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).
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.
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).
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.
(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.)