Dan's Outside

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Gear Review: Marmot Helium Sleeping Bag

I once again succumbed to “gear lust” last week and picked up a Marmot Helium sleeping bag. It will probably replace two of the bags that I currently own – more on that below.

The Helium is a 15 degree-rated bag made with 900-fill down, some of the lightest available. By using this type of down, along with very lightweight fabric and a half-length zipper, Marmot is able to keep the weight of the regular size bag to 1 pound 13 ounces. This is quite light for a bag with this temperature rating.

I was a bit concerned about the half-length zipper since I frequently use a sleeping bag more like a blanket in less-than-cold conditions. However, after using it on a weekend trip in Yosemite I think that this zipper will provide enough adjustability for my purposes – though it is clear that I will need to sleep in this bag and not under it.

The Helium also has a different design for the hood portion of the bag. First of all, there is no velcro to attach the two sides of the zipper, but it doesn’t seem necessary. Secondly, the hood does not open flat – it is designed with a rounded hood shape with a smaller opening than I’m used to. Third, the location of the drawstring is not at the zipper but in a spot supposedly less likely to put it in your face.

Over the years I have had several down bags: A very old The North Face Superlight, another The North Face bag that I can’t identify by model, a Marmot Never Summer bag, and a Marmot Arroyo.

Two of them were not what I would consider sufficiently filled when I got them. The North Face Superlight (purchased as long as 20 years ago) was underfilled, but I opened up some seams and added down to turn it into a warm enough bag to use in light winter conditions. The Arroyo had a similar problem. It is a very lightweight bag (under 2 pounds) rated to 30 degrees and using 800-fill down. When new, it was usable at this temperature as long as I was willing to wear some extra clothing on cool nights. However, as the bag got older the down’s loft seemed to deteriorate to the point that there are unfilled spots, making it only marginally warm at temperatures just above freezing.

The Helium does not have this problem. It lofts up nicely, filling all of its baffles. I think that it probably will be usable at the rated temperature. In addition, it manages to weigh almost the same as the Arroyo, and fit into the same small stuff sack. At this point, it is hard to think of a good reason to use the Arroyo – and the Helium is likely to be virtually as warm as the heavier Never Summer bag.

Oh, the price may the an issue. The list price on the bag is about $380, which is perhaps twice the price of heavier but comparably warm down bags that don’t use 900-fill down. However, I found mine on sale for about $250. In my experience good down bags can last a long time – frequently a decade. At $25/year it is not such a bad price after all.

***Bottom line:
It’s hard to find any real problems with the Marmot Helium bag. It is as light and compressible as my old (nearly) 30-degree bag. It fluffs up nicely with even loft all over. It has a well-designed hood section. It promises to be significantly warmer than the bag I was using. The cost is high for this state-of-the-art item, but a cheaper bag may seem like a poor bargain on a cold night on the trail.
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September 1, 2005 - Posted by | Gear Reviews

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