I’ve accumulated quite the gear collection over the years, but that doesn’t keep me from drooling over other, better gear! To wit, I currently have four different sleeping bags, ranging from a minus-15 degree down winter bag to a lightweight 20-degree synthetic. But ironically, none of them are from my favorite sleeping bag maker: Marmot. And so I drool….
Why do I like Marmot bags—specifically Marmot down bags—so much? Let me list the reasons:
1) They are cut roomier than many other sleeping bags. The interior of a sleeping bag is measured in two dimensions—shoulder and hip girth—which measure the diameter of the inside of the sleeping bag at those two points. The bigger the numbers, the roomier the bag. A close-fitting bag will typically have hip girths of 56-58 inches and shoulder girths of 58-60 inches. Most ultralight bags—where manufacturers are trying to save weight—fall somewhere in this range. These dimensions tend to be snug even for a relatively thin individual and too tight for anybody with broad shoulders or a broad middle. Personally I find this cut too tight for my mildly-claustrophobic tastes. And I’m what most people call thin (6’5″, 185 pounds).
Marmot bags, on the other hand are almost all cut with a hip girth of 60-62 inches and shoulder girth of 64-66 inches. Nice and roomy. It’s surprising how much of a difference only a few inches makes. (Keep in mind, however, that the closer a sleeping bag fits, the warmer it will be. A tighter fit means less dead air space to heat up or lose into the night air as you shift around.) Marmot also produces women’s versions of their bags, which differ slightly in their cut: a few inches wider around the hips and narrower around the shoulders to address differences between the masculine and feminine physique.
2) Marmot sleeping bags have awesome, form-fitting hoods. All Marmot bags are cut more or less from the same pattern and they all feature the same hood design. Unlike other bags that use only one to three fabric panels to create a relatively formless hood, Marmot uses a series of parallel panels to create an arced, comfortable shape that naturally wraps around your heat-pumping cranium. To put it another way: You have to stuff your head into other hoods, while Marmot’s hoods almost envelop your dome by default. Plus Marmot hoods incorporate a nice, down-filled face baffle around the perimeter of the hood opening. This is not only more comfortable than having the hood drawstring next to your face, it creates a tighter seal that helps keep the warm air from escaping.
3) Most Marmot bags have a high “fill pressure.” Fill pressure is not something you hear much about. It refers to how much the down fills up the space in each of the many separate sleeping bag insulation compartments. If the down is in there loosely (low fill pressure), with lots of extra air, then it tends to shift around more easily, creating cold spots. If it’s packed in tightly, then it stays more evenly distributed. Fill pressure is not something you’ll ever see listed as a measured specification, but it’s something you definitely notice when handling the bag. And Marmot bags tend to be very well stuffed.
4) Marmot bags are conservative in their temperature ratings. Although there have been some recent industry moves to standardize sleeping bag rating systems, it is still ultimately up to the manufacturers to say what temperature their bags are rated to. Some companies—notably The North Face—are quite optimistic about how warm their bags are. Most others are realistic. Marmot, on the other hand, errs on the conservative side. In most cases, a 15-degree Marmot bag will be warmer than 15-degree bags from their competitors.
Marmot Bags (All specs are for regular length)
In the 15-degree range, Marmot offers three options. Stuffed with 600-fill down, the Sawtooth is their entry-level model and offers the best value (2 pounds, 14 ounces; $209), though it is cut two inches narrower than all of their other down bags . It is also one of the few Marmot bags with weak fill pressure. The women’s version of this is called the Angel Fire (2 pounds, 12 ounces). On the ultralight, spendy, super-drool end of the 15-degree range is the 850-fill Helium, which is one of the roomiest superlight bags on the market (1 pound, 15 ounces; $359). And then there’s the lush and cushy 800-fill Pinnacle, arguably the warmest 15-degree bag on the market. Most manufacturers would definitely rate this one a zero-degree (2 pounds, 8 ounces; $329). Also available in a women’s version (2 pounds, 4 ounces).
In the zero-degree range, in the same category order as above (entry level, ultralight, and super-warm) are the Never Summer (3 pounds, 9 ounces; $269), the Lithium (2 pounds, 12 ounces; $459), and the Couloir (3 pounds, 3 ounces; $429). The Never Summer has a women’s versions known as the Teton (3 pounds, 8 ounces; $269); the others are unisex only.
In the sub-zero range, the minus-20 degree Col (4 pounds, 4 ounces; $619) is an incredible cold-weather bag—all you’d ever need for any Northeast winter trip anywhere. For your next Denali or Everest expedition, they also make the minus-40 degree Cwm (pronounced “koom”).