MONTBELL SUPER STRETCH DOWN HUGGER SLEEP
TEST SERIES BY DAVID TAGNANI
INITIAL REPORT - March 13, 2009
FIELD REPORT - May 25, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - July 14, 2009
5' 10" (1.78 m)
160 lb (72.60 kg)
Backpacking Background: I have been camping and hiking for as long as I can remember, but I've really only been backpacking for a decade. I started off in the hills of northeastern and central Pennsylvania, have hiked trails from Maine to Georgia, and now I am exploring the incredible terrain of the inland northwest. I seldom do trips longer than three days, with most trips being overnighters. I do not own crampons, an ice axe, or a climbing harness, so if the route is technical enough to require them, you won't find me there. I simply like to walk in the woods.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: MontBell.com
MSRP: US$ 255
Listed Weight: 2lbs 14 oz (1.3 kg)
Measured Weight (w/ stuff sack): 2 lbs 15 oz (1.33 kg)
Listed stuffed size: 7.4" x 14.7" (18.8 x 37.3 cm)
Measured stuffed size: 8" x 15.5" (20.3 x 39.3)
Size: Regular (Max user height: 5' 10" or 1.78 m)
Insulation: 650 fill-power down
Temperature Rating:15 F (-9.4 C)
The Super Stretch Down Hugger #1 is a mummy-shaped sleeping bag that uses elastic stitching in the baffles to allow the bag to expand and contract with the user. The purpose is twofold: one, it allows for greater freedom of movement and therefore greater comfort; and two, it draws the bag closer, thereby increasing warmth by eliminated the dead air one's body must heat. Sounds great. We'll see how it works out in practice.
The Down Hugger came in a soft cotton storage bag. Also included was a very thin, lightweight stuff sack. The shell material feels soft and smooth, and the bag feels soft and light in general.
It is a very strange color, even though MontBell calls it "orange." The color on their website is definitely deceiving. This is not the mellow orange they depict. It is a dark, reddish orange, more like a construction cone. The inside of the bag is grey.
One thing I notice right away while handling it is a strange, stiff fabric near the zipper. It is quite noticeably different than the rest of the bag and stood out immediately. Upon closer inspection, this must be some sort of safeguard against the fabric getting caught in the zipper. As you can see in the picture to the right, the fabric on both sides of the zipper is not loose, but rather laminated to some stiffer material. This presumably prevents any loose fabric from being caught by the teeth of the zipper. This has always been a problem with every mummy bag I've ever owned, so I like the potential here.
I notice more drawstrings than I'm used to on a bag. There is a drawstring for the hood of course, but also one inside and just below the hood. This drawstring runs the length of a neck baffle that is rather intriguing. I wonder if I'll be able use this baffle / drawcord to limit heat escape without having to suffocate myself with the drawstring on the hood? That would be a big plus. The picture to the right illustrates these features.
On the outside of the bag, near the foot, are a few more interesting features. Here I find yet another drawstring, this one about 10 inches (25 cm) from the bottom of the bag. MontBell's website cryptically claims that this is for "increased adjustability." I can't imagine why I'd want to cinch the bag closer to my feet, but I guess that is what testing is for. Also down here are two loops, one on each side. Perhaps these are for hanging the bag for storage?
TRYING IT OUT
The moment I climbed into this thing for the first time, I began to heat up. I took this as a good sign, but of course I was in the heated interior of my residence. Excited by the apparent thought that MontBell put into the zipper, I worked it up and down the full length of the bag about a half-dozen times with no problems at all, not even the tiniest little snag. I hope this initial success holds up through further testing. I did not notice initially, but there is a second zipper on the same track; I would assume this is for venting the bottom portion of the bag while keeping the top of the bag closed up.
Time to test this bag's big claim to fame: the Super Stretch system. Well, this only an initial test; I didn't actual sleep in it yet. But after rolling around and stretching out in my usual contorted, twisted sleeping positions, I am optimistic about this bag's potential. The baffles moved with me quite easily and allowed a significant range of motion. I could not quite get into my ideal position, which is with my knee jutting out to the side at a right angle to my body. But this asking a bit much of a mummy bag and, well, the Down Hugger got me close. Besides offering a significant range of motion, the bag simultaneously "hugged" me, keeping close to me without ever feeling constricting or uncomfortable.
The drawcords around the hood and the neck baffle both worked easily and smoothly and seem to offer a lot of versatility. I look forward to experimenting with the options here when I'm out in the field. The drawcord around my feet worked fine too, but I still can't fathom why I would use it. Mummy bags are slim enough at the foot. Perhaps field testing will reveal something that is not apparent now.
Finally, I suppose it is worth mentioning with a down bag that I have yet to see a single feather escape.
So far so good for MontBell's Super Stretch Down Hugger #1. My brief time with the bag so far has revealed some very promising features and a high level of initial quality. Time to get this thing out in the elements and test its capabilities. We just received fresh snow and record low temperatures here in Eastern Washington, so the Down Hugger will have its work cut out for it. Check back here in two months to see how it fared.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS - May '09
I have slept in the Down Hugger a total of seven nights during the previous two months. Six of those nights were in the backcountry; one night was at a drive-in campground.
Steamboat Rock State Park:
My first night in the bag was during a one-night car camping trip to Steamboat Rock State Park, below the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. Conditions were dry and cold, down to about 24 F (-4.4 C) at night. Elevation was 1500 feet (457 meters) at our campsite on the water.
Ancient Lakes - Quincy Wildlife Area:
This was my first backpacking trip with the Down Hugger. The terrain is high desert, with a few lakes interspersed throughout a two coulees. Despite the sun and relative warmth during the day, it was pretty cold at night, dropping below freezing to about 30 F (-1 C). Elevation at my camp was 800 feet (244 meters)
Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area - Pittsburgh Landing:
I had the Down Hugger with me for a three-day / two-night backpacking trip along the Snake River in Hell's Canyon. This is also a desert-like environment; that is why I was here so early in the season. Again, despite the warm daytime temperatures, it got cold at night: around 35 F (1.7 C) both nights. Elevation for our camps along the river was 1200 feet (366 meters).
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area - Lakeshore Trail
Another three-day trip took me to the shores of glacially-carved Lake Chelan. This 17-mile (27-kilometer) trail on the wild lakeshore is a pretty tough trail as it winds up and down the steep hillsides. But both of our camps were on the water, at about 1150 feet (351 meters). The weather was perfect, both during the day and at night. Nighttime temperatures hovered around 45 F (7 C).
Colville National Forest - Thirteen Mile Creek Trail
One last quick overnighter to finish out the field testing period. I hiked a few miles up the canyon containing Thirteen Mile Creek to camp at about 3000 feet (914 meters). The weather was great; I don't think it got much below 50 F (10 C) at night.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I've been really impressed with the Down Hugger in pretty much every way.
Fit and comfort:
This is the most comfortable mummy bag I have ever used. As noted above, I don't like sleeping on my back with my body straight as a pencil. This bag has solved that problem for me, and I'm sleeping much better because of it.
One reason for the elastic stitching in the baffles is to increase comfort by allowing users to move more freely. But another great effect of this stitching is that the bag moves with you -- not only to accommodate flailing limbs, but when rolling around, too. For example: I toss and turn a lot, and in a traditional mummy bag, that means I end up getting suffocated by the hood. But not in the Down Hugger. When I roll onto my stomach, the bag moves with me so that the hood is still at the back of my head. It is absolutely wonderful. I doubt I'll ever go back to "normal" mummy bags.
One important note about fit. MontBell's website says that the regular size is good for up to 5' 10" (1.78 m), and boy do they mean it. It fits me perfectly, but there is not room for one more inch in there. Oh yeah, and I never did find a use for the drawcord around the foot box.
Warmth and adjustability:
The purpose of the stretch stitching is so that the bag constricts to eliminate as much air as possible, making it more thermally efficient. I don't know if this is the reason, but this bag is warm. I never did get the chance to test it near its temperature rating, but I was plenty warm at 24 F (-4.4 C) in lightweight long underwear.
The zipper has continued to operate snag-free for the duration of the test period. Not one single snag. That's pretty impressive. MontBell has apparently solved this old problem.
The draw cord in the neck baffle is a stroke of genius. It eliminated the necessity of using the hood drawstring on every trip except the first one. This trip saw the coldest nighttime temps and required the use of the hood drawstring in order to maximize thermal efficiency. The hood was comfortable enough and the opening for my face was adequate.
But on all the other trips, the bag was warm enough that I was able to forgo the hood and use only the neck baffle's draw cord. This was much more comfortable to me than having a hood cinched down around my face. With the hood loose, I was able to sleep more comfortably with my head turned to either side. This was also the most comfortable way to enable me to roll around in my sleep without worrying about getting suffocated by the hood.
|On the shore of Lake Chelan|
My smaller backpack (55 L / 3350 cu in) doesn't have a sleeping bag compartment, so I used the included stuff sack when I used that pack. The stuff sack is very thin and light, and very small. It is quite amazing that this big, fluffy bag fits in it, but it does. When in the sack, it fit horizontally in the bottom of my backpack. This worked out well.
My larger pack (70 L / 4270 cu in) has a dedicated sleeping bag compartment. With this pack, I leave the stuff sack at home because it seems redundant to use it. The Down Hugger fit easily in this compartment, allowing me to stuff some other things in there with it. On one trip, I stuffed a mid-weight layer in with the bag. On my next trip, I stuffed a much bulkier mid-weight hooded fleece jacket in there. It was nice that the Down Hugger compressed enough to allow me to include other items beside the bag in the sleeping bag compartment.
In each instance, the bag seems to fluff up instantly when removed from my pack. I have not noticed any measurable loss of loft.
Well, I think I've taken pretty good care of it so far, so I don't think I've pushed it too far in this regard. But it seems to be holding up well; there are no noticeable signs of wear. Except one. It leaks down. I didn't see any feathers during the Initial Report, but I have seen a lot during the Field Report. My tent's floor is black, and it is dusted with feathers after a trip. Same goes for the black clothes I wear to bed. Maybe the color exaggerates the situation, but it is my one concern about this bag.
At the risk of repeating myself, this is the best bag I've ever slept in. The comfort from being able to stretch my legs and arms out and being able to roll around with the bag have provided me with comfort I did not know was possible in a mummy bag. The drawstring around the neck is an integral part of this comfort, too. All in all, a great, innovative product that delivers on its promises.
Things I Like:
- Neck baffle and draw cord
- Stretch stitching
- Very compressible
- Extremely comfortable
Things I Don't Like:
- Leaks feathers
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I have used the Down Hugger six more nights during the long-term test.
Quinalt River / Enchanted Valley - Olympic National Park: 6/11 - 6/14
I spent three nights in the sleeping bag during my trek along the Quinalt River in the rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula. The weather was warm and pleasant, with some humidity but no precipitation. Temperatures at night did not fall below 45 F (7 C). Elevation was low along this coastal valley, topping out at around 2000 feet (610 meters).
St. Regis Lake - Lolo National Forest: 7/3 - 7/4
I spent one night in the Down Hugger on the shores of St. Regis Lake, near the Idaho / Montana border. This lake sits at 5500 feet (1670 meters). The weather was hot during the day and pleasant at night, dropping to about 40 F (4.4 C).
Spider Meadows / Spider Gap - Glacier Peak Wilderness: 7/10 - 7/12
Finally, I slept in the bag two more times while camped out in the meadows below Spider Gap. Camp was at the high end of the meadow at around 4800 feet (1460 meters). Once again, I lucked out with perfect weather. At night, temperatures hovered around 45 F (7 C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Down Hugger's performance during the Long-term Report has been consistent with my experience during the Field Report. It has been very warm and the most comfortable mummy bag I've ever used.
I've encountered some pretty warm temperatures during this test period, as noted above. Indeed, the Down Hugger #1 has been a bit too warm on some nights. Several times I have unzipped the bag and used it as more of a quilt than a bag, and it has been very comfortable in this configuration. But I was left feeling that I was carrying more bag than I needed. It was just too warm for summer nights that remained above 45 F (7 C).
|St. Regis Lake|
Comfort has remained a strong point. The stretch stitching is still as pliable as it was when new. The bag seems to be retaining its shape as well as its ability to stretch.
The zipper did catch once - but only once. That is still pretty impressive to me, considering the number of times it has been zipped/unzipped. I still haven't used the drawcord near the foot of the bag; I don't know why I would.
The bag still leaks a good amount of feathers. I certainly haven't noticed any loss of loft of warmth, but time after time, my tent floor and my clothing are littered with down. It will be interesting to see if this continued loss of down affects performance in the future. I will post an update to this report if I notice a decreased performance.
Overall, a great bag: warm, comfortable, compressible, and reasonably light. The most impressive thing for me is the comfort that results from the elastic stitching. This has changed the way I view mummy bags, and it is hard to imagine that I will buy a bag from any other manufacturer after sleeping in the Down Hugger.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Down Hugger.
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