by R. Cade Powell for Western Hunter
This past hunting season, I upgraded several backpacking items that were long overdue. Calling them ‘long overdue’ might be the understatement of the year. I have my kids to thank for the demise of one of my items although I wasn’t nearly as enamored with them at the time. Imagine my surprise when I walked in the front door from a long day at work to find all four of them stuffed like tube sausage in my sleeping bag. They had just watched the Jamaican bobsled team on “Cool Runnings” and the two oldest girls had somehow convinced their younger sisters to be ‘drivers’ up front so the older girls could be the ‘brakeman’ in the back. Keep in mind that they’re all crammed and zipped up into one sleeping bag. I think the ‘drivers’ were just extra padding when they hit the bottom of the runway. After I quit laughing I noticed the huge tear in my mummy bag my dad had given me as a gift 25 years ago. It never ceases to amaze me how kids only need 30 minutes to ruin something that has survived my abuse for a quarter century.
Although I will never admit it, I was grateful my old mummy bag would be retired from any future backpacking adventures. I’m convinced it was warmer sleeping on top of that bag than inside. The loft and insulating properties had been gone so long that I can’t even remember them in the first place……….
I won’t tell you all the ins and outs of my search for a new bag. That would be like giving you a play by play of hiking up a trail: left foot……right foot……left foot……breather. I will however, try and give you my interpretation of the view from the top of the mountain: Big Agnes Fish Hawk 30 with Down-Tek and a Q-Core insulated sleeping pad.
Most of my lightweight hunting excursions tend to be late August through mid-October and a 30 degree bag is ideal for me in those conditions. I’m 6’4 and 230 pounds so I like a bag with a little more length and ‘wiggle’ room inside. I also have a thing for down. Some of the new technologies that make today’s synthetic insulations are unbelievable but given a choice I’ll take Mother Nature’s best: down. When Big Agnes added Downtek water repellant down to their lineup, I was hooked. Go to www.Down-tek to learn about this amazing new product. The Fish Hawk has the extra length and ‘wiggle’ room I was looking
for. My bag has 13 oz. of 650 fill Down Tek and comes in at a scant 2 lb 12 oz’s. Add in 25 oz for my Q-Core pad and I am still packing less weight than I was with just my old bag. My bag compresses in the stuff sack until it’s smaller than a volleyball or about 1/3 the size of my old set-up.
You can tell that the design team for Big Agnes spends A LOT more time on the mountain than I get to. Every detail of my bag and pad was well thought out.
My favorite features include: integrated pad sleeve to ensure you’ll never roll off your pad again; built in pillow pocket that held my Core 4 Element Elevation jacket; collar seals to block out drafts; zipper tube that insulates the length of the zipper; and the Insotect Flow construction to evenly distribute heat. In the past year I’ve spent 10 nights backpacking with this setup. Most nights were in the 30’s and 40’s and I was very comfortable.
I’ve also used this bag and pad in a week’s worth of nights camping at the truck. 1 night of truck camping was below zero and one night that was in the single digits. Nights like those tend to accentuate any flaws your gear might have. Although I had a little more insulation than I do on a 25 degree night, the Fish Hawk and Q-Core pad surpassed all of my expectations.
Over the 4th of July my family hiked into the Cloud Peak Wilderness in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming to fish for golden trout.
Our desired lake sits right at 11,000 feet. I don’t know what the evening temps were but the lake was still half frozen over. To make sure all my girls could make the 8 mile hike in, I packed the majority of the weight, including 3 sleeping bags stuffed in my pack. NONE of them were my lightweight Fish Hawk. I guess that’s part of being a dad but I’m willing to bet money that my girl’s will be getting an early Christmas present from this old man.
A couple weeks before our big backpack trip my two oldest were at our church girl’s camp. One of them raided my hunting room and snuck my gear with her. All she will say about the whole incident is that was the best she’s ever slept while camping. “AMAZING!”, to be exact. I immediately inspected my gear for signs of summertime bobsledding. None was found. Amazing indeed!