VALANDRE MIRAGE SLEEPING BAG
TEST SERIES BY EDWARD RIPLEY-DUGGAN
LONG TERM REPORT
June 29, 2007
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE INITIAL REPORT, MARCH 2 2007
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT, MAY 14 2007
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG TERM REPORT, JUNE 29 2007
Catskills, New York State
6' 1" (1.85 m)
215 lb (97.50 kg)
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from a simple stroll in the woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no means an extreme ultra-light enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to carry a pack weight (before food and water) of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In recent years, I've rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within the constraints of budget and common sense.
Product information and specifications
Manufacturer: Valandré [Belcaire, France]
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.valandre.com
Fill: Goosedown, 800+ loft power, 95/5 [i.e. 95% down, 5% feather]
Size: Large [as stated on card tag; presumably, this means long]
Drawstrings: Two, collar and hood
Manufacturer specifications from website
Down load: 350 g (12.3 oz)
Stated weight: 680 g (24 oz)
Inside circumference: 158/135/97 cm (62.3/53.2/38.2 inconversion taken from website) [shoulder/hip/foot]
Inside length: 200 cm (6 ft 7 in) for the long size
Stated rating: -5 C (23 F) extreme
[N.B. Valandré is not using the European Union's definition of "extreme" here. In the E.U. standard, the lower extreme rating of a bag is defined as "...where the risk of health damage by hypothermia occurs (related to standard woman and in standard conditions of use)." According to the manufacturer (private communication), the extreme figure quoted here is the lowest temperature for comfortable sleeping, based on user input. Indeed, it will not remain constant for one user, varying with fatigue, food eaten, etc. Bag ratings in general should only be used to compare models from one manufacturer, not real-world performance.]
Measured weight: 710 g (25 oz) [the difference from the published weight is likely due to the fact that this bag is a large/long, not a regular]
Stuff sack weight: 28 g (1 oz)
Loft, foot: 25 cm (10 in)
Loft, midsection: 13 cm (5 in)
Loft, collar: 18 cm (7 in)
Zip length: 33 cm (13 in) YKK zipper
Stuffed size in manufacturer's sack: 15 cm (6 in) diameter, 23 cm (9 in) long
Exterior fabric: Asahi KASEI Impact 66 Polyamid rip stop, silver-gray, 37g/m2
Interior fabric: Asahi KASEI Impact 66 Polyamid rip stop, black, 37g/m2
The Valandré Mirage
The manufacturer states on their website that all Valandré products are built to last and guaranteed against any manufacturing defects throughout the lifespan of the product. Further, "Damage due to wear and tear can be repaired at a reasonable cost set on a price offer suggested by Valandré. We will deal with any repair option, including a complete renewal of the down or changing down density in one or more chambers." However, this does necessitate return of the product to Belcaire, France.
The sleeping bag arrived in a mesh storage bag, substantially uncompressed (protected in transit by a hefty cardboard box). The storage bag also contained a small stuff sack. There was no literature other than a bilingual (French, English) hang-tag, with information on the warranty and general care instructions. The sleeping bag arrived with some loose down on the exterior, but this seems merely to have been some stray fluff that got in the box when shipped. There was no evidence of it having escaped from the interior of the bag. It was interesting to see, howeverpure plumules of down, with no feathers evident.
These are very straightforward. Storage without compression in a clean, airy place is recommended. For cleaning, a water temperature of 35 C/95 F is advised (hand or machine), with natural or down soap. Dry cleaning is not advised. Several rinsings are suggested, followed by a spin-dry on "delicate." Drying at the lowest machine temperature is recommended, with hanging to dry (out of direct sun) as an alternative.
The silver-grey fabric of the shell is enormously attractive, almost chic. The lining is black, with a soft and rather luxurious "hand," in the argot of textiles. The bag is startlingly light for its loft. The baffles (of which there are many, in a complex structure) are quite wide, and are not bulging with down, but are certainly adequately filled. This is, in my estimation, good, as it gives the down space to expand without constriction. The baffle structure (which I'll discuss in detail later) seems designed so that the down will not shift within the compartments. The stitch-count of all sewing is high, and the craftsmanship extremely neat, with no loose ends of thread etc. In short, the construction appears impeccable. The down, which is gathered from farms not far from where the manufacturer is situated, has a faint, sweet odor (not especially poultry-like) that I find pleasant. The bag closely matches, in appearance and specifics, the product as advertised on Valandré's website.
Features, construction, and design
The Mirage is, at first glance, a rather minimalist sleeping bag. It has no draft tube or draft collar, and the zip is extremely short. However, both the materials used, and the details of construction, tend to belie this first impression. The simplification involved appears informed by a very refined sense of sleeping bag design.
The shell is a high-tech textile from one of Japan's leading mills. It repels the direct application of water extremely well (I ran it under a tap). My testing will determine how well it handles the more insidious problem of dampness from prolonged contact with, for example, condensation from tent walls.
Valandré's design offers continuous baffles that wrap right round the bag. These are are twelve major tubes of down, separated from each other internally. The fabric is joined by seams (inside and out) running along the center of the bag's top, resulting in the lengthwise line of stitching that can be seen in the photograph below. Most of these baffles are about 13.5 cm (5.3 in) in width, becoming a couple of inches wider towards the foot. The hood is differentially cut, with the interior smaller than the exterior. This style of construction, in my experience, results in a snugger, warmer and more comfortable fit than the alternative, a flat hood that's mechanically curved by a cord. The hood has three down chambers, and the center bears Valandré's simple and discreet orange logo. The extremely lofty footbox has two chambers, separated by a baffle.
|The Valandré Mirage|
The short zip moves smoothly. While there is no tape reinforcement, it is likely enough not needed, as the zipper shows no tendency to catch. The advantage of such a short zip is that there will be commensurately little loss of heat along the side of the bag resulting from drafts penetrating the zip, or conduction of heat to the outside. Nor is there a need for a draft tube, which adds weight. The possible downside is that the bag may prove awkward to enter and exit. I'm especially concerned how this will work in my small winter tent. I will examine this aspect of the bag's construction very closely.
The tension of the hood and the collar of the bag are controlled by spring-loaded toggles. In Valandré's signature fashion, these snap together. They are identical to those used on another bag by the firm that I own, so I can already vouch for the fact that having both cords in proximity in this manner is convenient. It saves much wiggling around, trying to find a "missing" pull that I'm probably lying on. They are detached from each other by pressing a small button (and the bag can't easily be exited until they are separated). Each cord is tipped with a rubber-like pull. It's a simple but elegant arrangement.
|Controls for collar and hood|
The cut of the bag is very roomy around the chest (and I'm not exactly skinny). There is more than enough space in there to wear an expedition-weight down jacket with a full hood. I have verified this by wearing a Moonstone Uber Down Jacket in the bag, a garment that has massive loft. In fact, even then there is enough room for still more chest insulation, without risking compressing the down of the bag.
The cut of the bag tapers quite sharply towards the legs, although there is still room for insulated pants. The footbox has more than enough room for down booties or boot liners. Given this spaciousness, I expect to be able to take the bag well below its rating by using layers (the Uber Down may be overkill for most conditions, given that it doubles the loft). I consider this a huge plus, as many sleeping bags are rather skimpy in cut, and wearing a heavy down jacket would likely be rather constricting without the ample space this bag provides. While winter is still with us, I hope to test the lower limits of the bag both with and without such augmentation, temperatures permitting. The length seems adequate for the storage of water, gas etc. at the foot, although it appears slightly less than I would have expected from the 200 cm (6 ft 7 in) indicated on the website.
On a final note, there are two hang loops at the foot of the bag, which I will use. (I prefer to keep my sleeping bags hung, as it keeps the down in good shape.) There is a mesh storage bag supplied as an alternative means of storage, as well as a stuff sack that is very effective in compressing the bag into a small volume.
From my preliminary assessment, this appears to be an attractive and very well-made sleeping bag with a highly refined design, and an impressive loft for its weight. I am especially intrigued by the possibility of using it as a lightweight option for milder winter trips, in conjunction with insulated jackets etc. I carry these in any case, for camp use. I look forward to testing how comfortable it is, and how easy it is to get in and out; how well it suits my sleeping style (generally I am a side sleeper); how well it resists moisture etc.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Because the Mirage arrived somewhat later than expected (and given the vagaries of climate this year) I was unable to test it in conditions as cold as I had originally planned. I've used it on three outings to date, all in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, sleeping at elevations to about 3400 ft (1036 m). I consider myself a warm to average sleeper under most conditions, unless exceptionally fatigued or hungry. I usually eat some fairly high-fat food at supper, along with lots of carbs and hot liquids. A decent evening meal (hungry or not) is key to staying warm overnight.
The lowest temperature experienced (all temperatures stated are within the tent) was on snow, at 35 F (2 C). I was using a Pacific Outdoor Equipment Hyper High Mtn pad underneath me, and a Sierra Designs Divine Lightning tent (a very small single-wall breathable fabric four-season shelter, no longer made). The weather was generally clear, but remained far milder than the forecast. I was wearing a medium-weight Patagonia Capilene layer in the bag. I was perfectly comfortable all night.
My second trip was to a lakeside site, at perhaps 2000 ft (610 m). The weather was overcast, with occasional drizzle during the night. I was using a Henry Shires Double Rainbow Tarptent, very well ventilated, with one beak held partway open with a trekking pole. I was again using the P.O.E. pad. Nighttime temperatures dipped down 40 F (4 C). Humidity was high, which tended to make the apparent temperature feel colder. I was wearing a down jacket in camp without feeling unduly warm. Overnight, I wore a short-sleeve thin merino shirt, and briefs. I did not use the bag's hood on this occasion, although I cinched the bag around my neck. I had had quite a long day's walk, and was well-fed but physically tired, and so I was likely to have been sleeping cooler than usual. Still, I was comfortable in the bag all night long.
My most recent trip also used the Tarptent as my shelter, erected free-standing at 3400 ft (1036 m) on an exposed rocky ledge with glorious views on Slide Mountain, the Catskills' highest peak. Conditions were extremely variable, ranging from about 52 F (11 C) at bedtime (when a sudden fairly heavy rain started), down to 37 F (3 C) towards dawn, under what were now crystal-clear skies. A strong breeze was blowing through the tent's ventilating mesh during this coldest period, apparently in one beak and out the other, directly over my bag and body. I was clothed identically to the previous trip. I didn't use the hood for the first part of the night, but was bundled up with the hood on and with the bag's collar cinched by the morning.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I have been extremely pleased by the performance of the Mirage. It packs compactly into its nylon sack, though some care in doing so is needed, as it is a tight fit. I have decided to avoid using compression sacks, in order to avoid any potential damage to the down. It's not necessary to use one, as the bag packs to such a small size in the supplied sack when compared to most sleeping bags of this approximate rating.
I generally unpack my sleeping bag as soon as my tent is up, to give the down sufficient time to loft. I also give it a gentle shake to plump it. The Mirage puffs up nicely, and in a short period of time. The baffles are not tightly filled with down. To my mind a good thing, as this can be an indication that the down is being slightly compressed, which means its performance will be less than ideal.
In my small Sierra Designs four-season tent, although the bag's zip faces the door, I still found that the short zipper length made getting into the bag without bumping into the walls an awkward exercise. Had the door position been such that the zipper had not faced out, I think I would have had a tough time indeed. As it was, I slid the bag down a bit towards the foot of the tent, shoved my legs in, then pulled it up over my torso, and zipped it. This involved some minor contortions.
If the walls of my tent were rime-coated (they were not, this time, but often are) it's likely that I would have had some ice on, or even in the bag as a result of this maneuvering. Still (on the positive side) the short zip does mean no side drafts, and this seems to be a reasonable design compromise to me. On no occasion did I feel any cold air seeping over my body from the zip (where it crosses my shoulder) or anywhere else, for that matter. The zip does not have a draft flap or tube, but when it's closed it is almost totally covered by the fabric to which it is mounted.
I do not like that there is no fabric flap covering over the upper end of the zip, where it meets the collar of the bag. This is mostly a concern when the bag is used without the hood. I have found it comfortable at milder temperatures not to have the collar and hood toggles connected, and these are the only thing that prevents contact between my neck and the zip. Under these conditions, when the bag's collar is cinched to some extent, the metal of the zipper's pull-tabs lies against my neck. This is not dramatically uncomfortable, but neither does it strike me as desirable. I don't like sleeping with a piece of cold metal touching my skin. A simple flap of fabric secured with Velcro would add virtually no weight and would resolve this issue.
The zipper movement is remarkably smooth, and I have had no problems with it catching fabric and jamming. The cords for the hood and collar are easy to find and reach in the dark, and are easily tightened and released using the toggle system. This is extremely convenient and highly functional.
The bag is very well cut for my frame. I'm fairly heavily built, without being chubby. It fits me with room to spare, although the leg and foot sections are not as roomy as the torso, where there's loads of space, excellent for layering. When the hood and the neck cord toggles are connected and the drawstrings are tightened, so the hood is snug and the collar is closed against drafts, the bag is extremely cozy.
As already noted, I tend not to use the hood when sleeping in milder temperatures. Under these conditions (40 F, 4 C and over, with still air), I have found that the bag used without the hood provides just enough insulation for perfect comfort all night long. I was neither overly cool towards morning nor overheated at any time. The only means for regulating the warmth of the bag are by opening and closing the short zipper, controlling the extent to which the bag's collar is cinched, and determining whether or not to use the hood.
During my recent Slide Mountain outing, I found that at a temperature of 52 F (11 C), I was too warm, even with the bag unzipped and the collar uncinched and the hood unused. Towards morning, as the temperature plummeted and a strong breeze started blowing under the beaks of my Tarptent and across my bag, I started to feel slightly cool, well after I had put the hood on and cinched the bag. I was also more wakeful than usual, with a touch of insomnia that had been bothering me off and on. While the measured tent temperature of 37 F (3 C) is well above the 23 F (-5) bag rating, I attribute the cool sensation to a combination of low metabolism (this was around 5 or 6 AM), and a high rate of convective cooling caused by the wind, which by then was giving the tent quite a beating. With windchill, the apparent temperature would have been around 20 F (-7 C), estimating a 15 mph (24 km/hr) windspeed. I should emphasize that I wasn't actively cold, merely borderline cool, otherwise I would have reached for a jacket. Had I been asleep, rather than looking at the dawn, I would as likely as not have slept through and reported a perfectly warm night.
The length of the bag is adequate to my height, though there isn't a large excess of foot room for the storage of gear, a small issue as this bag is rated down to sub-freezing temperatures. There is only enough space for a few odds and ends down at the foot. The loose cut of the bag's torso does allow me to store soft items there. A pair of boots will not fit terribly comfortably, though this would be possible if absolutely essential. I did not find the bag in any way claustrophobic or constrictive, though. In fact, it is one of the most comfortable I have used in that regard.
I am a side-sleeper, and I tend to sleep slightly in the fetal position (not a full tuck, but with my knees pulled a bit towards my chin). The bag accomodates this position quite well, and I didn't have any sense that I was crushing the down and creating cold spots, and I felt warm both back and front. Indeed, the bag is notably free from cold spots generally. If there is one region of the bag where a little more down might be good, it is perhaps over my legs where the baffles appear thinnest, but what's there does seem adequate to the conditions under which I've used the bag to date.
In all regards, this has proved to be a very satisfactory sleeping bag, of exceptionally light weight for the temperature rating. I find the textile of the lining pleasant to the touch, and I feel cosseted when using it. I also really like the appearance of the bag's shell fabric. The Mirage is really quite elegant as sleeping bags go. Admittedly this is not a functional point (a bag could look wonderful and perform terribly), but since it does perform well, this adds to the pleasure of using it.
Other than the few small issues I have noted, I don't have any complaints or cavils. I do very much hope that I have some opportunity to use it in chillier temperatures, although the window for that is fast closing. I have not yet had occasion to test the quality of the DWR coating of the bag's shell, as it has not been exposed to significant condensation from my tent walls, or other sources of moisture such as blown rain.
The Valandré Mirage strikes me, as I had noted in the Initial Report, to be something of a minimalist bag, though very sophisticated in its construction. In general, in the use I have given it so far, I am pleased with almost all aspects of its design, with the small exception of the lack of a "garage" for the zip where it meets the collar. The short zip (and the awkwardness getting in and out of the bag, especially in small tents) might also be considered potentially negative, but I feel it makes for a warmer bag, so at present I consider this to be a trade-off between convenience and functionality.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Unfortunately, I ran out of true cool-weather conditions in which to test the Mirage. I was able to use it for one Catskill overnight backpack, and two nights at Harris Lake (a state campground) in the Adirondacks, my base-camp for a Santononi Range traverse. For the Catskill trip, the elevation was around 3000 ft (914 m), and the lowest nightime temperature 45 F (7 C). For Harris Lake, the elevation was about 1700 ft (518 m), and temperatures were as low as 40 F (4 C) one night of the two. I was using the Double Rainbow Tarptent as a shelter in both instances. For the Catskill trip I used a Z-Rest augmented by a Bozeman Mountain Works Torsolite as sleeping pads, and for the Adirondacks a rather hefty Therm-a-Rest, as this was basically car camping.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
As noted in my Field Report, the manufacturer's suggested upper rating of 50 F (10 C) was generally accurate. At any higher temperature, the bag is usually uncomfortably warm, and its construction precludes ventilation. I was very disappointed not to have the opportunity to test the low temperature performance during the four month test period, and I may add to this report next winter.
Having just stated that it tends to be overly warm for mild temperature use, I did have the unusual experience of being cool, almost cold, on the second night of my Adirondack trip, despite being warm as toast at (if anything) lower temperatures on the first night. The reason? The first night I was well rested. The second night I had walked for thirteen and a half hours straight (with a few small rest breaks) on the three-peak Santanoni "traverse," a mildly notorious Adirondack test piece. Despite starting at 6:30 AM at the trailhead, I did not reach the car until 10 PM.
Not only that, but by the time I had reached the campsite and removed large amounts of mud from my person, it was so late that I decided to skip any supper, in order to avoid indigestion. I slept fairly well, but towards dawn I was cold enough that I covered the upper portion of the bag with a down jacket I had with me. I was, given this, very glad that I was using the Mirage, and not my usual summerweight bag. Exhaustion and poor nutrition will take their toll, and under such conditions even a bag that might otherwise be considered overkill can prove to be only just adequate. I do not consider this experience to be in any way a negative reflection on the bag, but it does illustrate the subjective nature of bag ratings. It should be noted that I was NOT using the hood when I chilled, partly because I was too zoned out to put it on.
My only real reservation with this excellent sleeping bag remains the short zip, which (as I previously reported) I consider a fair trade-off against the very light weight. A longer zip would add significantly to the weight, as there would then presumably need to be a draft tube. I also have some reservations about the lack of a flap at the top of the zip so my neck does not rest on the zip.
This is, in my opinion, a superb bag, of exceptionally light weight and really superior construction. While I have not been able to use it near its stated lower limit, based on my experience in the Field Test period, I would anticipate that it will function well at sub-freezing temperatures (provided that I am well fed and hydrated before bedtime, something I am very careful about in winter conditions). I am generally delighted with it, and the only minor cavils I have (mentioned in the previous text) are trade-offs against the exceptionally light weight.
The down shows no loss of loft, and I have not noticed any projecting barbs coming through the shell, which seems surprisingly downproof for its lightweight fabric. There is no evidence of any wear, or indeed any other defect, and the attractive shell remains clean. The bag has not been washed yet (I don't wash down bags with any great frequency). Aesthetically, the bag is attractive; though this is not a practical point, it's no bad thing that gear should look pleasing to the eye.
I anticipate that this will become my normal autumn and early winter bag, except during very cold periods. The weight is hard to beat, the loft is excellent, and the room that it offers to layer up clothing, especially on my upper body, is unrivalled by any other bag excepting one other I own, from the same manufacturer.
This is the the final report in this series. I may add more cold-weather results as circumstances permit. My thanks to Valandré and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test this remarkable sleeping bag.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer
Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.