Over the course of the past three years, I have slowly softened up, meaning being comfortable at night is a major priority to me. That’s not to say I pack the cot, it means I like to do my research and see what bag has the best overall quality. Something that will keep me warm and dry, keeps my pack weight and volume down, and lasts. The Mountain Hardware Spark 28 has proved be do all of that over the course of this spring, summer and fall.
Before this year the Spark 28 was called the Phantom 30, basically nothing changed between the two. The lower and upper comfort limits, weight, fill and measurements are all the same. The one thing that did get an upgrade was the zipper. It is a beefier zipper and the bag is red now instead of green, but more on that later.
As far as my stature, I’m 5’10”, have a 32″ inseam, and a rather skinny build with regular width shoulders. That being said, I move a lot in my sleep. I toss and turn and I like to bend and straighten my legs throughout the night. The Spark 28 is indeed a mummy bag, one where you might not be able to comfortably preform those acts, yet I never got overly frustrated with this style of bag because I knew the intent was to be snug to keep warmth in and weight down. The performance based mummy cut is constricting, and if you move a lot while sleeping, you should maybe consider a more roomy bag or even a quilt. Compared to a sleeping bag tub system, I certainly have a little bit more room for movement, but in the end, it’s all personal preference.
Being a guy that has always fit between medium and large bikes and medium and large tops, it was nice to know that sleeping bag shopping is much easier. The “regular” length fit me well, with the ability to fit someone up to 6 feet tall, however I think it could comfortably fit someone slightly taller. If you are above 6 feet, consider their tall version for an 30 extra dollars.
Another important piece of the puzzle when shopping for a bag is the typical temperature you will be using the bag in. One of the main reasons I went with the Spark 28 was because of the cool spring temperatures in Arizona. When you think Arizona, you think warm, desert, and sharp pointy things, at least thats what I thought before I visited a number of years ago. Arizona is a big state, and in the spring and fall, there is a lot of change in temperature from day to night and from north to south. Even the difference between being in a wash and outside of one feels extremely different.
Having a bag that can cover the lows of a particular night will have you sleeping much better. Between the mummy bag construction with the quality Q.Shield 800 fill Down, and tight baffle spacing, the bag came in with a EN limit of 28°F and a comfort rating of 36 degrees°F. I have spent only a couple nights at or below 28 where I woke up to frost, but I remained comfortable if not a little cold on the toes. The nylon cinch cord on the mummy hood was a nice touch, and relatively easy to use and find when snuggled up in the bag. In mild temperatures in the mid 40s, I would decline to use the mummy hood and make sure the bag was not zipped up all the way. This proved to work out well and gave me enough ventilation. I never ended up using it, but if you like, you can also ventilate the bottom of the bag with the dual zipper function.
Durability and Loft Retention
Companies like to treat Down with a DWR coating these days to help retain loft and warmth when wet, something that Down does not do naturally. Mountain Hardwear has taken a serious step in making your bag last, because once the Down becomes wet, you will be in for a miserable night of sleep. Q.Shield Down is Mountain Hardwear’s proprietary treated Down that will keep you happy and your bag functioning properly day in and day out.
As a testament to the quality of the Down, I have yet to notice the bag breaking down as far as loft is concerned over the course of this year. While it does seem like it takes a bit longer to loft from compression, I think that has something to do with how well the bag is stitched. When stuffing the bag into my saddle bag, the unstuffed side balloons up with air, and takes a bit before all the air can escape. While I did receive the bag with an unwrinkled 10d external nylon weave, the bag now certainly looks used, but shows no sight of wear in the wrinkles.
A big piece for a functional sleeping bag is the zipper. The worst thing that can happen to you is a stuck zipper in the middle of the night. The Spark 28 has zero issue with zipper snag, and comes with a two-way, #5 zipper that has continued to glide as smooth as the day I got it. Like most bags in the competitive sleeping bag market, on the other side of the zipper comes an insulated Down draft tube to prevent air from entering through the zipper. Even if it’s a simple feature, the ability to zip close the bag from the inside with the dual side zipper makes things so easy. Inside the bag is a small zipper pouch and another velcro pouch for small items, but I have yet to actually use them. It may be good for some hand warmers or small items you would like to keep in your bag, but not lose easily.
As for the stitching, I have gone over the many seams and have not found any sign of the stitching coming undone, one thing I have noticed when flipping the bag inside out was that some of the stitches have tiny particles of Down trying to sneak out of the zipper tube. This area could prove to be a weakness down the road.
Why It Works for Bikepacking
So how will this bag work for us as bikepackers. Similar to backpackers needs, we need a bag that keeps the weight and pack size down. Between the 800 fill power Down and the nylon interior and exterior lightweight fabric, the bag comes in a 1lb 8oz. But maybe even more impressive is how small it stuffs down. It can easily fit into the smallest size saddle bags on the market and still have room more.
The quality zipper and zipper preventative anti-snag panel allows for a fast and efficient entry of your bag, something that I enjoy after a long day on the saddle. Thoughtfully placed baffles and a well designed hood and toe box have me staying warm, but also conformable while laying on my back. There is really not much unique about it’s look, but the design and quality of products that Mountain Hardwear has used makes this bag a winner.Mountain Hardwearing Spark 28 – $400.00. For more info and to check out their site head to mountainhardwear.com