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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > Therm-a-Rest Quester 0 bag > Test Report by joe schaffer

Therm-A-Rest Questar 0

Test Report by Joe Schaffer

INITIAL REPORT - February 25, 2018
FIELD REPORT - May 18, 2018
LONG TERM REPORT - June 29, 2018
NAME: Joe Schaffer
EMAIL: never2muchstuff(at)yahoo(dot)com
AGE: 70
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79 kg)
HEIGHT: 69 in (1.75 m)
CHEST: 40 in (102 cm)
HOME:  Bay Area, California USA

     I enjoy California's central Sierras, camping every month with a goal to match my age in nights out each year. For comfort I lug tent, mattress, chair and such. Typical summer trips run 5-8 days; 40 lb (18 kg), about half food and water related; about 5 miles (8 km) per hiking day in the bright and sunny granite in and around Yosemite. I winter base camp most often at 6,000 to 7,000 ft (1,800 to 2,000 m); 2 to 3 nights; 50 lb (23 kg); a mile or so (1.6 km) on snowshoes.

Product: sleeping bagQuestar 0 Sleeping Bag

Manufacturer:  Therm-A-Rest
        Temperature ratings:
             Comfort: to 14 F (-10 C)
             Transition (my interpretation of can't sleep): 0 F (-18 C)
             Risk range: (Gonna' die): -40 F (-40 C)

        Weight: M  3 lb (1360 g)
        Packed volume: 631 ci (10.3 L)
        Features: (from website for 20F/-6C bag & hang tag)
            •SynergyLin Connectors
            •650-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down
            •ThermaCapture seams
            •Zoned insulation
            •Toe-asis Foot Warmer Pocket
            •Quilt and blanket loops
            •Contoured hood
            •Heat-trapping draft collar
            •Full-length zipper draft tube
            •Snag-free zipper
            •Cinchable hood
            •External zip pocket  

       Color: (of bag received)
             Shell outside: Screaming blue
             Trim outside: Screaming yellow
             Shell inside: Silver gray with black cross hatching

       Sizes: S, M, L

My Specs:  M
        Weight, bag only: 3 lb oz (1.36 kg)
        Stuff sack: 1 1/4 oz (35 g)
        Storage sack: 3 oz (85 g)
        Dimensions: (approximate outside, bag flat)
             Hood-to-toe: 81 in (2 m)
             Shoulder width: 31 in (118 cm)
             Foot: 11 w x 10 h in (28 x 25 cm)
             Zipper: 52 in (1.3 m)
             Stuff sack, stuffed: 10 x 15 1/2 in (25 x 39 cm)
             Storage bag stuffed, max: 12 x 24 in (30 x 61 cm)
             Storage bag stuffed, min: 13 x 13 in (33 x 33 cm)
       Approx. loft at hip, unzippered side: 4 in (10 cm)

MSRP: $299.95-349.95 US

Received: February, 2018

My Description:
    The Questar is a down mummy with hard-finish shell and interior; 4/5 zip with a hood, zipper draft tube and an external, zipped watch pocket. The hood and integrated chest tube each have individual adjustment using the same flat draw-string running through a single cord lock on the right-hand side. The top of the zipper has a snapped garage; and the zipper track is similar to but not as tight as "waterproof" zippers. Both the top and bottom half of the zipper track inside follow heavier Cordura strips each 1 1/2 in (3.8 cm) wide to help avoid snagging. An external pocket about 7 in (18 cm) deep by 6 in (15 cm) wide has a vertical zip closure; located about 7 in (18 cm) from the chest hem and on the right-hand side. Main zipper is on the left hand side with double pulls to allow foot box venting. The bottom side of the bag has 10 pairs of loops. There is a discreet logo imprint in the chest area and a rather not-discreet brand emblazonment in the foot area.

    The inner shell is supple 20 D polyester printed taffeta. The cushy outer shell is 20 D polyester ripstop, treated with durable water repellent. Seams are claimed to be specially designed to capture and reflect body heat to retain warmth without the weight of a corresponding amount of insulation.

    Fourteen chambers plus hood, foot box and draft tube capture and separate the fill. I find no indication whether the down is goose or duck. I won't care as long as I don't wake up thinking a wet dog must have gotten in. The fill is claimed to be ethically sourced, which I understand to mean the birds are slaughtered pre-pluck. This matters to me as I don't find a comforting spot to rest my mind if thinking an animal suffered in order that I should enjoy the results of its torture. I infer from my experience over the years with this company that this claim would not be made if not true.

    The package came with Therm-A-Rest's SynergyLink system for attaching bag to mattress. Two bands comprise this system. Each band hooks to corresponding loops on the bag with the mattress sandwiched between. The bands are 26 in (66 cm) long, being 4 1/2 in (11.4 cm) wide in the mid-section of 9 in (23 cm) blue nylon. Extending from each side of the mid-section are gray stretch-sections 7 in (18 cm) long, tapering to 6 1/2 in (16.5 cm) wide. The ends are finished with 1 3/4 in (4.5 cm) blue nylon, tapering to 7 3/4 in (19.7 cm) wide. Each end has three T-hooks for connecting to loops on the bag. The website claims the system fits any mattress to 25 in (64 cm) in width.

    The bag comes with a two-stage storage sack of roughly 1,725 cu in (28 L) stuffed to the lower drawstring, or 2,700 cu in (44 L) stuffed to the hemline drawstring.

    I haven't noticed any imperfections in the fabric or construction. I've flopped the bag around on the bed in my inspections of it and have yet to find escaped fill.

   Of course the first impression that struck me was what were they smoking when they picked the color. But as a guy I generally don't see color, so I'll skip to what it feels like with my eyes closed, and that is a fabulous sensation of billowy comfort. One big advantage of 650-fill (over higher fill ratings) is the heftier loft, and this bag certainly excels in that metric.

    The feature I'm most hoping to test (groan) is how the bag performs when it gets wet. Though I never sleep in the open, overnight condensation in winter nearly always dampens the bag. It is not uncommon to find the foot frozen to the tent; and the chest area just south of the "blow hole" always gets wet. I'm anxious to see if the fill resists collapsing; and if it dries more quickly. Both observations will be rather subjective, but if there's anywhere near the advantage as claimed for the Nikwax-treated down I think I'll have no trouble discovering it.

    Though I have the greatest respect for this manufacturer, I can't help being skeptical of a bag in this weight range that is hydrophobic-treated 650-fill and rated to a comfort range to 14 F (-10 C). Perhaps the treated seams and the super-light shell fabric account for weight-loss and I will not wake up feeling skimped on fill. I'm looking at what appears to be a lavishly filled hood and also the foot box; leaving me eagerly anticipating warmer feet and head. If I'm sleeping comfortably in the teens in this bag I'll be quite happy.

    Twenty denier fabric seems optimistic, but I trust this maker to know what they're doing. They have terrific customer service and it stands to reason they have confidence the strength of this material will not disappoint. My experience with down bags suggests that these feathers in such a light shell should be sticking out like porcupine quills, but no sign of such yet.

    I'm looking forward to giving the bag/mattress coupler it's due. My unconscious body seems to know when it is on a pad and when not, whither restrained in any fashion. This system looks well designed. I'm particularly impressed with the stretch panels that will relieve the bag's loop attachment points of undue stress. (I probably should pre-test which of my mattresses can fit with the system, but I more likely will wait to see if the one I brought works and whine loudly if it does not.) If I find myself sleeping better on snow, the system will be worth the weight and bother to install it. (Mercy, the work here, though I shouldn't have to fear consequences of not reading directions!)

    It took all of 40 seconds to stuff the bag on the first try. It easily fits and I don't get squeamish thinking I've mashed the will to survive out of the fill. Of course that means the pill is rather bulky, but in the world of bags rated at this temp I find the stuffed size entirely OK. I never squeeze my bags as tight as they'll go. Therm-A-Rest seems to be saying in this size of stuff sack with no compression straps that over-compressed bags do not hold their performance.

    Thus was I pleased to see the bag not in the stuff sack on arrival. It was stuffed to the minimum size in the storage bag, but in a carton that did not compress it further. I can imagine circumstances where I might want a multi-stage storage sack, and the maximum size is not terribly constricting. I'm thinking I'll likely keep the bag in a larger sack, though. The bag might well cry out from the gear closet that it can't breathe well even in the larger configuration of the storage sack.


Field Conditions:

    1. Mar 24-28: Henness Ridge, West Yosemite, California. Three nights. Snowshoe backpacking 1 mi (1.5 km). 6,000 ft (1,830 m). 25-50 F (-4 to 10 C). Slight snow to clear. Tent on snow; ThermArest X-Therm XL over a blue pad.
    2. Apr 3-6: Gooseberry Trail, Stanislaus National Forest, California.
Three nights. Snowshoe backpacking 1.5 mi (2.5 km). 7,000 ft (2,130 m). 30-50 F (-1 to 10 C). Sunny for several days, then really rainy. Tent on snow; REI Stratus over a blue pad
    3. Apr 26-30: Yosemite National Park, Kibbie Ck. Four nights. Backpacking 10 mi (16 km). 6,500 ft (1,980 m). 30-50 F (-1 to 10 C). Slight trace of freezing precipitation one night, damp all four nights. Tent on wet earth; REI Stratus pad.
    4. May 7-12: Yosemite National Park, Kibbie Ridge. Five nights, backpacking 22 mi (35 km). 40 lb (18 kg) leave weight. About 5,000 to 8,000 ft (1,500 - 2,440 m). 35-55 F (2 - 21 C) sleeping temps; campsites at 6,300, 6,700 and 8,000 ft (1,920, 2,040 and 2,440 m); tent on damp earth, REI Stratus pad.
in tent
Is it a 0? Tester expectations may provide a valuable context for this report. As a neophyte camper some years ago there were no such things as ratings. A kid went to a few moving sales and picked up the most bag he could find for a dollar. (Don't snicker--that was 20 candy bars in those days.) Then came vendor ratings, helpful, perhaps, but maybe not relevant across fill types, model lines and likely not brands. Now comes the EN (European Norm) rating which does offer that standardization of ratings determination, which in concept can only be applauded as helpful. But for my experience it seems the "norm" must be based on an 18-year-old male Scandinavian raised outdoors with wolves in polar regions of the North. Of course the rating cannot suppose how any given individual will find the bag. The rating only applies to the new bag; its insulating capacity will diminish incrementally in use and the manner in which the bag was shipped and stored before retail delivery, as well as care and storage by the user. The rating cannot suppose how the sleeper gets in the bag, warm or cold; or the sleeper's reaction to humidity and wind chill. Nonetheless I'm convinced the EN rating "norm" is wildly and (except for what must have been interference by the marketing suits) needlessly optimistic; and being an industry standard it locks every vendor into a competitive constraint to ballyhoo the best number no matter it might not relate to anyone in the real world. The fix is to have enough experience with fills and bags to translate the rating to oneself. Such effort is taxing to the point of breaking a mental sweat.

    At my age and disposition, a bag that really would let me sleep comfortably at 0 F (-18 C) in only a base layer would require a bale of feathers and a musk ox to haul it; and would be impossibly hot most of the time. I spend a lot of time lollygagging in the tent when temperatures can reach 50-60 F (10-15 C); warm, but not quite enough so as to want no bag, especially after a cold night. The Questar suits me quite nicely in this regard. Some days I don't roast out until the temperature in the tent has hit 80 F (27 C); and yet I am comfortable in the mid 20's F (-4 C) overnight. Thus, my impression of the bag is that for me it is a highly versatile 25 F (-4 C). I feel compelled to opine that being advised the rating of -40 F (-40 C) being on the verge of mortal is like being advised that getting struck by a truck going 40 mph (65 kph) might incur bodily harm. Helpful would be the comfort distance between getting too cold and getting too hot; derived from testing a bag plucked from a retail shelf and slept in 25 times before testing. How could there be any problem with that protocol?

    Camping on snow I often use a quarter-inch (6 mm) blue pad (closed-cell foam) for an insulation boost between me and the snow. It goes on top of the comfort mattress when the air is cold; under the mattress when the snow is colder. (Blue pad is a terrific insulator, but not very comfortable otherwise.) Extra insulation also helps minimize melting and consequent water seepage.

This maiden outing for the bag was very close to car camping. I thought it would be a good test start as the weather was supposed to be cold and snowy. With the exception of a little attitude the first night, the weather turned warm and sunny. But I did make some observations. This may be the cushiest bag I've ever spent time in. It's plush and billowy and even the shell has a pleasant, smooth (not grippy) feel. I really enjoyed tucking into this bag.
    First night I went to bed cold. I fiddle-faddled outside until I realized I wasn't warm anymore, and by then it was too late. I hadn't hiked far, but after trenching the tent and then getting cold gawking the results of my labors I wasn't in the mood to break out the stove or even eat a meal. I nibbled through a mini-loaf of pretzel bread my sweetie pie sent me off with. I was thirsty but not for cold water and thought I'd best save the vacuum bottle for any wake-up night time emergency. I expected it would take a while to get warmed up so I put on a total of five layers on top, two on bottom, a wool Sherpa hat, a pair of ski socks over my two pair of hiking socks (which I'd neglected to change) and down booties. I crawled into the bag, pulled the hood over my head and zipped up all the way. I don't know what time it was when I woke up uncomfortably hot, but not yet sweating. I took off two top layers, putting one over my still-cold feet and shins. Temp in the tent was 30 F (-1 C). By daylight my lower half was too hot, and top half warmer than I like, so I peeled off two more top layers and one bottom layer; two pair of socks and the down booties, and the jacket I'd put over my feet. Around mid-morning the tent was getting intermittent sun enough to warm the inside to 80 F (27 C) and I was boiled out of the unzipped bag. I was surprised that it took that long for the bag to get miserably hot; and maybe as surprised that I wasn't yet getting moist. My conclusion was that the bag breathes supremely well with a wide comfort range.
    Second night I started out with only three layers on top and two on bottom. As I went to bed warm and filled with a hot meal and a couple mugs of hot chocolate and tea I didn't expect to need as many layers as the first night, but the temp was also forecast to drop to mid-teens F (-9 C) and I didn't want to wake up cold. But the coldest it got during the night was 25 F (-4 C) and I had to peel off two pair of socks and two top layers. By daylight I had to take off one of the two bottom layers.
    Third night I started off with only a base layer top and bottom, one pair of socks and of course my Sherpa hat, which compensates for having a well-ventilated top-of-head. I slept so well I didn't have occasion to check the temp, but I think it didn't get much below freezing.
    I never sleep skin-to-bag, with never more than hands and cheeks uncovered and sometimes not even that. One thing I noticed about this bag's shell is how easily I can thrash around. The fabric is slick and I can wallow like a buttered pig without anything gaining traction in the fabric. The bag smells good, so if there's duck feathers in it I don't care. The shell seems compulsively hydrophobic. There was dampness on the foot; and water beaded below the blow hole. What I didn't observe was flattening of the loft, causing me to think the treated feathers really do resist saturation. Perhaps that, and the stiffer 650-fill feathers cause the loft to stay plush even when assaulted by high-humidity condensing on the fabric.
    stuffed in packAll of my layering adjustments (not to mention said mugs of liquids) required a lot of zipping. Not once did the zipper snag. However, the silky-smooth operation evidently comes at the price of the zipper not staying where put. I couldn't vent the upper bag with any control. The zipper either had to be snapped up, or allowed to migrate to the other end. I also had some difficulty with the snap, sometimes fumbling to the point of severe agitation. I'll see if experience will overcome this aspect; it didn't happen in three nights. Without the zipper snapped, drawing the chest pull started the zipper on its way downhill, so never-minding the snap led to undesirable consequence. I never got warm enough below the knees without being warm above, so I never tried venting from the bottom up.
    I couldn't say conclusively this early in the test, but my preliminary estimation of fill distribution would be that the torso area could lose a little to the below-the-knee area.
    After three nights I found literally only two feathers inside the tent. My black base layer looked speckled with really tiny bits of feathers. I've used quite a number of down bags--really cheap to really not cheap--and never had one before that shed so little fill. I didn't find any quills sticking through the fabric, another first.
    I packed it in a dry bag expecting some exposure to the elements; probably squeezing it a little smaller than the provided stuff sack that I didn't use. I had the coupler with me but never worked up the motivation to try it. Maybe OK as my five-year old but previously-used-only-12-nights-mattress decided to relieve itself of air pressure during the night, and there's no fussing over the coupler possibly being complicit. (ThermArest replaced the mattress.)

2.   With heavy rain forecast for the last night and day I expected the bag could get a "convenient" wet test. I did not use a dry bag this time and did use the factory stuff sack, as pictured in the top of a 65 L pack. (Small pack for winter, but some gear got dragged in on a sled.) I had fire on this trip and never went to bed cold. Though my thermometer was consistently 30 F (-1 C) when I retired for the night, I didn't find anything frozen. I was never cold except one night for the feet. It may be only fair to the product test to point out that my metabolic furnace evidently no longer has duct work below the knees. One night I did stuff my feet in a heavy coat to get them warmed up. Above the knee I slept in only a single layer and was very comfortable.
    The last night started raining before midnight. Sometime in the wee hours I noticed water trickling in. I had errantly leaned my folding chair against the side of the tent and evidently the metal caused a trickle of condensation wetting part of my mattress and sleeping bag. The intrusion was minimal and once again the water beaded on the shell. It flicked off with no apparent consequence. Not a serious test, but my other bags would typically dimple in the area of such dampness. The first and third nights of this trip were particularly humid, but the bag never felt dank or heavy.
    No zipper snags; and when I'm not five-layered and haven't drawn the chest pull, the zipper will stay parked at the top without being snapped, though won't seem to stay put when partially unzipped from the top.
    It was raining cats (not quite dogs) when I packed up and attentions were drawn to concerns other than rummaging for loose feathers, but I didn't find a single one after three nights.
    I thought I'd grabbed the coupler on my way out of the house, but it turned out to be something else. I get a little excited when the moment arrives to go camping.

3.    The bottom side of the bag has much less fill than the top, a distribution that makes sense.  I seem to notice it a bit when I use the bag as a quilt, since then there are cold spots on top. The bag is meant for cold temperatures where opening it as a quilt would not be an intended use. I can shift the quilt position somewhat to choose warmer or colder via top side or bottom side mostly over me. I'm finding that when temps get below 35 F (2 C) I need to get inside and zip up. I'm still having issues finding the snap; and that bit of trouble in my nether-state of awakeness kept me from bundling up one night when my cheeks and nose got so cold I couldn't quite remain unconscious. The next night I fiddled until I found the snap, pulled the draw string up and slept soundly.
    Just below freezing I'm finding my torso up warm enough, but eventually my shins down get cold. I'm used to sleeping in constrictive bags (this one definitely is not) and for me I'd move a bit of fill out of the hood and upper area to below the knees; and also make a tighter fit. With less air inside to warm up, I think my feet would stay happy longer.
    The chance of rain and snow on this trip was small at 30% but chronic. Presuming I might have to pack out in wet weather I used a dry bag again instead of the stuff sack. As it turned out the weather was certainly as cool as forecast but the only noticeable amount of precipitation was a spattering of freezing rain that put me scrambling into the tent a little early on the last night. That was the coldest night, with ice on the top side of the fly and frost on the bottom until a shy sun melted it off mid-morning.

4.   Temps on this trip never reached freezing, and for the times I looked the range inside the tent was 38 to 82 F (3 - 28 C). I never zipped the bag and used it as a quilt all five nights. Even my feet stayed warm! I was so cold outside one night with the wind driving me into the tent a couple hours early that I put the bag over me with a jacket still on. In half-an-hour or so I had to take it off. The other four nights were warm enough I didn't wear a jacket outside, though I did have campfire, and went to bed warm.
    It seems I woke up too warm an hour or so after day break when the tent inside was around 55 F (13 C) and had to throw the bag off me. Then I'd wake up cold and have to pull it back over me. While I am certainly impressed with the comfort range of 25-55 F (-4 to 13 C) for me, the season may be heating up enough to require a less-warm bag or perhaps a less-warm tent. The issue now is that 'shoulder' time between 55 F (13 C) until about 75 F (24 C) when the bag is too warm to keep on me, but the temp is still too cool for no cover. This frustrates my lollygagging time, which is not to be tolerated. It's hard enough to roll out at 10 AM even without fits and starts. The bag has 16 test nights, and that may have to do it until winter.
    The stuff sack got the call for this trip, there being minimal chance of precip in the forecast (and none developed). I like the provided stuff sack better than a dry bag because it stows the bag without over-compressing it; and squishes to fit when time to go in the pack. A dry bag won't let the air out, so the bag has to stay at maximum squish all the time; or leave the dry bag open, somewhat defeating the purpose of having it.
    Evidently I can't bring myself to try the coupler. On the snow trips I had extra-wide mattress and/or blue pad; and on the last two trips an air mattress with fatter tubes running the sides. I just don't come off. And knowing spring temps will not be cold enough to need the bag zipped, the coupler would be in the way of using the bag as a quilt.
    I've been wondering what about the bag makes it so comfortable. Being warm enough, of course, explains a good part of it. Now I'm also thinking the shell has something special. I always sleep with nearly every bit of skin covered, so almost no direct contact with the shell. To exaggerate rather a lot, the super-light mummies I have are wrapped in Pertex fabric, lusciously supple, but somewhat like plastic wrap that can be clingy. Extending the hyperbole, the Questar is more like paper, letting clothing skid effortlessly over it. As much as I thrash around at night, the Questar stays pretty much in place as opposed to gripping and getting all balled up.

Nights in use: 15
Field Conditions:
. May 23-29, 2018: Emigrant Wilderness, California, USA. Six nights: One car camping at 7,200 ft (2,200 m) and five backpacking at 8,000 ft (2,400 m). 10 mi (15 km); leave weight 40 lb (18 kg). Temps 32-70 F (0-21 C), partly sunny to cloudy and raining, light wind. Tent camping with REI Stratus mattress.
    6. June 6-9, 2018: Stanislaus National Forest, California. Three nights at 5,200 ft (1,585 m). 10 mi (15 km); leave weight 36 lb (16 kg). Sleeping temps in 40's (7 C). Dry, no wind. Hammock camping with Big Agnes AXL mattress.

      5. Approaching summer season a 0 (-17 C) wouldn't seem a likely choice. The forecast was for some nasty conditions that did not develop to their full potential, but were a surprise for this time of year. When I crawled into a frosting tent I actually felt rather smug in my snugness. That night was coldest and I zipped up. The other nights were typically just below 40 F (4 C) at bed time, usually around 10 pm, and the bag stayed open for use as a quilt. All six nights I slept in only a light base layer.
While the bag seemed like overkill, sleeping so warm and toasty was a mighty nice feeling.
    One night my tent partner woke me to ask if there was water on my sleeping bag. I didn't want there to be, so I said no. However, reality set in as more water came in through a vent that was zipped too far open. Once again all of the water seemed to bead up on the outside of the shell.
    6. Conditions were forecast to be way too pleasant for a winter bag. However, the brief outing offered ideal opportunity to revisit hammocking and I hang cold! The Quest would surely be up to the task of keeping me warm, and from the previous trip I've decided I'd rather risk being too warm than too cold. The question was whether the stiffer fill would maintain enough insulation along shoulders and arms, where there is no mattress shield between body and hammock. The feathers did their job, with the bag in quilt mode and gathered in several layers between shoulders and hammock. Summer conditions in the 'refrigerating' hammock still proved the winter Quest a great choice.

Total nights tested: 24

Summation: Super-plush mummy not very heavy for the temperature rating and fill. I really, really like this bag for temps 25-55* F (-4 to 13 C).

*When it's been 25 F (-4 C) all night, then I find the bag comfy until the tent's warmed up to about 55 F (13 C). I could not use the bag starting off at the higher end.

Quick shots:
a) high-value
    b) practical design
    c) wide comfort range
Thank you Therm-A-Rest and for the opportunity to test this product. This concludes my reporting for this test.

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