Need to sleep outside somewhere that you could literally freeze to death in under an hour? Turns out they make sleeping bags designed to make that not just possible, but even comfortable. Here's what they feel like.
The Eddie Bauer Karakoram -30 StormDown (-34°C) is a full-featured, all-weather, expedition-grade sleeping bag. We put it to the test throughout Iceland and Nepal.
What It's Supposed to Do? The Karakoram -30 StormDown ($US800, 1.785kg) is a premiums all-weather sleeping bag featuring 850-fill down insulation augmented by DownTek — allowing the bag to maintain loft and insulating power even in wet conditions. The bag's shell is made from an abrasion-resistant, water-repellent nylon. It features a 3D footbox designed for maximum comfort, as well as an interior pocket for storing electronics.
How It's Supposed To Do It? Down is the best insulative material known to man. When lofted, it retains heat incredibly well. Down is amazingly lightweight, and it can compress down into an incredibly small package. Down's downside is that when it gets wet, it loses its loft; in turn, its insulative properties go out the window. Like any other material, it's the air it traps that provides the warmth; no loft, no insulation.
For those reasons, sleeping bags filled with synthetic insulation are typically the go-to solution for wet, stormy weather. The disadvantage of synthetic bags is that they are significantly heavier and bulkier than their down-filled equivalents.
DownTek vs regular down.
The Karakoram -30 StormDown utilizes DownTek down for insulation. DownTek clusters are treated with a hydrophobic coating , making them water repellent; therefore able to maintain loft — and more importantly their insulative properties — when wet. DownTek's treatment is the best available.
In addition to using DownTek insulation, the Karakoram -30 StormDown has a lightweight, abrasion-resistant Pertex nylon shell with StormRepel's durable water-repellent (DWR) finish. The finish ensures that water beads on the surface instead of soaking into the fabric.
The 3D Footbox does a good job creating plenty of room for your feet.
How Does It Perform? I put the Karakoram -30 StormDown to the test in Iceland, a country renowned for its cold, wet, and stormy weather; then again while climbing a 6190m Himalayan peak in Nepal — where temperatures were cold enough to freeze your water bottle solid through the night.
Upon unboxing the Karakoram, I was pleased to see that not only did it include a cotton storage sack, but it also came with a compression stuff sack (most sleeping bags in my experience just come with regular stuff sacks. Some will argue that compression stuff sacks aren't good for the down clusters, but they are still incredibly useful when packing). Knowing that it was probably going to rain, sleet, or snow everyday that I was in Iceland, I went ahead and upgraded to a Sea to Summit eVent waterproof, breathable compression sack.
Using the bag out in the field, I was amazed at how lofty it was. Slipping inside, its sense of warmth and security was overwhelming, even when a storm was blowing outside or when the temperatures got low, low, low.
The bag's lining feels very soft to the touch, almost silk-like. However, having used the bag nearly every night for three months, there are no signs of wear on the seemingly delicate fabric.
The bag's shell feels tough and durable; you can tell that it's an abrasion-resistant fabric. Even after extended use, there are no signs of wear or tear. The stitching is high quality throughout; I haven't had to trim any loose threads.
While camping in Iceland, we used the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2, which is a floorless pyramid tarp. Occasionally when sleeping on uneven ground, I'd slide a bit, exposing the bag's side or footbox to the rain. The shell did a good job of repelling the water; even when it soaked through, the bag maintained its loft and I stayed warm.
Condensation is a big issue when camping in below freezing temperatures. Moisture from breathing will build up on the tent's interior, then it will freeze and fall down onto your sleeping bag. Eventually it will melt and soak into your sleeping bag. Venting your tent will help with this issue, but it will still occur. The Karakoram handled this issue well; melted frost beaded and ran off.
Admittedly, temperatures on my trip never reached the bag's lower limit of -34°C; (not yet, anyway. For reference, -28°C is the comfort rating; it will keep you alive down to -50°C) but they often dropped below zero. I never got cold. Not once.
Thick nylon strips on each side of the zipper prevent snags.
Something else that I always keep an eye out for when testing a sleeping bag is the zipper pull. Does it run smoothly? Does it snag often? The Karakoram has a sturdy one inch wide nylon strip on each side of the oversized zipper to prevent snags; very rarely did it get stuck.
A hefty neck baffle traps warm air around your body, while an internal pocket keeps your electronics warm throughout the night.
The zippered, internal electronics pocket was very useful. I often listen to music through earbuds when I go to sleep. With the pocket, I was able to store my phone and extra cord so that it didn't get tangled around me through the night. It was also useful for keeping camera batteries warm while sleeping so that they were ready to go the next morning. Though the pocket was very convenient, it's placement was a bit awkward. If it was full of electronics, they would quite literally weigh on my chest — not the best feeling when already in a mummy-shaped sleeping bag. Though the placement wasn't ideal, I was still glad that the pocket was present.
All of these features and premium construction materials come at a cost. Literally. The Karakoram -30 StormDown sleeping bag will set you back $US800 for the regular version, or $US860 for the long. You could pick up a down bag with a similar temperature rating for a hundred dollars less. It won't feature DownTek insulation or a DWR shell, but it will keep you warm so long as it stays dry.
Adventure Ready? If you're going to be adventuring in a place where you even have to consider the features and temperature rating that this bag offers, chances are that you're going to want the best of the best; this bag is exactly that. The price tag is a lot to choke down, but a sleeping bag is the last thing to skimp on when your life is on the line. To ease your mind, this bag carries Eddie Bauer's unconditional, lifetime satisfaction gauruntee. Adventure ready? Without a doubt.
About the Author: Chris Brinlee Jr. is an adventure photographer and filmmaker who is currently travelling around the world. Follow his adventure on Instagram: @chrisbrinleejr. This article was filed from 12,700' in the Nepalese Himalayas.
Photos: Chris Brinlee, Jr.