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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > Selkbag 4G Lite Sleepwear > Test Report by Derek Hansen
Photo courtesy selkbagusa.com
Selk'Bag — 4G Lite Sleepwear
Test Series by Derek Hansen
4 Oct 2011
The Selk'Bag 4G Lite Sleepwear is a "coverall" full-body sleeping "suit" -- a wearable sleeping bag with arms and legs allowing the user to walk about and have full articulation of hands, arms, and legs. Selk'Bag USA recommends the Selk'Bag for "those who are uncomfortable in traditional mummy or rectangular sleeping bags."
The 4G Lite version is a new Selk'Bag model that is more lightweight than previous models by removing the leg ventilation zippers and other accessories. The 4G also has less insulation, making this a two-season bag with an EN13537 comfort rating of 45°F (7°C).
The main entrance to the 4G is through a front access panel that has two zippers. The left zipper opens from the neck to the armpit. The right zipper opens from the neck to just past the hip. The right zipper has two pulls so the bottom can be opened for hip access or ventilation. At the neck area, the two zippers pulls can be covered with an extra fabric tab that attaches with hook-and-loop fasteners.
The two arms have slits near the ends by the hands. The slits are 4.5 in (11.4 cm) wide and close with a hook-and-loop closure. There are hand covers that can be pulled out of the way and secured with hook-and-loop fasteners when the hands are slipped through the hand slits.
The two legs gradually widen down to where the feet attach, giving the bottom section a "Gumby" appearance. The bottom of the feet are reinforced with heavy nylon and include two lateral strips of gripping fabric for traction.
The 4G has sewn baffles and the material throughout is a polyester fabric.
There are draft collars running the length of the chest zippers, around the neck, and the shoulders.
The bag has an integrated hood with two draw strings on the right and left sides to cinch the hood closed. The draw strings are made of shock cord and have cord locks that are sewn to the hood. Stopper beads have been strung onto each shock cord.
The insulation seems to have a uniform thickness of about 1 in (1.5 cm).
I was eager to test the Selk'Bag because I thought it would be a perfect fit for hammock camping, my favorite backpacking sleep shelter. I was pleased to find that even Selk'Bag USA recommends the bag for hammocks (among other uses). The reason a wearable sleeping bag works so well in a hammock is that it is difficult to wiggle into a regular sleeping bag while in a hammock. By wearing the sleeping bag, I can maneuver all I want and never worry.
The Selk'Bag reminds me of coveralls with an added hood, hand, and foot pockets.
Getting into the Selk'Bag is easy. The front entry panel unzips so I can slip on the suit like putting on a pair of pants. The hand slits are perfectly situated so when I pull the sleeves on my hands can push through the slits. With my hands uncovered, I can easily zip up the front panel. If I don't zip up the longer right zipper all the way to the top, the zipper slowly falls down and the Selk'Bag slips off my shoulders as I move around. This process was sped up when I took some photos of the bag and me on the trampoline; jumping up and down unzipped the bag quickly!
I like the hook-and-loop straps that can pull the hand "pockets" out of the way when my hands are exposed.
The outer material on the Selk'Bag feels more like a winter jacket than a sleeping bag. The material is more coarse and heavy than most sleeping bags I've used. I'm guessing this is because the bag is meant to be mobile to protect against snags and punctures.
The insulation is noticeably thin. When I bend or kneel, I easily compress the insulation around my upper thigh and knee cap so the insulation is negligible.
One thing I noticed right away when I first got in the bag was that the left foot had a problem. The bag measures much larger than my feet, but when my left foot was inside, the outer front and back sides of the foot material "puckered" inward. After investigating, it looked and felt like there were a few stitches that were clipping the foot too tightly. I tried pushing my foot into the end of the foot pocket and I heard a distinct "pop" sound that must have snapped some threads. While perhaps not the best method, the left foot pocket is now as roomy as the right foot pocket. I saw no damage from my actions so far.
The fit has some other issues. According to the website, my height (70 in/178 cm) is the maximum height recommended for the large size. When I get into the bag, the torso seems just about right, but the legs are about 2 in (5 cm) longer than they need to be. The inseam snugs my crotch.
Another issue I found the the Selk'Bag was with the hood. The hood has two draw cords on either side of the hood. The draw cord is made with elastic shock cord and has stopper beads threaded over the string. The cord locks have been sewn onto the hood. The issue is that I cannot get the hood to fully close. The shock cord on the left side doesn't work. I cannot pull the shock cord at all. It's like a placebo. The right shock cord does all the work, but the shock cord, with its elastic nature, makes the effort frustrating. I have to pull twice as hard and then gather the fabric around to make any effect. Also, the channel where the cord is threaded is about an inch (2.5 cm) in from the edge, so there is a flappy edge all the way around that doesn't gather up.
While there are draft tubes around the back and sides of the neck and along the zipper, there is no draft tube on the chest panel in front, leaving a gap between my neck and the front of the bag.
When I walk about the house, the feet pockets are a bit floppy and I tend to walk on the less durable upper fabric. To walk effectively, I have to grab the legs and pull them up so I walk firmly on the base of the feet. In this way, I can walk easily without dragging the material around on the ground.
Sitting on the floor with crossed legs exposes the other fit issue. Since the torso is at its maximum on me, when I sit and bend the hood pulls down my back, exposing my head.
Over the past few days I've slept indoors with the Selk'Bag four (4) times in my hammock. Getting situated in my hammock has been easy, just as expected, and getting comfortable no matter how I moved about was a joy. I love how this bag moves with me so far. I was also pleased that I was warm and comfortable. I was a little worried about the psychological effect of having a full body suit instead of a regular sleeping bag. So far, this hasn't been an issue. The temperatures inside have been in the mid 60s °F (teens °C) and I noticed I didn't need any extra insulation underneath me to stay warm.
The Selk'Bag is fun. It reminds me of a grown-up "onesie" for kids. My initial tests around the house have garnered a lot of strange comments from my family ranging from "Gumby" to "space suit." I like to refer to the Selk'Bag as my "super suit" -- we'll see what sticks.
I'm disappointed with the hood already, primarily the draw cord that doesn't work and the shock cord that makes it difficult to get a good seal around my head.
The fit is also not perfect. Body types differ with torso and inseam size so a one-size-fits most approach is a challenge. When I looked at coveralls, they offer multiple inseam options, like pants, to offer the best fit. Overall, the large size fits me pretty good with only minor issues I can deal with, but I will need to be careful with the longer legs and large foot pockets.
PRO—Fun design and concept. Great mobility. Easy entry and quick access to hands
CON—Hood shock cord is difficult to pull and has some construction issues. Feet boxes are floppy when walking.
2 Jan 2012
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I've taken the Selk'Bag on four backpacking trips and 6 uses. I've also used the bag during multiple indoor "cabin" overnights for more than 12 uses.
Oct 7-8: Foothills near Mount Elden, Flagstaff, Arizona. I took my daughter on a short backpacking trip in the national forest in Flagstaff. We found an ideal spot on the north slope of a small cinder mountain, just below 7,000 ft (2,134 m). The weather was cool, around 35°F (2°C) and dry.
Nov 4: Old Caves Crater, Flagstaff, Arizona. A backpacking trip cut short due to an unexpected rain storm with intense lightning and wind. The temperature was just above freezing and I had to abandon my overnight plans. Thankfully I was only a few miles from the trailhead.
Nov 10-12: Upper Pumphouse Wash, near Sedona, Arizona. I took a three-day trip into the Upper Pumphouse Wash in Northern Arizona where temperatures got down to 15°F (-10°C) with scattered snow conditions.
Dec 16-17 ~ Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, Arizona. I took my Boy Scout troop out for a winter camp in the forest. We had about a foot of snow so we snowshoed in to our camp area. Elevation was around 6,900 ft (2,103 m) and overnight temperatures around 12°F (-11°C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The temperatures in Flagstaff dropped quickly in the fall and I was faced with cold winter conditions throughout the remainder of the calendar year. So, while I was able to use the Selk'Bag multiple times, it wasn't in ideal conditions for the temperature rating of the bag.
The cool temperatures didn't hold me back from using the bag and I was grateful to have it as it added warmth to my sleep system, which included a hammock on all of the backpacking trips.
DRESSING UP IN THE BAG
My typical camping system includes a hammock. I love that I can keep all my gear off the ground using a hammock, but the Selk'Bag posed a unique challenge: getting into the bag necessitated getting the bag on the dirt. At first I tried to stand on a ground cloth, but then I relaxed and just stood on the ground. What's the use of a wearable, mobile sleeping bag if I don't walk around in it?
Thankfully I could pitch my hammock in pristine areas so I minimized any muck I would stand in. Getting in the bag wasn't ever too difficult, but in the cooler temperatures I found one big problem: my hands. With my naked hands, the slits are just big enough to squeeze my hands through. When it got cooler and I wore a light glove liner, it was very difficult to push my hands out of the slits. In fact, the material always caught on the hook-and-loop fasteners making the process of pushing and pulling my hands in and out very difficult.
With the glove liners, my hands were a very tight fit. And, I could barely squeeze my watch through the slit to check the time.
I'm finding that the zipper is tough to pull once it turns the angle at my upper chest. I sometimes just leave this partially unzipped until I'm laying down and then pull it all the way up.
Moving around in the bag has its challenges. Because of the uni-fit size, I had to pull up on the legs when I walked around to avoid tripping and snagging. When I didn't pull up on the legs so that my feet were planted solid in the bottom of the legs, I would snag the material and often trip up on the feet or walk on the toes or heel areas that do not have the thicker material and added protection.
Because of the torso size, when I sit in the suit, the back pulls down, which pops off the hood from my head. Even when laying down, I often felt a tug on the hood. This is why I stopped using the hood when I slept because it would strain around and I couldn't get a good fit. I noticed that I'm starting to rip out the back side of the bottom area because of this strain on the material. I wish the groin area were gusseted to provide more room when sitting or bending over. As it is, I now have to be careful so I don't rip out the bottom.
The bag is basically sewn with boxy right angles, which don't really map to the curves of the human body.
There were two areas where the bag really excelled in mobility: getting in and out of my hammock, and in the mornings. Getting in and out of my hammock was a joy with the Selk'Bag. Having the insulation already wrapped securely around me made the process of sweeping my legs in and getting comfortable in the hammock a breeze. No fiddling.
In the mornings, it was great that I could pop out of bed and not worry about getting cold when I had to go to the bathroom.
One problem with mobility, however, is that the feet are not waterproof. I've had two trips where the heel area soaked through, getting my socks wet from the ground. From this experience, I try to keep my walking to a minimum.
My biggest complaint about the bag is the floppy feet. I know that this is due to the uni-size bag, but I can't stand that I have to pull up on the legs to walk around. I've noticed that the manufacturer has solved this issue with their other bags by providing a cinch cord around the ankles, but the Light version does not benefit from this. I think there are models with removable feet and I think that would be a nice upgrade.
On my trip in October, the nighttime temperatures were in the upper 30s°F (2°C) and I wore long-sleeve fleece top and bottoms with gloves and a separate hood. In a hammock, I used insulation underneath me to protect from convective heat loss. With this set-up, I slept comfortably for a few hours, but I started to feel a chill above me. I brought along a light summer top quilt and that combination got me through the night.
During the colder nights backpacking I wore my jacket and coat inside the Selk'Bag and also used a summer-rated top quilt for warmth. It actually wasn't a bad combination for warmth and I loved the added benefit of getting out in the morning without worrying about being cold.
As long as I was moving about, the Selk'Bag was fine in cold temperatures for keeping me warm. When I slowed down, I cooled down and needed more insulation.
The manufacturer recommends the Light bag during the winter only for indoor "cabin" camping or sleepovers. I've done a lot of this, actually, and think this is where the Light version excels. The temperature for my indoor uses have all been around 65-70°F (18-21°C). I usually wear a light t-shirt and shorts and some socks and I have been plenty warm.
I am hoping I can get in a few trips down in the lower elevations of Arizona where the overnight temperatures are within the bag's comfort rating. I feel confident that the bag would be great in the summer months, but I have the challenge of testing this bag in the winter.
Wearing the Selk'Bag takes some getting used to. On my first backpacking trip with the bag, I wanted to pull my arms in to my chest, but I couldn't. I wanted my legs closer together, but I couldn't. It was strange. I found that I have a psychological attachment to a quilt, blanket, or sleeping bag that I can pull over my shoulders and tuck under my chin. After a few uses I'm more accustomed to the bag, but I think I still prefer a regular sleeping bag.
FIELD USE SUMMARY
I must admit that I get teased a bit when wearing this bag. It's so unique that everyone I've shown it to has an opinion about it. A few people have shown genuine interest in it and think it's a great idea. I'm fine with how I look in the bag, but I do wish the hand slits were bigger and I had a better way to hold up the leg fabric when I walk.
PRO—Great when using a hammock; nice to have an envelop of warmth in the morning.
CON—Difficult to fit my hands through the slits with glove liners on; the floopy feet make it difficult to walk; the material is ripping out at the crotch; the hood doesn't fit well when sitting and doesn't tighten up well.
LONG TERM REPORT
27 Feb 2012
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I completed two more overnight trips with the Selk'Bag Lite:
Jan 27-28: Fossil Springs Wilderness, near Strawberry, Arizona. With a poor winter season, my scout troop decided to tackle Fossil Springs, where numerous underground springs gush thousands of gallons of water at a balmy 70°+F (21+°C) year-round. We backpacked 8.5 mi (14 km) and swam in the river pools. Overnight it was in the 30s°F (-1°C) and during the day it was in the upper 50s°F (10°C). The elevation change was 3,000 ft (914 m) (i.e., 1,500 ft/457 m down and back up).
Feb 24-25: O'Leary Peak, near Flagstaff, Arizona. Here we dropped off the scouts for a hike-in to base camp and then spent the next day hiking and exploring the ancient Sinagua ruins around the area. It was unexpectedly cold, with the overnight temperature a brisk 18°F (-8°C). The winds cooled off the 50°F (10°C) daytime temperatures.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Regretfully, I have not been able to get down to areas with warmer temperatures in this final test phase. The warmest I experienced was in Fossil Springs, where the overnight low was right around the freezing point, still outside the bag's comfort zone. At Fossil Springs, I wore the Selk'Bag Lite in my hammock and wore fleece top and bottom for an extra layer. I lasted longer in this temperature than at other times, but after a few hours I was feeling cold, so I added a top quilt. As always, I had an under quilt around the bottom of my hammock.
Although my pack weight was still in the lightweight range (less than 20 lbs/9 kg), I didn't like that I had to bring both the Selk'Bag, which was bulky, and a backup bag just to keep warm.
Predicted temperatures in February were suppose to be warmer overnight, but a freak storm blew in and destroyed my hopes. It was cold enough that I wore the Selk'Bag around in camp for a while, but I wasn't wearing any other layers besides my pants and shirt. With the wind blowing, I found that I needed more insulation, so I abandoned the Selk and wrapped up in my down sleeping bag instead to stay warm in camp.
The fit isn't perfect, so I have to hold up the legs so I walk in the reinforced feet. At O'Leary, I really noticed my feet getting cold. Ironically, I didn't have that problem when I walked on the snow, but on the cold, bare ground, it was worse. I thought that if I had small pieces of closed-cell foam pads, I could slip them into the feet to walk on some insulation. I've seen down booties with this feature -- a hidden pocket where a foam pad could be inserted. I think that would help a lot as I like to walk around in the Selk, but I don't want to put my shoes on in the bag.
During the night at O'Leary, I decided not to wear the Selk'Bag Lite to bed as a comparison. While it is convenient to get in to my hammock with the Selk'Bag, I find the feet a bit bulky and awkward as I try to sleep -- they just take up a lot of room. I guess I'm used to having my feet and legs closer to each other. With my down sleeping bag (I brought as a backup to the Selk'Bag), I warmed up much quicker and stayed comfortable through the night.
My feelings about the Selk'Bag Lite are mixed. On the one hand, the bag is fun to wear. I like having mobility and full-body insulation. I can get out of bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and keep the bag around me for warmth. However, the bag has its quirks. The hand slits were small and the fit wasn't perfect for my legs and torso. The hood's draw cord doesn't cinch well and doesn't tighten well around my face. When I bend over, the lack of gusseting in the back and buttocks pulls the hood off my head -- I even split the seam in the crotch.
If I were to modify this bag, I would immediately make the hand slits larger. I'd probably cut off the hood and wear it separately, and also cut off the feet or cut slits like the hands so I could get a better fit while walking and not worry about getting the material soaked or dirty while stomping about.
I'm finding that the Selk'Bag Lite is not the best for my backpacking needs, due to the extra weight and bulk. During the cold temperatures when I've tested, the additional layers proved too bulky and awkward when I tried to stuff the feet inside another bag just to keep warm. The weight makes it a tough choice for hiking, although base camp operations seem to work fine. I enjoyed the warmth when I tested the bag indoors when temperatures were in the mid-60s°F (16°C).
I have two cabin-type trips coming up in March that will take me down to Phoenix where the nightly temperatures hover in the mid- to upper-40s° (4°C) -- the sweet spot for this bag. I hope to include an addendum to this report so I can more adequatly test the temperature range.
PRO—Fun to wear. Great mobility in a sleep system.
CON—Hand slits are tight and small. The bag is heavy and bulky for backpacking. The fit is not optimal for all body types and sizes.
I would like to thank Selk'Bag USA and BackpackGearTest.org for providing me with the opportunity to test this product.
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