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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > MontBell SS Down Hugger 1 > Test Report by Ray Estrella

MontBell SS Downhugger #1
Test Series by Raymond Estrella
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - March 06, 2009
FIELD REPORT - May 12, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - July 07, 2009

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 48
LOCATION: Orange County, California, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, and in many of the western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I have made a move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my wife Jenn or brother-in-law Dave.


INITIAL REPORT

The Product

Manufacturer: MontBell Co
Web site: www.montbell.us
Product: SS Downhugger #1
Size: Long
Rating: 15 F (-9 C)
Year manufactured: 2008/9
MSRP: $ 275.00 (US)
Weight listed: 3 lb 2 oz (1.42 kg)
Actual weight 3 lb 1 oz (1.39 kg)
Insulation type: 650 fill power goose down.
Fill weight: Fill Weight: 1 lb 8 oz (0.68 kg)
Color: Orange
Stuffed size listed: 7.6 x 15 in (19 x 38 cm)
Actual measured: 7 x 15 in (18 x 38 cm)

Rays Giant Carrot

Product Description

The MontBell SS Downhugger #1 (hereafter referred to as the Downhugger, or the bag) is a mummy style down filled sleeping bag. The entire outer shell is orange. I am going to call it Ray's Giant Carrot. (James can keep his giant peach…)

The Downhugger gets the "SS" prefix in its name from MontBell's patented Super Stretch System which they claim "provides a night's sleep unlike any other. Durable elastic stitching in the baffles of the sleeping bag provide unmatched freedom of movement while simultaneously drawing the insulation closer to your body minimizing dead space to be heated throughout the night."

I would like to address this for a moment. I am a toss-and-turn, side-sleeper that needs a pillow and flails his arms about in the night. I have always brought a bag rated to a lower temperature than what I expect to experience because this type of sleep style negates much of the warmth in a bag as they are mainly designed to be slept in on my back. This allows the hood to be closed around my face. It lets the chest area receive the lion's share of the down insulation, indeed the entire top gets more than the bottom on many light weight bags of mine as they expect an insulated pad to be down there.

Now when I flip over on my side my face is buried in the hood, and my hips and shoulders are now making tight spots in the bag as my body is more vertical than horizontal. Or, if I roll the entire bag with me I expose the thinner bottom to the cold. (Hmm, the bags bottom. Mine is not as thin as it once was…)

So I was very excited to see this test called and said that I would address exactly what MontBell says it should do should I be chosen. Well lucky me (and you dear readers) because here I am!

The outer shell is made of "40-denier Multi-Filament Rip-Stop Full Dull Nylon". It has been given a standard DWR treatment. The fabric is fairly soft and is quite wrinkly looking due to the stretch properties no doubt. The inner lining appears to be made from a gray taffeta nylon

Centered on the top, just under the opening, the MontBell logo has been applied to the shell. On the top of the foot box another appliqué touts the Super Stretch System, and a last one above the zipper around elbow level has the bag name. To either side of the foot box is a grey hang-loop. Inside the bag at the bottom of the zipper are two small consumer tags, one with fill type, materials, and "Made in China". The second, smaller hang tag has care instructions.

The bag has a 2-way, orange nylon YKK zipper running to within 18 in (46 cm) of the end of the bag. It sits about mid-point on the bag from the bottom to just shy of shoulder level, then the zipper climbs and curves in to its ending point at the side of the hood. The zipper is placed on the right side of the bag on my model. They say that it is an "Auto Locking Zipper: a locking mechanism has been integrated to limit zipper slip during the night".

Carrot exposed


Backing the zipper inside of the bag is not one, but two nice 2 in (5 cm) down filled draft tubes to help ensure that the cold is kept at bay. Both are reinforced with some stiff nylon to act as a zipper guard to keep the inner liner from getting stuck in the zipper during use. Playing with it while writing this, it seems to work very well. About a dozen runs with the zipper with no snags.

The Downhugger is made with 6 in (15 cm) wide baffles running horizontally across the bag. The baffles are off set at an angle. MontBell calls the baffled construction "Multi-Box Construction: engineered to maximize the warmth of the insulating material. Partitions have been created inside each baffle to more effectively distribute the down and limit migration." So to me this says that there are baffles inside the baffles. I am baffled… As I do not want to take it apart I shall take their word on it.
Compressed carrot
Inside of the bag at shoulder level, is a fat orange 3 in (7.5 cm) diameter insulated draft collar. It has a drawstring and cord lock on the left side of the bag, away from the zipper. It also has a hook-and-loop attachment to keep it together when the zipper is open.

They call the hood a Tunnel Hood because of the very small face hole it has once it has been cinched down tight. This cinching happens by way of the drawstring that runs around the opening and is held by a cord-lock on the left side of the opening.

Another drawstring has been added to the top of the lowest baffle above the footbox. MontBell calls this a Foot Adjuster. They say it "allows the user increased adjustability", but for what I am not sure. I will play with it and see if I can figure out its use.

A 1.5 oz (43 g) orange nylon compression sack was provided. The sack has two levels of compression made possible by the use of two drawstrings, one at the end of the sack and one 5 in (12.7 cm) lower. It also came with the cotton storage bag seen below.

Stored carrot


I am very excited to try this bag out to see if it works better for my sleeping style. And that I shall do over the next two months. As this is it for my Initial Report I invite you to come back in May to see how my Giant Carrot, I mean the Downhugger fares.


FIELD REPORT

Field Conditions

Jenn and I went to Agua Bonita Spring in the Santa Rosa Mountains. This was a very hot hike that dropped from high desert to low desert. Highs of 75 F and got down to 33 F at night (24 to 1 C). I carried a 32 lb (14.5 kg) pack. We went 21 miles (34 km) with 2950 ft (899 m) of gain and loss.

I used it on an overnight snow camping trip in Minnesota. I stayed in a clearing near the river bottom by the Red River outside of Moorhead. It got down to 12 F (-11 C) and the humidity averaged 64%.

The following weekend I drove up to Lake Bronson Minnesota, near the Canadian border. The low was 33 F (1 C).

Next I used it on an easy overnighter in the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes. I stayed at 4000 ft (1219 m) elevation. The low temp was 26 F (-3 C).

Then I used it in a non-breathable single-wall Nemo Nano Elite tent on private property in Moorhead Minnesota in flood conditions with a storm coming in. The temps only made it down to 38 F (3 C) but the humidity was at 74 %.

And lastly (that I am going to list) was a two-night backpacking trip in San Jacinto State Park, both nights spent at Strawberry Junction at 8040 ft (2451 m) elevation. The lows were 28 F the first night and 25 F the next (-2 and -4 C).

In Copper Spur 3

Observations

Wow! That is all I can say. Wow. There, I said it again.

I am blown away by this bag. It is living up to the description from MontBell, and my hopes and expectations.

This may be one of the most comfortable carrots, I mean sleeping bags, I have ever crawled into. The first trip I took it on only made it to freezing so the bag was much warmer than I needed. I opened the zipper from the bottom about 12 in (30 cm) and pulled the top zip down about 18 in (46 cm). I did not put my head inside the hood, instead spreading it over my Comfort UL pillow. This let me stay at a comfortable temperature.

On the trip near Lake Hughes I started the night out with the zipper open and closed it up in the early morning hours where it was perfect at 26 F (-3 C).

What was best was the way the bag stretched with me as I flipped over from one side to my other during the night. As I like to bend my legs a bit, the bag allowed me to do so without making tight spots like all my other bags do.

In String Ridge 2


But it even worked for me better on the trip in Minnesota, where the shot above is from. This was much colder. I kept my head in the hood and turned the entire bag with me. I did get a little cold but it was a little below the bags rated temperature and I sleep cold anyway. Where I normally sleep in a pair of liner socks, I put some heavy socks on along with medium weight long underwear top and bottoms. Part of the cold could have been because of my pad as I used the Comfort UL 180 pad with a short Z-Rest pad under it to both help insulate and cushion. This combination is not as warm as the Exped Downmat 9 that I would normally be using in these conditions.

It is pretty dry in Minnesota in the winter so I had no problem with the bag gathering condensation. It probably helped that I was in a 4-season tent with just the body set up, no fly. This let everything breathe very well.

Eight days after the trip just mentioned everything changed. The weather warmed up and the snow started melting. I went up to Lake Bronson hoping for some cold conditions but found a soggy mess with a foot (30 cm) of wet slushy snow. The campground was not plowed as nobody but crazy people like me use it in winter I guess. (I got stuck and had to dig myself out once trying to get around in the campground.) Rather than hassle with clearing a sloppy space for my tent I decided to do an old trick from my youth and just sleep on top of a picnic table. (It is great as long as the bugs are not out.) This time I did not wear anything in the bag but my boxer-briefs as it was pretty warm. I slept great until around 1:30 AM when I woke up sweating hard. I had the bag completely zipped up and over-heated in the night. I had to use my Packtowl to wipe the bag and myself off. Now I was freezing and had to put my shirt on to get back in the dampish Downhugger, which I kept unzipped for the rest of the night. The wind came up a few hours later prompting me to get up and head back south for home.

Three weeks later I was back on the saturated ground of northern Minnesota putting a single-wall tent through a moisture-laden condensation torture test. As the temps did not get near the Downhuggers rating I used it as a comforter. I stuck my feet into the foot box and flipped the bag 90 degrees allowing it to spread out over me. It was about 43 F (6 C) when I went to bed and I got too warm immediately. I had to pull my feet out of the foot box. In the early morning hours it got cold enough to put my feet back inside but I never did need to actually get inside the bag.

The next morning I had only the slightest condensation on the walls of the tent. But for some reason there was a bit on the floor of it. The Downhugger felt somewhat damp on the surface but it did not go through the shell. There was no clumping of the down and the shell dried quickly when I brought it back home.

At Strawberry Junction I was in the Nemo Nano Elite again and picked up a bit of condensation the first night, but got a massive amount the second. The Downhugger was getting very wet around my face from my breath. As the tent is too short for me I was hitting the wet walls of it with both ends of my bag. The moisture never soaked into the bag. To combat the condensation I ended up opening the door completely and as such had what little breeze came up in the early morning hours blow directly on the bag. Even at 24 F (-4 C) I stayed warm in the Downhugger. Here is a picture of it on that trip.

In Nemo Nano Elite


If there is any complaints I have about the Downhugger it would be the size packed and the weight. It is 50% larger than my regular bag of this temperature rating when stuffed in the factory stuff sacks, and the regular bag will get much smaller in a compression sack. The Downhugger does not benefit much from a compression sack. The Downhugger is 48 % heavier than my regular bag also. (To the Downhugger's credit I have never been able to take that bag to an actual 20 F/-7 C.)

But the extra weight and volume is because of the use of 650 fill down. And as this bag is offered in a UL model that uses 800 fill both these issues can be addressed, at a price of course.

The Downhugger is much more comfortable than that regular bag though. Enough so that I do not mind carrying the extra weight and volume. And carry it I shall for the next two months of testing. (This concludes the Feild Report phase, the following is the conclusion of the test.)


LONG-TERM REPORT

Field Conditions

First it went on an over-nighter in the San Gorgonio Wilderness by way of the Momyer Creek Trail. Forecast was rain turning to snow. We set up camp at Saxton at 8400 ft (2560 m) elevation. Temps ranged from 39 F to 55 F (4 to 13 C). It is getting too warm for the bag.

I used it on a four-day trip to the Hetch Hetchy region of Yosemite National Park. The coldest it got was 35 F (2 C) and the elevations ranged from 3800 to 8400 ft (1160 to 2560 m).

For the last trip with it I went back to San Gorgonio Wilderness to do some bushwhacking to find an old unmaintained trail. I spent the night at Limber Pine Bench. It was much warmer this time. The temps were between 42 F and 67 F (6 to 19 C). I went about 18 mi (29 km) over every kind of terrain from rock to deep pine and oak duff.

Observations

I have not been able to take advantage of the stretch capability of my Giant carrot, I mean the Downhugger, as the temps have been too warm to warrant getting inside the bag. But I have used it as a comforter, placing my feet inside the foot-box and letting the bag spread over me quite often. This works well, and once it gets cool enough to climb in the bag I just flip it around 90 degrees. I do not think I have pulled the zipper up though in the past two months.

While at the backpacker's campground in Hetch Hetchy I spent a very wet night inside a Nemo Nano Elite tent that became a condensation collection device for the night. The Downhugger got wet at the foot and hood from hitting the tent and there was some moisture in the shell too. I spread it on some rocks, as seen below, where it dried quickly.

How to dry carrots


I have seen nothing to make me think that the bag is not durable. There are no loose threads, no blowing-out seams, and down loss (stray feathers) have been of the lowest count I have seen in my bags in a long time.

I did have to launder the bag. During the Field Report phase I had sweated in it pretty hard and did to some degree every trip during the past two months also as this bag is very true to its rating, and therefore too warm for the places I was. Kudos to MontBell for the accurate rating!

I love this bag. It has changed the way I look at sleeping bags and their ratings. I have always been forced to go warmer (lower temperature rating) as my sleeping style does not let me take advantage of most bags. But I am not going to keep Ray's Giant Carrot. (Not even to eat it or live in it like James did with his peach.)

Like I mentioned in the Field Report I am going to get one of MontBell's UL bags. If the combination of this bag's comfort works the way I hope with the lighter weight of the UL's higher power fill and lighter fabrics I may just find my perfect bag. I promise to report about it here so stay tuned for a review down the trail. In the meantime let me whole-heartedly thank MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for letting me discover and test the Downhugger bag.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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