Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.
This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:
It’s a golden goose era for down insulation in sleeping bags — there’s the advent of water-resistant down, 900 fill powers and growing consumer preference for natural versus synthetic materials.
Demand is high. Perhaps too high. Whether it is sleeping bags, jackets or lifestyle pieces, down’s popularity has caused the price of the insulation to skyrocket, doubling to record-high prices during the past three years.
Although some of the latest technologies add little cost to the product, show goers are seeing significantly higher down sleeping bag prices on the floor, especially anything with a fill-power rating of 750 or more.
For bags with 700-fill down insulation or less, quite a few manufacturers told us they are keeping prices stable by switching to duck down. “There’s really no performance difference,” at that level, said Garth Evans, sales manager at Big Agnes. Take, for example, the Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15, which gets an update for 2013 with water-resistant 650-fill DownTek, but no price change at MSRP $240 thanks to a move to duck down insulation. Then consider the Big Agnes Mystic SL, also to be updated next year with DownTek, but with 800-fill goose down, it sees a $100 price jump from last year to MSRP $499.
Lafuma goes to 600-fill duck down in its fully redesigned line of sleeping bags, including the new TMB 40 (MSRP $200), meant to attract both trekkers and car campers with a little extra room, but light enough (2 pounds, 4 ounces) for summer backcountry use. Sister brand Millet introduces its sleeping bags to the U.S. with the Dreamer Extend 1600 (MSRP $280) a 20-degree bag with 700-fill duck down.
Millet Dreamer Extend 1600
Most showgoers got a sneak peek at water-resistant down at Winter Market, but Summer Market brings a full array of offerings. Brooks-Range, Mountain Hardwear, Nemo and Sea to Summit all are showing bags with Down Decor’s DownTek insulation.
After its limited preview a year ago, Nemo officially debuts seven new sleeping bags, such as the 15- to 40-degree Spoon series (MSRPs $230-$400) with 700-fill DownTek or synthetic PrimaLoft Synergy insulation. The bags have an hourglass shape, giving sleepers plenty of room to spread their arms above and legs below.
Mountain Hardwear will upgrade most of its down sleeping bags to water-resistant down, including the 800-fill Phantom 32 (MSRP $380). Sea to Summit combines 750-fill, water-resistant down with a lightweight shell and mummy shape in the Talus Ts series (MSRPs $329-$459). The 23-degree rated version weighs in at 1 pound, 15 ounces.
Sea to Summit Talus Ts
Brooks-Range breaks out of the bag with 850-fill DownTek in its Cloak 15 (MSRP $369). The blanket with draft tubes all around connects to the pad down below, but remains loose up top so when sleepers turn, the pad doesn’t end up on top of them.
Brooks-Range Cloak 15
Sierra Designs, which beat everyone to the punch with its water-resistant DriDown debut at last Winter Market, expands its sleeping bag offerings with its new men’s Cal and women’s Clo series. The five mummy bags feature 800-fill DriDown, a 10-denier ripstop shell and liner, plus a little more room for comfort than last year’s ultralight Cloud 15. They are the first bags to be EN temperature rated for Sierra Designs (Cal 6-, 13- and 30-degree; Clo 18- and 25-degree), something the brand will continue with all of its future hooded bags, officials said. The 18-degree Clo (MSRP $600) comes in at 2 pounds, 4 ounces. Sister brand Kelty gets into water-resistant down for the first time with the Ignite Down 20 (MSRP $199) with 600-fill DriDown insulation at an affordable price.
Sierra Designs Clo
Kelty Ignite Down 20
Notably missing from the water-resistant down bandwagon (we suspect a proprietary version is in the works), The North Face introduces a new 850-fill down sleeping bag called the Hightail 15 (MSRP $419) weighing in at 2 pounds. The bag employs Pertex Endurance fabric for water resistance, along with some Climashield insulation body mapped into the bottom of the bag to combat loss of insulation due to down’s compression.
The North Face Hightail 15
Mountain Equipment also foregoes water-resistant down in revamping its entire line of sleeping bags with 30 models. “We’re just not convinced yet,” said Craig Dixon, vice president of sales and marketing. The new line includes the Xero 550 (MSRP $420), an alpine fit bag weighing in at 2 pounds, 4 ounces with 850-down-fill and a seven-baffle construction hood to better fit and insulate.
Mountain Equipment Xero 550
Therm-a-rest has been making sleeping pads for 40 years, but 2013 will mark the first time it enters the sleeping bag category with five new products. (For history buffs, brand parent Cascade Designs launched a sleeping bag collection in 1994, but it was discontinued in 1998). The new Therm-a-rest line focuses on pairing the bag with the pad through two stretchable loop band attachments attached to the underside of the bags. The system can accommodate just about any sleeping pad up to 25 inches wide, with no vertical restrictions on size or placement along the length of the bag. The introduction includes three new 750-fill goose down bags, rated from 45 to zero degrees (MSRPs $250-$460) and two synthetic-fill bags, rated at zero and 20 degrees (MSRPs $190-$210).
Nemo works the bag/pad combo with its new Strato Loft 25 (MSRP $370) — which rolls up with the pad for quick storage and deployment — and its lightweight Siren 30 (MSRP $350), a minimalist quilt intended to mate with a minimalist pad.
Nemo Strato Loft 25
Big Agnes, which helped pioneer the bag/pad sleep system, will continue to fully endorse the method, but perhaps swallow its pride just a bit with the debut of its first line of traditional mummy bags rated from 45 to -20 degrees (MSRPs $249-$499) with 700 DownTek fill and Insotect Flow vertical baffling. The new line includes the Bellyache Mountain 15 (MSRP $299).
Big Agnes Bellyache Mountain 15
Down isn’t the only insulation beefing up its water resistance. So are synthetic fills.
Big Agnes will bring four new sleeping bags to market in 2013 featuring a new synthetic insulation and construction developed by supplier partners Pinneco and Insotect.
Pinneco Core, the new insulation, relies on two layers of fill wrapped around a thin screen that reflects radiant heat back to the user, but maintains breathability because of its air permeability. It’s all packaged inside Insotect’s new Tubic construction, which arches Pinneco Core up in two layers folding over itself for increased loft in a vertical baffle alignment.
The insulation and construction themselves aren’t necessarily lighter or more compact, but they increase heat management efficiency to reduce material and cut down on moisture.
“You get the heat retention with more breathability,” said Vale Akopov, who is the brand manager for Insotect and the brand communication manager for Pinneco. “In the past, there was a significant challenge involved with binding the two unique insulation layers without sealing off breathability.”
Big Agnes exclusively will debut Pinneco Core and Insotect Tubic in its new mummy bag models, the Shoestring SL 15 (MSRP $200), Beeler Gulch SL 0 (MSRP $230), Betty SL 25 (MSRP $190) and the Gem Lake SL 15 (MSRP $210) for Spring ’13. And at least one other brand is lined up to use the new technologies in some of its sleeping bags down the road, officials said.
Synthetic fills have always been to go-to insulation for users in wet environments, but with the recent advent of water-resistant down, it’s clear that synthetic will have to innovate further to keep a leg up on its natural fill competitor.
“I think it will be really interesting to see how water-resistant down is embraced by the market,” Akopov said. “Synthetic insulation natively has a higher ceiling for versatility and potential due to its synthetic nature. I believe as both down and synthetic insulation continue to be massaged to improve performance you will begin to see greater clarity in distinction between the virtues of the two. Both will find footholds in which they can exist as preferred solutions.”
One final note of interest, we noticed a couple of the latest bags for 2013 using similar elastic-stretch technology patented by MontBell in its sleeping bags. That’s no coincidence: The popular innovation’s patent just ran out.