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MontBell - Down Hugger 800
Test Series By Bob Dorenfeld
Initial Report    May 17, 2014
Field Report    August 5, 2014
Long Term Report  September 30, 2014

Tester Bio
Name: Bob Dorenfeld

I'm an active hiker, snowshoer, skier, and backpacker.  Home base is the Southern Colorado Rockies, where I'll hike from 7000 ft (2100 m) to alpine tundra, with desert trips at lower altitudes.  Six to 12 miles (10 to 20 km) daily is my norm, with elevation gains up to 4000 ft (1200 m).  Many of my backpack trips are two or three nights, other trips are longer, and I usually carry about 30 lb (14 kg).  My style is lightweight but not obsessively so - extras like binoculars, camera, and notebook make my trips more enjoyable.

Email: geartest(at)sageandspruce(dot)net
Age: 56
Location: Salida, Colorado, USA
Gender: M
Height: 5' 6" (1.68 m)
Weight: 140 lb (64 kg)


Product Overview

Manufacturer:  MontBell Co., Ltd
Website:   www.montbell.com
MSRP:   US$299.99
Fabric: 20-denier Ballistic Airlight® rip-stop nylon
Insulation: 800 Fill Power Goose Down
Weight: 1 lb 8 oz (687 g)
Measured Weight (with stuff sack):  1 lb 8 oz (687 g)
Fill weight: 11 oz (310 g)
Compressed size: 5.9 in x 11.7 in / 15 cm x 30 cm (4.2 L)
Sizes:  Regular, to 6 ft (1.8 m) [item tested]
            Long, to 6 ft 6 in (2 m)
Color: Green outside, black liner
Zipper: Right or Left [right tested]
Included:  Nylon stuff and cotton storage sacks
EN Tested Ratings:
    40 F (4.5 C)  Comfort
    31 F (-0.5 C)  Lower Limit
      3 F (-16 C)  Extreme

 MontBell Down Hugger 800
Photo:  MontBell
The MontBell Down Hugger 800 is a down-filled sleeping bag with a twist - actually a spiral twist in the way the baffles are sewn.  MontBell's patented invention, what they call their "spiral-stretch™ system",  uses fabric "cut on the bias" (the fabric's warp and weft threads are oriented at 45 degrees to most seams) along with elasticized thread to give an unusual stretchiness to the entire bag.  This lightweight bag is intended for mostly above-freezing temperatures.  According to the included label, EN (European Norm or EN13537) warmth testing rates the Down Hugger 800 at 40 F (4.5 C) "Comfort" level (for women), and the 31 F (-0.5 C)  "Lower Limit" level for men.  (More information about EN testing is available on the web.)  For both inner and outer shell MontBell uses a nylon that they claim is very lightweight, downproof, compressible, and wind resistant. 

The long side zipper has a double-handled slider at the head end, and a locking slider at the foot.  Draft protection at the zipper is provided by a down-filled tube, and a stiff narrow nylon strip helps keep the zipper from snagging in the thin fabric.  A hook-and-loop flap at the top of the zipper helps keep the bag connected when the zipper is open.  The hood can be tightened around the head by the cord-locked draw string.  The Down Hugger's shape is modified mummy - tapered from head to foot, but not tightly curved.  A trapezoidal foot gives extra vertical room for feet, and there are two small nylon hooks at the outside of the foot end for hanging the bag.  The zippers are designed to mate with another Down Hugger bag to double its capacity.  Included with the Down Hugger are a non-waterproof nylon stuff sack and a cotton storage bag.  A nice touch is a printed label on the outer shell listing the EN ratings as a reminder of where most campers would find this bag best deployed.


- Initial Report -

First Impressions     

out of the boxUpon opening the delivery box, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Down Hugger bag not stuffed into the stuff sack, but rather rolled into the cotton storage bag.  This is good, because it keeps the down uncompressed during storage before the sleeping bag finally gets to an eager backpacker like me.  The intensely bright green of the rip-stop nylon outer shell really pops, and is brighter than the photos can show here.  The shell fabric is almost metallic-shiny and has a very soft and pliable hand, but feels durable nonetheless.  The inner black lining feels like the same fabric, just not as shiny.  With a new item like this, the first function I test are the zippers - do they start and slide easily?  Do they avoid getting snagged in the fabric?  For this bag, I answer "yes" to both questions.  The hood draw cord seems easy to operate while pulling tight and loosening.top end

Sliding into the bag for the first time I like the feel of the soft nylon (at least at room temperature), and yes, MontBell's "stretch system" does seem to work on first try - it allows some extra maneuverability in all directions.  I see that there is no draw-corded draft collar across the chest, as is often found in bags rated for colder temperatures; it remains to be seen if I will miss that feature in this sleeping bag.Stuffed












So what's it like to stuff this bag?  Turns out, very easy.  The non-waterproof stuff sack is tapered wider at the top and has elasticized seams along the sack's length and width, so the bag stuffs in quite nicely.  An unusual aspect of this sack is the double draw cords - the lower one is about 3 in (90 cm) below the top cord.  But since there's not the usual dust flap at the open end, I figure that MontBell intends the lower cord to be drawn tight at the bag, leaving the drawn upper cord to provide additional protection for the open end, as well as a handle if needed.  As the photo shows, the Down Hugger compresses to quite a small package.

What's Next?     

I'm eager to get the Down Hugger out into the field, and have lots of trips planned.  I'll be mostly in the higher mountains of Colorado, but will also spend some time at lower elevations and perhaps some desert environments too.  I'll be paying particular attention to my comfort at various temperatures - when it goes down towards freezing and below I'll be prepared with extra clothes to wear if necessary.  Will the Hugger be comfortable and roomy enough in both bare skin and clothed?  I expect that the stretch system will help when wearing clothes in the bag.  I'll see how easily the zippers work while fumbling in the dark, and how well the hood keeps my head covered and warm.  I'll be looking for cold spots and draftiness as well.  Lately I've been using a single-wall tent, which can be subject to condensation, so if I do find extra moisture in the tent I'll check the water resistance of the Hugger's outer shell.  Since any new sleeping bag will be part of my existing "sleeping system", which includes a pad, tent, pillow and clothes, I'll be testing how the Down Hugger integrates into the gear I already use for backpacking.

- Field Report -

It's been two months since my Initial Report, and I'm pleased to announce that the Down Hugger has performed at least as well as expected, and in some ways better.  After a brief summary of field conditions in which I used the sleeping bag, I'll describe my experiences in sections, starting with MontBell's spiral-stretch system.

Range of Field Conditions

sleep systemUp to this point I've slept in the Down Hugger for 12 nights on backpack trips.  Nighttime low temperatures ranged from freezing to about 50 F (10 C).  Elevations, all in the Rocky Mountains of Southern Colorado and Southern New Mexico, varied from 7500-11,700 ft (2300-3560 m).  Other weather conditions included damp and rainy, clear and dry, still and windy - in short, quite a variety of conditions.  As this photo shows, I use a tarp-tent style of shelter with a full wall of no-see-um netting at the front of the tent and netting around the base perimeter, all integrated with a single-wall roof; an insulated air pad for comfort and warmth underneath the sleeping bag completes my sleep system.  Some nights were quite cool and breezy, while others remained still and warm.  The inside of my tent walls gathered some condensation when it was raining and humid, but not enough to penetrate the water-resistant sleeping bag when it touched the tent wall.


Spiral-Stretch System

This is easy to summarize - I like it!  Although I was skeptical at first, I found that it's great for a restless sleeper like myself who usually tosses and turns throughout the night.  I felt like I could curl up or stretch my legs without stressing the bag's delicate seams.  I'm of average build for my height of 5' 6" (1.68 m) height, and I feel like I still have a good amount of wiggle room in this bag even without the stretch seams.  However, I can see how this bias-cut feature could be especially beneficial for a larger person who fills out the bag and doesn't have a lot of extra room to start with.

Zipper and Drawcord

Another great feature is the zipper...I can think of only one time when I snagged it, most likely due to carelessness on my part.  It just works very smoothly, both up and down using the inside or outside zipper pull.  I haven't yet used the locking slider at the foot end, although I have opened the foot during a couple of warm nights for ventilation and found that the zipper there hardly moved during the night; actually I found that the zipper didn't move much at all from any position I left it at.  Likewise, the drawcord for the hood worked well for me, no problems there.  The hood was snug if I wanted it to be, but allowed enough room to move my head and to breathe.

Warmth

Now to the nub of the issue - how warm did the Down Hugger keep me?  Most of the time, warm enough within the range of temperatures indicated by the Comfort and Lower Limit ratings as described above in Product Overview.  There were a couple of times when, given my open-netting tent, the cool outside breeze made me draw up the hood to stay warm (air blows at head level across the bottom of the tent and exits at the top to reduce condensation).  On one night the outside temperature was just above freezing, inside the tent a couple of degrees F warmer.  Given a warmer tent (double-wall with less netting) I'd probably have been warmer in the sleeping bag.  But I was never uncomfortable, and am happy with the EU rating of the Down Hugger that assigns a "Lower Limit" of just about freezing to this bag.  I do wear long underwear (top and bottom), both for warmth and to keep body oils off of the inside of the bag, and I'm sure this adds to my comfort at the temperatures in which I've been using the bag.  I also found it easy to reposition the bag during the night when it inevitably twists so that the zipper ends up below me, or the hood is no longer below my head.

Slippery Fabric

The rip-stop nylon that MontBell chose to use for the Down Hugger exterior and interior is really slippery stuff.  Inside it feels smooth and silky on my skin, very comfortable.  But before using it in the field I was concerned that it would slide too easily on my air mattress, and unfortunately that proved to be the case.  When I could pitch my tent on a level or nearly-level site, there wasn't much of a problem.  But if the tent was sloping appreciably (perhaps half of all my camp sites) I would be constantly fighting to keep from sliding down to the tent end and off of my pillow.  I don't see any benefit to such a slippery fabric for the bag's exterior.  I wonder if there's an alternative nylon that offers the same light weight and durability but with more inherent surface friction?  Regardless, I'll probably need to fix the problem by applying caulk dots onto the top surface of my air mattress, adding friction to keep the Down Hugger from slipping down.

Down Stability, Moisture, and Loft

I've noticed just a few feathers and down pieces floating about during use, but really nothing out of the ordinary for a down bag.  So far I'm not concerned, but I'll be alert to any increase in this regard.

Fortunately the bag (and down) hasn't gotten wet during use.  During the rainy nights, some condensation from the tent rubbed off onto the top of the bag, or blew in from the tent margins onto the bag bottom, but as far as I can tell no down got wet at this time; the moisture beaded up and either wiped off or evaporated within a couple of hours, demonstrating good water repellency of the bag's nylon exterior. 

The bag has continued to feel as fluffy as the day I received it.  When arriving at a new campsite, I always unpack the sleeping bag and shake it out as soon as the tent is set up, and it takes perhaps at most ten minutes for the down to regain its original loft.

Durability

So far during my test I have not seen any issues with stitching, the zipper, or seams.  All look as good as new, and the drawcord and zipper are working flawlessly.  I can't see any fraying at the stretch seams along the body of the bag.

Odor and Dirt Issues

I haven't yet noticed any odor build-up inside the sleeping bag yet; using long underwear helps that situation.  It's way too soon to think about washing the bag, as I'm also careful about keeping my tent clean.  Any dirt I've encountered has brushed off easily, or wiped off with a damp cloth (including the inevitable paw prints from my dog).

Packability

I love the way the Down Hugger stuffs and packs - so quick and easy!  I also like the two-level drawcord on the stuff stack - it makes the package just a bit shorter, and the tapered sack makes it easier to get the bag in.  Where my previous sleeping bag took up almost the entire lower compartment of my backpack, I can now fit in the Down Hugger, stuffed air mattress, pack rain cover, rain jacket, and other small stuff.  And I definitely like the only 1 lb 8 oz (687 g) that it adds to my backpack!

Storage

Starting this summer I'm now hanging all of my sleeping bags (including the Down Hugger) from a rod near the ceiling using the two nylon hooks provided at the bag's foot.  This will provide better airing out of the bag and less down compression between uses, more so than using the large cotton bag that came with the Down Hugger.  This is in addition to my normal airing out for a couple of hours in the sun immediately on my return from a camping trip, when I'll turn the bag inside out onto the clothes line.


Evaluation Highlights So Far
  Good points: warm, comfortable, easy zipper, water repellency, good loft-to-weight ratio
  Bad point: exterior fabric too slippery on my air pad


- Long Term Report -

Since publishing my Field Report (above), I've used the Down Hugger on four additional backpack trips over seven nights.  Temperatures outside my tent were as low as 25 F (-4 C).  Winds varied from almost still to about 10 mph (16 kph), and humidity was low to moderate, but probably never more than 50% relative humidity at night while sleeping (normal for the Rocky Mountains in summer and early fall).  I camped at altitudes from 10,500 to 11,300 ft (3200 to 3440 m) using the same tent and pad described above in the Field Report.

I still consider this sleeping bag to be a good product - it continues to keep me warm using my insulated air pad on the tent floor.  The bias cut and stretch construction is quite nice for a sleeper like me who tends to roll over many times during the night.  It was especially good for when I tented with a companion and space was limited, which I did for two of these final seven nights of the test period.

The zipper continues to operate flawlessly, as long as I pay just a little attention to the angle at which I operate it in order to keep the draft tube fabric free of the zipper teeth.

I had a chance to further test water repellency on a below-freezing morning of moderate humidity when I had extra condensation on the tent walls due to two people plus a dog - water droplets both fell and rubbed off onto the Down Hugger.  It was enough moisture to not bead off right away, but as far as I could tell no significant water made it past the nylon exterior, and the bag dried off quickly after I laid it outside, even before it received full morning sun.

During one night while camped alone I did become cold due to some drafty air through my tent, and wished then that the Down Hugger had a shoulder draft tube (plus drawcord) in addition to the hood closure.  During the coldest nights that I tested the bag (temps around 25 F (-4 C)) the shoulder drawcord would have added more insulation for my body while not requiring me to draw up the hood so tight around my face.  (I did wear a light polyester cap part of the night.)  Since below-freezing temperatures are below the EU "lower limit" rating assigned to the Down Hugger, I won't fault the bag's design so much as point out that this is my experience of its lower limits.  Of course, a shoulder draft tube would add more weight to this very light sleeping bag.  Nonetheless, I still like the bag's upper-body and hood design: it's comfortable, and I rarely felt like my face was unduly restricted.  The hood's cordlock was conveniently located for adjustment when needed, at the left shoulder.

As I mentioned in the Field Report, the one substantial drawback for me with the Down Hugger is the slippery nylon exterior fabric.  It continued to slide down my air pad when camped on any ground that wasn't level or almost level.  For my final two outings of this Test, the top surface of my air pad featured small dots of seam sealer (SilNet) that I applied along the bottom two-thirds of the air pad.  SilNet dries with a tacky finish, and it somewhat helped keep the bag from sliding down during the night.  So, for now I'm happy with this workaround to the slippery-fabric problem.

I have been able to keep the Down Hugger quite clean throughout the Test period.  Occasional dust and dirt wipes off easily, either by shaking it out, or wiping with my hand or a damp cloth.  The interior fabric is still odor-free and clean (I sleep with long underwear to minimize transferring body oils) so I haven't needed to wash the bag yet.  To help deodorize it, after each trip I lay the bag inside-out in the sun and fresh air for an hour or two.

This completes my Test Report on the MontBell Down Hugger 800 sleeping bag.  It's a great bag, and I really like its light weight and small packed size.  I'll be using it regularly on most of my three-season backpack trips where nighttime temperatures are expected to be 25 F (-4 F) and warmer.

Pros
  - EU rating is accurate for me: fair to good heat retention at below-freezing temperatures, excellent retention at above-freezing temperatures
  - comfortable: both bag body and hood fit well
  - zipper rarely snags, runs smoothly both directions
  - good exterior water repellency
  - excellent loft-to-weight ratio
  - fits well into its stuff sack

Cons

  - slippery exterior fabric can lead to sliding down tent pad if pitched on non-level ground
  - no shoulder draft tube to help keep warmer (with or without using the hood)

Acknowledgments    

A big thanks to MontBell and to BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Down Hugger 800.


Reviewed By
Bob Dorenfeld
Southern Colorado Mountains





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