Like a lot of Feathered Friends sleeping bags, the Swallow is available in 'UL' or 'YF' versions. The difference between the two is the type of shell fabric. UL stands for ultralight and uses 10-denier Pertex Endurance to shave an ounce or off the total bag weight. YF stands for YFuse and relates to the Y-shaped filaments in its 20-denier Pertex Quantum that supposedly improve its long-term downproofing and water resistance. The Swallow we tested was a YF version and the Merlin was a UL. Although the water resistance benefits of the YF fabric were hard to perceive, we preferred it over the UL because the UL fabric makes a crinkling noise that annoyed some testers.
The Feathered Friends Swallow is an awesome sleeping bag. Its exceptional loft and 20F rating are ideal for "cold sleepers" or cooler nights in spring and fall.
Feathered Friends gives the Swallow a 20°F temperature rating. They choose not to have it rated on the industry-standard EN test, but our testers believe its warmth exceeds the manufacturer's rating and is comparable to the average bag with an EN lower limit rating between 10° and 15°.
It achieves this substantial warmth using 17.5 ounces of super lofty, 900+ fill power down. This is a half-ounce more and 50 fill power better insulation that the Western Mountaineering UltraLite. We consider that bag a little warmer, however, because it has a substantial draft collar and the Swallow does not. Both bags are still ideal for colder 3-season conditions.
The Swallow doesn't have a neck baffle but its snap closure is simple, light, and effective at keeping it closed. We preferred it over the Western Mountaineering velcro closures.
This bag weighed in at 1.89 pounds on our scale for a size long. Although that's about average for our backpacking sleeping bag review, the warmth of this bag is way above average. This means its more important warmth-to-weight ratio is a lot better than most.
The Swallow has some of the loftiest down we've seen. The hood design, with the drawstring set back from the opening, also fits better than that of its Western Mountaineering rivals. We consider the Western Mountaineering MegaLite more comfortable overall though because its dimensions are noticeably wider. The Swallow has a pretty roomy torso and hip areas but gets narrow at the feet. The awesome loft of its down still makes it cozier than the average bag, but wider mummy-style bags or the hourglass-shaped offerings from Nemo are more comfortable.
The Feathered Friends Swallow stuffed in an after-market compression sack (left) and the stuff sack that it comes with (right).
This bag comes with a simpler drawstring stuff sack. Although this sack weighs just an ounce, it's not effective at compressing the bag to its minimum volume. Using an after-market compression sack, we measured its minimum volume at 8.5 liters. This is toward the upper end of our 3-season backpacking sleeping bag category, but much better when you factor in the bag's substantial warmth. Its 8.5-liter packed size is also much smaller than most backpacking sleeping bags in the budget category.
The big advantage in versatility most high-end down bags like the Swallow share is their continuous horizontal baffles. This means that their down insulation is contained with fabric tubes, or baffles, that are perpendicular to the length of the bag and uninterrupted. With this kind of construction, you can move feathers from the top to the underside of the bag to adjust the amount of insulation covering your body. After some practice, it's possible to calibrate the warmth to match conditions.
Bags with truly full-length zippers, like the Feathered Friends Swallow, can be zipped open to share as a quilt on really cold mornings.
Until you have that dialed in, the Swallow also has a full-length zipper for venting excess heat. This long zipper also lets you open the bag fully for sharing as a quilt.
Features and Design
This is a pretty basic mummy bag that doesn't include a stash pocket or neck baffle. Of the few features that it does have, the one that we absolutely love is the zipper. Like the other Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends bags, there's a strip on flexible plastic inside the fabric next to the zipper. This gives that fabric important stiffness that keeps it away from the zipper's teeth.
The Y-shaped slide and strip of internal plastic combine to make the Swallow's zipper virtually snag-proof.
The Feather Friends bags also have Y-shaped zipper slides that further reduce the chance of snagging. Finally, the button closure at the top-end of the zipper is simple but effective. Although the Swallow's overall design is spartan, we think the extra zipper features are smart and worth their weight.
If summer is your main season, this bag's warmth down to 20°F is probably unnecessary. But if you consistently like to get out in spring and fall it should be ideal. The low weight and small packed size relative to the warmth will also be appreciated on long trips into the deep backcountry.
This bag ain't cheap. Its $449 list price, however, is a little lower than many other ultra-premium down bags. We also expect most ultra-premium down bags to have excellent longevity because their higher quality feathers seem to maintain their loft better through repeated compression cycles. Thus, over the full life of this bag, we believe it's a great value.
All the Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering bags impressed us with their high loft, good build quality, and exceptional warmth-to-weight ratios. The Swallow is no exception. But they can't all be award winners. This bag missed out because we ultimately concluded that the 30°F bags—the Western Mountaineering MegaLite and Feathered Friends Merlin—are better for most 3-season temperatures and the neck baffle on the Western Mountaineering UltraLite gives it superior colder weather performance. The competition, however, was incredibly close. If you personally prefer no neck baffle and consider an awesome zipper important, the Swallow might be the perfect bag for you.