SNEWS readers hear about the latest and greatest new gear long before it ever hits retail shelves. But which products actually live up to the manufacturer’s lofty promises?
In the third installment of our new series, Tested, we partner with our sister brand and the gear pros at BACKPACKER to bring you field reviews of 2015 in-line shell SKUs that are selling to consumers now.
NEMO Equipment Sonic 0˚
What SNEWS said then: "Nemo Equipment brings its 850-fill, water-resistant duck down in the Sonic 0 (MSRP $500), which employs its zippered-gill technology for venting around the body’s core." [October 2014]
BACKPACKER's verdict: It’s rare that a $500 product is a steal, but the features and performance NEMO packed into the Sonic make this bag one of the best values of the year. Start with top-of-the-line, 850-fill duck down—same warmth as goose down, just cheaper—that ensures toasty comfort down to the 0°F temp rating. A hybrid baffle design trims cost relative to traditional vertical baffles: Since the vertical baffle chambers are only 26 inches instead of the entire length of the bag, they don’t require pricey, internal mesh-wall construction to prevent down migration within the baffle. Also, the vertical alignment keeps the insulation over your core (it can’t migrate from side to side) where you need it most.The horizontal baffles through the legs have stretch stitching for extra mobility—enough for one tester to change inside the fully zipped bag on a freezer-burn morning in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. In warmer temps, unzip the two longs gills on top of the bag to vent core heat; it’s a big improvement on the cold toes we get by opening the footbox on conventional bags. Even with all this stuff, the Sonic is still at the lightweight end of its class. Only downside: The hood’s bungee cord hangs on your face if you pull it all the way tight. [April 2015]
Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark
What SNEWS said then: "With more competition from entry-level synthetics, mid-to-high-end brands are stepping their game...The trademark welded seams remain, with improvements such as zone-mapped insulation — more in the feet, chest and neck — and a center-front zip." [October 2014]
BACKPACKER's verdict: Mountain Hardwear welds its proprietary Thermal.Q insulation (longer fibers loft in curlicue shape, while shorter ones fill the spaces between) directly to the inside of the shell, eliminating redundant and bulky shingling. The resulting bag kept us warm to 35°F without so much as a cold spot (and we used it down to an impressive 20°F while wearing a puffy). Also, the two-way center zip makes it easy to sit up and do basic tent chores without getting all the way out of your bag. In icy weather, we could unzip from the bottom and stick out our little T-rex arms, or in milder temps we could unzip from the top and wear the bag more like a large, insulated cape. Either way, it beats getting out of your bag all at once. Extra credit: The reduced number of seams makes the interior feel like silk sheets against our skin. And that’s something new to be snobby about. [April 2014]
Kelty Dualist 22
What SNEWS said then: "Layering the insulations, such as in the Kelty ThermaDri Dualist (MSRP $149), promotes heat retention and moisture movement with proven techniques, said Frank Kvietok, director of advanced development at American Rec, parent to Kelty and Sierra Designs. 'Don’t pull out the Cuisinart, blend these fibers together and think you’ll end up with something better.'" [October 2014]
BACKPACKER's verdict: The Dualist is like a synthetic bag (proprietary ThermaPro) within a 550-fill DriDown (duck) sack. The layered construction allows you to roll around with your bag and always have synthetic fill below you; it compresses less than down so you never sacrifice warmth. The basic hood and easily accessible drawcord allow for one-handed operation, but without a draft collar, cold air seeps in. In 30°F temps on the North Teton Trail, it soaked up condensation from the tent walls, which led to cold spots in the footbox. [April 2015]
What SNEWS said then: "While air mats continue to take market share, the allure of self-inflating foam remains. Therm-a-Rest evolves the latter with its EvoLite Mattress (MSRP $120), which provides a lightweight (1 pound, 1 ounce; 2.1 R-value) foam option (just a few breaths to top it off) with the added comfort and loft (2 inches) of strategically placed air channels." [October 2014]
BACKPACKER's verdict: "We hate having to manually blow up pads at altitude when we’re tanked from a long day of hiking. The EvoLite inflates on its own in about 15 minutes (you may want to top it off with a few puffs if you prefer your pad firm). Built with alternating foam and air channels, the EvoLite uses about 40 percent less foam than traditional self-inflating pads, yet provides 2.5 inches of back support. And Therm-a-Rest’s new Atmos foam is unique, too: It’s produced in an atmospheric-controlled chamber that literally reduces the effect of gravity on the foam as it sets, making it extra soft and lightweight. The Evolite weighs in at just over a pound and packs barely larger than a 1-liter water bottle, so you can drop it easily inside your pack, avoiding the wear and tear pads incur when strapped on the outside. With an R-value of 2.1 (a measure of insulation; higher is warmer), it’s best for temps above 40°F (or warm sleepers)." [April 2015]
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus
What SNEWS said then: "Air sleeping mats quickly have become a camper favorite, as their buoyant comfort scores points with side sleepers, and their lightness and small pack size win favor with backpackers ... One such example is Sea to Summit’s entry into the category with a full collection (MSRPs $100-$220) of lightweight-, comfort- and insulated-oriented sleeping mats. The key component throughout the entire lineup is hundreds of individual circular air cells (instead of air tubes) that independently absorb pressure, allowing for a supportive mat that doesn’t bounce and roll users at every movement. Think of those mattress commercials where the wine glass stays perfectly still as the kid jumps on the other side of the bed — well, we haven’t tested these mats to that extent yet, but you get the point. A few other features to check out: a neat, single inflate/deflate valve that deflates super fast without having to roll and reroll; and in the Comfort Plus models, there are actually two separate layers of air — for if one gets punctured on the bottom, the top layer of air remains to make it through the night." [October 2014]
BACKPACKER's verdict: We tested this mattress from the lowest valley in the United States to the highest peaks in Nepal, and the feedback always came back the same: This is the most comfortable night’s sleep we’ve had on a pad this packable. Combine that with a unique design that uses two separate air chambers—giving you 1.25 inches of insurance against a leak—and you get our new favorite pad. Pump the bottom half to max capacity to lift you off any roots or rocks, and then fine-tune the top half to your preferred level of firmness. Five hundred forty-eight individual air cells provide structure and better support than traditional horizontal or vertical chambers—even for restless sleepers. One tester deliberately inflated just one side (she had the insulated version), and despite sleeping on uneven, frozen terrain, she was still warm and comfy at 16,000 feet in Nepal. Sleep cold? The insulated model amps R-value from 1.5 to 5 for $30 and 4.5 ounces more. And all this comfort still compresses to 4 by 7 inches. Bonus: The valves allow fine-tunable inflation and instant deflation. [April 2015]