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Wool sleeping bag for desert use
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Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/22/2013 22:24:05 MDT Print View

Your are going to end up with a 5 pound sack of wool that will barely keep you warm below 40 degrees.
That is exactly why everyone slept next to fires when winter trekking - so they didn't have to carry 15 lbs of sleeping insulation.

If you really want to make a wool sleeping bag, research the hudson bay point blankets. They were the nicest, loftiest, and warmest wool blankets you could buy.

Edited by justin_baker on 09/22/2013 22:24:41 MDT.

And E
(LunchANDYnner) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
smart wool or ibex type wool insulation on 09/22/2013 22:49:49 MDT Print View

How about using wool as the stuffing, like in some of the Smartwool and ibex jackets that use wool instead of down or synthetic.

Of course, that begs the question of why not just use synthetic insulation like Climashield Apex and just use a stronger outside fabric, since it'll be warmer and lighter than wool, also synthetic won't leak if the shell is torn.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/22/2013 23:40:42 MDT Print View

even Mallory used it on Everest back in the day.
Mallory did use wool and silk and some cotton clothing however his sleeping bag was made with Eiderdown.
Same for the 1933 expedition.
Down has been used since 1892

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/23/2013 01:12:42 MDT Print View

If you really like the idea, go for it...

Edited by Franco on 09/23/2013 03:59:26 MDT.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/23/2013 09:56:11 MDT Print View

"Of course, that begs the question of why not just use synthetic insulation like Climashield Apex and just use a stronger outside fabric, since it'll be warmer and lighter than wool, also synthetic won't leak if the shell is torn."


I say that with being a fan of natural materials in certain ways, and having experimented with trying different things. For an example, i took an all alpaca throw, folded it over, sewed it up stuffed it with Kapok, and used it as a quilt. It was a small as could possibly be to still cover me, but more so in a fetal position (which i find warmer anyways).

Yeah, it was heavy, but not that heavy, i think it was a little over 3 lbs. The problem was more the bulk.

I didn't actually plan to make this though. I was making a silk quilt stuffed with kapok, but as it was one of my first sewing projects, i really botched the baffles and so just decided last minute before my White Mountain trip to use the alpaca throw. It kept me warmer than my friends, similar weight, old synthetic sleeping bag, but he was a bit obtuse and didn't bring a pad to sleep on for some reason so that might be why he was colder than i was.

Practically speaking, and not eco speaking, An-D's idea would be better weight and bulk wise while giving you a lot more warmth.

If you bring along a lightweight down jacket and pants, and then use say a lighter wool or alpaca or blended throw, you might be able to get away with getting it down into the low 40's depending on your cold tolerance, but i would try it at home in your yard first before going out.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/23/2013 10:42:04 MDT Print View

I'll point out that Mallory died using wool on Everest.

I'm liking the idea of a "hardened" shell over synthetic if abrasion is a big concern.

When I've gone SUL in mild temps, down to 40F or so, I don't bring a bag. I just bring one more layer of clothes. Given the concern about abrasion, maybe one of the layers could be a tough cloth - canvas pants if there was no possibility of rain, cordura or ballistic-type weaves of nylon if not.

But since almost nothing is going to protect against a directly perpendicular stab by a cactus thorn, you're looking for abrasion resistance, not spine-proofness. 35 years ago, I used Patagonia's line of baggie shorts and baggie long pants a lot. Mostly nylon, they had some polyester and some cotton in the blend, too. They didn't always protect your skin totally, but they themselves didn't suffer through rocks, plants, ice, etc. A companion inadvertently shaved the leg hairs off his calf with his sharpened ski edge through baggie long pants and didn't harm the pants. I still have and used a number of those pants 1/3 of century later.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/23/2013 11:03:51 MDT Print View

"I'll point out that Mallory died using wool on Everest."

Yes, but he didn't necessarily die because of the wool. Important distinction. Along those lines, a team of researchers decided to re-create that kind of Mallory'esque cold weather clothing by layering silk and wool alternately (as he did) and they climbed Everest in same. They, to their surprise, found it quite comfortable. I think they wore a total of 7 or 8 layers, but relatively thin layers, but it's been awhile since i read the article.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/23/2013 13:09:59 MDT Print View

The article i had just mentioned. Quite fascinating! Take that synthetics, looks like Goose Down isn't the only rival gang in the neighborhood.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/23/2013 13:10:11 MDT Print View

The cause of death is arguable. Had he not been carrying so much weight, maybe he would have had enough energy to survive and similar what if scenarios.

Anyway, as for the desert?

Make a light climashield blanket/quilt and wrap it in a cheap cotton sheet if you're worried about abrasion. Personally I don't drag my sleeping gear around on the ground but in a warm and almost perpetually dry environment cotton is not so terrible. Worst case it gets wet and you keep it in your bag. You lose some protection but maintain your warmth with the synth quilt.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/23/2013 14:25:07 MDT Print View

"I'll point out that Mallory died using wool on Everest."


robert van putten

Locale: Planet Bob
G.I wool sleeping bag on 09/23/2013 15:16:10 MDT Print View

Nothing wrong with the idea at all. It will be heavier than a modern bag and not as warm, but it would certainly be durable and would work well.

Ever see an old G.I. wool sleeping bag?
These are single layer wool mummy bags with a metal zipper up the middle. The zipper pull is on the inside of the bag and is designed to be able to pull right off the top of the tracks when yanked hard so a solider could yank it and jump right on up out of the bag if needed.
They also had a water resistant cover for these that was probably a lightweight canvas material, I've never seen one.
They are cut large, a solider was expected to wear his clothes and maybe even boot inside one.

"Back in the day", (circa mid 1970s to mid 1980s) I made much use of one of these. This was after my really cheap sleeping bag of boy scout days died and before I finally outfitted myself with then-state-of-the-art gear when I was in the Air Force.

It had been originally issued to the father of a good friend and backpacking buddy, who gave it to me to use.

I made great use of that thing for a very long time. I remember scraping up the coin for one of my first ever backpacking purchases, a G.I wool blanket to supplement the wool sleeping bag for cold trips. In the summer I often used just the wool blanket, no sleeping pad or ground cloth under it.
When I carried both, I'd sometimes fold the wool blanket up and put it under the wool bag as a pad.
Eventually, I got smart and started using my poncho as a ground cloth/cover for the wool blanket. I never once used a real honest foam sleeping pad until my mid twenties!

wool sleeping bag

Edited by Bawana on 09/23/2013 15:19:12 MDT.

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Wool Bag for Deserts on 09/24/2013 05:53:21 MDT Print View

I have spent a lot of time in deserts,mostly in the American Southwest, and I have never needed a special bag. I take care to keep my bag,aswell as my tender bod, away from that nassty cactus. If the lower temps only reach 55 degrees, you don't need a sleeping bag, despite Mallory's experience on Everest.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
RE: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/24/2013 09:57:52 MDT Print View

Not to rain on your parade, but I live in the Sonoran desert, and we folks make a habit of not camping in the middle of a patch of cactus! Contrary to popular opinion, deserts are not "paved" with cacti -- there is a variety of terrain.

But I'm still not sure why you feel that wool is the answer... in fact, woven wool tears easily, and provides ZERO resistance to being pierced by cactus needles. About the only materials that are 100% cactus-proof are thick leather and Kevlar -- both super-unwieldy and heavy.

Honestly, for the conditions you describe, a VERY thin down or synthetic bag/quilt would be more than enough (shouldn't weigh more than a pound, max) -- then bring a decent ground sheet, and check the area for prickly stuff before you lay it out.

Here in the Sonoran desert, we're often challenged by enormous temperature swings within a 24hr period. On an April trip in Grand Canyon we had a high of 101F with a nighttime low of 36F. So the highs/lows you describe seem quite temperate.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/24/2013 10:55:38 MDT Print View

Sorry, makes no sense to me. Desert is pretty ideal conditions for down since rain and humidity are so rare. I hike in the desert and, frankly, haven't heard of anyone damaging their down bags on cacti or "other tearing type plants". In my experience, air mattresses are the biggest risk, and often more from sharp rocks than cacti.

Imo, the best approach to desert hiking is to take advantage of the conditions and carry as little/lightest gear as you can because you're so much more likely to have to carry lots of water.

For the conditions you've mentioned (hot days and 55deg nights), if you don't want to take a down bag, I'd take fleece over wool. I really think you're overthinking this.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/24/2013 16:39:22 MDT Print View

"I have seen the World War 2 Wool sleeping bags. They must have worked"

Roman soldiers : a cape
WW1 : two blankets
WW2 : wool mummy bag
Vietnam and after : synthetic or down .
Why ?
Because we are all a bunch of softies now.
Go for it Scott !

just Justin Whitson
Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/24/2013 19:25:02 MDT Print View

I'm not sure if the above is a bit tongue in cheek or not, but he does have a point. Cody Lundin uses a wool blanket for a wide range of conditions, and according to him it's to some extent a matter of conditioning himself to temp extremes gradually but surely. I'm sure his rather bulky/thick and muscular body also probably helps with the cold too... If you have the body of pee wee herman (especially if a taller pee wee herman), might have quite a bit less innate cold tolerance.

I disagree with the previous poster who said that wool blankets are easily ripped or what not. A good quality, thicker wool blanket can take A LOT of abuse and last a very long time. Wool blankets typically are felted to some extent, which really increases their strength/durability.

Unless a down quilt is lined with like 70D Cordura fabric, or stronger, i would place bets on a good quality wool blanket lasting much longer.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/24/2013 21:14:09 MDT Print View

"I entitled this thread "Wool Sleeping Bag for Desert Use" and most of the thread is arguing about the pro's and con's of wool on Mount Everest. Hilarious!"

Yes, hard to believe how stupid some people are.
Maybe this comment:
"even Mallory used it on Everest back in the day"
triggered the Everest bits.
I don't know why....

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/24/2013 21:24:20 MDT Print View

Scott, I think you are seriously underestimating how low the warmth/ounce ratio of a wool blanket is compared to a modern bag. Yes, wool blankets are awesome and functional pieces of gear that will last forever and will keep you warm while wet.
But really we are talking a 1 pound high end down bag versus a 6lb wool blanket with the warmth of them about the same.
You could probably fashion together a 2-3lb wool sleeping bag that will keep you warm around 50-60 while wearing a little clothing.

If you are interested in wool you should make the bag. It would be a fun project and interesting to test it out.
I've done the wool blanket bedroll pack thing in freezing conditions and it was more of a bushcrafty thing, but it was a fun challenge.
I too enjoy using older/inferior materials to see how my ancestors would have camped. I plan on putting together a no synthetics kit some day (wool, canvas, cotton) and backpacking with it for fun.

If you are looking for pure practicality you can get cheap and light summer rated synthetic bags that weight a pound or less than will keep you warm from 50-60 degrees. You could pair that up with a light bivy to protect your bag.
For serious weight conscious backcountry travel, wool is best left to awesome active midlayers and baselayers that insulate while wet and vent excess heat well.

Like I said, If you want to make and use a wool sleeping bag then you should totally do it. But this is backpackingLIGHT so I had to get the weight issue out of the way first.

Edited by justin_baker on 09/24/2013 21:30:32 MDT.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/24/2013 21:48:17 MDT Print View

Army blankets were used in static camp situations for ages, ... just pin the corners and instant "sleeping bag". Used in summer "car-camps" myself when I was a little kid in the 70's and was "regular-issue" when my parent's generation went to summercamp in the 50's. Just pin the sides together. Some wool might be too heavy to enjoy with a lightweight backpack considering the alternatives for the warmth vs. weight, including synthetic sleeping bags.

Add: Surprised no one mentioned this trip from Craig W. posted on BPL ... here's a link to his blog:
( ) ... the blankets do not look as thick as the Army type though.

Edited by hknewman on 09/24/2013 22:08:57 MDT.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Wool sleeping bag for desert use on 09/24/2013 21:57:00 MDT Print View

Along the lines of Justin B's above post Scott, if your primary concern is tearing up/damaging a nice down quilt or sleeping bag, check out the thread about the walmart brand duck down sleeping bag that they rate to 32 degrees (not realistic though, probably closer to 40?). It's quite inexpensive (way less on average than a new and good quality wool blanket), and extremely low weight and compact-able compared to a wool blanket. If you do happen to damage it, not a huge deal.

You seem pretty set on the idea of a wool system though, so might as well at least try it. Self experience is the best teacher and converter of belief systems.

But unless you were living indefinitely in the backcountry with no civilization amenities etc, as in some kind of collapse or break down scenario (or unexpected homelessness which is happening more lately than people would like to contemplate), a down bag or even synthetic bag is in many ways superior to a wool blanket. This is BPL you are on.

I confess that my wife and i have "bugout" bags in case of some future difficult times, and yes, i'm definitely putting a couple of wool, alpaca, and/or blend blankets in there along side some very light weight quilts, but that's for a very different purpose than a typical hiking/backpacking trip. I'm also less concerned with weight with my survival gear/bug out bag, because i'm also going to be using a lightweight, modified bicycle trailer to put a lot of my heavier stuff in to push or pull depending rather than carrying it all on my back (my lighter and most essential things will go in my 70L G.L. Jam pack).

As far as decent quality wool blankets, i had picked some up on Sierra Trading Post for relatively inexpensive, or rather quite discounted from original prices. For example, there is a Scottish brand, Johnstons of Elgin "the utility rug" made out of very nice and soft and fairly warm Lambswool that i got for around 60 dollars or so. I have no idea what they have now though. I don't know the weight off hand, but i can get back to you on that.

Edited by ArcturusBear on 09/24/2013 22:00:16 MDT.