basin between Aspen and Crested Butte, at the foot of 14,265-foot Castle Peak. We camped in the upper Basin, at about 13,500 feet. Perfect. Participants were myself Nick, Jordan and Jeff (not on expedition roster, just along for fun).

Montezuma Basin, this past Saturday.

Montezuma Basin backcountry skiing, this past Saturday.

Lou sent us up there with the Exped pads he reviewed a while back. Jordan and I aren’t sure if we’re taking inflatable or regular pads up to Alaska, so good to do some eval. I found the Expeds were small when stowed, cush, and plenty warm. The pumping was kind of a drag when we were tired and just wanted to go to bed. So the jury is still out on pump vs a simple foamie.

Campout, Montezuma, 13,500 feet.

Campout, Montezuma.

Our dilemma is sleeping bags. We’re trying to come up with synthetic bags so we’ve got better reliability over down (that way we can do a snow cave or igloo and not worry about dampness compromising our safety). So for this trip we tested a couple of North Face Tundra bags they rated to -20 Fahrenheit. First off, these are beautiful sleeping bags — well constructed, nice colors, detailed like a Ferrari. I’d never used a draft collar before and loved the way these worked. The glow-in-the-dark zipper pull is thoughtful, the hood works fine, and a little pocket on the outside is great for a headlamp or what have you (though I’d also like a pocket on the inside for stuff that needs to stay warm, such as camera battery or music player).

In Montezuma Basin

In Montezuma Basin

While the Tundra sleeping bag is made from amazing Climashield Neo that’s compresses well and is perhaps close to down in performance, the Tundra wasn’t as warm as we expected. The lowest temperatures we got during the night were perhaps 15 degrees F, and the bags were adequate, but any colder and we would have had to do things like making hot water bottles to sleep comfortably. As these are sweet sleeping bags and it is The North Face, we had to wonder if a rating of -20 is perhaps a misprint. That’s really really cold, and while a synthetic bag doesn’t need the same loft as down to be warm, the Tundra is not particularly thick, so even before testing we wondered how warm these bags really were. As we really like these sleeping bags, we’re thinking a good approach might be to use a super-light down inner bag if it gets really cold. That way we’d have options for warmer temps, and also be easily covered for -30 F or lower. Or, perhaps we’ll just go with a bag such as TNF Darkstar, which is also Climashield Neo but rated down to -40 F.

In all, we’ve got a whole winter to test all this stuff. And the backcountry skiing is pretty good too!

Gear eval from Lou and Jordan: TNF Tundra, Long, 4 lb, 2 oz, could be used with liner bag such as Marmot Atom, 19 oz, for a total of 5 lbs 5 ounces of sleeping bag weight. TNF Dark Star weighs 5 lbs 12 ounces, so using a two bag system might save a bit of weight and add versatility for sleeping in various temps, but it’s a hassle as well as the inner bag adds complexity, as well as needing mods to attach it to the inside of the outer bag. For comparo we weighed a Marmot -40 F bag of Jordan’s. It came in at 4 lbs 12 oz, so a pound less than Dark Star. Considering a down bag is harder to dry than a synthetic, and absorbs quite a bit of water weight while in use, we’d say the trade off for that extra pound is well worth it.

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(Guest Blogger Nick Thompson brings an incredible amount of skiing and mountaineering experience to WildSnow.com. Nick grew up climbing and skiing in the mecca of Telluride. He has a super attitude and incredible drive, making him one of those people who is great to be in the mountains with.)


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51 Responses to “Was It Gear Testing or Shralping, or Both?”

  1. Jordan October 12th, 2009 11:54 am

    Skiing was GRRREEEEATTT up there. Pads are super cush. Those sleeping bags are VERY well made. Just wasn’t sure they were warm enough for Denali. Jeff was warm in the middle with his 20 degree bag.

  2. Lou October 12th, 2009 11:59 am

    I hope to get some Dark Stars here soon for testing. They ARE made with the Climashield Neo, so they’ll probably be perfect. But I’m still looking at the double bag system, as the thought of being in Alaska with only a -40 bag seems a good recipe for some uncomfortable nights while crashing in Anchorage or at the airstrip.

  3. Caleb October 12th, 2009 12:23 pm

    Wow! The pictures look great fellas. Did anyone actually get cold in the bags? Or marginally cold? I have always noticed that my cold weather bags operate comfortably throughout a range of temperatures, though never feeling super hot or super cold unless I am in extremes.

  4. Jordan October 12th, 2009 12:25 pm

    The double bag system could work. But if we bring the -40 I think we could still throw in a lightweight bag that we can store in talkeetna. Guess we shall see.

  5. Jordan October 12th, 2009 12:26 pm

    I think it was just an issue of it only being 15 out, and not feeling totally comfortable. Thinking about -20 to -40 on Denali made me cringe.

  6. Lou October 12th, 2009 1:07 pm

    As Jordan and I spoke about, you get in a normal -20 bag at room temperature and it becomes unbearably hot quite quickly, these bags are warm at room temperature, but don’t have as much of that effect. That could be from the wider temperature range, but not totally.

    Also, to be fair, rating sleeping bags is a subjective inexact process.

  7. Colin in CA October 12th, 2009 1:30 pm


    What lantern is that in your photo?


    While rating sleeping bags used to be inexact, and I guess still is somewhat, I’ve noticed that both Marmot and REI both use the independent EN (European Norm? I think) rating system for their bags. It’s independent, and provides ratings for both the average warm-sleeping man/woman and the average cold-sleeping man/woman. Pretty cool. I dunno if TNF uses this yet, but it would be nice to see it with every manufacturer.

  8. Clyde October 12th, 2009 1:36 pm

    Synthetic bags? No thanks, not worth the weight, bulk, and hassle of using compression sacks. Just isn’t that hard to keep down dry with good shell fabric. Better to take a roomy -20 down bag and sleep in your down clothing when it’s butt cold. All the way unzipped, they aren’t that bad in warmer weather (synthetics are clammier). POE makes the best pads these days for winter mountaineering. I like Expeds but not for that application. JMHO

  9. Lou October 12th, 2009 1:52 pm

    Colin, I say that because the rating system doesn’t take things in to account such as different metabolisms, diet, bag fit, type of sleeping pad use, amount of wind, type of tent, etc. Sure, as a basis of comparison between bags the rating systems have merit, but in terms of telling us exactly how warm a bag is for a given person and use, nah.

  10. Flax Ford October 12th, 2009 2:01 pm

    Hi Guys!

    Why don’t you guys try using a -20 down bag and a Goretex bivy sac?
    I’ve never had any problems with my down bag in a snow cave when I’ve used a bivy sac. Also, maybe you could get a good boost out of your -20 synthetic bags by using a bivy sac? I would never want to carry the weight or bulk of a synthetic.
    Have a great trip on Denali and stay warm!

  11. nick October 12th, 2009 2:09 pm


    I believe it’s the Black Diamond Apollo Lantern. I think Jordan will be writing up a review of it soon. It packs quite a bit of light in a small package, providing a much more cozy atmosphere for passing a bottle of Beam around before bed. And once in the tent, we simply clipped it to the ceiling.

    As for the sleeping bags, I’m looking forward to trying out some of the other options Lou presented to see how much of a difference we can find.

  12. Brooks October 12th, 2009 2:15 pm

    Try the bags with a different pad. I have noticed in my 20deg down bag that I am fine in pretty cold temps (down to say 10-15deg if I have a good pad, but am cold as warm as 40deg if I don’t use a pad or a crappy pad. Just a thought.

    I would support the 2 bag system over the one big bag system. Plus – with a 2 bag system it would be more realistic to do down bags, because if one got wet there is a good chance the other would stay dry. Or a Down bag with a 7-10oz epic or eVent bivy could work.

    Sounds like FUN!

  13. nick October 12th, 2009 2:17 pm


    I’ve had similar reservations about the bulk of synthetic bags myself, but the Tundras that we tested packed down surprisingly small. Perhaps that has something to do with why they weren’t as warm as expected…

    As for bivy sacks, I’ve used them and love them. However, I tend to get quite a bit of condensation buildup, which could be a pain on our multi day trip. I guess it’s just a matter of where you want to compromise.

  14. Ron Rash October 12th, 2009 3:29 pm

    I can not imagine Jordan getting cold or sleeping cold. I would not use a bivy bag due to condensation buildup. I would use 2 sleeping pads. One full length ensolite type pad on bottom with a full length air type mattress on top. I would also go with large synthetic bag that I could use with all of my clothing on, if needed. A 20- degree bag should be sufficent if your out of the elements. That is the system I’ve used on NOLS winter courses in Wyoming. I’ve always slept warm as long as I was dry, hydrated, and had a full belly. Wow, it’s great giving advice to Lou.

  15. Lou October 12th, 2009 3:29 pm

    Synthetic bags preferred at high altitude in case of multiple days at very cold temps. Down absorbs so much moisture from body in such situations, it ends up weighing the same as synthetic, is much tougher (nearly impossible) to dry out once it becomes frozen clumps. Trust me, I’ve been there. Down can work, no doubt, especially with fanatical care. We’re just going for reliability and simplicity in such a large group. We also have all winter to develop our system. This is just the beginning.

  16. Lou October 12th, 2009 3:31 pm

    Ron, I’m not listening, how are your teaching skills and expedition behavior ?

  17. Caleb October 12th, 2009 4:44 pm


    I have also been using the BD Apollo lantern after Jordan brought it on a spring skiing trip earlier this year. I must say that I like it. I keep it in the center console of my truck for everything from camping, alpine start organization, and repair of an ATV wheel yesterday. Light, bright, and long lasting batteries. Definitely one of my best additions this year.

  18. Colin in CA October 12th, 2009 4:46 pm


    I definitely hear you. It’s still better than nothing though. And if you’re buying a new bag and your old bag was rated using the system, then you could probably figure out where you, individually, stood with the new bag.


    That’s what I figured. It looked like the Apollo, and I certainly couldn’t conceive of any other lantern that big/bright being light enough to carry on a trip like that. I bought an Orbit recently and, while not as light as the Apollo, it rocks. It’s only about as big as a Redbull can. And it uses AAAs, like my headlamp.

    Check out their new Titan for car camping… :w00t:

  19. Tom October 12th, 2009 8:55 pm

    I need to throw my two cents in. Lou is right about the body moisture in the bag but going to a synthetic bag, IMHO, is the wrong solution. The correct solution is to use a Vapor Barrier Liner (VBL). Not only do you keep your down bag dry but they add significant warmth to the setup. This eliminates the weight and bulk penalty of a synthetic.

  20. Ryan October 12th, 2009 9:52 pm

    So first for complete transperancy: I rep for Marmot. I also rep for POE and I can certainly vouch for their pads. Go with the Aspen Aero Gel pads ass they are bad ass. Lou I’d be happy to hook you up with one. I also work with Alaska dealers.

    That being said, I think down is pretty standard on Denali. It certainly depends on your route but most people opt for a -40 bag as that allows you to dry things out in your bag. On a mountain as cold as Denali (even in the spring) you are not going to have massive condensation issues inside the bag. Boot liners, contact lenses, batteries, etc. all go inside the bag as if not they will be frozen in the morning. On most routes with large groups it’s never an issue of being forced to sleep in the open as it might be on a route like the Cassin or worse. If you’re going with the glacial slog method, go with a -40 down bag and save money elsewhere.

    As for large synthetics, the Dark Star is popular up there amongst bush pilots and winter highway travelers who want a synthetic super warm bag in case of water landings, breakdowns, etc. It is huge, even when vacuum compressed which is what they do with it and which isn’t what you’ll do with it each time you’re moving camp.

    Bring a large sponge for each tent and a small wisk broom per tent. That’ll help you sweep out ice before it melts and wets your bags as well as using it to sponge off the condensation on the ceiling of your tent so it doesn’t drip on your bag when the sun hits it in full.

    Other quick tips: Get a fully baffled jacket, don’t skimp on warm foot options, try Superfeet’s winter insoles, maybe also having a close cell phone piece to stack underneath if your boot/ie allows. Put foam on your ice axe heads but make sure you can still work them properly, bring more food than you think and have a variety, bring something cool to trade when you run out of something you don’t have. Bring a cook tent (route depending) as you’ll be sick of your tentmates after a couple nights, Bring lots of books that can be torn into sections to share, oh and Lou, leave the plastic shovel at home.

    Cheers and good luck. Sounds like you guys will have a blast.

  21. Mark W October 13th, 2009 12:00 am

    When you had problems with down getting wet while at altitude for extended periods was it perhaps due to shell fabric not being breathable enough? Perhaps I am not up on technology, but even the most breathable of the WTB fabrics have always, in my understanding, been too restrictive to moisture transport thus jeopardizing down dryness–and that includes shell fabrics today.

  22. Mark W October 13th, 2009 12:02 am

    The new Climashield insulations appear to be about as good a synthetic as can be found for a sleeping bag application.

  23. Lou October 13th, 2009 7:39 am

    I think there is a perception vs. reality situation going on here. We weighed Jordan’s down -40 bag, a really nice one from Marmot, and it only weighs 16 ounces less than a Dark Star. Add some moisture to the down, and I’ll bet both bags weigh virtually the same after a few days use in cold temps as the synthetic doesn’t retain as much moisture (and dries out much quicker when hung out in sub freezing temps). Dark Star is indeed bulky, but the Clima Shield Neo compresses better than the older fill that was used in the Dark Star. Again, perception, as the Dark Star has apparently been upgraded to the new fill.

    At any rate, we’ll be testing a Dark Star soon. Meanwhile let me just say that I’ve experimented for years with cold weather camping using both fiberfill and down. Down works great for a couple of nights, but it traps moisture when the outer insulation temperature is below freezing or even below the dewpoint. If that moisture freezes in the down, it significantly reduces the performance of the bag and is very tough to dry (moreso if the bag has a waterproof/breathable shell that blocks breeze). Synthetic traps less moisture, and what moisture it does trap is easily dried through sublimation in a breeze even when temperatures are cold.

    As for what everyone else uses on Denali, we’re looking at that for sure and could possibly switch back to the down option. But I’ve never been one to not try and improve on the state of mountaineering gear style. And I’m willing to bet that any down bag users who’ve been caught on Denali during multiple cold weather storm days ended up with some pretty damp and even uncomfortable sleeping bags.

  24. AJ October 13th, 2009 7:47 am


    I rode Denali a couple of years ago (http://www.wagnerskis.com/blog/2008/successful-denali-snowboard-descent/#more-30) as well as guiding up there a few times. -20 down bags have always worked great for me, but people seem to dig synthetic as well. I would agree with Ron about the double sleeping pad system; it’s always kept me warm on NOLS winter courses. I use a Therm-a-Rest on top of a super light MEC Evazote bivy pad.

    Have fun up there!

  25. nick October 13th, 2009 9:23 am

    Awesome trip report AJ! Sounds like some dicey conditions in the Messner. Something I hadn’t thought of that you mentioned was the cold, sticky snow at the summit. What wax were you using? I’d guess that using a super cold temp wax might not be worth it once low down on the glacier?

    Thanks everyone for the thoughts and tips, keep em coming.

  26. AJ October 13th, 2009 9:52 am

    I think I was using Swix purple, but blue probably would have been better. Honestly, the best skiing is above 14-camp so the snow is relatively cold. The lower glacier doesn’t have that much ski terrain. What time of year are you going?

  27. nick October 13th, 2009 1:18 pm

    We’ll be there in early June.

  28. Ryan October 13th, 2009 1:29 pm

    I hear you on the weight comparo of the -40 down vs. the -40 synthetic but I think once you get them in your hands you’re going to see a dramatic difference in the actual temp rating vs. the advertised rating.

    I certainly could be wrong and I look forrward to hearing your thoughts on the Dark Star in some seriously cold temps.

  29. T3 October 13th, 2009 1:31 pm

    no contact in a very long time- still reading your stuff. Now a question.
    Or request for opinions-
    What are the best snow tires for a vechicle like the Chevy Suburban K2500 ?
    Any recommendations or “stay away froms” ?
    Thanks for any input.

  30. Lou October 13th, 2009 2:04 pm

    T3, you talking studs or no studs?

  31. Lou October 13th, 2009 2:06 pm

    Universal graphite snowboard wax… will probably work on the warm glacier as well as the brillo snow up high, but we can always rub on some harder wax… my take, anyhow…

  32. Nick October 13th, 2009 5:48 pm

    I can’t weigh in much on the benefits of down v. synethic on Denali, but should you choose to go the down route, I think you should give strong consideration to the -20 or -40 bags from Western Mountaineering or Feathered Friends. Both companies, IMHO, put out the absolute best down bags. WM and FF both offer pure down bags, or bags with external shells (Gortex for WM, or eVent for FF).

    Obviously given the temps on Denali, external waterproofness really isn’t an issue as much as internal dampness could be. eVent shelled bags from FF seem very intriguing.

    Full disclosure: I have a 0 degree WM bag and absolutely love it.

  33. Lou October 13th, 2009 6:07 pm

    We’ll see how it goes. I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve.

  34. bart October 13th, 2009 8:25 pm

    I spent a number of years climbing in the Adirondacks where it’s wet all the time, and sometimes brutally cold. When I lived there I used the Dark Star and had a great experience with it. I would of never thought about trying a down bag because we often stayed in lean-tos or just bivied. I thought that down bags would of been too dangerous because of all the moisture. When I moved to colorado all changed. I learned more about the material and have had an equally great experience with down.

    Now here’s a simple observation. A wet synthetic bag is still cold. I was out for a 2 week trip in the ‘daks with my Dark Star. The first 3 days we got dumped on (something like 4 feet) and we spent most of the time in the tent. Each morning was the typical hoar frost extravaganza where the crystal palace came crashing down on everyone when the first person was brave enough to get up. So our bags were getting wet. And with nothing but snow, there was no time to dry the bags out during the day. And then a “heat wave” came, you know, 35 degrees and raining. The snow was melting and all ways out of the backcountry were blocked because the streams all had torrents running over their ice. We were basically stuck… with wet -40 bags… and freezing. After 6 days of not seeing the sun we finally got a chance to dry out the bags on the 7th day. But man, I sure learned to keep my bag dry on that trip!

    I guess my point is obvious, (and I know this is a post about gear) but to beat a dead horse… Keeping your bag dry is probably more important then material selection.

    Good post though! Clearly lots of folks have had lots experiences with their bags :tongue:

  35. Andrew October 14th, 2009 9:20 am

    Sleeping bag ratings are a mystery to me as well. My latest theory is that they reflect the absolute lowest temperature you can endure before going into shock and dying, but have nothing to do with actually keeping you warm and comfortable enough to sleep.

    I wouldn’t take any but a -20 degree down bag to Denali. The fancy shell fabrics are nice when you spill coffee on them, but totally unnecessary for tent camping in zero degree weather.

  36. Lou October 14th, 2009 9:53 am

    Andrew, I’d indeed heard that some of the sleeping bag ratings are what they call a “survival rating,” meaning it’s the lowest temperature the bag would keep you alive in if you were immobilized. Not a rating for comfortable sleeping.

    That seems to be the rating TNF uses. I think it’s like ski boot flex ratings, in that it’s more of a way to fit bags in a category and to compare within a company.

    And since even eating a hunk of cheese can make you sleep a lot warmer, any sleeping bag rating is just a guideline.

  37. Lou October 14th, 2009 9:54 am

    Bart, if you guys had had down bags you’d probably be dead.

  38. Ben Sanders October 14th, 2009 2:42 pm

    Hey Team Denali 2010-

    I’m wondering if the Northface Bag would be way to warm for summer camping and occasional winter camping. I have a 0 degree Northface now, but it is almost ten years old and is getting nasty. I like it on most summer nights, but in winter it is not enough. Do you think that the NF bags you tried would be ok if you were to unzip them in the summer, or would it be the hot/cold thing that is typical of super hot bags?

    Thanks for the advice. :sideways:

  39. Lou October 14th, 2009 2:43 pm

    Ben, I think the Tundra would be too warm for summer use.

  40. SB October 14th, 2009 5:22 pm

    I’ve had good luck with Western Mountaineering down bag’s temperature ratings. They seem to be fairly conservative with the ratig. They also seem to be better made than any NF or Marmot bag that I’ve seen.

    I’ve heard similar things about Feathered Friends, but have no personal experience.

  41. Ryan October 14th, 2009 7:25 pm

    While I know for certain that Feathered Friends and Western make great bags I can also certainly attest that Marmot bags are second to none. Our down is held to the highest standards for both fill rating and feather content. Our 800 and 850 fill bags are all filled in the US like both WM and FF so the down doesn’t have to take the slow boat over from China which significantly zaps the downs performance. We tend to be a few ounces heavier than most other brands and often a few bucks more but that’s also why we win the AMGA award as often as we do; we build bomber stuff, and in places like Denali or in a guiding or patrolling application you want bomber.

    Oh and as for sleeping bag ratings, as of next spring, most mainstream US sleeping bag companies will be adopting the EN standard which is a Euro Union test that essentially puts bags on an even playing field so no more basing a bags temp rating off of arbitrary stats like loft or fill weight. All manufacturers who sell bags in Europe already do this test. Marmot is the only one who publishes that information in the US, right there on the tag.

    The test gives 5 different figures but the important one for guys when looking at men’s bags is the middle rating which sets the expectation that you should have a comfortable nights sleep at this temp. Survival ratings certainly go lower and this is why many EU companies look so crazy effecient in bag weights is they advertise the “extreme” rating rather than the “comfort” rating.

    The EN test in it’s current form doesn’t really yield good, real world numbers on bags below 0 degrees so unfortunately for your comparisons it won’t be that helpful but if you could go up the temp range to get an idea of how conservatively each manufacturer rates their bags I think you’d find Marmot is quite conservative. It’s not appropriate to name names here but let’s just say we’re proud of where we sit on this subject.

    One other thing to note and then I’ll quit ranting (for now). Be sure to take a close look at the bags measurements when doing comparisons of temp and weight. Almost always go with a long for this sort of use but pay attention to foot, hip and shoulder dimensions as you’re living in this thing for weeks. Many companies skimp there to make the temp/weight ration look sexier. Don’t be deceived!


  42. Jordan October 14th, 2009 9:24 pm

    Hey Ryan,
    I agree with you. Marmot makes some downright incredible bags. I have been thourougly impressed with the 2-3 that I have owned thus far.

  43. bart October 14th, 2009 9:39 pm

    Hey Lou! I mostly agree with you. That’s why I always thought down was dangerous and never even thought about using it until I came to colorado. But I remember having conversations with the owner of the local mountaineering store in keene (http://mountaineer.com) and he was always encouraging me to try down. If I remember correctly he’s been using down in the wet climates of the ‘daks for years with a vapor barrier liner to keep the condensation from creeping in from the inside. He’s certainly an easy guy to talk to and has years of both mountaineering and retail experience. Hell, he’s probably climbed Denali for all I know.

    Until I read this blog I thought synthetics had been relegated to the ranks of car camping because of their weight and compressibility. It’s good to be wrong and see that improvements in synthetics keep coming!

    I did spend two weeks in a down bag this summer while biking the colorado trail and can confirm that down does compress with extended use. It was really wet this summer and we spent multiple rainy nights in the tent. On the flip side, while climbing in Argentina I never really did experience the down compressing and stayed very warm in my down bag.

    I guess it comes down to goals. Clearly hundreds of folks have used both down and synthetics successfully throughout the high alaskan peaks. If you have the packs space and the legs to heft a synthetic, it’s not like you will be sad about it! I’m a pip-squeak though! I’d go with the synthetic if was planning a couple months, and down for a single summit push.

    Can’t wait to read about your trip and what gear you took! I’d be real interested to learn about what you take for food. I always struggle on the nutrition side of things. Any specific items making it onto the wildsnow menu?

  44. SB October 15th, 2009 12:06 am


    Sorry if my last post sounded negative toward Marmot. Most of my sleeping bags are Marmots and I have been very happy with them. They are great bags. I also have a very nice Marmot down parka which has been flawless.

    I do have one WM bag and I feel like it is tailored very nicely and the differential hood design is awesome. I was expressing a preference for WM, but that is based on a few small details and I would not say there is a large difference.

    I’d have probably bought another Marmot last time, but I was shopping for something in the -10 degree range and IIRC, Marmot didn’t have a bag optimized for that temp range and my smaller volume requirement. I think there was one that I looked at that was overkill and one that wasn’t quite that warm with a little more volume than I needed.

  45. Lou October 15th, 2009 6:14 am

    The best is actually to use both down and synthetic, down on the inside, synthetic on the outside, as Marmot did with their Fusion bags a few years ago. Those things were the best sleeping bag technology I’ve ever seen, and we still own a few of them. They didn’t make a -20 one, however. BUT, nothing stopping us from using a lightweight down bag inside the North Face Tundra. That might be beautiful, though Jordan is too big for that combo. I also might customze a Tundra with a down layer on the inside. Should be fun. Nice to have winter now, I can even test a sleeping bag by sleeping out on my porch.

  46. Jonathan October 15th, 2009 9:27 am

    Totally agree that down inside synthetic is a great idea. Keep the down warm and dry since it’s deep within the warm part of the temperature gradient so the moisture from your body doesn’t start to condense until it’s in the outer most bag (synthetic). I used this system in Peru for 3 weeks (MUCH milder temps than you’ll need to be prepared for but still cold) with great success (though we also had ample time to dry out our bags after storms).

    Are you considering taking a bag on the light side (nothing heavier than -20 for sure) and sleeping in your puffy clothes when it’s really cold? Certainly this is more common on the more technical routes but, of course, less comfortable.

  47. Lou October 15th, 2009 1:41 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for sharing about your use of synthetic/down system. I’ve used that system quite a bit and it comes in at similar weight to an all-down -40 bag when the synthetic bag is modern, but goes beyond by being versatile for different temperatures, and great in the damp or super cold when condensation occurs within the outer insulation, which is the death of a down bag.

    The approach I think I’m taking for Denali is to have a synthetic bag system for average temperatures, probably using a double bag system, or actually making an inner layer on top inside the bag out of 1/2 a down bag. If temps go below average, then I’d use my puffy gear as backup. Trying to keep it comfortable, as it’s a long trip and sleep is important.

  48. William Finley October 20th, 2009 1:27 pm

    Holy preparation overkill batman. You’d think you were prepping for an FA in some uncharted Himalayan wilderness. This is the West Butt of Denali… if you get cold you can huddle with 125 of your closest alpine buddies.

    A 5 lbs 12 oz bag is way too big and heavy. That’s like a block of cheese – which will go way farther when you’re acclimatizing at 14 camp. An equivalent down bag is a pound lighter and will pack down to a fraction of the size.

    Not only that but -40 is way overkill. -20 is more than warm enough (if you’re cold sleep with your down jacket) — and lots of people are climbing Denali now using -10 or even 0 degree bags (a friend of mine climbed the Cassin with one 40 degree bag for 2 people). In 8 trips into the Ak Range (including 2 up Denali) I’ve never been even remotely chilly in my -20 (down bag).

    For the most part you’ll be camping in secluded spots – and until you reach 17 camp your main concern will be staying cool enough at night (last year in the AK Range it was barely freezing at 2am at basecamp)… so your -40 bag will more than likely act not only as an anchor when you’re slogging up hill – but will also act as a sweat bag when you’re trying to get to sleep in the 14-camp solar oven.

  49. Lou October 20th, 2009 3:05 pm

    Good advice William, thanks. We’re trying to keep everything in balance…

  50. Lou December 16th, 2009 10:11 pm

    Winter 14ers are the way to go!

  51. Tom December 16th, 2009 9:41 pm

    Wow! Great insights on sleeping bags. Lou I’m heading to Denali this year as well (June 12 departure) to do the west butt with 2 friends. Any interest in training together? We’re heading to do Columbia and Harvard this weekend. I’ve just been going through the bag gyrations as well and am close to settling on the FF -40 or -20 due to simplicity, compactability and weight (the -40 saves 1/2 a pound over the Marmot CWM) but am also considering a lighter bag (0) with down clothing as a backup for cold nights is another attractive way to cut some weight with 13 miles and 13,000 vertical every ounce counts!

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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring 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 ski touring news and information here.

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