eureka-sleeping-bagKevin Callan

When it comes to camping, what’s the main trend this season? That’s the question I’m getting from the media lately.

Last year, it was "glamping" (glamour camping). The year before it was how to connect to wi-fi while out in the boonies. Now it seems it's all about comfort. This new fad may have something to do with all the Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers, a large population base who fell in love with camping so many years ago, that still want to play outside — but their body is starting to rebel. Turning 50 in a few months, I can relate. I find myself choosing more and more camp gadgets that make me more snug on trip. I just paid a crazy price ($89) for the Helinox camp chair. And yes, its worth the money. I even bought my first camp pillow. Nemo Fillo. No longer will I be stuffing my smelly camp clothes under my head.

Besides camp chairs and cozy camp pillows, sleeping bags are getting lots of attention in the outdoor industry. A number of major companies have new models out, all promoting warmth and comfort like no other. Here are two I field tested:

Therm-a-rest Antares - $350

This 750-plus fill goose down bag definitely wins for being engineered for the true camper. Have you ever woken up and found yourself sleeping on the cold, hard ground because your sleeping mat left you sometime during the night? I have. That’s why the Antares intrigued me. The bag connects to your Therm-a-Rest so you become one with your sleeping mat. I used Therm-a-rest’s extremely light and cozy NeoAir but you can attach any 25-inch-wide camping mattress. The theory behind this design is that the SynergyLink Connecting system allows for more goose down to be concentrated on the top, sides and hood of the bag. After testing it out I found the bag quite comfortable and extremely light (1lb. 15 oz) and compact. It wasn’t restrictive like a common mummy-bag and the draft collars at the head, neck and along the zipper seam really added to the bag’s warmth. I’ve used the Antares on two trips so far. The first was a four-day hiking trip and the lightweight and size of the bag was perfect for such a trip. The second trip was a week-long canoe trip earlier in the season. That’s where I discovered the only negative of this bag. It’s rating system doesn’t match. The comfort level is one-degree Celsius, the limit is rated at -5 degrees Celsius, and the extreme is -22 degrees Celsius. Sorry, but there’s no way this bag can be used at -22. It got to -5 on my trip and I had to put on a warm sweater to keep the chill out — which came from under the bag. The NeoAir mat really didn’t replace down for insulation. To be fair, however, the Antares comfort rating of one degree is dead on. It’s warm and comfortable and can definitely be used as a lightweight and comfortable three-season bag. Just don’t pack it along when the nighttime temps drop below zero.

Nemo Nocturne 30 Down - $400

I didn’t know much about this company except that they made incredibly good quality tarps and they had a tent that had air-tubes instead of poles. Weird but cool. I took notice of their sleeping bag designs at the Mid-West Mountaineering show this past April and picked up their new Nocturne 30 down bag. What peaked my interest is the bag’s unconventional shape. This definitely isn’t one of those claustrophobic mummy-bags. It’s shaped like a spoon, like the wooden ones you used to get with a single serving of ice cream. It’s wide at the shoulders and knees and tapers in at the hips.The design lets you bend and thrash freely throughout the night. I’m a slide-sleeper and this bag definitely allows for that. It also has a lot of extras that, in my opinion, qualify the hefty price tag.  Small but important items include a pillow pocket where you ca stuff your extra clothes or a blow-up pillow and an internal zipped pocket to store your watch or ear plugs for when your tent partner starts to snore. There’s also an insulated blanket fold at the top of the bag to stop drafts and trap body warmth. The temperature rating for the bag (-1 degree Celsius) is trustworthy and it seems lighter than its labeled weight of two pounds. The footbox is waterproof and breathable — perfect for when dampness seeps into the tent’s lower walls, exactly where the base of your sleeping bag is pushed against. The two-way zipper also allows you to unzip the lower portion of the bag so you can stick your legs out if you get too hot through the night. Nemo also states that the 700 down is water-repellent. This addition isn’t something I’ve been able to test out yet, but if it works this will take away my phobia of getting my down bag wet. The age-old advantage of a synthetic sleeping bag vs down is that if it gets wet it still retains some warmth but a lighter and much more comfortable down bag becomes totally useless.

Time to field test this one. I head out this weekend and it’s calling for rain and cold temperatures. Wish me good luck.

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