For the second year running PHD has put out a special summer collection of ultralight down sleeping bags, quilts and garments. Only available until the end of June the collection includes probably the lightest sleeping bag and lightest down vest in the world, both of which I’ve been testing.
Elite Racer Down Sleeping Bag £179
Weighing an astonishingly low 247 grams this sleeping bag is filled with European goose down with an amazingly high 950 fill power rating (there’s a lot of superlatives in this review – unavoidable with such unique products). Unsurprisingly there’s no zip but there is a hood with a drawcord and a shaped foot. The seams are stitched-through with the usual parallel channels on the upper half but quilted squares on the base to hold the down in place and, say PHD, to provide insulation if you sleep on your side. As a front sleeper I’ve ended up with the base on top and it’s been fine. The shell fabrics are PHD’s Ultralight 10X nylon, a 10 denier fabric that is extremely thin but still downproof and windproof. It’s also soft and comfortable next to the skin. There are four lengths and four widths available. I tested the standard in both.
PHD gives the Elite Race a ‘typical operating temperature’ of 12°C, which sounds fine for a summer bag. When I tested it in early June at 700 metres in Snowdonia temperatures were much colder than that though, falling to +3°C. I slept in medium weight socks, thin long johns, a light base layer and a very thin insulated jacket and I was perfectly warm. Indeed I didn’t need to close the hood. Under me was a NeoAir XLite Small mat with an OMM Duomat under my lower legs and feet. I didn’t feel restricted wearing clothes in the bag as it’s reasonably roomy. Overall I found it very comfortable.
The name suggests the bag is designed for adventure racers and mountain marathons. However it’s just as useful for backpackers who want to keep the weight of their load down. And the size too as it compresses into a tiny bundle. A stuffsack weighing 12 grams is provided. The latter isn’t waterproof though and the bag does need to be kept dry in the rucksack. I carried it in a heavier waterproof stuffsack with the down vest reviewed below.
Such a phenomenally light bag does need care of course. This is not a bag to chuck down on the ground or sleep on without protection underneath. But for use in a tent it should last well. And nothing else comes close to this weight. I reckon it’s fine for summer and could also be used as a warm ultralight liner in another sleeping bag in cold conditions.
WaferLite Down Vest £99
At 84 grams this down vest is ridiculously light, really ridiculously light. Yet at the same time it is warm, warmer in fact than midweight fleece. It’s also amazingly compact, packing down to the size of a tennis ball. The fill is 1000 fill power European Goose Down, the highest fill power down available as far as I know. The shell is the same Ultralight 10X fabric as the Elite Racer sleeping bag. Features are a high filled collar, half-length zip, and elasticised armholes and hem. Construction is sewn-through with the down contained in small square pockets so it can’t shift. A tiny stuffsack weighing 6 grams is provided. Like the sleeping bag one it’s not waterproof and the vest does need to be protected against damp in the pack so I’d pack it in something waterproof as well.
The WaferLite vest is intended as a midlayer – the shell fabric isn’t designed to stand up to abrasion from rucksack straps. I tested the medium size (six sizes are available) and it fits snugly over a base later and a thin fleece and under a shell jacket – though it would have to be very cold before I’d wear it to walk in. In fact I was astonished by the warmth it provides. Really, it’s quite unbelievable. I have worn it in camp and in above freezing weather it’s all I’ve needed combined with a thin fleece. PHD gives +5°C as its typical operating temperature and I’d agree if it’s your main warm wear. However in colder weather it could easily be combined with a light insulated jacket to provide a lighter and more versatile combination than a heavier, thicker jacket. It could also be worn in a sleeping bag for extra warmth.
I am very impressed with this vest. I still keep thinking that it can’t really be as warm as it is. Given the almost unnoticeable weight and packed size there’s no reason to ever leave it at home.