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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > MontBell UL Super Stretch Hugger 2007 > Test Report by Curt Peterson
MontBell U.L. Super Stretch Down Hugger #1 Long
Report Series by Curt Peterson
Initial Report - April 2007
Field Report - June 2007
Long Term Report - August 2007
1)Tester Background and Contact Information
Name: Curt Peterson
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight: 270 lb (122 kg)
Email address: curt<at>boopants<dot>com
Location: North Bend, Washington, USA
I live in the Cascade foothills, just 20 mi (32 km) from the Pacific Crest Trail via trails leading right from my backyard. My outdoor time in Washington is spent dayhiking, backpacking, climbing, and skiing everywhere from the Olympic coast to rainforests to Cascade volcanoes to dry steppe. I played football in college and often evaluate products from a big guy perspective. My typical pack load ranges from 11 - 20 lbs (5 - 9 kg) and usually includes plenty of wet weather gear.
In my 15 years of serious backpacking I have had many tents, stoves, and packs that have worked for me. Little problems here, a little "wish that was different" there, but generally my experience has been that there are multiple options out there for my backpacking style, big size, and the conditions I go out in. This has not been my story with sleeping bags. I originally began with synthetic bags, but had nothing but negative experiences. Sleeping on the insulation inevitably crushed it beyond use and I slept cold. I finally converted to down and found it much better, much more durable, and able to retain its insulation value despite constant stuffing and crushing. Down was the way to go for me.
My next challenge was finding a bag that fit. Most bags out there range from 58-64 in (147-163 cm) at the shoulder. With these bags, I literally cannot even zip them up all the way – no matter how snug and uncomfortable I'm willing to be. The sleeping bag market definitely doesn't have the XXL crowd in mind when designing bags! This left me searching for any extra-wide bag I could find. I soon discovered that I could fit okay in the very few 68 in (173 cm) bags made, but that even at that width it was snug enough to compress the insulation and lose warmth. The sleeping bag market is essentially devoid of sleeping bags over 70 in (178 cm), especially ones in a mummy or semi-rectangular design made of materials targeted for backpacking use. I had high hopes for the wide specs on some of the no-bottom-insulation bags that came out a few years ago, but their width measurements ended up being a bit deceiving in real world use with a sleeping pad inserted. Back to square one.
I have patched together solutions for a very long time – essentially my entire backpacking career. I've never slept well – always needing bags rated colder than the real temperatures to compensate for compressed insulation due to poor fit or for dealing with partially opened zippers that couldn't quite make it to the top. Frustrating. This has been even more of a problem over the past 5 or 6 years as I've adopted a lightweight approach. Not only are there essentially no bags with big girths, but finding ones that incorporates the lightweight and high quality down and fabrics used by top notch manufacturers became a lost cause.
Then one a couple years ago I heard about MontBell. I looked at their specs and talked to them via phone to verify what they claimed was the girth on their long-sized bags – a whopping 75.6 in (192 cm)!! I would have done back flips for a 72 in (183) girth, and here was one with
even more! Moreover, it utilized box baffles – a technology I believe mitigates cold spots and keeps down from shifting better than any other construction method – and a patented elastic thread system that keeps the insulation against the user. It all sounded great, but I was skeptical that it actually existed as spec'd and unfortunately there were no dealers around to see one and try it out. I was eager to test the MontBell system more thoroughly to find out if it is indeed the magic bag it seemed to be.
The test sample MontBell bag arrived safe and sound in mid-April. Included were the bag, stuff sack, and cotton storage bag.
As someone that's been a gearhead for over 15 years, I can honestly say I've not seen many items that are this impressive at first glance. The bag has a high-quality look and feel to it that only a few bag manufacturers have managed to achieve. While performance and looks don't always go hand in hand, initially I have high hopes for this bag based on initial impressions. It is a feature-rich bag, including these highlights noted on the MontBell website:
The two most distinguishing features of the MontBell U.L. SS #1 are the use of the Super Stretch system and their multi-box construction of the down baffles. The Super Stretch system uses elastic thread on the horizontal lines of stitching (see picture below). This is unique to MontBell as they hold a worldwide patent on this construction method. The Super Stretch system claims that it will improve both comfort and thermal efficiency. The bag will be more comfortable because it will be less constricting and allow bending knees and elbows and general squirming to occur without over compressing the down as in a traditionally cut bag. The thermal efficiency is achieved by the elastic pulling the down close to the user to fill any voids that typically create colds spots. In my initial try of the bag I found the elastic to be very, very gentle. It does not feel tight at all, and the "squeeze" is so mild that it's actually difficult to detect unless I'm really trying to notice it. That said, it definitely works. The entire bag hugs my legs and torso filling any gaps created by lying curled up. The multi-box construction keeps the down in place. The two most common down baffle construction methods involve side blocking baffles which keep the down on top separate from the down on the bottom of the bag or long continuous baffles that allow users to shake down to the top or bottom of the bag to adjust warmth. I've found both of these ideas work better in theory than in practice. As a side sleeper and tosser and turner, I inevitably end up with less down on the very top (where my up shoulder is while I sleep on my side) because gravity takes over and the down settles. The multi-box construction creates boxes where the down is trapped essentially eliminating migration of the down. I'm very eager to see if this idea works as well as it claims.
There are other little details that make this a very nice bag as well. MontBell puts a drawcord at the top of the foot baffle. This allows the user to cinch it around their ankles to keep the feet cozy. Alternatively, it allows the user to tuck the bottom baffle up into the bag, cinch it, and therefore shorten the bag for shorter users and create an extra warm little pillow at the foot of the bag. In my initial exploration of the bag I found a useful function of this feature is as a stuff sack. The entire bag can be tucked into that baffle and cinched, eliminating the need for a stuff sack (see pictures below). I'd maybe hesitate to do this because it exposes the bag's ultralight fabric to whatever is jostling around inside my pack and I'd be a little worried about eliminating the additional water protection a stuff sack provides, but I will try it out during testing to see how it functions in real use. Another nifty feature is the tapered stuff sack that comes with the bag. The opening is wider than the bottom, theoretically providing easier stuffing.
Initially, there's a lot to like about this bag. I'm eager to get it out in the mountains to see how it performs!!
4) MontBell U.L. Super Stretch Down Hugger #1 Long Test Plan
I will test the MontBell SS#1 in the remaining spring months and on into summer here in the Northwest. I will undoubtedly use it in snowy conditions a bit as it lasts until July in the Cascades, but most use will be in sub-alpine areas of the Cascade Range. Typical trips range from 1500 feet (460 meters) on valley trails to over 12,000 feet (3650 meters) on Mount Adams if I can make a return trip there this spring. Temperatures will likely range from as low as 10 F (-12 C) to as high as the 90 F (32 C) during the day depending on how long testing goes.
One of the great things about the Pacific Northwest is that you can almost always find the weather you're looking for. If, for example, temperatures are mild on the low and mid elevation trails and I have yet to push the MontBell to its lowest ranges, I need only drive an extra hour or two, climb an extra few thousand feet, or shift to the other side of the range to find colder temperatures.
It will go on every trip with me - dayhikes, backpacking trips, and climbs. I'll obviously be sleeping in it on overnights, but will carry it on other trips to test for packability, stuffability, durability, and wear and tear.
I will test the bag in various conditions and report on performance for:
- Fit: Absolutely the top issue for me – more than temperature rating or anything else. As MontBell bags are essentially the ONLY lightweight backpacking-specific bags with a 72+ in (183+cm) girth, they potentially offer the best solution for big-guy backpackers seeking light bags.
- Warmth: How does my real world experience compare to the MontBell comfort range?
- Pad Compatibility: I will use and report on performance with a closed cell foam pad (RidgeRest), an inflatable air-only pad (Big Agnes Air Core), and an insulated air tube pad (InsulMat Max Thermo). I'm considering joining the hammock cult, so may try it out in one of those as well.
- Cool Comfort: At what temperatures does the SS #1 get too warm? Does it have an upper range?
- Ease of packing: How small and compact does it pack? Is the provided stuff sack appropriately sized?
- Stuffing: Is it easy to pack? This is closely tied to the stuff sack sizing, but can also be affected by slipperiness, puffiness, etc.
- Down leakage: Does it leak feathers and down? If so, is it minimal or is it excessive?
- Cold Spots: Are there cold spots that consistently affect comfort?
- Breathability: Does perspiration pass through the lining and into the down easily? Does it pass through the down and through the shell easily? I've always been amazed by the weight gain of down bags from a few nights in the woods as they absorb moisture. Has MontBell developed their fabrics to minimize this?
- Water Resistance: Does water – either as condensation or accidents bead up and roll off the bag or soak in?
- Open/Quilt Use: With a full-zip the SS #1 has the potential to act as a quilt. Is this use practical and comfortable?
- Sealed Up: How easily does the SS #1 seal up for very cold conditions? Does the neck baffle seal around my head snugly? Does the hood close tightly but still allow me to breathe and see?
- Zipper Snags: With such lightweight fabrics, zipper snags are a real concern. Is this a problem with the SS#1? Does MontBell utilize a stiffener of some sort to prevent or minimize snags?
- Durability: How well does the bag hold up to typical backpacking use? Very light fabrics are almost see-through and incredibly thin – is there a significant durability hit to achieve this lightness?
- Friendliness with liners: How well does the SS#1 accommodate liners? Do they snag and twist or slide effortlessly against the liner material?
- Friendliness with bulky clothes inside: Can I wear clothes inside the SS#1? Can I wear extra bulky clothes (like a down jacket) inside?
- Ease of use of features: How easy to use are the features of the SS#1? When it's dark and cold, is finding the drawcords quick and easy? Intuitive? Does the foot box snugger work as advertised?
All these questions – and those that emerge throughout testing – will be examined and reported on.
5) Initial Report Summary
The MontBell U.L. Super Stretch Down Hugger #1 is a very impressive bag. Unique features like the elastic stitching and boxed in down baffles offer a bag that stands out from most of the sleeping bag market. Add in the top quality materials and a size range that no other manufacturer offers and this has the potential to be a dream bag for squirmy sleepers, big backpackers, and chronic cold spot victims. I am very much looking forward to discovering whether or not this bag realizes its potential!
This concludes my Initial Report.
Field Report - June 2007
The MontBell Super Stretch Down Hugger #1 has been absolute pleasure to test so far. It's incredibly comfortable! It actually fits - better than any bag I've ever slept in. The stretch is loose enough that if I want to roll inside the bag it will stay put, yet clingy enough that if I want the whole thing to roll with me it will without twisting up and binding. I do often max the stretch out - particularly at the shoulders - and while this essentially eliminates the Hugger feature, it's still the roomiest bag I've ever been in. I am testing the long length, although it's not as long as most tall bags I've tried. MontBell states the length as 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) for the long. At 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) I'm right near the limit. My feet do press against the end when I'm fully stretched out, but it doesn't compress or feel confining. If I were any taller this would be a concern, but as it is it's pretty much perfect for my height.
The #1 has seen just about everything except very cold weather. I did use it once just a bit below freezing, but most use has been in temperatures ranging from the low 40s F to the mid 70s F (4-24 C). It's been in bright sun and heavy rain (always in a shelter of some sort). It was used near the Potholes Reservoir in Central Washington for a 2 day/1 night trip and near Easton, Washington near Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades for another 2 day/2 night trip. I also just used it on my first backcountry night in a hammock near Snoqualmie Pass on a backpacking trip. I estimate that I have used it about 6 days total at this point - half car camping and half backpacking.
I have not had it to its minimum rating yet. Hopefully I will be able to, but the bag shipped later than I'd hoped and much of the cold weather is gone. I will get it higher in altitude, which should help, but 15 degrees is pretty cold for high summer - even near the summit of the volcanoes. The test will go into September so cold temperatures may be easier to find near test's end. If I am not able to get down to 15 during the test period I will definitely update this report once I have.
I have experienced zero durability problems so far. The shell seems tough despite its incredible thinness (it's possible to actually see through it to the down - even in this orange color). Getting it caught it the zipper with a pretty hard pull didn't seem to phase it. The fabric is so thin that when it does get caught in the zipper it pulls out quite easily. The DWR beads up water very well. The down is as lofty as the day it arrived, despite at least half a dozen stuffings and being at the bottom of my pack under the rest of my load. I haven't experienced any feather leakage so far - a problem I have had with previous bags.
The toggles and drawcords work as expected. I haven't had a problem locating them or getting them to do what they're supposed to in the middle of the night. The zipper runs smooth and free with just the occasional snag as noted above. The full length zipper is very welcome and a big help when temperatures are warm and a little venting is needed. The draft collars are super cozy. I tend to lose most of my heat in colder temperatures from my neck and shoulders. The neck collar wraps around perfectly and creates a cushy, warm, and effective draft barrier.
As hammock campers know, the main weakness of hammocking is bottom insulation. With nothing but air below and insulation compressed under the weight of the person in the hammock, finding solutions to stay warm on the bottom is every hammocker's challenge. I have been using a particularly breathable hammock - more so even than uncoated nylon - so this is a special challenge for me. With the SS #1 I was able to simply use a couple pieces of closed cell blue foam and stayed super warm in temperatures right around 39 F (4 C). I had no insulation under my legs or feet and was not cold at all. I was fully in the bag - not using it as a quilt - and it was great. The full zipper was appreciated for ease of entry exit as well. Climbing into a big sock in a hammock requires gymnastics beyond my abilities.
Overall, the MontBell Super Stretch Down Hugger #1 is nearly the perfect big-guy cold weather bag I've been looking for. I hope I can push it to its bottom limits, but the bag is so comfortable and well-fitting that I would be tempted to use this as my all year bag despite the 15 F (-9 C) rating. It's very light for its rating, uses top notch materials throughout, shows incredible attention to detail, and so far has proved plenty durable despite the ultralight components that are used in it.
This concludes my Field Report. Please check back in late August for my Long Term Report.
Long Term Report - August 2007
It's hard to find anything I'm not impressed with in this bag. I tend to be a pretty picky gear consumer, and even with my favorite items I can find something I would like to be different. The MontBell Super Stretch Down Hugger #1 is as close to a perfect piece of gear as I've ever used. I try in every review I write to point out at least a couple things that could be improved on the item, but I honestly can't think of anything I would want different on this bag. The only thing that remains as a potential shortcoming is if the temperature rating is optimistic. I did not get it much below freezing during testing, but I will add to this report as soon as temperatures drop and I get a chance to.
I discussed in my Field Report, the fit is incredible. I never
had fit problems of any kind during the test period. I did
discover that it is an almost ideal hammock sleeping bag. I've
slept in it in a hammock at least a dozen times and the super generous
girth, full length zipper, and Super Stretch system combine to create a
fantastic hammock quilt. The foot box is built right in and the
rest of it drapes extremely well. I used it with nothing underneath
on the warmest nights and a thin closed cell foam pad on the cooler
nights and slept cozy warm in both scenarios. The bag was always
warm enough, which makes sense since I was using it a good 30 to 55
degrees F (17 to 31 C) above the rating. When it did get chilly
the bag snugged up cozy and tight and quickly became a furnace.
Fortunately, with the full length zipper it was always easy to
stick out an arm, a leg, or even half of my body to regulate
temperatures. Because of this versatility the bag doesn't really
have an upper limit in my opinion. For the northern half of the
U.S. it can easily serve as a summer bag - only the lure of lighter
options would cause me to leave it at home.
The bag breathes well enough that I can go to sleep with a damp shirt and it will be completely dry by morning. The moisture surely had to pass through the down, but it never seemed damp at all. Even with this great breathability the Super Stretch #1 retained down and feathers better than any down bag I've owned. They are using high quality down and a different shell material for 2007 and I can say that in my experience it is much better than the pre-2007 bags. I have picked up a Super Stretch #4 from 2005 or 2006 and it leaks down and feathers with every use. In the entire test period I'm not sure I found even 4 or 5 stray plumules with the #1. I never noticed any funky smells or stinky down and neither did my wife, who is sensitive to dust and mildew.
The bag packs easily enough. I did continue to stuff it in the foot box occasionally (see picture above) but it's definitely more bulky this way. The supplied stuff sack is nice and compact. I'm not sure the conical design made stuffing any simpler, but it certainly didn't make it worse. I also think the double drawcord on the stuff sack is overkill. The lower one could be removed and it would work just fine - stuffing it into just the lower part is a bit of a challenge anyway and the same thing can be accomplished for me by stuffing it in my pack sideways.
I didn't have problems with any sleep surfaces. I used it on a Big Agnes 3/4 Air Core sleeping pad in a tent, a Pacific Outdoors InsulMat Max Thermo air mattress in a tent, a blue foam pad in a hammock, a RidgeRest in a hammock, and with nothing in a hammock. It wasn't excessively slippery or grippy on any of them.
The MontBell Super Stretch Down Hugger #1 has proved to be a very impressive sleeping bag. The fit is amazing, it's tough yet very light, packs away very small for such a warm bag, and works with anything I slept on top of. Without a doubt this is the nicest bag I've used in my 15+ years of backpacking. I've owned bags by most of the major manufacturers at one point or another and this is certainly among the cream of the crop in my opinion.
Final Test Thoughts
There are certain brands I respect and like in my gear kit, but so far nothing has been designed or performed so well that it changes the way I look at an entire product category. That has changed with this bag. The way this bag is constructed and sized makes it hard for me to imagine using anything else. I love the fit. The stretch is a feature I have trouble imaging going without at this point. The box baffling makes so much sense to me after using it that I'm not sure I'll ever buy a bag without it. The collars, draft tubes, and zipper all work as advertised. My only complaint with this bag is that now it makes me want a Super Stretch #2 and possibly a Super Stretch #7!!
This concludes my Test Series. I will add an update after getting a few nights in the bag at or below the temperature rating, but that will likely have to wait until mid-winter. A huge thank you to BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Super Stretch #1 and an extra big thanks to MontBell. You have made a customer for life!
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