Obviously, a lack of funds was never going to stop me from riding my bike, so I sold pretty much everything I owned and raised just enough money to get together a very basic touring set-up. However, my pack-list did have some minor shortfalls…and of course by ‘minor shortfalls’ I mean truly catastrophic oversights. One such ‘minor shortfall’ was the decision to not pack a sleeping bag…at all. Instead, I found some old sleeping bag liner in the loft and figured in France it would be hot constantly and even the liner was an unnecessary luxury. Well, I was right, as usual, the first night in la France was blissfully hot…I slept like a baby. This was to be the first and last good nights sleep I enjoyed for the entire tour, because I am an idiot.
The truth is that in most parts of the world at night it gets pretty damn chilly, even in the summer months. Yes, you could just layer up and make do with a budget sleeping bag, but I can tell you from years of experience that there are plenty of reasons not to. It doesn’t matter whether you’re touring in the blistering heat or the freezing cold, getting out of those clothes you’ve been sweating in all day is a bloody marvelous feeling. A good quality sleeping bag allows you to strip to down to that cheeky leopard print thong…ok just me…spread out and enjoy letting your skin breathe. I can tell you from some pretty miserable nights that in sub-zero temperatures a budget bag will not allow any such freedom and instead you’ll find yourself wearing every layer you brought. This can be a real problem, especially if you’re bikepacking as you won’t have many additional layers and thus spend the night shivering uncontrollably….f*#k you Wales! Yep, during my Welsh Coast to Coast I quickly realized that my old down sleeping bag was knackered and retained absolutely no heat what-so-ever. Consequently, even with every layer I was freezing and ended up using my emergency foil blanket in a desperate attempt to keep warm. The Z-Pack sleeping bag would’ve not only kept me snug, but allowed me to don my cheeky undergarments to my hearts content!
Another advantage of premium down bags is they’re both lightweight and pack down incredibly small. If you’re bikepacking, storage capacity is at a premium and the last thing you want is a sleeping bag that takes up almost all your load space. Moreover, keeping the bike light will greatly improve the riding experience; a heavy sleeping bag is an easy way to add bulk and weight to the bike. Lastly, I’d remind you of that age old saying ‘ you get what you pay for.’ Exploration pushes your equipment to its limits on a daily basis and I can almost guarantee that mediocre gear will let you down. Cheap sleeping bags will be designed on a budget, mass-produced and simply won’t benefit from the passion and vision invested into the handmade products of small specialist brands. Consequently, you’ll often find the design hasn’t been very well thought out, ventilation will be poor, the slightest condensation will leave the bag damp through and you’ll quickly become frustrated after restless sleep. Right, so we’ve discussed the advantages of premium gear and now we move quickly onto today’s case study, the rather beautiful Z-Pack 900 Fill Power Goose Down sleeping bag. Joe Valesko, the founder of Z-Packs, has taken on some of the most infamous hiking routes in the world including the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Te Araroa Trail, TGOC Scotland and the TMB in the Alps. Consequently, each product is designed and manufactured with over 9,700 miles of hiking experience. There’s no question that the best form of product development in exploration is to get out there and explore and that’s exactly what Mr. Valesko did. It’s therefore no surprise that Z-packs now produces some of the most innovative and effective products on the market, including shelters, backpacks, sleeping bags, clothing and camping accessories.
The company produces both a ‘ Solo Down Sleeping Bag ’…for us loners….and a ‘ Two Person Down Quilt ’ …for all you lucky buggers with someone warm to snuggle up to on those cold nights. I ordered the ‘ Solo ’ whilst wiping away the tears of neglect and opted for the following specifications:
20 degrees F ( -7*c): Z-Packs offers a range of comfort ratings from 40 degrees F ( 5*c) right down to 10 degrees F (-12*c). I went for the -7*c option as I rarely sleep in temperatures below this on tour, but ensure you choose a bag that best suits your requirements (bare in mind that these bags are not cheap, consider going for an option that’ll be comfortable In more than just one season.)
Girth – Wide 61”: The sleeping bags come in a range of girths (56”, 61” & 66”) and take into account the width of your shoulders, hips and feet. Much like the comfort rating, you need to take time making the right choice. Consider all factors e.g. in an emergency will you be able to wear extra clothing and still fit comfortably in the bag? Alternatively, in warmer weather is there going to be sufficient ventilation? I’ve been in a few situations where I’ve had to layer up in my sleeping bag…and I bloody love pizza & doughnuts….so I opted for the Wide 61”. X-Long – 6’ 5”: The sizing specifications vary depending on what girth size you go for and range from 1.65 to 2.05 meters. I’m 6’ 3” so went for ‘X-Long 6’ 5” ’ within the ‘Wide’ girth options. On cold nights you’re going to want to get as much of your body into the sleeping bag as possible so allow a little extra head space. Zipper – Option 2 = Full Length two way zipper: Z-Packs offers an excellent range of zipper options starting with the ‘Default Zipper’, which opens straight down ¾ of the bag length and features a lightweight zip. They have the option I went for, the ‘Full Length Two-Way Zipper,’ which is much like the former specification but zips right down to the toes and features a heavy duty zipper. They also offer an ingenious adjustable strap design, allowing you to have the zip fully open but still maintain a figure hugging shape using two adjustable straps. The last spec is ‘Joining Zippers’, which effectively allows you to join your bag up to another Z-Pack sleeping bag, but they must both be ordered at the same time to ensure the zippers are matched accordingly. Draft Tube: If you sleep like a corpse then this probably won’t apply as you’ll be able to position the zip underneath you and thus eliminate any cold drafts penetrating the bag. However, if you’re like me and you fidget, roll, and dance in your sleep I suggest opting for the ‘Draft Tube,’ which covers the zip and has a stiffener to prevent it from snagging. So you know all about Z-Packs range of sizes and customisations, but what is this sleeping bag actually like to live with? Blissful. The end. Ok, I should probably elaborate, but honestly I’ve been absolutely smitten with this product since it arrived. Let’s begin with the stuff sack. It’s made of black 1.0 oz/sqyd Cuben Fiber, it’s light, tough and crucially keeps the bag bone dry. There’s a Velcro seal at the top of the bag, which rolls down and is secured using two clips so it really is a watertight design.
Ok, so the Z-Pack is far lighter and packs much smaller than my last bag, but surely this means compromising on warmth?! Errrrrr nope. The first night I slept in this bag I was blown away by how warm I was, the insulation is nothing short of extraordinary. Z-Packs achieve such exemplary warmth using tightly spaced continuous baffles every five inches, which helps keep the down evenly distributed. Additionally, their bags are overstuffed with thirty percent more 900 Fill Power Goose Down than necessary, thus with care your bag could last for years on end. Further still, there are no ‘sewn through’ cold spots, apart from the zipper, which is both positioned beneath you and can be eliminated using a ‘Draft Tube.’ My previous sleeping bag also had a full-length zipper, but in cold weather I’d have to ensure the zip was beneath me to prevent a chill. Alternatively, the Z-Pack Draft tube did a great job preventing cool air penetrating the sleeping bag and made it feel almost air-tight, especially once I’d tightened the neck elastic. What’s more, thanks to the Full Length Two Way Zipper I was able to fully open the bag when I was too hot and use it more like a quilt. The same sleeping bag that kept me toasty in minus four was perfect for the warmer nights in Cyprus. There’s a handy clip at the top of the bag, which prevents the zipper undoing during cold weather but also allows ventilation when you wish to undo the zip without completely opening up the bag. This links back to my previous point about choosing a bag that covers more than just one season.
The Z-Pack is expensive, particularly if you live in the UK as shipping/tax bumps up the price considerably, but if you choose your model wisely there’s nothing stopping you using the same bag throughout the year. Thus, the premium price tag is offset by the sleeping bag’s four-season ability, not to mention this is a quality hand made product and can quite frankly demand its price tag. The Z-Pack is made exceptionally well, the inner material is made from rip-stop nylon, which is both tear and water resistant. The outer material does feel durable, but worse case scenario a rip can be repaired easily with Nylon Repair tape (available on the Z-pack website). Lastly, all Z-Packs gear has a one-year warranty against defects in materials or workmanship. So there you have it, the Z-Pack is a superb all-season sleeping bag made of the finest materials and designed by exploration specialists. The insulation is second to none, the fabrics are durable and easily repaired, it’s super light weight and packs down far smaller than other down bags. This sleeping bag may seem expensive at first glance, but with the ability to take on all four seasons and stuffed with thirty percent more goose down than necessary this is a bag worthy of its price tag. Crucially, the Z-Pack lets you strip down to your cheeky undergarments and enjoy a blissful nights sleep, and that my friends is priceless. This is Bicycle Touring Apocalypse checking in, checking out, and very well rested. The Z-Packs Solo Down Sleeping bag is custom made to order, ships within 1-2 weeks, and retails for $395 USD.