In the Sack with Big Agnes

Written by Monkeybrad on March 12th, 2009
1snowtree

A snow angel's view of the world

Big Agnes Encampment +15° Sleeping System
$159.95 @ REI

When it comes to your sleeping arrangements, you can’t be too careful when it comes to climbing into someone else’s sack.  This is especially true, out on the trail, where your choice of sleeping arrangements can be the difference between life and death, or comfort and discomfort in my non-mountaineering world.  I have searched far and wide for a truly comfortable cold-weather bag at a reasonably backpackable weight and I now own a rack full of failed contenders.  They are all great bags, but they fall short somehow.  My 6’3″ more than amply padded frame requires more space than most off the shelf bags allow for, so it has been a challenging search at times.   Like a trailbound Goldilocks I would go from bag to bag, this one was roomy and warm but too heavy;  that one is lightweight but too constrictive and not warm enough.  So the search continued until I finally found one that is, just about right.

Enter the Big Agnes Encampment a 15° oversized bag, that I got in the long model.  Big Agnes has a different philosophy when it comes to their bags.  They know that the insulation on the bottom of the bag gets compressed and does little good anyway and that we all use sleeping pads to add comfort and to insulate us from the ground.  So they did a surprisingly logical thing, they removed the insulation from the bottom side of the bag and added a sleeve to hold a sleeping pad.  This makes for a lighter bag that packs smaller, while still providing the same heat rating.  It also has the added advantage of making it very difficult to roll off your pad in the night, since it is an integrated part of this “sleep system”.  I was dubious at first, but it seems to work very well.  I have heard from other people that this bag is not rated properly and that it does not keep you warm when the temp is down in the twenties, but every time I hear that a few minutes later it becomes clear that they are not using this bag the way it is designed to work.  When used properly this one will have you nice and toasty.

I had put off reviewing this one until I had a chance to not only sleep in it on a truly chilly night, but also to carry it in my pack for a couple of days of real trail work.  We carried it on a couple of car camping trips in the fall, but the nights were not cool enough to give this bag a workout.  My wife and I recently hiked in to camp for Valentine’s Day at Raven’s Point Overlook along the Fiery Gizzard Trail in Southern Middle Tennessee and it provided a perfect opportunity to really put this one to the test. The February night saw temps in the low 20’s, but once I got into the bag and warmed it up, I stayed warm all night long.  It was one of the first times that I slept all night long actually bundled up, mummy bag style, and I discovered that filling the built in pillow pocket with extra clothes made such a great pillow that I ended up not using my usual inflatable.  It also has a great draft collar to keep air from escaping the top of the bag and fully insulated zipper backing.  The zipper was fairly easy to operate from inside the bag, but I did sometimes have trouble finding the single tongue and it did catch on the insulated backing if I was not careful.  On the other hand it was always easy to work out these snags.  All of the adjustments around the head were easy to operate from inside the bag and it cinched down comfortably.  My biggest complaint is the lack of a built in pocket inside, but that is easily worked around.

On the whole, I was pleased with it’s performance.  I have no problem recommending this one, just be sure you are using it with a decent sleeping pad and I am sure you will be happy.  I love the fact that it is roomy enough for my ample frame and that it is possible to roll over inside the bag comfortably.  It comes with a cotton storage sack and a stuff sack for packing, although I did not use the stuff sack.  I tend to just shove my bag into the bottom of my pack, it will compress there nicely and expand to fill the gaps, rather than having a fairly hard stuff sack in there leaving gaps around it.  I am not saying this is better, it is just how I do it.

I picked mine up at REI where it normally retails for $159.95, but I caught it on sale for $109.95, so keep your eyes open for deals.  I am currently using it with an REI Trekker 1.75 sleeping pad, but after doing some research I now fully intend to purchase the pad that is made for it.  I like that you are not tied to using their pad, but the more I look at it, the more I like the design of the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core.  In fact I have one on order, so I will keep you updated when I get a chance to check it out.  So there you go, I have a wall full of sleeping bags to choose from, but when the weather warrants it, I look forward to climbing in the sack with Big Agnes.

Big Agnes Encampment +15 Sleeping Bag – Long

Specification

Description

Comfort rating 15 degrees Fahrenheit
Comfort rating – celsius -9 degrees Celsius
Average weight 3 lbs. 11 oz.
Average weight – metric 1.67 kilograms
Shell Nylon ripstop
Fill Polyester fibers
Lining Nylon taffeta
Fits up to 6 ft. 6 in.
Shoulder girth 73 inches
Hip girth 69 inches
Stuff sack size 9 x 20 inches
Shape Mummy

Here is the “official” description from REI’s website.

  • Underside insulation has been eliminated and replaced with a sleeve for the Big Agnes REM Air Core Pad, or any 20-in. wide pad (sold separately)
  • Three-season modified mummy sleeping bag features Climashield™ HL insulation and shingle construction for reliable warmth
  • Climashield HL retains much of its warmth even when wet; A-Flex™ construction increases loft and maximizes heat retention
  • Continuous oversized draft wedge insulates the connection between the bag and pad to prevent cold air from entering
  • Nylon ripstop shell is treated a Durable Water Repellent finish; soft, breathable nylon taffeta lining cocoons you in comfort
  • Two-way, full-length, locking zipper with big, easy-to-grab zipper pull
  • Large draft tube located behind the zipper prevents warm air from escaping and cold air from entering
  • Pillow pocket allows you to stuff extra clothing or travel pillow inside
  • Includes a nylon stuff sack and large storage bag
Keep warm, Spring is almost here...

Keep warm, Spring is almost here...

 

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. DG says:

    Nice review. One question. Does this bag have a zipper in the bottom to let your feet out if desired?

  2. Monkeybrad says:

    Thanks for the compliment. The bag does not have a bottom zipper, but the side zipper goes down almost to the bottom of the bag and It ihas two slides, so you can zip up from the bottom and vent that way. I have camped with my feet hanging out of the side a couple of times and it worked well for me. Not as nice as a bottom zipper, but certainly workable.

  3. Arief says:

    A bag that allows gives you space to move while replacing the bottom half of your mummy bag with an inflatable mattress in a sleeve. This idea works well for me at temps 35-40. The most comfortable sleeping bag I have ever used.

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