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Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW

A four season bag that offers excellent loft for the weight. The center zip has advantages, but is it the right solution for you?

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by Doug Johnson | 2006-11-15 03:00:00-07

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW

Introduction

At just over 2 pounds 4 ounces, the Valandré La Fayette offers good loft for the weight. The water resistant Pertex Microlight shell is very breathable while offering resistance from condensation. The short center zip offers limited ventilation but is excellent for side sleepers because it keeps the zipper at ground level. While the collar/hood combination is one of the most efficient I’ve seen, the zipper, Velcro, cords, and cordlocks converge right at your mouth which is uncomfortable.

What’s Good

  • Very good loft for the weight
  • Water-resistant Pertex shell
  • High-loft 850+ fill power down
  • Center zip helps with insulation and is perfect for side sleepers
  • Highly efficient draft collar

What’s Not So Good

  • Velcro and two locking drawcords converge at your face and mouth, leading to discomfort
  • Short zipper limits ventilation options
  • Bag is easily affected by moisture

Specifications

  Year/Model

2006 Valandré La Fayette

  Style

Hooded, center-zip mummy bag

  Fill

19.4 oz (550 g) 850+ fill goose down

  Loft

Measured top loft 3.0 in (7.6 cm); total loft 6.0 in (15.2 cm); claimed loft n/a

  Manufacturer Claimed Temperature Rating

5 °F (-15 °C) "extreme rating"

  Weight

Measured weight 2 lb 4.2 oz (1025 g); manufacturer’s specification 2 lb 3.3 oz (1000 g)

  Sizes

Medium user length (6 ft 0.5 in, 185 cm) tested; also available in short (5 ft 7 in, 170 cm) and long (6 ft 6 in, 200 cm)

  Fabrics

Test Sample shell 30d Pertex P669RS Microlight - 1.4 oz/yd2 (46 g/m2); lining 30d Pertex P666 - 1.3 oz/yd2 (43 g/m2)
Current shell Asahi KASEI Impact 66 Polyamid ripstop; lining Asahi KASEI Anti Static Impact 66 Polyester ripstop

  Features

24 in (61 cm) center opening with zipper and vertical Velcro closure, shaped insulated neck collar with elastic drawcord, hood drawcord, internal elastic hip closure, 5 in (13 cm) baffles at the upper body tapering to 7 in (18 cm) baffles at the foot area, 2 hang loops, stuff sack, storage bag

   MSRP

$480 - small, $499 - medium, $525 - large

Performance

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW - 1
New La Fayette bags are unchanged from the reviewed bag except for more water-resistant Asahi KASEI fabrics and a new, more subtle color.

The Valandré La Fayette is a mummy bag that weighs 32.6 ounces in a size medium. 19.4 ounces of this weight is 850+ fill goose down, which provides 3.0 inches of loft on top of the hiker and 6.0 inches of total loft. The baffles are open on the sides, making it possible to shift down from top to bottom. However, the baffles are full enough that accidental down-shifting never occurred.

The La Fayette (rated at 5 °F) fits into the Valandré bag lineup between the Mirage (rated to 23 °F) and the Shocking Blue (rated to -13 °F). Unlike the other two bags, the La Fayette uses a one-third length center zipper and while the other two bags have shaped footboxes, the La Fayette uses a traditional footbox instead.

The fit of the La Fayette is snug making it quite efficient while still allowing space to wear a high loft jacket in the bag (at least with my medium build). Valandré bags tend to be longer than competitor’s bags; at 6 foot 1 inch, I typically need a long bag, but the regular Valandré is a good fit.

The center zip of the La Fayette makes it perfect for side sleepers. When sleeping on your side in a side zip bag, you end up lying on the zipper or having the zipper directly above you. For side sleepers, a center zip puts the opening at ground level when you roll with the bag; this is both more comfortable and more efficient because it puts nothing but down directly above your body.

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW - 2
The large Velcro patches bring together baffles for a warm seal without the need for draft tubes.

Center zip bags are rare. I think this is because the opening tends to be more problematic to design than side zips. With a side zip, gravity assists flaps and draft tubes in covering the zipper. With center zips, dual draft tubes are sometimes used to solve the problem, but with significant weight increases. The La Fayette uses a unique system to solve this problem. First, the one-third zip means there’s simply less zipper to deal with. Next, full baffle height is maintained below the zipper with vertical Velcro strips that bring the baffles together. The zipper is sewn into the outside of this three-dimensional closure and completely seals the system. The result is a zipper area that blocks drafts and loses a minimum of heat. I never felt a cold spot in the zipper area.

Closing this seal completely when first getting into the bag is a bit of a hassle though - it requires some work to get a complete seal with the Velcro to eliminate drafts. Likewise, getting out of the bag requires zipping and undoing Velcro in unison to open the bag quickly. A better method is to get your arms outside of the bag, unzip from the outside, and quickly open the Velcro strip.

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW - 3
A Velcro strip, zipper, two locking cordlocks, and four elastic cords converge right at your mouth and chin, leading to discomfort.

Another Velcro patch at the collar creates a similar “continuous baffle” to the main zipper. Locking cordlocks for the collar and hood eliminate the need for snap closures to close the hood and hood areas. While they snap together easily, the stiff buttons make them more difficult to open, especially in darkness or with cold hands.

My biggest peeve with the La Fayette bag is having too many items converge right at my mouth and the middle of my face. These include two cordlocks, four cords, a zipper, and two Velcro patches. The Velcro scratched my face and the cord and cordlocks were constantly in my mouth or rubbing my chin. To be sure it wasn’t just my issue, I had three other hikers use the bag and all were in agreement that the center of the hood area was far too busy to be comfortable.

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW - 4
The “Marie Antoinette” collar is very effective at eliminating drafts.

Even with the annoyances of the closure hardware, the hood area and collar are among the most efficient I’ve seen. A key component of the La Fayette is its “Marie Antoinette” collar that wraps the neck is a continuous baffle that seals completely, following the neckline “as close as the headpiece of a guillotine” (hence the name).

The contoured hood and dual adjusters create an effective seal around the face and a nice pillow of down that surrounds the head. Combined with the center zip, this is one warm head area no matter what position you prefer to lay in. A second drawcord at the hip further eliminates drafts in the bag. If you’re cold in a Valandré La Fayette, it should not be due to drafts.

On the flip side, the La Fayette offers few options for ventilation. With a short zip and a snug fit that discourage airflow, I found myself sleeping on top of the Valandré bag in warmer conditions.

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW - 5
The La Fayette seals up to create a very warm hood and shoulder area.

The Valandré La Fayette reviewed uses a Pertex Microlight shell and liner (a ripstop version is used on the outer shell). This fabric is very lightweight and highly breathable. However, it offers only minimal water resistance. During some extremely wet trips in the Cascades with vertical rain and high condensation, the fabric soaked through, causing significant loss of loft.

For 2006, Valandré switched to Asahi KASEI Impact 66 Polyamid ripstop nylon. While still being highly breathable, this fabric is much more water resistant than Pertex Microlight and should address many of my concerns about the bag losing loft in wet conditions.

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW - 6
The Pertex Microlight fabric breathes well but is less effective at repelling moisture such as during this super-wet trip up Mount Hood in Oregon.

Like other Valandré products I’ve used, the La Fayette bag is a very high quality product. Pertex fabrics, 850 + down, and meticulous craftsmanship are seen in the bag, putting it in the company of other top-tier sleeping bag companies. After many nights in the bag, it still looks great and has loft similar to when it was new. The only exception was a small mis-sewing at the base of the zipper between reinforcement and the main juncture. This split caused a few feathers to leak out but was easily fixed by a couple of quick stitches.

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW - 7
A small seam tear was the only durability issue I had with the Valandré bag.

At $499, the Valandré La Fayette is quite expensive. If an efficient four-season bag with center zip is what you’re looking for, there isn’t much competition for this bag (GoLite, Feathered Friends, and Nunatak offer center zip models but they aren’t this warmly rated). It also offers the most efficient, well designed hood/collar combination I’ve seen. However, when you consider that the Western Mountaineering Versalite Super offers similar loft, is several ounces lighter, and costs over $100 less, it’s tough to recommend the La Fayette as a great value.

Missing from this review (and for all sleeping bag reviews published here, for that matter) will be an assessment of whether or not the sleeping bag performs adequately at temperatures near its manufacturer-reported temperature rating. Click here for the complete Backpacking Light Position Statement on Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings.

What’s Unique

Center zip bags are rare and the Valandré La Fayette is an excellent example of an efficient center zip bag. For side or stomach sleepers, the short center zip offers a superior alternative to the challenges of side-zip bags. The La Fayette is not just limited to the “sleeping impaired” though - back sleepers will enjoy this bag too!

Recommendations for Improvement

  • The Valandré La Fayette is quite expensive when compared to competitor’s bags. I’d like to see a price break to make the price more comparable with other high-end bags on the market.
  • The combination of zipper, Velcro, adjusters, and cords in the mouth area is very uncomfortable. Moving the adjusters and cords to the side is a possibility (this is how Feathered Friends solved the problem in a custom center zip bag I own), but it would require the use of snaps and possibly a flap to secure the hood and collar. Another solution would be to take the approach of in the Arc'Teryx Sidewinder jacket line which has a center zip that angles to the side as it approaches the face. This would eliminate the issues I’ve stated without losing the versatility of the center zip.

Citation

"Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW," by Doug Johnson. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/valandre_la_fayette_sleeping_bag_review.html, 2006-11-15 03:00:00-07.

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Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW
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Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW on 11/14/2006 20:42:33 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW

Marcel Besemer
(warmbags) - F

Locale: Worldwide
Strong point not mentioned !! on 11/16/2006 05:31:05 MST Print View

One of the strongest points of this bag is not mentioned!!
When sitting up for sorting gear, playing cards, cooking, reading etc. you can sit right up in the bag: pull the zipper up to your armpitts, pull the drawcord and with a downjacket you got a perfect bag to cook in, sit out a storm etc.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Strong point not mentioned !! on 11/29/2006 12:57:18 MST Print View

After doing further comparisons of the Valandre La Fayette with other bags and reading Marcel's comments, I'd like to add the following:

1) I was able to tighten side zip bags (including the Valandre Mirage) effectively under the arm pits and layer with a parka nearly as well as with the La Fayette, minimizing this as a distinct advantage in my opinion.

2) I did, however, see a distinct advantage to the La Fayette when wearing the hood. I was able to sit up in the bag, leave on the hood, unzip the front zip, and slide my hands out for taking care of tasks in the tent without removing the bag (or the hood). This is a real advantage of the center zip design and allows the user to stay much warmer when working in a tent than sliding the bag down.

If you decide to melt snow or cook while using this method, be careful not to get the bag wet! The Microlight fabric (tested) is not very water resistant. However, the fabric used in the newer version will shed water much better and will thus survive a spill more easily.

Thanks for the comments Marcel- and pointing out this advantage that I had overlooked.

Doug Johnson

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Valandré La Fayette Sleeping Bag REVIEW on 11/29/2006 13:07:26 MST Print View

In my review of the La Fayette I stated:
"It also offers the most efficient, well designed hood/collar combination I’ve seen. However, when you consider that the Western Mountaineering Versalite Super offers similar loft, is several ounces lighter, and costs over $100 less, it’s tough to recommend the La Fayette as a great value."

As Valandre pointed out (and I agree), this was possibly not the best comparison and here's why:

-These bags are different styles (front zip- La Fayette, side zip- Versalite Super
-The temperature rating is different (5 deg- La Fayette, 10 deg- Versalite Super)
-The shaped of the insulated neckcollar and hood of the La Fayette is more sophisticated (as pointed out in the review)
-The fabrics are different (The La Fayette has Asahi KASEI fabrics that are more water resistant

Please keep this in mind when comparing these two bags- price and weight are not the only considerations that should be made.

Thank you-
Doug Johnson