How many sleeping bags do you own? Now, how many do you think you should own? Big question. I received my first proper sleeping bag one Christmas – a synthetic fill model by Ajungilak of Norway. Great bag – I’ve still have it 20 years later, although I don’t use it anymore. It’s probably a collector’s item, worth thousands. I’ll tell you what - $500 and it’s yours. I’ll even wash it first. Okay, $350. It’s in good nick, just a couple of stains. $200? You’re killing me here; I’m cutting my own throat!
Where was I? Oh yes. “Great,” I thought, “A sleeping bag! All my camp night woes are over.” And I was right, for a while. Rewrite the same scene today and I’d be thinking “Pfft! One sleeping bag? What am I supposed to do with that? Talk about limiting my options.” Okay, let’s cut to the chase - how many bags should you own? I’d say the absolute minimum is three: a super-lightweight synthetic one, for travelling; a super-warm one, for winter hiking/mountaineering; something that covers every other eventuality. I reluctantly admit that many travellers have to make do with one - the all-rounder - which is why I’m reviewing it, and Sea to Summit’s Micro McIII is my do-it-all bag.
My Anjungilak never had a season-rating that I knew of, and it certainly wasn’t temperature specific like the Swiss lab-tested ones of today with their impressive-sounding EN 13537 ratings, but it was warm and toasty. The difficulty was that, as I discovered when I expanded my horizons beyond cider-fuelled venture scout camps on Dartmoor, it didn’t pack down small enough. And this is the main drawback of synthetic bags: they’re whopping, swollen lumps of weight that can take up half your pack. Mine was one of those. I humped the bastard through India for months, virtually unused, for the week that I went trekking in Nepal, and even then I was too hot in the foothills of the Annapurnas but in danger of freezing solid above the snowline. Clearly that was a 3-bag trip in itself.
The upside of synthetic insulation is that it still functions when it is wet. I took the self-same bag around Europe in ’91 where, between Greek islands, we’d travel by ferry (overnight of course, to save on accommodation). On one of those warm crossings I carefully sought out a lonely span of deck to grace with my slumbering form. I didn’t have a sleeping mat but I was under cover and the sky pricked by millions of stars, so I was a tad confused to wake up a few hours later, soaking wet. Nightmarish explanations filled by brain as I lay there. I prayed that some drunken idiot hadn’t urinated on me in the night for a ‘laugh’, as had been the threat a couple of weeks earlier in a bus shelter in charming Portsmouth.
This turned out not to be the case – a trickle of liquid had seeped from an outflow pipe on the wall and run in a rivulet along the deck until it hit my bag, around which it formed a neat puddle. I was pee-free, but then had to stand at the bow of the ship, like a smelly, unshaven embodiment of Titanic’s Rose, arms aloft to hold my flapping bed until it dried from sopping, through just plain wet, to moist enough to use. Then I went back to floor. Had my bag been down-filled it may have taken three days to dry. And I can be glad I didn’t lose my grip and watch it fly back over the rail to sleep with the fishes.
As a sidenote, I remember meeting an Australian fellow on that boat who claimed, somewhat outlandishly, to have been travelling for 18 months. “How ridiculous,” thought my 18 year-old self, “I would never want to do that.” How things change.
And so, to the STS Micro. New-fangled Ultra-Dry DownTM has supposedly removed the limitations of wet feathers – a chemical coating renders it almost impossible to hold water. The only ‘down’side in this era of avian influenza is the cost of the geese, which is spiralling ever upwards, but if you can afford it – this is a fantastic bag! The temperature rating of -2°C (limit of comfort) is very accurate; the inner lining is nice and comfy; the toggle-closure foot-box is unique and clever; the 2D NanoshellTM is buzzword gobbledygook for water repellency; best of all it packs down to the size of a giant lemon. At 5 litres You can virtually carry it in your jeans pocket! This is the perfect travel sleeping bag. So, how did it perform on my recent Caribbean jaunt? Well, I didn’t take it, of course – it’s far too nice to risk damaging or losing.