I’m not sure one night’s sleep should count as a review but it was certainly more than a first fondle. With me turning out to be a regular catastrophe when it comes to getting a decent night’s kip out in the mountains, I was happy to have the chance to experiment… like most of us, I’ve made mistakes with kit purchasing and it’s cost me dear. Looking at a dozen or so Big Agnes bags, my gaze fell on one that had a compressed volume pretty similar to my PHD Minim 300 and that’s a top quality down ball of fluff that weighs just over 700g with a full zip. There’s only so much you can fit in a rucksack and size matters – the Big Agnes Encampment packs small, so imagine my surprise when Ollie declares it to be synthetic! What magic is this? How could it be so small? About the only question I asked was ‘how cold will it go?’ Both the Insulated Air core mat and the bag were rated to -9c, I pounced and both items were carefully placed in The Villain.
I have a bit of a regime nowadays in winter, learnt from others and by experience.
1 – Get into bed warm. The bag will only retain heat, not create it. This has seen me doing star jumps from time to time on a lonely hilltop.
2 – Eat late. That way your body is kept busy for a few hours processing that three course meal you’ve whipped up in the Jetboil. A busy body is a warm body.
3 – Make sure your bag doesn’t touch the sides of the tent, it often can at the feet end. If it does, throw your waterproof over your tootsies, as a wet bag can make for a very miserable visit to the small hours.
But you all know this anyway – what was the Big Agnes kit like? The tent, a Vango Helium 100, was erected in howling winds, sub zero temperatures and on a fair few inches of snow. The mat came out first, 680g for a full size, 2.5 inch pad. Impressive, it contains Primaloft Eco too. I own an Exped Downmat and a Synmat by comparison, this packed small and felt sturdy but the rating was lower at -9c and Big Agnes call it a three season pad.
The Encampment was next and I finally realised why it had packed so small – a top bag! A new experience for me then and one I would never have considered if I’d been laying down hard dollar. It was too cold for faffing about and the mat was promptly placed into the lower sleeve of the sleeping bag, bent into the tent and promptly sat upon. Time for a good nose at what turned out to be a top piece of design. The lower sleeve would take an Exped, Thermarest or any other 20in mat, so if you’ve already spent good money on what’s below your back, there’s no need to change to the Insulated Air Core from Big Agnes. The bag itself was pretty voluminous, certainly around the chest and head, it had plenty of room to pull your knees up and this was quite novel. It dragged me back to camping holidays with my parents were sleep was attained in cotton rectangular bags. There was a built in sleeve for a pillow, Big Agnes do one but I just stuffed my waterproofs in there. It cinched up well around the neck without the usual feeling of ‘get me out of here’ and I was looking forward to clambering in it a few hours later.
I then ignored my regime and broke all the rules. I ate early, I stood around chatting and pottered to bed freezing. Idiot.
The tent was way too small, ridiculously so. Head and feet pushed against the inner and my waterproofs were being used as a pillow, I’d normally use an Exped Air pillow. It was a long cold night and I couldn’t even make a brew as the porch was far from big enough to safely use my remote stove and the internal guys were needed to keep the tent standing in what was turning out to be a bit of a hoolie. It was -5c in the tent that night. I didn’t sleep much, a norm for me, and had plenty of time to ponder the Big Agnes gear.
First the Insulated Air Core mat. I liked, it worked, it was comfy and it packed well. If I was in the market again, then I’d certainly put it on the list of options. Not as warm as my older model Synmat but I’d have bailed that night if it hadn’t been up to it’s rating, a decent piece of night time insulation.
Next the Encampment. I was happy it was synthetic, the poor thing was rather wet in the morning. Soaked in fact and mostly at the head, due to the condensation that the Vango managed to produce, or was that me? I’m blaming the tent, hideously small and it wouldn’t have happened in my Comp. A down bag would have had me running for the van, somehow the Encampment managed to hold onto the tiny amount of heat I’d given it to play with. I was proper cold, my fault for ignoring ‘the regime’ and the night was long. The pillow sleeve was ace, the best I’ve ever used in fact and that was with wrinkly Proshell in there and not fleece. The space inside probably didn’t help with heat retention but then I’d not brought any heat into the Encampment to start with. The zips worked gratifyingly easy and the mat stayed put underneath.
I’m not going to say I had good night’s sleep because I had very little. Was I warm enough? I’m was as cold as a freeze pop. However, I happened to be exceedingly comfy and in my own tent, with food in my belly and after a hard days walk – the Encampment and the Insulated Air Core would have made for a grand place to be. The pair come in at about 2200g, a quick hunt on the interweb finds them to be reasonable in terms of pricing and I’ve never slept in a bag quite like it. It’s plusher than other top bags I’ve fondled and during those long hours, I started to wonder why they haven’t made an eVent skinned version. Who’d need a bivy bag or tent then?
An idiot camper, a tiny tent I’m still shocked by and a Scottish winter – Big Agnes got me through the night. Thank goodness it was synthetic, cheers Ollie.