Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $549
Pros: Warm, waterproof-breathable shell material, excellent fit.
Cons: Small hood.
Best Uses: Alpine climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing.
Sliding into the Feathered Friends Snowbunting for a night is like getting hugged by a furnace for eight hours. However, ordering it is not very convenient, since it is not available from major retailers, and only directly from the small manufacturer in Seattle (often custom-made, involving long delays in delivery). But, if you can get past the idea of ordering a custom-made bag, you won't be disappointed. This is a refined, efficient, and toasty zero degree sleeping bag. Itís made with the lightweight, waterproof-breathable Pertex Shield EX shell material and stuffed with the best 850-fill down. A titanic draft tube and neck baffle seal out cold air at the zipper and around your neck, while snaps close the bag better than Velcro. Moreover, the Snowbuntingís fit is its best attribute. The cut is trim, designed to maximize heat retention and minimize drafty dead air space. Other bags may be more comfortable (more space to frolic around is always nice), but the Snowbunting is warmer. A smaller cut also means fewer materials and reduced weight. Even with the waterproof fabric the bag comes in at 43 ounces. Our only complaint lies with the bagís smallish hood that leaves little space to turn around when fully cinched. On many counts, however, this is the best zero degree bag weíve tested. It will perform well for everything from backcountry skiing and mountaineering to light and fast alpine climbing. The waterproof shell material and covered zipper also make it more than capable of toughing out an unprotected, stormy bivy.
For a lighter (4oz.), more compressible, cheaper ($75) but less warm bag consider the Western Mountaineering Antelope MF. This is a better bag for summer use, but wonít be as capable for multi-day winter trips.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Feathered Friends Snowbunting is an exceptionally well designed zero degree sleeping bag. With 25.3 ounces of 850+ fill down and a waterproof-breathable Pertex Shield EX shell material, the Snowbunting has everything you need and nothing you donít. Whether itís backcountry skiing, mountaineering, or an unprotected high altitude bivy, this is the ultimate winter sleeping bag for the Lower 48.
While all of the bags tested in this category have high quality down, the Snowbunting has a better shell material, fit, and refined features.
Shell material. Feathered Friends is refashioning its product line with waterproof-breathable Pertex fabrics. Being lighter and more breathable than the current material, eVent, Pertex offers greater performance for winter weight bags. This transition will take place in late May through June. We tested the same bag that will be produced in mass.
There are several reasons why a waterproof-breathable material is better than one that isnít. First and foremost, down loses nearly all of its insulating properties when itís wet. Keeping it dry is therefore paramount to a warm night. Condensation is your enemy. As your body heats up and perspires it creates condensation both below (between the pad and tent floor and between the pad and bag) and above you (small ice crystals will rain down in a poorly ventilated tent). Being able to brush off frost is key to a dry bag, especially on multi-day trips. The Snowbuntingís waterproof shell material, and a 1.5-inch flap that covers the zipper, make it sufficiently weatherproof for foul, unprotected bivys. We tested the water resistance of several bags by leaving them under our houseís drip line for 36 hours of mid-winter melting. We were stunned by how well the Petrtex repelled light snow and steady dripping. A frozen puddle formed on the bag in the morning. The fabric strikes an ideal balance between water resistance, weight, and breathability.
The attention to detail is remarkable as well. While most companies use Velcro to close the hood and neck baffle, Feathered Friends uses plastic snaps. (There are two for the hood and one for the neck baffle.) Snaps are better because they are stronger, less likely to come undone, never wear out, and donít scratch your face at night. Simple and easy. You can also tuck the zipper under the snap so that it stays out of your way. The draft tube that insulates the zipper is very thick and has an anti-snag strip. The neck baffle is even larger! An elasticized draw cord tightens the 4Ē puff ball around your neck. The hood then cinches tight and youíre settled into a down cave for the night. The Snowbunting is a stellar sleeping bag.
Itís also the only sleeping bag reviewed in this category thatís offered in multiple colors. You can choose from Lava (red) or Ocean (blue).
While there are no glaring flaws with the Snowbunting, we do have one small complaint. The hood is a bit on the small side. When the drawcord is fully cinched thereís only space for your head to face forward, itís claustrophobic to rotate your head within the hood. More space would be better for lying on your side. But this is really only a problem when the hood is fully cinched.
The Snowbunting is our top rated zero degree bag. It will keep you warm and cozy for everything from early/late season backpacking trips to full-on mountaineering and light, fast alpine climbing, and the most powdery of backcountry ski trips.
Alpine climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing.
The Snowbunting is pricey, but top quality. You wonít regret for a minute buying this bag.
The Snowbunting has a trim cut made for slender folk (61/56/38). Larger people will likely want to choose the wider Ibis (64/58/40) and women, with wider hips and narrow shoulders, the Murre (54/58/38). The ability to get this bag in three different cuts is another huge selling point. For anyone approaching or over six feet we recommend getting the longer version. Youíll have more space for batteries and layers and will be able to tuck into the bag better on super cold nights.
How to Get It
Feathered Friends bags are not sold by major commercial or online retailers.
Shop online at http://featheredfriends.com/
— Max Neale
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Most recent review: July 21, 2012
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