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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > Selkbag 4G Lite Sleepwear > Test Report by Kerri Larkin
Selk'Bag 4G Lite Sleep Wear System
TEST SERIES BY KERRI LARKIN
INITIAL REPORT - October 11, 2011
FIELD REPORT - JANUARY 3, 2012
LONG TERM REPORT - FEBRUARY 24, 2012
My Selk'Bag Sleep Wear System (hereafter referred to as the Selk, or the Bag) arrived in good order, wrapped in a plastic bag. On pulling the Selk out of the plain cardboard shipping box I was hit in the eye by the vibrancy of the Bag's stuff sack colour. I'd asked to test the Hyacinth Violet coloured bag because it looked kinda cute in pictures shown on the Selk'Bag USA website. The stuff sack is the same colour as the bag and it certainly is vivid!
Opening the stuff sack reveals a tightly rolled Hyacinth Violet bundle. I did find it a bit hard to pull the Bag out of the sack, but once out, it spilled Hyacinth all over the floor. I guess I wasn't expecting the Selk to be so, well, big! I'd ordered the XL size because I'm fairly round and the website suggests that people who are larger than average around the middle should buy a size larger to ensure a good fit. Once laid out on the floor, the Bag looked like a robot from a '50's science fiction movie and I almost expected it to get up and walk. Looking at the circumference of the bag made me glad I'd chosen the bigger size even though it seems head and shoulders taller than me.
One of the most noticeable things initially is how noisy the material is: I'm hardly gonna be able to sneak up on the wildlife while wearing the Selk. Still, it was designed for sleeping, not sneaking, so that shouldn't cause a problem. I'll have to see if it wakes me when I roll over in the night.
Quality of construction appears pretty good with only one loose thread noted. That was trailing from a seam where a piece of hook-and-loop had been sewn on. I don't believe that will affect the Bag's function in any way and just needs a simple trim.
So let's take a look at what the "Sleep System" comprises. As mentioned, the Bag comes packed in a compression stuff sack. Compression is achieved by a simple webbing and buckle system, but it looks to be very sturdy and should be able to crank on heaps of compression if required. The sack reminded me of one of the eVent compression bags I use for a sleeping bag, so I initially tried opening the sack at the wrong end. The sack appears to be mostly made of the same polyester material as the Selk, but has no obvious water repellant coating. After placing the sack on the ground to photogaph it, I noticed a few damp spots from the grass it had been resting on. On the bottom of the sack there is some very pretty detail in a contrasting green colour on a logo panel. There is a band of webbing around the sack, as can be seen from the picture, which keeps the compression straps in their place.
On the top of the compression bag is the standard drawcord arrangement. Once the compression straps are released and the drawcord loosened, the Selk'Bag can be removed from the sack. I must confess this was a bit harder than I expected as the horizontal webbing around the compression bag seemed to constrict access to the inside of the sack.
Once past a certain point, the bag spilled out onto the floor and unrolled. My first impression was that Search and Rescue will have absolutely no trouble finding me now. My second impression was just how big the Bag is. When unrolled it looks about ten feet tall - like a giant Gumby or Iggle Piggle unconscious on my floor. The 'Gumby Effect' is heightened by the large booties and rounded mitten effect of the hands. As I spread the Selk out I gave it a good inspection and found this to be a good looking product. As mentioned above, I only found one long thread dangling.
The Selk'Bag is made of polyester both internally and externally, with the outer skin treated to provide a DWR (Durable Water Resistant) Coating. The Bag certainly does not look very waterproof, so I'll be looking to test this feature over the next few months. While the outer fabric is Hyacinth Violet coloured, the inner fabric is black, which provides a nice contrast. Access to the Bag is via a long zip which runs from the neck to the hip on the right side, and a shorter zip running from the neck to the armpit on the left. The longer right zipper is double ended so it can be opened from the bottom end to allow better ventilation. There are hook-and-loop fasteners at the termination of the zippers at the neck end so the zips can be secured once done up. An all-in-one hood is attached to the Bag (there's no option to detatch it), and this hood can be snugged down using two shock cord ties with cord locks.
The leg sections of the Bag appear to get larger as they descend, giving the appearance of a pair of flared pants, however, the flares don't end like a pair of jeans, they merge into a box-like foot boot. The back of the ankle and foot have a tougher black nylon material designed to give increased resistance to wear and tear from walking around while wearing the Selk. A couple of non-slip strips should help with traction control.
The arm segments terminate in a pair of mittens to complete the 'Gumby Effect'. The clever thing here is that just at the wrist, there is a slit which is held closed by hook-and-loop. Opening these slits allows one to pop the hands outside the Bag. This means adjustments can be made to zips, cups of tea can be drunk, or meals eaten, all from the warmth and comfort of the Bag. The mittens have hook-and-loop tags at the ends which allow the mittens to be swung back (think broken wrist effect) and secured to keep them out of the way when using the hands.
There are some nice detail features with the Bag. Firstly, there are hook-and-loop covers to hold the zips in place, but there are also patches of hook-and-loop to secure these zip covers if they are not being used. There is also some lovely embroidery detail on the left arm.
There are no pockets, no ventilation zips, and no other main features.
No instructions came with my Selk'Bag, but then it really is pretty self explanatory. In this day and age of legal disclaimers and warnings, it's surprising that Selk leaves the consumer to figure things out for themselves. The only warning I found was with the washing instructions, buried way down on the right hip, and I only found them because I went looking for them. The Responsible Use warning reads, "The Selk'Bag sleep wear system is designed for a maximum of comfort while you sleep. The Selk'Bag shouldn't be used, by any means, near open flame nor any situation where the wearer is at risk. The wearer is responsible for a safe and proper use of the Selk'Bag," although it doesn't define what that proper use may be.
The care instructions are pretty straight forward and are repeated on the FAQ page of the website:
Okay, so let's get the big one out of the way first. No, I don't look anywhere near as cute in my Selk as the photos on teh website suggest. Major disappointment. Unfortunately, I look more like the Michelin Man. That's why there are only a couple of pictures of me wearing the Selk. Ah well, it was worth a try.
I found the Selk was a bit of a handful to wrestle with - arms and legs going in every direction - as I tried to unzip it for the first time, however, once the zips were open it was a simple matter to step into the Bag and get my feet into the foot boxes. These are very generously proportioned and even Big Foot would find them comfortable. Next, I pulled the Bag up and put my arms in the sleeves. It's just like putting on a pair of overalls and just as easy. I found the wrist slits and poked my hands through so I could continue adjusting the Selk. I must say I found the wrist slits to be quite tight even though my hands are not huge. I imagine a large bloke might find the slits a bit too tight.
Once I was wearing the majority of the Bag, I started to do the long zip up. I did find the internal baffles (designed to exclude drafts from the zip area) caught in the zip a few times and needed some careful manipulation to keep them out of the way. As I did the zips up it became obvious that the Bag is way too tall for me: I have to pull the excess leg material up to be able to walk. Having said that, the arms and torso seem like quite a good fit. A further mitigating factor is that I had deliberately ordered a size larger to give me room around the girth. It took me a couple of minutes to get the Bag sorted and comfortable, by which time I was sweating and wishing there were more ventilation options.
Once in the Selk I realised that walking around will require careful concentration as although there are non-slip sections on the feet, the nature of the polyester material means it is slippery anyway and moving my feet around was enough to move them inside the bag also. I found it easy to put my foot down with the non-slip section no where near where my foot was. The photo at right shows the foot pad and grip strips. To give an idea how enormous teh foot boxes are, the black are measures 35 cm x 32 cm (13.7" x 12.5").
I then tried to bring my hands inside the Bag and found that can be a little tricky too. I needed to hold the mitten end of the arm while retracting my hand through the slit. That worked perfectly for the first hand but then I couldn't grip the mitten of the second hand. I worked out I need to get both hands mostly inside the Bag before a final movement to bring them in completely. for me, the hand slits are just a little tight and I don't have big hands by any stretch. Considering this is the XL size bag, I would expect the slits to be a little larger too. I have to admit it is a strange sensation to be so fully cocooned: normally in a sleeping bag the bag stays still while I move and reach out for things. With the Selk, the Bag comes with me every time I move.
I'm normally a side-sleeper, so thought I'd lay down and see how it felt. Weird is the word that comes to mind. It's a bit like sleeping fully clothed. Psychologically I think humans are pretty much used to sleeping with some kind of cover over them. Even though I was virtually totally enclosed in the Selk, it felt as if I needed a blanket over me. Strange. I'm sure it won't take long to get used to sleeping in the Selk, but it does need a mental adjustment. Once on my side, I found the slippery nature of the material meant I had to balance my arm in just the right position or it would slip off my hip. Again, I think this is just a learning curve thing and shouldn't present any long term problems.
Having got into the Selk, I thought it was the perfect excuse for a nap, so decided to see how easy the Bag is to sleep in. Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the Selk is the noise - all that polyester makes quite a racket when moving. With the hood cinched reasonably closely my breathing was enough to set up a constant rustle in my ears. I'm sure that won't take long to get used to. It's fantastically simple to move, change position, or roll over in the Selk and not at all like a traditional mummy style sleeping bag.
I must confess to a certain level of claustrophobia in this bag: it's hard to scratch an itch and it can take a moment or two to find the hand slits. This made the Bag seem more confining than a traditional bag. There also seems to be a lot of baffles and material converging around the neck area.
I'm not sure whether it's because I compress the insulating materials a bit, but I was surprised to find I was feeling a few cool spots on my skin. I'm usually a very warm sleeper so thought I'd try the bag wearing only a tee shirt and shorts. It didn't take long to be glad I was so cocooned. The temperature was about 14 C (57 F) at the time which is well within the expected comfort range of the Bag. I'll be doing further testing to determine the best combination of clothing to wear with the Bag. Since writing this, I've reviewed the FAQ page at selkbagusa.com and found a section suggesting it is important to allow the Bag some time to loft after being packed in the stuff sack for some time. This may be why it felt cool initially, but feels much warmer now.
One of the things which has become immediately obvious is the need for the longer zipper to be a 'L' shape across the bottom of the torso. This would make it much easier to answer the call of nature. If the zip crossed the torso it would be much easier for us girls to use something like the 'Shewee' to pee without having to exit the Bag. Guys would be right at home. I'll no doubt be able to report further on this as I have terrific kidney function, especially at night! Again, the FAQ page at selkbagusa.com recommends that males use the long zip to free up the room to access the hosing equipment, but that females will have to disrobe. That's a real bummer which could easily be solved by an 'L' shaped zipper.
I've now used the Selk at home for one night and I have to say it was an unusual experience. I wriggled into the bag and zipped everything up and lay down on my bed and found it really hard to resist the temptation to pull the blankets up again. It just feels kinda wrong not to be covered (even though I'm fully cocooned in the Selk}. The noisy material I wrote about earlier didn't seem to bother me as much, and within seconds, I was asleep. Funny thing is, though, I don't usually sleep very well yet that night I didn't wake once. Okay, I was exhausted when I got into bed, but I am many nights. In fact, I slept so well I can't even report on getting up to pee - I slept right through. I'm really looking forward to seeing if this was a once-off, or if there are definite and unexpected advantages to the Bag. Stay tuned...
The Selk'Bag - 4G Lite Sleep System offers a lot of promise for comfortable sleeping. I can't wait to try it out in my hammock. With summer approaching here I won't get many opportunities to test the Bag to extremes, but it will certainly be interesting to see how well it copes with warmer nights and humidity. So far, the Selk seems well designed and made, reasonably comfortable to wear and easier to enter and exit than a standard mummy bag. Of course, there's always that great night's sleep to think about too. I sure hope I get some more of those over the next few months! Be sure to check back in about two months for my Field Report.
This concludes my Initial Report on the Selk'Bag Sleepwear System I'd like to thank both the Selk'Bag USA and BackPackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this system.
Sadly, I've only been able to use the Selk Bag on two occasions since my Inintial Report. Firstly, I spent two nights at Moonee Beach - a favourite commercial camping area fifteen minutes from home - which has some great trees for hanging a hammock and is right next to the beach. Temperatures ranged from 26 c (79 F) during the day to overnight lows of 17 C (62 F) to 20 C (68 F). Humidity was between 60% and 70%. Although it didn't rain, maybe it would have been more comfortable if it had! The camp area is basically open grassland with scattered trees. I chose this site as I wanted to test the Selk before going too far from home with it.
My second camp was an overnighter in the Dorrigo National Park. Here, temps ranged from highs of 24 C (75 F) to lows of 18 C (64 F). This is a mostly rainforest environment so, again, humidity was very high (around 75%). Although this is one of the higher areas near my home, it still gets uncomfortably hot during summer, and quite wet. There's a wealth of walking trails to explore and once away from the Information Centre hub, the walker becomes quite isolated quite quickly. Although some of the tracks are quite steep in places, they are generally well formed and easy to follow.
First, an apology: there's no photos with this report due to a technical hitch.
The Selk'Bag is an odd thing - it's very bulky and doesn't compress very much, even with the provided compression sack. Although it's got a lot of advantages over a traditional sleeping bag, I'm still not convinced this is a 'Lite' bag. To me, it seems far better suited to car-camping, base-camping, or cabin use. The Selk takes up a bit over 50% of the pack I normally use for short trips. Admittedly, my sleep system is normally is the largest part of my gear as I don't own a down sleeping bag, but the Selk is just, well, big! For an overnight hike, I can manage with this, but for an extended Backpacking trip the Selk's size would be a real issue. For that reason alone, I believe this bag is unsuited (no pun intended!) to long hikes.
Using the Selk is something of a strange experience too. As discussed in my Initial Report, it can take a bit of getting used to sleeping in a bag like the Selk. There's that psychological imperative of needing to pull up something, like a blanket or sheet, to snuggle in. That's a sensation that's missing with the Selk, however, it only needs a night or two (or a long tiring hike) to get used to sleeping fully enclosed.
For me, the single biggest issue with the Selk has been the lack of ventilation options. Once on, this bag gets warm quickly. In fairness, I must re-state that I am not just a warm sleeper - I sleep very hot. So, for me, I really could use more ventilation options. Of course, these are a trade-off between weight and function: more zips or flaps = more weight, something the Bag definitely doesn't need. Fortunately, hammocks tend to be cooler than floor-bound sleeping mats or pads, but it's still pretty warm. Although the Selk is listed as comfortable to 7 C (45 F), for a hot sleeper I feel this is where it gets comfortable. Most summer nights I sleep with just a sheet over me until the wee small hours, when I find a light blanket is sufficient to keep the cold away. With the Selk, I have no choice but to be pretty much fully cocooned. Although I was able to leave the chest flap undone, and have my hands out of the hand slits, my arms, legs and back got too hot on both these trips. I tried just tossing the Selk over me one night but the slippery material meant it was very hard to keep it over me like a quilt. There were also lots of gaps as the arms and legs fell away. While the Selk is marketed as a summer bag, to me, it feels more like an autumn or spring bag.
I've also noticed some cool spots when using the bag. These occur where the material is stretched, thus compressing the insulation. I notice it can get cool on my side when sleeping on my side, or on my back when sleeping on my back. A slight coolness can also be noted around the elbows and knees when curled in a fetal position. I wish it were cool enough here this summer to report on whether these cool spots would affect a comfortable night's sleep but, alas, it ain't gonna happen!
I found very quickly that the Bag is best used on flat camp sites: because the Bag's foot boxes and legs are so large there is a very real trip hazard when walking around. I find I have to grab the upper leg part of the bag and hoist it up, like I was lifting a long skirt, before walking. Otherwise, there's just too much material and it ends up causing my feet to slip and slide around in the foot boxes. Due to the slippery nature of the material, if the ground is not flat it's easy to slip and fall. The rougher material of the two non-slip bands on the soles of the feet help to a small extent but it still requires a high degree of caution when walking.
I certainly haven't experienced low enough temperatures where I'd be happy to sit around camp wearing my Selk since my Initial Report, so can't really comment on its suitability for that function.
One problem that applies to the Selk as much as any other bag is the need to get completely out of it in order to answer nature calls. This wouldn't be an issue for men, but for women it's a real pill. Although I haven't tried using a female urinary device (like a Shewee or Go Girl), I feel I'd want to be pretty confident using one to prevent drips inside the Bag. Even using this type of device still requires fully undoing at least one zip. Double ended zip sliders would certainly help in this department although they would add an ounce or two.
I'd like the hood to be detachable, or at least fold into a collar flap as it really isn't needed in summer conditions. Mostly, I've squashed it under my neck and just use my standard hammock pillow. My head stayed plenty warm enough.
I want to love the Selk, truly I do. The concept is perfect for hammock camping, visiting friends, car camping and all manner of situations. But. I'm not sure I'm finding much of an envelope for use at present. For me, it's too hot for summer use and probably not warm enough for deep winter use. That makes it kinda hard to justify as a piece of kit. It certainly solves the problems of getting in a bag when hammock camping, but still requires me to get out of the Selk to pee. The limited venting options mean I'm hot most nights, and doubly so when the humidity is high. As a quilt, it's not particularly user-friendly. It's also enormous. It's really best suited to car-based activities (I just had a mental picture of the collective jaw-drop if I was to wear this on an overnight train trip!), rather than backpacking. For ski chalet trips it would be perfect, I imagine.
I'd love to see a version of the Selk'Bag made with premium materials like eVent or Paramo and filled with down - now that would be awesome! Then it would be light enough, and compressible enough to carry and could even be used as the ultimate bivy bag.
All in all, I feel the Selk'Bag has a lot going for it and, in the right conditions, would be a fantastic choice for a sleep system.
That concludes my Field Report.Please check back in about two months for my Long Term Report. Once again, thanks to Selk'Bag USA and BackPackGearTest.org for the chance to test this product.
I've used, or attempted to use, the Selk Bag on another three nights since my Field Report. I say attempted because on two of those nights, the Selk was just too hot to use. I've done two car-based camps and one overnight walk.
It has rained heavily most days in the last couple of months as it is our normal "Wet Season" here. Most days start warm and quickly become very hot and humid. By mid afternoon, thunderstorms are building and by early evening, they dump their load on the already saturated ground, usually accompanied by high winds and lightning. Although I'm glad I use a hammock to get up and away from the soggy ground, I'm never completely comfortable being in a hammock suspended from trees during a storm. Due to the higher than normal rainfall this summer, there's been major flooding across large tracts of my home State of New South Wales, over the last few weeks, so travel has been restricted and camping has been less than fun! Maybe I should have tried the Selk using boat-based camping!
My first car-based camp was to a local State Forest. Conditions ranged from 27 C (81 F) during the day to 21 C (70 F) overnight, with approximately 70% humidity. In these conditions, I become a pool of sweat even when sitting still. The mosquitoes (mossies) were out in full force, including the large Scotch Grey mossies. It only needs eight of them to lift an entire cow, so I spent a lot of time under the netting of my hammock, wishing I had a fan. That night, I attempted to use the Selk but lasted only thirty minutes before I had to peel it off due to the heat.
My second trip was an overnight walk along the Coastal Path leading from Station Creek to Boorkoom in Yuragir National Park on the NSW North Coast. This trip was hotter but drier. Temps rose to 32 C (90 F) during the day but dipped to 18 C (64 F) overnight. I was able to climb in to the Selk and sleep quite comfortably after 11pm.
My final trip during this phase of testing was again within the Yuragir National Park, only this time I car camped from Illaroo at the northern end of the Park. Again, daytime temps reached 29 C (84 F) but the night temps stayed up around 24 C (75 F) with humidity sitting on 65%. This was one of the most uncomfortable camps of the season. There was no respite from the heat and humidity, and I had a pretty sleepless night.
It seems that the Selk Bag is really only useful to me when temps drop below 20 C (68 F). Any higher than that and I find the Bag too hot, even when fully opened at the front, as my arms and legs are still enclosed and get very hot. I often wake with hot sweats, even at home, but it's more like an overheating felling in the Selk above these temperatures. Quite often, the problem has been humidity rather than temperature related. I'm sure that with low humidity the Bag would be much more comfortable. I must also stress that I have always been a warm (read hot!) sleeper and rarely need more than a light blanket most nights. So, for warm sleepers. like myself, this may well be a three season bag, as advertised, but not the three seasons the manufacturer expected! I feel I could use this bag for all but the coldest nights here. Having said that, I do find I get cold spots where I'm laying on the bag, perhaps from compression of the insulation so I'll still need to use my normal winter insulation routine in the hammock.
Perhaps the best part of the Selk has been how easy it is to get in and out of my hammock - I love that! No more fighting with a bag, no more hammock gymnastics! This is a huge improvement over a standard bag.
The biggest drawback continues to be the sheer size of the Selk. The photo shows a comparison between my regular weekend pack and the Selk. Even compressed it takes an awful lot of room, meaning I've had to use a bigger pack when taking the Bag. I feel this Bag is really only useful for vehicle-based camping.
I've found no significant changes in my view of the Selk since my Field Report.
As I said in my Field Report, I truly want to love the Selk: it's a great concept and has heaps of potential. It just seems to have a limited useful temperature range. Having said that, I guess most serious backpackers have a number of sleeping bags so they can choose the right bag for the right season. I have three bags (not counting the Selk) and take the bag best suited to the conditions I'm expecting. From that point of view, the Selk will fit nicely in my kit as a two to three season bag (autumn, spring, and possibly early or late summer and winter), so yes, I will definitely continue to use it on my car camping trips. lt's fantastic for wearing in my hammock, and I can see it will be useful for sleep-overs, visiting friends, and even while sitting in my home office in winter!
The Selk is not an all purpose, all season bag but, if chosen for the right reasons, it can be a really useful piece of kit. Despite a lack of ventilation in the arms and legs it is very comfortable when being worn. To me, buying the correct size seems to be the key here: I'm short and fat, so needed to buy a much larger size to accommodate my girth. A slimmer person would be able to fit the Bag better and not have excess length in the legs and torso. Although I've gotten used to 'gathering my skirts' when walking in the bag, I'm sure it would be much easier for a 'normal' size person.
All in all, the Selk'Bag is a great idea. I think it would be perfect for teenagers who like to lounge around in a bag, but it has a wider appeal than that and certainly deserves consideration when next shopping for a sleep system. Having an all-in-one sleep system makes a lot of sense when camping, and would be ideal for sitting around a fire on cool nights (although I didn't experience any). While best suited to car-based camping or base camping, the Selk can be used when backpacking if carrying a larger pack isn't a problem.
That concludes my Long Term Report. Once again, thanks to Selk'Bag USA and BackPackGearTest.org for the chance to test this product.
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