THE NORTH FACE GOLD KAZOO
TNF have now been in the outdoor business for 50 years so they should know how to make a good sleeping bag. The Gold Kazoo is the lightest in the range and most suitable for Australian conditions. The first thing I noticed upon climbing inside was the buttery-smooth softness of the inner fabric, a nylon taffeta. I felt like I was lying in a pool of melted butter and that I’d somehow be absorbing calories through my skin and wake up heavier. I glided off to sleep but had to open up the bag during the night (it turns out that a spring heat wave is not the best time to test Mummy bags). Fortunately the zipper runs most of the way to the foot box so opening it out to cool off was not a problem. Like a few of the bags in this review, the Kazoo has small webbing loops sewn along its external seams. It has attachment points with which to secure your sleeping mat via elasticised straps. There is also a weirdly large downward-pointing loop sewn to the gusset at the bottom of the zip, for which I couldn’t find a use. Answers on a postcard, please.
Apart from that the Gold Kazoo remains a pretty standard design while weighing in at under a kilogram. There is a little valuables pocket, nice hood, a luminous zip-pull and decent compression sack.
THE VERDICT: As solid an effort as you’d expect from TNF.
MONT HELIUM 300
Mont have been manufacturing a full range of gear out of Canberra since 1981. Like the Gold Kazoo, the Helium is a simple design made with quality lightweight materials that work well. The 10D downproof nylon shell stuffed with 800+ DWR feathers keeps the package down to a tight 676g.
Their literature makes much of Mont’s award-winning Radial Arc Baffle System, which translates as a baffle chamber that is shaped to contour the curve of a sleeping body. This minimises down compression in places, maximising loft across the whole width, and while I’m sure this does make a difference it is probably too minimal for the average punter to notice.
The Helium has a double zip configuration, the lower one running around the foot box to enable the ventilation of toasty toes or the opening up of this baby completely flat. This system also allows two bags to be zipped together into a double, as long as one has a left-hand zip and one a right-hand zip. The anti-snag tape was pretty minimal and I caught the shell in the zip a couple of times, but this is a danger inherent in all lightweight sleeping bags and one should always run a finger in front of the slider when zipping up to prevent snagging.
THE VERDICT: A quality Australian product that can stand proudly beside the internationals in the field. Like TNF, but local.
The Hydrogen from Marmot, a well-respected US company, is another sleeping bag that balances the magic trifecta of weight, warmth and comfort without much fuss, and even has a couple of interesting features up its sleeve.
Comfort-wise, the internal 30D fabric was like the tender caress of an angel against my skin, the draught collar tucked up nicely under my chin and the main zipper’s garage meant it wasn’t stuck up my nose all night. The Zip Guard Slider and tape comprise probably the most effective anti-snag system I’ve seen, although if I really whipped the zip up I could catch some of the wispy Pertex Quantum shell. Uniquely in this review, the Hydrogen has a second, 33cm-long, zip on the opposite side to the main zip, which when undone creates a fold-down section for ventilation on warm nights.
This had the benefit of reducing the claustrophobia occasioned by one of the tightest-cut hoods I’ve ever squinted through. Even when completely loose it covered my eyes leaving just a narrow crescent through which to breathe. When fully tightened my skull felt like it was on the wrong end of a clenched sphincter muscle. Top marks though for positioning the hood closure toggle on the outside of the hood ‘brim’ where the loose cord couldn’t so easily drape across my face.
While not RDS certified, Marmot state that it “does not support the use of down from live pluck or Foie Gras geese or ducks. Every year we require our suppliers to certify that they are in compliance with our animal rights policies”.
THE VERDICT: A good combination of warmth, weight, comfort and design features, although the price did cause my eyebrows to raise.
EXPED COMFORT 0
The premise of Exped’s Comfort range can be summed up in one word: roominess. Yes, this is the bag for the camper who likes to spread out, but without the slight constriction felt with Klymit’s elasticised Stretch Baffles. So roomy was the Comfort 300 that I thought I’d mistakenly been sent a large size bag; I was swimming in there. I could’ve done laps!
Exped have updated the Comfort range for 2018, changing the names to reflect the limit of comfort rather than the weight of fill. The new bags are due to land in Feb/March.
THE VERDICT: For the larger gentleman, claustrophobic camper or sufferer of Restless Leg Syndrome, this is a great bag at a reasonable price. It’s a heavy option at 1286g though.
SEA TO SUMMIT SPARK II
It comes as no surprise that Sea to Summit, initially a manufacturer of accessories from Perth and now a global equipment powerhouse, provide the best stuff sacks and storage cells for their sleeping bags. The stuff sack especially crams the Spark down into the smallest volume of the lot, and the fact that they put so much thought into even these less-important details is a good indicator of their overall design ethos, and this is proven through the bags themselves.
The Spark was primarily pitched as an adventure-racing bag but predictably was positively pounced on by hikers looking to shed weight. The usual methods prevailed: highest loft down (850+), thinnest shell (10D and almost translucent – you can see the down inside) and shortest zip. While this makes it almost the lightest on test (only beaten by the WM Highlite) it is also the least warm with a lower limit of +2°C. Admittedly one would be struggling to use this year round without a good thermal liner, but for that there is the Spark III which bottoms out at -4°C.
In terms of comfort I had no real complaints. The cut is a little on the narrow side which, as well as making me feel like the filling of a well-wrapped burrito, made it harder to turn over inside the bag. With such a body-hugging fit though, the polar opposite of Exped’s spacious hotel suite, one just turns with the bag. Even the minimal hood is well done, and stuck to my head more like the hood of a waterproof jacket than a sleeping bag.
THE VERDICT: If you’re obsessed with super light gear then you should seriously consider this as an option.