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Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008)

New sleeping bag designs from Integral Designs, Montbell, Exped, Jacks ‘R’ Better, Mountain Hardwear, and REI show innovative functionality and lighter weight.

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by Mike Martin | 2008-09-02 00:15:00-06

Integral Designs Bag Coupler

Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 1
Two Integral Designs representatives look warm if not exactly comfortable in the new bag coupler prototype.

This unnamed prototype from Integral Designs is an innovative way to reduce weight for couples and very focused climbers. The wedge-shaped panel zips into any of Integral Designs’ bags and allows two persons to share a footbox while each having an individual hood. The top and bottom of the panel connect at the shoulder area to reduce drafts. The concept certainly represents out-of-the-(foot)box thinking. For two people who could actually sleep in this configuration, the weight savings due to shared warmth and reduced total bag surface area could be considerable. This version made from Pertex Microlight and five-ounce Primaloft Sport weighs 20 ounces (566 grams). No MSRP or delivery date has been set. Contact Integral Designs if you’d like to see the concept developed further.

Montbell U.L. Spiral Down Huggers

Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 2
Footbox of the Montbell Spiral Down Hugger. Note the diagonal baffling claimed to allow some stretch to the design.

For Spring 2009, Montbell is introducing a new series of down bags called Ultra Light Spiral Down Huggers. The bags feature a slight mechanical stretch in the 12 denier nylon shell plus diagonal baffling. The combination is claimed to allow the bag to snug around the sleeper without the elastic weight and construction complications of their Super Stretch bags. The “snugging” effect is not as pronounced as in the older bags, but the Spiral bags are about 4 ounces lighter than the corresponding Super Stretch ones, giving them impressively low (claimed) weight for their temperature ratings. The 800 fill-power U. L. Spiral Down Hugger bags will be available in Montbell’s #0, #1, and #3 weights, corresponding to 0 F, 15 F, and 30 F temperature ratings, respectively. MSRP: $390 (#0), $299 (#1), and $229 (#3). Claimed weights: 41 ounces (#0), 32 ounces (#1), and 18 ounces (#3).

Exped Swift and Wallcreeper

Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 3

Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 4

The Exped Swift in bag mode (left) and poncho mode (right).

The Exped Swift is a versatile new bag that doubles as a quilt and triples as an insulated poncho. The Swift uses 250 grams of Primaloft Sport insulation to achieve a EN 13537 men’s comfort rating of 48 F. The two-way, full-length zipper allows the bag to be opened into a quilt, while a side slit forms a head opening for use as an in-camp poncho. Finally, the rectangular cut is roomy enough to use as an overbag to extend the temperature range of another bag or quilt. The Swift certainly deserves points for flexibility, though this comes with somewhat of a weight penalty. Weight: 26 ounces (740 grams). Available March 2009. MSRP: $135 regular, $145 long.

Also from Exped is a warmer, 20 F version of their wearable Wallcreeper. The Wallcreeper 650g contains 650 grams of 750-fill down and weighs a claimed 39 ounces (1100 grams). Available March, 2009. MSRP: $310 for the regular size in 20 F down version.

Jacks ‘R’ Better Winter Nest Under Quilt and Mt. Washington Under Quilt

Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 5
Ryan Gardner experiences an abundance of loft in the JRB Mt. Washington Under Quilt.

Rivaling the versatility of the Exped Swift are products from Virginia-based Jacks ‘R’ Better. Wizards with Omni-Tape (hermaphroditic Velcro), JRB has been building highly versatile down quilts for the past five years that can be worn as ponchos, used as sleeping quilts, or attached to the bottom of hammocks as underquilts. Their No Sniveller was the top-ranked bag in our 2006 Unconventional Sleep Systems Review Summary and Gear Guide Overview.

Keeping away from the bleeding edge of ultralight materials, Jacks ‘R’ Better has instead focused on competitive pricing on products that tend to run a few ounces heavier than those from specialized, semi-custom gear makers. This philosophy has enabled them to be one of the few lightweight, cottage manufacturers that has grown enough to warrant their own booth at Outdoor Retailer.

New this year is their Winter Nest Under Quilt, a 10-15 F rated down quilt with 3-inch baffles stuffed to 3.5 inches of loft. The Winter Nest Under Quilt is designed to accommodate bottom-entry hammocks such as those made by Hennessy Hammock, but is claimed to also fit other lightweight camping hammocks. As with most JRB quilt products, it can also be used as an over-quilt or bag. Incorporating 800+ fill down and 1.1 ounce rip-stop nylon shells, it has a claimed weight of 26 ounces. MSRP: $349.95

Also new from JRB is the Mt. Washington Under Quilt. Lacking the bottom-entry slit of the Winter Nest, the Mt. Washington instead features an aggressive differential cut with radial baffles. A differential cut is where the outer shell material is cut to a larger diameter than the inner one. It results in a more body-contoured design with less material and better drape than flat construction. It is generally more important on high-loft bags than on thinner ones. Featuring the same three-inch baffle height as the Winter Nest, the differential cut and additional down fill of the Mt. Washington allow it to achieve a claimed 0-10 F temperature rating in a 30-ounce package. According to Jack Tier, this makes it the warmest commercially available hammock under quilt. Contact JRB for pricing, availability, and options.

Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 0°

Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 6
The Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 0°.

BackpackingLight Senior Editor Don Wilson and I both chose the 15 F version of the Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina bag to use on the Wilderness Trekking III Course last October. The roomy cut that allows layering over high-loft clothing, synthetic insulation welded to the shell, and dual side zips that allow the user to sit up and use their hands while wearing the bag were key features that drove our choice. This year, Mountain Hardwear is expanding the UltraLamina line to include a 0 F version. The UltraLamina 0 F features a 20 denier micro ripstop shell and taffeta liner and weighs a claimed 53 ounces. MSRP $220.

REI Halo Bags

Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 7
Representative of the Halo bags is this men’s 25 F version with a claimed weight of 31 ounces. MSRP: $259.

Outdoor Retailer juggernaut REI is expanding further into the lightweight market sector with the introduction of their in-house designed Halo down bags. Using lightweight (but not too light) materials, and with sparse (but not too sparse) features, the new bags are aimed at the mainstream lightweight hiker looking for solid performance in an upper-end but still value oriented product. While these are not the lightest bags available, REI’s move to embrace the lightweight market bodes well for making lightweight products, and therefore techniques, available to more of the traditional hiking community.

The new Halo bags are offered in a staggering twelve different sizes and temperature ratings. Offered in men’s and women’s versions in regular and long sizes, the bags will be made in 10 F, 25 F, and 40 F varieties. The Halo bags will feature 750-fill down, and will incorporate EN 13537 standards in their temperature ratings. MSRP’s will range from $149 for a women’s regular 40 F version to $309 for a men’s 10 F long. Available Spring 2009.


"Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008)," by Mike Martin. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2008-09-02 00:15:00-06.


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Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008)
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) on 09/02/2008 20:47:08 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Better Bags (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008)

Charles Jennings
(vigilguy) - F - M

Locale: Northern Utah
Where's Valandre'? on 09/03/2008 06:31:55 MDT Print View

I am really surprised that you did not include the new Bloody Mary by Valandre' in your review of "better bags". Why not??? They have developed an innovative set of interchangeable collars for this bag, and I thought that you would include them as well in this review.

Edited by vigilguy on 09/03/2008 06:34:44 MDT.

Edward Broyles
(edward.broyles) - F
Bag sizes on 09/03/2008 07:27:49 MDT Print View

Can you add any info on the bag sizes? I know that I've gotten excited a few times about a new bag only to realize that they have shrunk down the shoulder girth to 58 or even 57 inches, which my frame cannot accommodate.

BTW, I'm not fat, I'm big boned. :-)

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Where's Valandre'? on 09/03/2008 10:34:18 MDT Print View

Hi Charles-

I met with Valandre' during the show and saw their bag with the interchangeable draft collars. It was a very interesting concept where you could zip in a 3-season or 4 season collar, or leave it out altogether depending on expected conditions.

As usual with Valandre's products, the quality was first rate.

I didn't include it in this article as it was not targeted to lightweight hikers. I don't recall the exact weight, but it was designed more for traditional hikers seeking versatility rather than weight savings.


Edited by MikeMartin on 09/03/2008 23:28:50 MDT.

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Bag sizes on 09/03/2008 10:36:53 MDT Print View

Thanks, for the feedback, Edward.

We'll try to include that info in the future. When BPL reviews a bag, we list specs in that level of detail, but at Outdoor Retailer, that information is frequently not available.

Was there a particular bag you were interested in? I can check my notes or contact a manufacturer if you like.


Charles Jennings
(vigilguy) - F - M

Locale: Northern Utah
Specs for the Bloody Mary on 09/03/2008 10:49:36 MDT Print View

I appreciate your genuine and sincere response, Mr. Martin, but I fail to see how the Bloody Mary is not in line with the tested bags. The weight for the Bloody Mary is 35.8 oz for a 5 degree bag, according to Valandre's handout at the OR Show.

I still think that it is a valid contender for backpackers heading to alpine destinations in the spring and fall, and it obviously has a higher efficiency rating than some of the bags you mentioned in your article.

I do agree that the Bloody Mary is geared for more traditional hikers. But it is a heck of a lot lighter than MH's 53 oz. bag, or Montbell's 41 oz. zero degree bag!

Edited by vigilguy on 09/03/2008 10:58:04 MDT.

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Specs for the Bloody Mary on 09/03/2008 11:07:11 MDT Print View


You make excellent points. Hopefully Valandre's mention in this discussion will serve to inform readers about their bags. As I mentioned in my last post, Valandre' makes excellent products -- several of which we have reviewed in-depth here at BPL.

Choosing what to cover at Outdoor Retailer is always a bit of a dilemma -- you can't please everyone all the time...

One question for you, Charles: Are you affiliated with Valandre'? (We welcome manufacturer's participation in the forums, but a disclosure is appropriate if so.)



Edited by MikeMartin on 09/03/2008 23:28:23 MDT.

Charles Jennings
(vigilguy) - F - M

Locale: Northern Utah
Valandre' on 09/03/2008 11:47:44 MDT Print View

Mike, I am confident that you have a somewhat daunting task to make reviews at the OR Show. I for one have appreciated and learned from your contributions here on the BPL site in the past.

I am affiliated with Valandre' on the retail side of things, I have been fortunate enough to retail and personally test their bags and jackets for the last five years or so, along with other big-name brands.

I personally own and use 3 of their bags, and cannot wait to buy my 4th, the Bloody Mary, when it becomes available, hopefully in November.

They earned my respect when I tested their Mirage down to 12 degrees without a shelter and wearing only a base layer, and I was still warm. I also tested their Shocking Blue down to -20F last March in a freakishly cold winter night and stayed warm as well.

I have felt that their presence in the U.S. has been off to a slow start, compared to other European companies, but their bags are certainly worthy of consideration for those consumers looking at the "Big League bags" and wanting a bag with a high warmth to weight ratio.

Edited by vigilguy on 09/03/2008 11:53:26 MDT.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Where's Valandre'? on 09/03/2008 11:58:05 MDT Print View

FWIW Feathered Friends offered (and may still for all I know) removable draft collars. I have a Swift so-equipped. It perhaps adds 5 degrees of range at about an ounce or two.

Valandre distribution in the States seems spotty, although REI offers certain models occasionally. I hope they can establish a steady presence and hold their price points, despite the flagging dollar.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
valandre and quality on 09/03/2008 14:15:23 MDT Print View

thanks for the article, its a good read. I have seen and felt some of the Valandre models and even though Ive not slept in one, I can say without hyperbole that they are the Western Mountaineering of Europe. (france, I believe)
The US market would be a great place for these bags, I cannot imagine why they are overlooked. IMO, Quality is just as good as FF or WM.

Edited by mikeinfhaz on 09/03/2008 14:15:58 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Valandre' on 09/03/2008 17:08:29 MDT Print View

Hi Charles - and others

In future we would appreciate it if you (anyone) could always disclose your commercial interest in a matter when posting on that subject. We don't mind your posting - that's OK, but disclosure is desirable (each time).

The disclosure works both ways of course. It can show that you have a good knowledge of the subject in question, which is to everyone's benefit. It might even result in people knowing who to contact for more information.

Roger Caffin
Online Community Monitor

Charles Jennings
(vigilguy) - F - M

Locale: Northern Utah
Affiliation on 09/03/2008 17:36:15 MDT Print View

Hi Roger-

Sorry for failure to disclose my affiliation with Valandre'. I will certainly do so in the future, if that is what BPL requires. I did not initially because I don't want readers to think that I was posting for financial gain as opposed to product education.

My motive on this post was to share information about Valandre' bags that I had personally accumulated over time that could benefit backpackers in general. I have had the chance to analyze their bags for a long time as well as test them thoroughly in a variety of conditions.

I am not interested to disclose my company name here because I do not intend to use BPL as a platform for financial gain.

Since it was brought up, Valandre' has now stabilized their U.S. Distribution and it is much easier to acquire bags and jackets, unlike a few years ago when we had to wait 6 to 8 weeks for stuff to ship directly from France. Also, their prices are more in line now with WM, FF and ID, and not outrageous like they used to be.

If customers wish to find out where they can buy Valandre' equipment, they can email Valandre' from their site and a list of dealers can be provided from them.

Thank you for your instruction, Roger.


Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Affiliation on 09/03/2008 17:56:47 MDT Print View

"I am not interested to disclose my company name here because I do not intend to use BPL as a platform for financial gain."

If you don't wish to disclose your company name, why do you link to it in your profile?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Affiliation on 09/03/2008 18:05:22 MDT Print View

Hi Charles

No worries.

The matter had not come up officially before this. This disclosure thing is essentially a new policy, but I hope it serves the best interests of *everyone*.


Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Better Bags on 09/03/2008 22:57:21 MDT Print View

I am in no way affiliated with any sleeping bag company, nor am I a retailer, but I have spent well over 700 nights in a bag.

When I first skimmed the sleeping bag article, I too was surprised to not see Valendre mentioned. I agree that the bags are not particularly light, though they do have a nice 40ºF bag that seems a lightweight contender. I was surprised because the title of the article is "better bags" and while at OR I was nearly dragged into the Valendre booth by the owner and shown in great detail why these bags were "better" (construction, materials, sourcing, human resources and more). After getting into one on the show floor, I can honestly say it is THE most amazing bag that I have ever been in. The 3D cut and construction create an incredible structure to the bag that holds the lofted chambers off ones body, it feels weightless when inside.

Having checked out a number of other bags at the show, I came to realize after my time at the Valendre booth that lighter doesn't always mean better.

I still need to go back and read this article in more detail, but thought I would share these insights on other ways a bag can be "better".

Woubeir (from Europe)
(Woubeir) - F - MLife
Re: Better Bags on 09/04/2008 05:43:39 MDT Print View

since we're discussing Valandré now, is there anything new on the clothing front? A couple years ago, they showed the Split-S jacket and Looping vest but since then nothing seems to have happened untill recently. Do you have any info about this? Any (updated) specifications?
Since they seem to focus every year on just one or two new products, I guess no other new things will be available.

Charles Jennings
(vigilguy) - F - M

Locale: Northern Utah
New Valandre' Products for '09 on 09/04/2008 07:14:08 MDT Print View

Interesting that you should mention the Split-S. I think they FINALLY got it tweaked to the point where it should be in production by November, let's cross our fingers. Rumor has it that when the prototype Split-S was introduced a couple of years ago, it was discovered that the shoulders on the jacket weren't fitting right and they had to go back to the drawing board. Long story short, they had both the men's version and the women's version at the OR Show this year and it appears that they'll be available for sale by November. Hopefully. The women's version is the nicest cut I have ever seen on a woman for a down jacket. It fits like it was tailor made. The men's version looks great too. They have more chambers in them than any of their other jackets, meaning that these are really technical jackets.

So the new products should be the Bloody Mary and the Split-S. Oh, and the Looping as well.

From what I have been hearing lately, they have new products on the horizon for 2010.

Edited by vigilguy on 09/04/2008 07:28:13 MDT.

Woubeir (from Europe)
(Woubeir) - F - MLife
Re: New Valandre' Products for '09 on 09/04/2008 08:19:02 MDT Print View

I've noticed that the first examples of Split-S jackets start to appear on a few French websites. So somewhere in the coming months seems a real possibility.
Do you know if the specifications have remained the same?

Charles Jennings
(vigilguy) - F - M

Locale: Northern Utah
Valandre' Split S Jacket Specs on 09/04/2008 08:54:13 MDT Print View

Yes, I believe that the specs have remained the same, as far as weight and temp rating are concerned.

FWIW, gear testers were testing it in CO at temps around 10 degrees. Granted CO is a dry climate, but it appears that the Split-S is a very warm, lightweight but highly efficient jacket that will compress nicely for lightweight backpackers.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: New Valandre' Products for '09 on 09/04/2008 14:24:35 MDT Print View

I've been looking at the Valandre Mirage bag, and at least on paper it looks like it fits squarely into the UL category of bags. Has anyone seen one of these in person??