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PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review

This zipperless down mummy-style 23 F rated sleeping bag is elegant for its simplicity, light weight, and high loft-to-weight ratio.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

The Minim 400 matches Backpacking Light’s ultralight principles and earns our Recommended rating based on its simplicity, minimal weight, and high warmth-to-weight ratio. It’s especially suited for ultralight backpacking situations when getting the most warmth with the least weight is the most important consideration and when “too-warm” nighttime temperatures are not an issue, i.e. when no ventilation features are needed. The only downside to this bag is its drawcord, which could easily be improved to make it trouble free and long-lasting. Unfortunately, due to the present low exchange rate (late 2009), the Minim 400 is not a good value for US purchasers.

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by Janet Reichl |

Introduction

PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review - 1
The standard PHD Minim 400 sleeping bag is a zipperless mummy-style bag. It’s insulated with 800 fill-power down and rated at 23 F (-5 C). I tested this bag in size Short with their lightest shell fabric available.

A good way for some women to save weight on a sleeping bag is to purchase a size Short, which usually fits a person up to 5 feet 6 inches. However, only a few manufacturers of ultralight sleeping bags offer a size Short; PHD Mountain Software, a small company in Stalybridge UK, is one of them. Being a small company that manufacturers their bags themselves, PHD (which stands for Peter Hutchinson Designs) offers customers a variety of options (at extra cost).

I don’t need a sleeping bag with a lot of features. I just want to be WARM. So the basic zipperless hooded Minim 400 suits me just fine. To further reduce weight, I opted for their MX Microfiber shell fabric, which is their lightest (comes in black rather than red). I chose and tested a size Short (I’m 5 feet 2 inches) hooded and zipperless down sleeping bag rated at 23 F (-5 C) with a measured weight of just 22 ounces. I’m very pleased with the Minim 400’s weight and performance, as I report in this review.

Description

The Minim 400 is a member of PHD’s ultralight series of sleeping bags. The basic bag is a hooded mummy-style, and it’s zipperless to save weight. If you desire a zipper, you can add a full-length zipper on either side of the bag for £25.

The beauty of working with a small company like PHD that makes each bag to order is that you can get exactly what you want. Rather than choose a specific model on their website, you can design your own sleeping bag from scratch. This gives you the opportunity to choose the length and girth (slender, standard, wide) you want, shell and lining fabrics, down quality and quantity, zipper length and position, and other options to satisfy your needs.

I chose to test the Minim 400 sleeping bag with minimal options. It’s a mummy-style bag with no zipper and insulated with 800 fill-power down. Rather than the standard microfiber shell fabric, I chose their lightest shell fabric, which is 0.88 oz/yd2 (30 g/m2) MX Microfiber. This fabric is calendared on both sides (more on the inside) to make it stronger and downproof, and it has a DWR finish. Since this is a minimalist down bag, there is not much else to describe.

Performance

PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review - 2
I tested the Minim 400 while summer backpacking and car camping in the southern Rockies and southern Utah canyon country. I slept under the stars and inside single-wall and double-wall tents.

I live in southwest Colorado and backpack in the summertime in our local mountains, where nighttime temperatures often drop down into the 30s F(-1s C). In the fall I camp and hike in the southern Utah canyon country, where nighttime temperatures range from 35 to 50 F (2 to 10 C). To test the bag’s lower temperature limit, I slept on our back porch on a late fall night where the nighttime temperatures dropped to 19 F (-7 C).

The Minim 400 in the Standard size contains 400 grams of down. I measured my size Short bag’s double-layer loft to be an average of 5.25 inches/13.3 centimeters (2.6 in/6.6 cm of single-layer loft). From Backpacking Light’s table of estimated temperature ratings based on measured loft (read our Backpacking Light Position Statement on Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings), 2.6 inches of single-layer loft translates to about a 10 F (-12 C) temperature rating, so the Minim 400’s 23 F (-5 C) rating appears to be very conservative. Please take the time to read the referenced article and note that sleeping bag warmth depends on a number of factors.

PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review - 3
The Minim 400’s hood has seven panels and is operated by a braided drawcord and cordlock. It surrounds my head and places a breathing hole right at my nose and mouth.

Although many backpackers may prefer a zippered sleeping bag for the versatility it provides, I do not have any problems with sleeping in a bag without a zipper. I’m normally a cold sleeper, so I rarely have a problem with being too warm. Quite the contrary, I often wear my camp clothes inside my sleeping bag to provide extra warmth. The warmest night I spent in the Minim 400 was at Lake Powell in southern Utah, where it only got down to 50 F (10 C), and I slept comfortably with the top of the bag open and my body partly out of the bag. I have used a zipperless sleeping bag before (GoLite FeatherLite, 40 F/4 C), so I am familiar with the experience, and it doesn’t present me with any problems.

On my coldest night of testing (19 F/-7 C), I slept warm in the Minim 400 with baselayer and light insulated clothing until 4:00 a.m., when I noted the temperature to be 24 F (-4 C). I put on heavy insulated camp clothing I had stashed next to me. It took about thirty minutes to warm up the cold clothing, but then I was warm the rest of the night. Note that the Minim 400 has continuous baffles, so some of the down can be moved from the bottom of the bag to the topside to make the bag even warmer (this assumes you have a sleeping pad under the bag that provides adequate bottomside insulation).

PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review - 4
I tested the bag’s water-repellency by placing a puddle of water on the shell and letting it stand for one hour (left). I found the bag’s shell fabric to be very water-resistant, but the seams easily transmit water. A large amount of water accumulated on a tray that I had placed inside the bag to catch the water (right). The down was wet in the area surrounding my test.

In my field testing, the ends of the bag came into contact with condensation inside a single wall tent. The bag’s shell easily shed that small amount of water, and water did not enter the bag through the seams. I did not test the bag in rainy conditions to see if the bag absorbed moisture from moist humid air. From my tests, I conclude that the bag’s DWR treatment on the shell and lining provides adequate water-repellency to keep moisture from entering the bag and wetting the down under normal conditions, but water will penetrate the seams. This performance is comparable to most other sleeping bags with a DWR treatment on the shell, and the Minim 400 has a DWR treatment on the lining as well.

PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review - 5
The PHD Minim 400 comes with a durable stuff sack (0.9 ounce) that is properly sized to avoid overstuffing the bag.

PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review - 6
The two ends of the hood drawcord are wrapped with a small piece of fabric and sewn together, which creates a bit of a lump (left side of picture). The drawcord is not anchored in its channel, so the lump is free to move out of the channel, and once out is quite difficult to get back in the channel (especially in the dark in the middle of the night).

I didn’t notice the drawcord problem before using the bag. As it got colder on the first night, I cinched the hood, the knot slipped out, and I couldn’t get it back in. To tighten the cord, I needed to pull just one of two cords through the cord lock. After becoming aware of this problem, I learned to keep the knot centered inside the channel by pulling both sides of the cord evenly through the cordlock. Another aspect of this problem was that when the lump came out of the channel, it pulled the unfinished hem out of one side of the opening of the channel as seen in the lower right quadrant of the photo. In my opinion, this design is not durable enough for the long term, and a redesign could readily solve the two problems (cord coming out and unfinished hem being exposed).

Overall, from my testing, I found the Minim 400’s temperature rating of 23 F (-5 C) to be realistic. Note that since I am a cold sleeper, I always need to wear extra insulation to stay warm at a bag’s temperature rating. This Minim 400 bag is adequately roomy to wear extra clothing inside to extend its warmth. The zipperless design is not a problem if you are a person who wants to save weight and rarely experience situations where it’s warmer than about 50 to 60 F (10 to 16 C) at night. For a short person, getting a size Short sleeping bag is an excellent way to save weight and stay warmer, because there is less bag to warm up.

Comparisons

The hooded zipperless PHD Minim 400 is in a class of its own. The best comparison is with other 20-30 F (-7 to -1 C) rated ultralight mummy style down sleeping bags that are available in a size Short. All of the bags have baffled construction, and all data are manufacturer specifications for a size Regular bag. All bags have a zipper, except the Minim 400.

Note: all bags in this table are available in a size Short, though these specs are for a size Regular.

Manufacturer Model Temperature
Rating (F/C)
Measured Single-
Layer Loft (in/cm)
Fill Weight (oz/g) Fill Power Total Weight (oz/g) Cost US$
PHD Mountain Software Minim 400 23/-5 2.6/6.6 14.1/400 800 24/680 £235 (approx. US$382)
Sierra Designs Spark 30 30/-1 3.0/7.6 12.0/340 800 25/709 289
Nunatak Alpinist 20/-7 2.5/6.4 11.5/326 850+ 21/595 410
Feathered Friends Grouse 30/-1 2.0/5.1 13.9/394 850+ 26/737 329
GoLite Adrenaline 20/-7 2.5/6.4 10.1/285 800 29/822 325

The Nunatak Alpinist at 21 ounces is the lightest bag in this comparison, and the most expensive. The Sierra Designs Spark 30 is rated at 30 F (-1 C), and has the most loft of all the bags listed and the lowest cost, as well as a half-length zipper. Because of the low current (late 2009) exchange rate between the US dollar and the British pound, the PHD Minim 400 is expensive, and the Sierra Designs Spark 30 is perhaps a better value (about US $100 less). Note that buyers outside the UK do not pay Value Added Tax (VAT), so 17.5% is deducted from the price when purchased. However, when the dollar is strong, the Minim 400 is a much better value.

Assessment

I personally like the PHD Minim 400 because of its simplicity, high loft, and high warmth-to-weight ratio. I don’t mind the bag not having a zipper, because it keeps the bag simpler and lighter. I realize, however, that many people prefer having a zipper for personal convenience and to increase a bag’s versatility. The Minim is available with a full-length zipper option, which bumps up the weight and cost. For a zippered bag, the Sierra Designs Spark 30 (men’s version is the Nitro 30) is a standout. It has the most loft of all the bags listed, which suggests its 30 F (-1 C) rating is very conservative. It’s also the best value.

Specifications and Features

  Manufacturer

PHD Mountain Software (http://phdesigns.co.uk/)

  Year/Model

2009 Minim 400

  Style

Zipperless hooded mummy (optional zipper available)

  What’s Included

Sleeping bag, stuff sack, mesh storage bag

  Fill

800 fill-power down, 14.1 oz (400 g) size Standard

  Construction

4 in (10 cm) boxed wall baffles, continuous

  Measured Loft

5.25 in (13.3 cm) average double-layer loft, manufacturer specification not available

  Manufacturer Claimed Temperature Rating

23 F (-5 C)

  Stuffed Size

12 x 6.5 in (30 x 17 cm)

  Weight

Size Short tested
Measured weight: 1 lb 6 oz (624 g)
Manufacturer specification: 1 lb 8 oz (680 g) size Standard

  Measurements

Size Standard: Shoulder/hip/foot: 67/58/39 in (170/148/98 cm)

  Sizes

XShort fits to 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Short fits to 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)
Standard fits to 6 ft (1.83 m)
Long fits to 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m)
XLong fits to 7 ft (2.13 m)

  Fabrics

Optional MX outer shell (tested) is 0.88 oz/yd2 (30 g/m2) mini-ripstop nylon, calendared both sides, DWR finish; standard M1 shell is 40 g/m2; lining is MX Microfiber

  Features

Seven-panel baffled hood with braided drawcord and cordlock

  MSRP

Short and Standard £235 (approximately US$382), Long +7.5%
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.

Citation

"PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review," by Janet Reichl. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/phd_minim_400_sleeping_bag_review.html, 2010-02-09 00:00:00-07.

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PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review on 02/09/2010 14:43:05 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re :PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review on 02/09/2010 15:05:00 MST Print View

Nice review. Just a couple of details. When comparing down fill, European manufacturers usually use the Lorch test, which gives a reading approx 4% less than the US system. So a fill power of 800 from PHD equates to a fill power of 832 using the US system.
Also, the VAT charge that US customers can deduct is 15%, not $15, so that would be a saving of $57.30 on the $382 purchase price.

Pieter Kaufman
(Pieter) - F
Re: Re :PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review on 02/09/2010 16:29:09 MST Print View

Mike, VAT in the UK is currently 17.5%, and that's in line with my memory of VAT refunds I got on items purchased in the UK over the years. If I'm correct, then that brings the cost down slightly more for US buyers.

To anyone in the US purchasing goods overseas, it's useful to check on tax refund policies. With certain rules or restrictions, it's available in a number of countries around the world on items for export.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review on 02/09/2010 16:29:22 MST Print View

The part that is most impressive of about the bag is the percentage of the total weight that is insulation - 400 of the 680 grams - 58.8 percent. I don't know if this is a common stat, but my gut says that 50 percent is a good benchmark to shoot for.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re :PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review on 02/09/2010 16:36:09 MST Print View

You're correct Pieter. I forgot they just raised it again. (It was reduced to 15% for a year to help the economy :)

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
VAT on 02/09/2010 17:10:14 MST Print View

Those VAT numbers are corrected. Thanks guys!

Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
VAT computation on 02/09/2010 19:45:10 MST Print View

BTW, I believe that the cost after VAT reduction is computed most easily by dividing the VAT-included price by 1.175. That is, the amount saved, the VAT, is 17.5% of the price before VAT is added. (Which is different from taking 17.5% of the English, VAT-included price.) PHD does that automatically for you on their website as you check out, though first you need to register so that the checkout program knows you're from the US.

John Davis
(Bukidnon) - F
PHD Minim 400 Sleeping Bag Review on 02/10/2010 10:21:59 MST Print View

Can I just add that I find zipless bags more comfortable than zipped. If it's really hot, I put the bag across my torso, leaving my legs uninsulated. But mostly, it's just nicer to have no stiff areas in a bag. The drape is closer and there is nothing to end up lying on.

Since going zipless, I have acquired an insulated jacket to supplement the bag. This system is more versatile than buying a zipped bag rated for low temperatures and having no jacket.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
Down on 02/10/2010 18:37:54 MST Print View

Something seems a bit strange to me. It seems surprising that having 400g (14.1 oz) of 800fp down only results in a single layer loft of 2.6". How is it that the GoLite Adrenaline bag manages to accomplish virtually the same loft (2.5") with significantly less down (10.1oz)? Except for the Feathered Friends bag, all the other bags being compared to the Minim 400 have significantly higher loft:down ratios. The North Face Beeline and Marmot Hydrogen are two other examples of bags that accomplish similar loft with significantly less down.

It kinda makes me wonder if the down is really 800 fp. If the down was lower grade (ie. 700fp) that would explain a lot. It would explain how 58% of the bags weight is in the down and it would explain why over 14oz of down only results in 2.6" of single layer loft. Then again, I could be totally on the wrong track and the real explanation could lie in something else like the cut of the bag.

Edited by dandydan on 02/10/2010 18:40:53 MST.

Ruan Kendall
(Ruan) - MLife

Locale: UK
Re: Down on 02/11/2010 04:49:01 MST Print View

I'd be very surprised if PHD were supplying a lower grade of down whilst advertising (and charging for!) a higher grade. They've got an excellent reputation, and go into detail about their down testing methodology on their website (http://www.phdesigns.co.uk/techdown4.php?).

I'd be more suspicious of the average loft measurements for the various bags, myself. Its a very tricky number to pin down reliably.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
FP on 02/11/2010 18:20:10 MST Print View

You're right that the fill power is not the most likely explanation. The difficulty in measuring loft, baffle design, or the cut of the bag all seem like more plausible explanations.

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Responses to Minim 400 Comments on 02/17/2010 08:18:39 MST Print View

Hi all. Some of you commented that the bag's loft was less than expected. That is probably due to the bag's girth; note that this is a wider bag (Size Standard: Shoulder/hip/foot: 67/58/39 in (170/148/98 cm), probably to facilitate sliding in and out.

Also, thanks for straightening out the VAT issue; that's something we're not familiar with.

Happy hiking,
Will