Both Mayu and I feel like pretty serious campers. Even before cycling from South Africa to Japan we would regularly sleep in a tent somewhere in the great outdoors. However if our experience from the beginning of our camping days, involved long nights shivering in the darkness, waiting for those precious rays of sun to warm our weary souls. I doubt very much we would still be enjoying it like we do today.
The Comfy Life
To enjoy something we need to be comfortable and having a sleeping bag that is warm enough to fend off the cold, without weighing an awful lot is definitely worth the investment, especially if you are serious like us about camping. The first sleeping bag we bought back in 2013 was a 650 goose down fill Montbell Spiral Down Hugger #3, sorry very long name. We were heading to the Himalayas in summer for our first hiking trip together and didn’t want to carry a lot of weight. The sleeping bag was our biggest single investment on gear. Even though the bag is dated at 4 degrees comfort, we have used it countless times below zero. Montbell has three numbers for their ratings; comfort 4, limit 0 and extreme -10 (for this particular model). Its best not to take the extreme temperature as a guide for a usable temperature but we did take it close to those limits, but felt very cold during those nights.
Super Spiral Stretch
Something very unique and patented by montbell is the way the bag has been designed and constructed. Montbell call it the ‘super spiral stretch system’ it’s a very simple idea that involves stitching the material at 45 degree angle that allows the fabric to stretch more than it would if were stitched horizontally. The stitching is also stepped along the seams, in a zig zag fashion, so when pulled, the seam has further stretch still. Another advantage is the sleeping bag will spring back where ever it is not being stretched by your body movements, effectively hugging you. Hence the name ‘Spiral Down Hugger’.
As far as I am aware all other sleeping bags on the market do not adopt this technique, presumably because Montbell's current patent restricts it. If you have tried other mummy style sleeping bags and feel that you cannot move around so freely, so much so that it makes sleep uncomfortable, this style of construction can really help to get a more comfortable sleep.
The Test of Times
Three years later, our sleeping bags are still in great condition, but I shouldn’t mention so much on the years and should focus more on how many times we have used them. Thinking back and doing a rough calculation I’d say we have used the 650 down hugger sleeping bag for 300 - 350 nights. The zippers still work perfectly, and bag still feels lofty. For the money it costs, we are very happy with the performance and longevity of them. The 650 Down Hugger #3 was put into storage once we arrive in England. We washed the bags and kept them in a storage sack that montbell provides, letting the down breath. Whilst also avoiding to have the bag compressed for long periods of time that could in turn damage the natural feathers.
For our onward leg from England to Japan, we started cycling in winter. Because montbell was supporting this leg of the trip we asked them to supply us with a warmer sleeping bag. Still conscious of size and weight we opted for the 800 goose down fill Spiral Down Hugger #2. The 800 down fill is superior to the 650 fill in its thermal properties whilst still remaining a similar weight. As the # numbers go down the sleeping bags are rated towards colder temperatures. The #2 was rated comfort 0, limit -6 and extreme -23.
Happy that we weren’t sleeping close to the bags extremes, our coldest night was -10 as we were getting into our tent after dinner in Turkey’s winter. It could have gone lower but we were sound asleep during the coldest part of the night.
When the weather is very cold, we both wear thermal leggings, a long sleeved thermal top, jumpers, hats and neck warmers. Without this additional clothing we feel the comfort temperatures are honest, however the limit temperatures only become comfortable with additional clothing. Something that other reviewers have mentioned is the ease of wearing layers inside a sleeping bag of this design. Because it stretches easily when you move, even if we have some extra clothes on we never feel so restricted that we cannot move, making it a really adaptable sleeping bag for various climates.
Issues with Hygiene
As we are on the road for long periods of time, it makes it really difficult to wash a down sleeping bag whilst we are cycle touring. Writing this review I have my bag open and hanging just a meter away from me. It hasn’t been washed for over a year and I’ve slept in it over 200 nights, often after a long day riding with no shower. Lets just say the smell is pretty offensive, maybe a good way to describe the scent, is that of an unwashed dog. It’s far from being pleasant, but washing a down sleeping bag and getting it wrong is really going to put a spanner in the works. Click this link if you are interested to know how we wash our sleeping bags.
If like us, you don’t have an opportunity to wash a down sleeping bag on the road, and don’t want to take the risk. The alternative is hanging the bag on a line in full sun for a few hours, as this seems to temporarily take away the rancid odour.
A good sleeping bag is so important for us to have a comfortable sleep, so we really try to take care of them. Making sure it doesn’t get wet, keeping it as clean as we can on the road and washing and storing it properly once we have the means to do so. Now we are back in Japan, our Spiral Down Hugger #2 sleeping bags are washed and stored in a pillow case, the designated storage bags are at large somewhere in the world so we made do with what we had at home. We can say that the sleeping bag is still in perfect working order, all zips and stitching have no defects whatsoever and following montbell's advice these down sleeping bags should last us many more nights in the great outdoors.