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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > Feathered Friends Great Auk Sleeping Bag > Owner Review by Richard Lyon
FEATHERED FRIENDS GREAT AUK SLEEPING BAG
PERSONAL DETAILS AND BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 61 years old
I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. In the past few years I've been actively seeking ways to reduce weight, but I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and often I choose a bit of extra weight over foregoing my favorite camp conveniences.
Additional information relevant to this review. I sleep very cold, usually ordering overfill for my sleeping bags and still carrying a bag rated 10-15 degrees F (6-9 degrees C) colder than the minimum expected temperature.
Friends, Seattle, Washington USA.
Feathered Friends (FF) is a semi-custom sleeping bag supplier. The company has no distributors and to my knowledge has only a single retail outlet, its own store in Seattle. While FF lists many bag models on its website, all named after birds, no bag is completed for a customer until an order is placed. For a bag listed in the online catalog the customer chooses model, fabric, size (usually regular or long, though some bags are also available in short or extra-long), color, available options (for example, a draft collar is optional on some bags), and whether additional down is desired. Then FF makes up and fills the bag.
A customer may also place an order for a truly custom bag and FF will oblige if it can. My Great Auk falls closer to this category. While this species is no longer in the catalog, it has not yet become extinct; FF has retained the pattern and will make one upon request. I wanted a bag that would serve as both a moderately rated bag for summer and an overbag in winter, and one that had a sleeve for a sleeping pad. I called FF because I knew that this company still lists a number of semi-rectangular bags. I'm mildly claustrophobic and a restless sleeper anywhere and have always preferred semi-recs to mummies, and I also thought that a wider bag would be better suited to encase a second sleeping bag.
In discussing various alternatives among the listed models the FF representative described the Great Auk, and I thought that it would serve my purposes. This manufacturer is customer-friendly: Before placing my order FF sent me a Great Auk, size long, from its rental fleet to allow me to ensure that it enclosed fully my winter bag. After verifying that it did, I returned the rental bag to FF and placed an order. FF sent the rental bag without charge; all I paid was return postage.
My shell fabric is also custom ordered. FF now lists most of its stock bags as available in some or all of three high-tech fabrics: EPIC by Nextec®, eVENT, or NanoSphere®; in 2006 it was EPIC, eVENT, and nylon taffeta. I knew from a recent promotion that FF had a few other fabrics on hand, including Endurance. I've been pleased with this and other Pertex fabrics in the past and so ordered Endurance. This choice is the reason for the gold color, the only one FF had left in that fabric. With its cobalt blue taffeta liner (my choice) the bag brightens up a winter morning for sure. I ordered the Great Auk with FF's overfill option, five additional ounces (142 g) of down.
FF does have list prices for its catalog models, and from my email correspondence with the company it appeared to have list prices for the Great Auk as well. All list prices vary with fabric and length.
I received my bag about three weeks after ordering it. Every FF bag comes with a cotton bag for home storage (mine in a cotton print almost as bright as the bag) and a waterproof stuff sack that closes like a dry bag.
FF guarantees all its products "to the original owner for the life of the product against defects in workmanship and materials." Non-custom (what I have called "semi-custom") orders may be returned unused for a refund within thirty days after delivery; custom orders such as mine may only be returned for defects.
The Great Auk truly is a rare bird - a fully rectangular bag. Pattern specs that I received by email confirm my measurements. The pattern has a sleeve for a sleeping pad and no down on the bottom, and selected fabric only on the upper shell. The sleeve may be closed by four snaps across its top. My final custom feature was specifying Endurance for the bottom, in anticipation of use with my down sleeping pad. The bag has a hood but no draft collar, though part of one side of the hood can be snapped to the collar to make the hood opening a bit smaller and snugger. A double zipper runs three-quarters of the way down the left side of the bag.
The Great Auk fits exactly over my coldest rated bag, a Western Mountaineering Sequoia, a semi-rec-mummy hybrid, also size long. (Both FF and Western Mountaineering list their Long bags at 78 inches/1.98 m.) I specified a left-side zip to match the zipper on the Sequoia.
Winter. I have used the Great Auk for my originally intended purpose, an overbag, on two nights in the Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, when the temperature dropped below 0 F (-18 C). One of these nights was in a solo tent and the other in an unheated and very drafty hut, and both nights I used a down air mattress in the Great Auk's sleeve. I fitted the down air mattress into the Great Auk's sleeve and pulled the bag over my Sequoia, leaving both zippers about half open. I wore a fleece balaclava, merino wool long underwear, a mid-weight merino sweater, and heavy merino wool socks. Both nights I started out with a down sweater as well, but I found that I didn't need it in the hut. Two layers of down did the trick. The Sequoia has a heavy draft collar, and I zipped that bag fully closed, leaving the side of the Great Auk about half open.
Spring and Summer. The Great Auk was in my pack most of spring and summer 2007, in Montana in June and early August and the Texas Hill Country and Oklahoma in May, a total of eleven nights, plus three more this spring in Utah. Rockies' nighttime temperatures ranged from 25-40 F (-4 to 5 C), in the Southwest from 50-75 F (10-24 C). Each night I slept in a tent, although on several of the warm nights in Texas I left large side mesh windows (on one tent) or the half-fly (on another) rolled open. In the Southwest I used an inflatable pad, in Montana my down pad. In all but the warmest temperatures my three-season backcountry pajamas are merino long underwear. If the temperature is below 50 F (10 C) I wear wool socks and a cap; below 40 F (4 C) I'll add another upper body layer (another merino shirt or a down sweater).
Construction and Materials. Feathered Friends is renowned for the quality of its bags, and the stitching, zipper, and fabric on my Great Auk bear this out. I'd go so far as to call its construction flawless; I can't recall even a stuck zipper. A feather has yet to escape the Endurance fabric. I'm pleased with my fabric choice, as the Endurance has withstood minor condensation and water splashes without any penetration to the down. Endurance is a bit crinkly to the touch; the nylon taffeta next to me when I'm inside is much softer.
Design. As things have turned out, I've been using the Great Auk more as a three-season bag than for the purpose for which I bought it, as an overbag. This comes from old habits – I still like to be able to squirm and toss in my bag, and find mummy bags a bit claustrophobic. The Great Auk is several inches/centimeters wider than the Nunatak Back Country Blanket (see review) that's been my other three-season bag of choice recently, and much more like the semi-rec bags I've used for years. The down mat has helped too; this wonderful piece of gear has improved the minimum temperature for every bag I've used it with. Bottom line on this: I just like the way the Great Auk fits.
The pad sleeve is another reason, and my favorite feature on the Great Auk. I am a restless side sleeper and often awaken myself when my bag and I slide off a sleeping pad onto a chilly tent floor. That hasn't happened, not once, when using the Great Auk, thanks to a near-exact fit with my down mat. Before purchasing my down mat I took the Great Auk to an outdoor retailer to see which pads fit, and among those how well they fit. This exercise taught me that sleeping pads are by no means a particular standard width. (For that matter, sleeve width also varies from one manufacturer or bag to another and some bag manufacturers offer sleeves for different sizes of mats). Some "extended" or "deluxe" mats were too wide, not fitting in the Great Auk's sleeve; some shorter and lighter weight pads were too narrow. They fit but didn't stay in one place. Listed measurements weren't always accurate either. I encourage anyone considering a Great Auk (or any other bag with a pad sleeve) to undertake similar experimentation to avoid disappointment. As noted, Feathered Friends lent a bag for this purpose.
This roomy rectangular bag leaves ample space for storing anything that I don't want to freeze.
Temperature rating. The combination of Great Auk, second down bag, and down mat kept me comfortably warm on my two winter nights. I'm not so cold-blooded that +5 (the Sequoia's rating) plus +35 F (-17 plus +2 C) won't get me down to zero F (-18 C) when I'm sheltered from the wind. As my other bag has a draft collar I didn't miss lack of one on the Great Auk. The principal drawback of using this system, of course, is the added weight and bulk of having to pack and carry two bags. But I've got a big expedition pack into which both will fit along with most of my winter kit.
Use of the Great Auk on its own has indicated that the bag's 35 F/2 C temperature rating is accurate for me. Perhaps the down overfill and down mat have compensated for my cold sleeping. I haven't awakened from shivering on the coldest nights I've faced.
Weight. Dispensing with down on the Great Auk's underside brings this size Long bag with overfill to just over two and a half pounds (~1.2 kg), which I consider quite good for a roomy three-season bag.
Care and feeding. FF includes directions for storing and cleaning its bags, which I've followed to the letter. When at home the Great Auk nests in its storage bag, lying flat. I've cleaned it once, in a front-loading machine on the gentle cycle with down-specific soap, then kneaded the bag before air drying.
A comfortable fit for me.
The waterproof dry bag-style stuff sack. This is a thoughtful touch that typifies FF's attention to detail.
One nit: I've found the snaps on the pad sleeve to be unnecessary to hold the pad in place. Eliminating them would save a small bit of weight.
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