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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > MontBell UL Alpine Burrow Bag > Test Report by Rick Allnutt

 MontBell Burrow Bag #3
Ultralight Alpine Burrow Bag

Test Series by Rick Allnutt

Initial Report - August 21, 2007

Field Report - October 17, 2007

Long Term Report - January 8, 2008

Montbell Burrow Bag #3 on a natural sleeping pad

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Rick Allnutt
EMAIL: rick@backpackgeartest.org
AGE: 54
LOCATION: Helotes, Texas
GENDER: male
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 183 lb (83.00 kg)

Over the last several years, I have become an ultralight camper with a three-season base pack weight of about 8 lb (3.5 kg) and skin out weight of 17 lb (8 kg). I have completed many section hikes on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in all four seasons, and many trips to state parks, with a total mileage of about 1360 miles (2200 km). I am a gearhead, a hammock or tarp camper, and I make much of my own equipment. 

Trail Name: Risk

Risk's Ultralite Hiking Page: www.imrisk.com


INITIAL REPORT
August 21, 2007

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: MontBell America, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.com
MSRP:  US$194
Listed Weight: 2 lb 2 oz (0.96 kg)
Measured Weight including stuff sack: 2 lb 3.2 oz  (1.01 kg)
Listed Length: Max User height 76 in (193 cm)
Measured Length: 82 in (208 cm)
Listed shoulder Girth: 57.8 - 64.2 in (147 - 163 cm)
Measured Width at Shoulder: 28 in (71 cm)
Measured Width at Feet: 17 in (43 cm)
Measured full thickness bag loft: 3 in (7.6 cm)

Zipper constructionINITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The #3 Burrow Bag is a synthetic bag rated to 30 F (-1 C). The insulation is EXCELOFT and the shell is a 15 denier nylon with water repellent treatment.

I find the bag fits my height with no problem, and the width of the bag is just about right too. The construction of the bag has no flaws, pulls, or cosmetic defects. 

The upper surface of the bag is made from teal colored nylon and the lower surface is gray. The inside is also gray. 

The zipper extends nearly to the foot box, and this allows for easy use as a quilt for hammock camping. I intend for part of my testing to be in a hammock. But the mummy construction is equally well adapted to use as a sleeping bag with the zipper pulled fully up and the draw cord pulled around my face (as in the photo at the beginning of the report.)

There is a draft tube covering the zipper which does a good job of covering the zipper when I am in the bag. As can be seen in the photo to the right, there is a miracle strip of material along the zipper which is thicker and stiffer than the rest of the bag covering. This design effectively keeps the zipper from jamming on the material of the bag, a problem I have had with every other sleeping bag I can remember. I will be testing this continually, and if I can routinely get the bag open in the dark without jamming the material, I will be a much happier camper than I have been in the past. I hate jamming a zipper and then trying to get it unjammed by touch without either turning on a light or tearing the fabric. 

When I got in the bag naked, bare skin against the inside of the bag, I became aware that the inner seams of the baffles have an elastic component which encloses me like a cocoon - or maybe as snug as a rabbit in its burrow. The inner surface of the bag is close to me while the outer surface is not pulled close. This produces the minimal air volume inside the bag for my body to heat and the maximum insulation possible with a medium-thin layer of insulation. MontBell calls this the "Gathered Quilt System"

There is no shoulder or neck baffle. The primary drawstring is around the edge of the hood, not around the neck as stated in the technical features section of the MontBell website. This is easy to adjust from inside the bag, though I used two hands to do so. There is also a drawstring at the top of the last baffle in the foot box. This can be used to effectively reduce the length of the bag for shorter users.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

There is a single hang tag on the stuff sack which identifies the bag type. The stuff sack is a dual draw cord compression sack. With the bag in the sack, I measured the bundle as it will be stuffed into my pack at 14 in (36 cm) long and 7 in (18 cm) diameter.  

The stuff sack has the following instructions:

Care Instructions:

Routine care will extend the life of this item
After extended use, careful washing will restore its best insulating properties
Do not dry clean

How to Wash:

Although this is a bulky item, it is made from non-absorbent materials.
It will dry quickly. Please handle it gently.
Before washing, repair any tears in the fabric. Close all zips. Gently sponge badly soiled areas using a neutral detergent.
We recommend hand-washing in warm water.
Thoroughly rinse to remove all detergent. Do not wring. 
Dry flat out of direct sunlight. 

Storage:

Do not store this item for long periods in the small sized stuff bag you bought it in.
After completely drying it, store it in an aired place out of direct sunlight.
A special larger sized stuff bag is available for storage purposes.

Made in China.

SUMMARY

Things I like: The zipper is wonderful. Really. The workmanship is super. The bag is promoted to be easily washed after an extended trip. 


FIELD REPORT
October 17, 2007

Camping at Lost Maples, TexasFIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

August 25 - Hill Country State Natural Area, Bandera, Texas.  Altitude about 1000 ft (300 m). The afternoon began at 97 F (36 C) and dropped to 78 F (26 C). It was a humid night with a midnight shower. The following day was cloudy and the temperature rose to 95 F (35 C). The bugs were incredibly bad with billions and billions of mosquitoes singing me to sleep all night. I walked 2 mi (3 km) to the camp site and 6 mi (10 km) the following day.

September 15 - Hill Country State Natural Area, Bandera, Texas.  Altitude about 1000 ft (300 m). The sunny afternoon began at 96 F (35 C) and dropped to 74 F (23 C). The night began clear with a bright moon. Later, after the moon set, the stars disappeared behind a layer of high cloud. The next day was partly cloudy and the temperature rose to 95 F (35 C). The bugs were again bad though not quite as bad as the previous month. This was the height of fire ant season, and I was stung several times, including one memorable incident in the middle of the night when I made a nature call in my bare feet. For this trip, I carried my pack while mountain biking to the campsite, just about croaking in the heat.  The next day, I explored most of the trails in the park on the bike.   

October 13 - Lost Maples State Natural Area, Vanderpool, Texas. Altitude from 1800 - 2200 ft (550 - 670 m). For my one mi (2 km) walk to the camp site, the temperature was 85 F (29 C). The night was super clear and moonless. The temperature dropped to 65 F (18 C) and there was a bit of a breeze flapping the tent around beginning in the wee hours of the night. I carried my pack for 12 mi (20 km) of backpacking the next day.  

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

First, the MontBell zipper is every bit as nice as I had hoped. I remember many a night in OTHER sleeping bags trying to patiently get the zipper to open in the dark. Those other bags caused an all too frequent and ominous tactile sensation when the zipper moved up a little and got caught. Then the follow-up frustration of moving it down just a little and getting it caught again. 

I'd think, "Patience, Patience!  I know I can get this thing undone before my bladder bursts." 

What a difference with the MontBell zipper!  On the Alpine Burrow, the bag zipper has never gotten caught in the middle of the night.  I have never needed my light to figure out what is stuck in the zipper and how to free it. I have been able to step out of the tent with my night vision still intact and enjoy the stars.  This zipper is a dream.

How comfortable is the bag? On my first trip, I had a hard time covering up with the bag until the early morning hours. A "thirty degree" bag is a bit of overkill when the evening temperature is above room temperature. For this trip, the bag's main use for most of the dark hours was bedding to lay on - while I was lying naked in the tent with nothing on top of me. But even in that August night, the temperature finally fell enough so that getting in the sleeping bag was comfortable for the pre-dawn hours.  Between the rain and my sweating that night, there was a lot of condensation inside my tarp tent. The foot end of the bag sometimes came into contact with the tent wall and the durable water resistant (DWR) treatment of the cloth kept the water from soaking through the bag.  

For the second trip, I became quite overheated carrying my pack on a mountain bike in the hot evening. The bugs were bad again and I had to retreat to the tent early. Bedding down for 12 hours on my back, it was good to feel the soft cloth of the bag against my back.  I read for a while and then slept on and off.  It got cool enough about the time that the moon set in the middle of the night to snuggle into the bag. The advantage of a synthetic bag when used in warm conditions is found after having sweated quite a bit.  The bag's insulation does not compress into a wet mat of clumped down.

The third trip was a cooler night, though still summer weather by my Ohio standards. The clear sky over my head (in the field pictured above) resulted in lots of condensation on the inside surface of the the silnylon tent despite the dry air. During the middle of the night, moderate gusts of wind came from all quarters and alternately billowed and collapsed the tent.  Each time the tent went through one of these cycles, the tent fabric shook off considerable condensation.  It was dry outside, but sprinkling in the tent. The Alpine Burrow's DWR fabric shed this "indoor rain" and it kept me warm and dry all night. At noon the next day, I took the sleeping bag out in the sun and the outside layer quickly dried to a bone while I ate my lunch.  There was no collection of condensation inside the DWR material that I could detect.

After these hot nights, I washed the bag according to the tag instructions.  As a last step, I put the bag into my dryer on spin cycle to centrifuge most of the water out. The insulation was moist, but had normal loft. It was a night at my home in Helotes, Texas when the temperature was already down to about 65 F (18 C).  I have never gotten my sleeping bag really wet while hiking, but I do find it useful to experiment with conditions that could happen. So I took the bag out under the stars while it was still wet and slept a couple hours in the damp bag with no clothes between me and it. It was comfortably warm sleeping on a foam pad on the tile porch. During the hours of sleep, the top of the bag dried to a considerable extent.  The bottom surface of the bag was visibly wet when I came into the house to finish the night's sleep. I was not chilled at all and had been sleeping well. I draped the bag over my couch inside and by the time I woke in the morning, the whole bag was dry.

WHAT I REALLY LIKE

The bag is very light.

It is easy to wash.

The UL Alpine Burrow is warm even when wet.

The outer shell material sheds water.

The zipper is first rate.



LONG TERM REPORT
January 8, 2007

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

November 16 - Government Canyon State Natural Area, Helotes, Texas. Altitude about 1000 ft (300 m). The afternoon temperatures started about 80 F (27 C) and dropped to 50 F (10 C). The night began clear and windy.  The temperature dropped after the sun went down under the clear sky. About the time that I retired into my hammock, clouds were moving in. During the night, the temperature rose as did the humidity. It sprinkled on and off for the second half of the night.   

December 15 - Government Canyon State Natural Area, Helotes, Texas. The daytime temperature was about 70 F (21 C) and the temperature dropped only to about 60 F (16 C). There was a dry breeze blowing all night and no condensation in my tent. This was an uneventful warm night out.

December 22 - The temperature dropped to 30 F (-1 C) which is the temperature rating of the sleeping bag. I took the opportunity to sleep under the stars in my backyard.  Though I did not backpack into the wilds for this, I was able to test the insulation of the bag. 

December 27 - The temperature dropped to 32 F (0 C) and I again took the opportunity to sleep outside under a clear sky in my backyard. No wind, just a few pretty meteors. 

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Finally I was able to spend a few nights outside at the limits of the temperature range for this sleeping bag. In the dry conditions I was able to sleep without difficulty in a pair of undershorts and a tee shirt. I also wore my trusty fleece balaclava.  My experience would suggest that I would have been even warmer under a tarp or in my tent. I was really impressed at the ability of the bag to keep me warm under a clear black sky. 

The sleeping bag shows no frays or other problems from the last four months of use. I have become accustomed to the feeling of the inner baffles snugging against me and eliminating dead air space between the bag and my body. The sleeping bag washed well and has not accumulated any unwanted odors. The zipper remains foolproof. The hood is easy to adjust. The bag even kept me warm when it was still wet from washing.

What a great bag!  I have been more than satisfied with all the features and the performance of this sleep system. I believe the temperature rating of this sleeping bag is very conservative at the 30 F (-1 C) level and would feel comfortable carrying it into the woods for use in a hammock with temperatures expected to go as low as 20 F (-7 C).  

This sleeping bag has earned a long term place in my spring, winter, and fall pack. 

My thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for arranging this test.




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