This Month's Gear Guru Question:by Backcountry Bob
Q. I did two weeks of backpacking in New Mexico's Rockies this summer with my Western Mountaineering Cariboo [sleeping] bag. I don't wish to be irreverent to Western Mountaineering, but I was cold. (Temp didn't go below 32, if that). I slept with clothes on, etc. Still cold. Any thoughts on rectifying this? Never thought that I was a wimp. All commentaries talk up the bag as warmer than rating. I loved the weight, but was not satisfied with the warmth.
I am not totally surprised at your experience, but empathize with your predicament. The trouble with sleeping bag temperature ratings is that they are very subjective and in my opinion, not all that accurate. To top that off, there is no industry standard. The reason is, like I mentioned, it's too subjective. For instance, everyone's internal heat and metabolism is different; that's why you don't see temperature ratings for clothing. The sleeping bag rating also does not factor in the sleeping pad, which adds an important R value component to the equation. You can lose a ton of heat to the ground through conduction with an inferior pad. Other factors include humidity levels and bag construction techniques.
Western Mountaineering has one of the best reputations in the outdoor industry and has set the highest standards there are; quality is not an issue with them. However, I do notice that the Cariboo is rated to 35 degrees, is super lightweight, and most importantly, uses sewn-through construction. What this does is make the bag very light, but also very prone to "cold spots"; by that I mean areas where the down filling can drift, leaving little or no insulation under or around areas of your body. I believe ratings can vary plus or minus 10 degrees and if you add to that a lower metabolism rate, and common night-time temperatures in the Rockies being in the 40's or less, then I'm not surprised that you could get cold. I also think that in this day and age of "Fast and Light" that expectations are getting exceeded by both the participants and the manufacturers. It was just a few years ago that it was unthinkable for a 3-season bag to have a warmer rating than 15 degrees.
I would suggest getting a better sleeping pad (if you think yours may be inferior) or try either a lightweight, washable micro fleece liner for your bag, or alternatively, a lightweight, breathable, water resistant bivy sack. Both of these can increase the temperature rating of your bag by about 10 degrees. Yes, they add more weight, but are less expensive alternatives to buying a new warmer bag. Good luck and happy camping!
This month's Gear Guru question was submitted by Ralph from Long Beach, California. He will receive a Backcountry.com Nalgene bottle for his question. Enjoy Ralph!
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