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Friday, January 23, 2009

Big Agnes Dream Island Sleeping Bag

Ben and I got so psyched on the ride to Gulu's when we realized that we would finally be able to try out our new sleeping bag. We had it shipped to her house, because we were unsure as to when we would be leaving Galveston, and we knew that we'd be able to get it down in Mission.

So we returned our sleeping bags to R.E.I. for a third time. R.E.I. has an incredible return policy for their co-op members; I highly recommend becoming a member (Ben is, I'm not), because they give lots of benefits to their members, including great tag sales at the beginning of the year, good deals and, because it is a co-op, you get bits and pieces of your investment (twenty bucks) back in dividends towards other merchandise. They also have a pretty sweet outlet store. And the return policy? If you aren't satisfied, they will take it back for a full refund.

The last time we had bought from them two Lafuma bags, and they were sized long. They were "mateable" which really meant that if you zipped them together, when the planets were aligned just the right way, you and your cozy-up partner could spend the rest of the night fighting over the limited space. We had already had problems with Lafuma bags before (different versions of bags won't mate up to different types, they have to be the same type, with left and right zippers) and we decided to get a new sleeping bag.

So my mom, in her eternal Jewish-wish to make sure her daughter was safe, sound and warm, bought us for Hanukkah (and/or Christmas) a two-person sleeping bag from Big Agnes, the Dream Island 20 degree synthetic doublewide. Thanks, Mom! We bought them from Moosejaw, another outdoor supplier that has limited retail storefront, but good deals and good customer service (and a good return policy, too).

We got to Mission and were all, "Oh my god! It's Christmas all over again!" And we opened up the boxes and were, well, pretty quickly dismayed. Big Agnes makes sleeping bags for very specific types of campers--you won't necessarily find one that suits your needs unless you can afford to pay a good deal for it.

Big Agnes bags are, as far as I know, made differently from other, more conventional bags. They exclude a bottom insulating layer because they argue, by sleeping on the bottom layer, and therefore crushing it, you loose almost all the insulating properties of the bottom layer. If you've ever slept on the cold ground in just a sleeping bag, you would have experienced this. So they utilize the insulating properties of sleeping pads and are able to presumably cut off a good chunk of weight from the bag. Only, the local outdoor sports equipment store's sleeping bag guy we talked to back in Connecticut, before we made a purchase, told us he doesn't trust Big Agnes pads (which are blow up and heavier), because they aren't made by Big Agnes. And they can cost up to 160 dollars!!

We weren't going to take a 9.25 pound pad and a nine pound sleeping bag and spend 300 dollars on eighteen pounds of extra weight (our old sleeping bags were about three pounds each with a pound for sleeping pads, for clarification). So we had to buy new, bigger sleeping pads from Therm-a-Rest to fit the sleeping bag. The new pads are 'Deluxe,' which means the ridges of support are more like pointy mountains than curved hills. And they're huge! Like the size of a duffel bag! Add to this that there is no cushy insulating layer between us and the pads and it feels like sleeping on metal grating all night. Ben doesn't seem to mind, but I think he could sleep on rusty nails if he was tired enough.

Then there is getting the pads into the sleeve on the bottom of the bag. I struggled for about fifteen minutes in Gulu's well-lit spare room trying to get them to fit in anBd not overlap (and it still isn't perfect). I can't even imagine what it would be like after a long night on the motorcycle, trying to pitch the tent with a dim little head lamp and my cranky attitude. I can't fall asleep comfortably in it even though it is so big we could fit another grown adult inside it and not have any problems. They also include two sewn-in pillow case holders for... you guessed it! Big Agnes sized pillows. Ben and I have these mega pillows that we use both for sleeping and as the filler to the huge seat cover I made. The fancy hood becomes a pillow case holder and loses all its functionality with our setup.

Big Agnes advertises the bag as a bag for couples who do car camping. If you're carrying an electric coffeepot and a full-sized barbecue grill with you on your camping trips, this might be a successful sleeping bag (if you buy the suggested doublewide pad and proper pillows with it). Ben and I had figured that our motorcycle is like a car, kinda, but in the case of this sleeping bag, our motorcycle is more like a runt pack mule.

We're a little sad, and I am a little cranky in the mornings right now (Ok, I am cranky in the mornings all the time!) But we're looking forward to our next sleeping bag purchase and maybe, you know, the fifth time's the charm. Right now we're checking out the North Face Twin Peaks sleeping bag and going back to our smaller sized Therm-a-Rests. Don't worry, there'll be a full update and 'Girlfriend Quality Check' to go along with it, too... once we get it.

-Jennifer, Jennifer and Jennifer.


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