I haven’t owned a goosedown sleeping bag for many years. I know that goosedown is technically the best insulation when rated per ounce, but I’ve spent too many nights in goosedown bags that were damp and cold (down loses insulation value when wet) and goosedown bags that were matted with body oils (I get greasy when I don’t shower regularly). My current sleeping bag is hollofil, not down, and I’m happy not to have the old problems I experienced with goosedown.
This Antarctica Softie 18 Bag from Snugpak of England (according to their website the last English company to actually make sleeping bags in the British Isles) caught my eye because its insulation rating is far beyond the lightweight bag I usually carry. The Softie 18 was designed for more extreme conditions, with a comfort rating of -4 degrees F and an extreme rating of -58 degrees F.
Pricewise you could save hundreds of dollars on this bag, compared to an expedition quality goosedown bag from REI. The Snugpak Softie 18 costs literally half as much as the top REI Himalayan bag. The question is, do you get the same level of performance? And the answer is, no, you don’t. In terms of insulation per ounce, goosedown still beats the artificial insulation used in the Snugpak Softie. If you buy the softie you get a good bag for much less money, weighing about twice as much as a goosedown bag rated for the same temperature, and with some excellent features goosedown doesn’t offer.
Snugpak’s insulation material is way beyond old crude hollofil, which in my opinion is still pretty good stuff when conditions turn towards nasty. The Softie 18 is built with layers of good high-tech insulation, including a built-in reflective aluminum fabric sheet, space blanket style. That’s moisture permeable reflective fabric so the bag is still comfortable, with fleecy lining and lofty insulation in between you and the foil. That complicated construction increases the efficiency of the bag by about 15 percent based on the foil layer alone.
What caught my eye about this extreme cold weather sleeping bag is that there’s no quilting and no visible compartmenting, something you’ll always find in goosedown bags since goosedown tends to float around and mat down. Corralling goosedown in narrow bands prevents cold spots of empty bag from forming (at least while the down is dry and clean). The compartmentation only works if multiple layers of quilted down-filled pockets overlap, eliminating the cold spots at the seams in between. With the Snugpak continuous fabric system those compartments aren’t necessary, because the components of the bag are formed from thick sheets of insulating material. Costs go down, and the insulation efficiency goes up.
The other thing that goes up is weight, and the Snugpak Softie 18 may shock ultralight travelers with a whopping 102 ounces of warmth and comfort. Yes, that’s almost 6 1/2 pounds. The REI Marmot, a quilted goosedown sleeping bag rated at 74 ounces when dry and clean, weighs nearly two pounds less and offers comfortable warmth down to 40 below zero Fahrenheit.
But let’s get real. I remember a lot of mornings breaking camp when a damp goosedown bag seemed at least two pounds heavier than when I took it out of the closet at home, and they do get permanently heavier and less effective over the years as they pick up oils and grime. Goosedown loses insulation value when it’s wet or matted, and it never really recovers from that sort of abuse. The heavy wool long johns I put in my pack during those hard years, to overcome the cold spots in my goosedown bag, easily made up that two pounds of weight I saved by carrying a goosedown bag. Having used both kinds of sleeping bags, natural goosedown and artificial fiber, I’m sold on the space age version.
Realistically the Snugpak Antarctica Softie 18 is a bag I’d trust at 0 to 10 below, even in bad weather, and if surviving is your only concern it’s good for weather far below that “comfortable” level. If you’re going to Antarctica, keep shopping but be wary of manufacturer’s ratings. The REI Marmot, for example, claims a comfort rating of -40 F. That means the Marmot keeps you comfortably warm down to that temperature, but comfort ratings are not very scientific and only reflect the opinion of the person who tested the bag. The new Antarctica RE from Snugpak claims a comfort temperature of -4 degrees F, but a survival temperature rating of -58 F. Whether a bag keeps you comfortable at 60 below zero might be a moot point, because most of us aren’t going to be comfortable in those conditions. Being alive is always good. Survival in extreme weather depends on much more than a sleeping bag. Snow caves, tents and ground mats increase your chances of living through the night considerably, and with the protection of a primitive shelter, either type of bag might serve well. In a Spring thaw when gear gets wet, goosedown is no comfort at all.
Technical description from Snugpak:
Extreme temperature sleeping bag with compression stuffsack, profiled (unquilted), snugfit hood, zip baffle, circle reinforced foot, hanging dry tab, anti-snag center two-way zip. The center zip is designed specially to be a quick release zip for a fast exit from the bag.
Weight : 102 oz
packs to : 19″ x 12″
comfort temperature MINUS 4 f
low temperature : MINUS 58 f
Available in black, and olive green.