Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Kifaru Regulator Sleeping Bag Review

"Lightweight, Durable, Inexpensive. Your choice of two." - Truism

Many years ago my cousin and I were camping out in Galloway on the savagely beautiful west coast of Scotland.  We would have been about ten years old, the tent we had was one my own father had used to hike around Europe one summer in the late 50's so it would have been about 25ish years old. The weather was, what I believe in the local argot is called, 'blowing up a whoolie', or as we'd say down south 'proper lashing it down'. The tent didn't have a sewn in ground sheet and was (50's style ultra light) treated cotton.

Cousin T woke me by shouting "I'm cold" then he woke himself up by shouting it again a bit louder. The reason for his discomfort was water had made it's way into the tent and pooled on the ground sheet, then been soaked up by his down sleeping bag. I know you're wondering why the grown ups hadn't made sure we'd put the tent up properly - we'd been camping out together since we were six, and it was the late 70's kids were supposed to learn by their mistakes. Also we were both wilful, self-possessed, little turds who thought they knew it all already, mouthy too, so we'd been left to our own devices.

The leash may have been long but the safety rope was short, one of the camp grown-ups came and rescued him. In the morning someone gave us a lesson that I've never forgotten. My sleeping bag had soaked up a bit of water too but I hadn't noticed. Synthetics init.

One of the grown ups explained; down is a fantastic insulator until it gets damp (even a little bit - through condensation) when it loses 80% of it's thermal efficiency. I've slept in a lot of down filled bags, they are very comfortable, I've envied the small spaces they pack into, and their light weight, but I've never bought one.
Down but only in town.
I love my down filled Northface puffa jacket (19 years old and still good) but I only wear it in the city. It's not reliable enough to wear afield, the potential to suddenly lose 80% of its insulation, and the attendant hassles of trying to dry it out, mean I'd rather not have it with me.

As observant readers will have noticed I'm a big fan of boutique gear makers, any fool can have stuff run up in China, I'd rather my money went to the people who designed the stuff and paid a living wage to the people who made it. I'm fat enough as it is missing the odd meal isn't going to hurt. 

Let's call it what it is: Kifaru kit is Distant Monarch [distant in 3 / male monarch in 4 :-) ] expensive, and not a lot cheaper second hand. I took a deep breath and repeating the mantra
'Boots and Bed - if you're not in one you're in the other'
bit the bullet and dropped the cash on a Kifaru Regulator Sleeping Bag in the Three Season class. Basically this bag is at least 25% more than many equivalents (making it about four times the price of something more basic). Worth it? Let's find out.

Reliability and comfort are EVERYTHING. Nothing takes off condition like a night being cold and wet, any day can be tolerated if at its end is a warm night's sleep. Kifaru's Patrick Smith is certainly a very clever chap, with the knack of starting his designs with a clean sheet paper and this bag is no exception, it's the sleeping bag re-imagined.

Patrick Smith did away with the full length zip, which has left me wondering about the orthodoxy that a sleeping bag 'must' have one, if its a rectangular bag then sure, but when the bag's 'mummy' shaped what good does it do? He's set the hood up to close with a pull cord just like most other bags but he's also put in a neck baffle to keep the heat in. Works very well and is so floppy you dont notice its there.

Inner Skin
I dont know what this material is called but its very very thin and soft to the touch

Outer Skin
It's so thin you can see through it, its translucent to the point where I thought there was mark on the outer skin but I realised it was on the filler. I'm not about to test it to destruction, but if [when] I do knacker it you'll be the first to know

This stuff is amazing, its almost as light and floppy ( or if you wanted to be nerdy about it, it has 'high drape value') as a goose down bag and yet there's hardly any of it, it's amazing as the bag is rated to 20F which is about -6C yet feels decidedly flimsy in the hands.

I had great plans for all kinds of tests during the recent cold snap, but sadly camera, thermometer, sleeping bag and your pal the bushwacker were never in the same place at the same time.  I did manage to do a bit of testing one night, it was minus four centigrade so i opened the bedroom window in the late afternoon to cool the room thoroughly, and it was fiar chilly by the time I bedded down. Slept like a log but was woken by dreams of  being in the desert with Tintin and Captain Haddock [The Crab With The Golden Claws], I'd left the radiator turned on so when the heating fired at six am the sudden raise in temperature woke me. Not the most empirical of tests I will concede, but all in all a very good sleeping bag and plenty warm enough for most adventures.

Stay tuned for more reviews: all unerringly accurate, and the only truly objective writing on the web.
Your pal