Category Archives: Backpacking Gear Reviews

Review: Big Agnes Whiskey Park Sleeping Bag

When I started looking into camping gear, sleeping bags were a big concern of mine.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a finicky sleeper, and I certainly don’t fit well into a normal sleeping bag.  I look rather like a burrito when I try to squeeze into one, to be honest.  Fortunately, I found out about Big Agnes sleeping bags before I bought anything else.

Big Agnes does something I’m not willing to do without.  They don’t have any padding on the bottom; rather, they have a pocket for the  air pad to slide in.  This anchors the bag to the pad and makes it so you can move around and it stays put.  This ensures that my sleep, haunted as it is by the ghosts of my enemies, isn’t interrupted by the pressing need to unravel my sleeping arrangements.  I was concerned about how it narrows at the top (see pic) because I thought it would be restrictive, but it turns out that’s a good thing.  More on that later.

I first had my sights set on the Encampment model, because it was light and rated for 15°, but no one carried it.  Everyone had Big Agnes bags, but no one carried the Encampment.  I went to about six different stores trying to buy it before I found out I was wrong about which one I wanted.

One of the guys who works at Out-n-Back is a tall, scary, man with, as I recall, a pretty good goatee.  He’s like 6’8″ or something, and also very sneaky.  He cheerfully pointed out that I might be interested in the Park series, as he picked his teeth with the bones of a small child.  He said that it’s the best bag for a big guy and that he has plenty of room in his.  Not wanting to break the pattern, they informed me they didn’t have it in stock, but I could order one which would arrive in like 2 weeks.  Nah.  Sweet tip, though.

After checking the same 6 stores for the Park series and not finding them, I settled on the Whiskey Park and ordered it online.  I chose it because I wanted one that would work all winter for me, and it’s rated at 0°.  I also picked the synthetic over the down because going from 6 lbs 1 oz (which is admittedly pretty heavy) to 4 lbs 1 oz wasn’t worth $150 to me at this point.  I’m not doing any through hiking any time soon, and I weighed 308 lbs this morning.  I can spare a little extra effort to save $150.

I used the online retailer www.moosejaw.com to buy the bag. Ordering things on that site is great.  Actually receiving them on time, not so much.  I ordered on Monday and selected 3-5 day shipping, which should have given me a 2/3 chance of getting it in time to go camping on Friday, but it got there midway through the next week.  By my count, it was actually 8 day shipping.  Also, on a side note.  Moosejaw policy humiliates their staff and I find the company unpleasant to work with.  I’d rather work with people who have dignity than people who are forced by fate to answer the phone, “MooooOOOOOoooosejaw!  How can I help you?”  They do this in emails and online chats as well.  My reply? “By pointing me in the direction of a company that doesn’t try to impress me with “flair“.

I went camping with a friend the weekend after the bag arrived.  We found ourselves a nice little campground west of Bear Lake, but we pulled in after dark, so I didn’t get a chance to check the scenery.  That morning, though, this was the view out my tent:

That's me in blue, btw

Even though the bag I was in was rated for 0° temperatures, I spent the first two hours or so pretty damn cold.  It was cold enough to see our breath, and there was plenty of frost on the windshield the next morning, so it got around freezing.  Turns out that the pad you use needs to be rated for the temperature you’re sleeping in, too, because the bottom of the bag isn’t insulated.  Who knew?  The top half of my body would be plenty warm, and the bottom part would be cold and stiff.  I rolled over every ten minutes or so before I think I heated up the ground beneath me.  It sucked, honestly.  Lesson learned.  Don’t expect to use the Clearview Air Pad in the fall or winter.  Get an insulated pad.

The cold weather is why I’m glad it narrows at the top.   It helps keep the air out and the heat in.  I didn’t sleep like this, though:

I slept more like this:  

My coccoon was lovely once I heated up the ground.  They oughta just let you zip it all the way shut and use a snorkel.

Big Agnes pads also come with a pouch for a pillow, but I’m not sure yet how to use it in a way that pleases me.  I got the Clearview Air Pillow and it sucked.  Maybe I just have broad shoulders, but it didn’t offer much support.  Don’t get this unless you borrow one and like it.  I don’t have any other recommendations yet.

Aside from the pillow and no insulation because I got the cheap air pad, I loved it.  It was plenty roomy.  I actually put my cellphone and my keys with my light on em in the bag because I could spare the room.  I might sew a little pouch in there at some point, because why the hell not.  It’s longer than I need, but they don’t sell a shorter one that’s as wide, and I do need the width.

As always, comments and recommendations are welcome.

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Review: Big Agnes Clearview air pad

Big Agnes gear comes highly recommended from the helpful staff at Out-n-Back, and I see it all over the place, so when I learned that they have the biggest packpacking sleeping bag, and have some unique features that you do, indeed, want, my decision was made. Because the store was out of the size and model of sleeping bag I wanted, I ordered the sleeping bag and pad from two different online retailers. I ordered the pad from www.campsaver.com and the sleeping bag from www.moosejaw.com. For the pad, I chose the Big Agnes Clearview Air Pad, entirely because it was the cheapest one that fit into the sleeping bag I want.

Moosejaw.com usefully decided that their 3-5 day shipping can take 8 days, so I don’t have the sleeping bag yet, and I couldn’t use it on my camping trip last weekend, so I don’t have anything to say about it yet. It’s supposed to arrive tomorrow, so wait for me to sleep in it once or twice before I review it.

Yep, it's an air pad

The pad, though. I slept on the pad. I’m an incredibly finnicky sleeper. It’s one of my numerous charming faults. When I don’t sleep well, I tend to become a terrible, cranky person, so being reasonably comfortable while sleeping on the trail is of primary importance to me. My big concern with the pad was that it would suck and be useless, but I’m pleased to report that such was not the case.

Firstly, the actual experience of laying on the thing is really not bad. It won’t keep your hip or tailbone off of the ground, especially if you weigh as much as I do, but it does support everything else, which made it so I didn’t feel like I was laying on bare ground. My back wasn’t stiff in the slightest the next morning, I’m pleased to report.

My second concern was that I would pop it. I thought that I might have to leave it slightly underinflated or something, but I was wrong. The plastic, despite being suprisingly light and thin, is very, very durable. After a while, I was confident that I could roll over, sit up, lean on an elbow, etc, without doing any damage to the pad. That was quite a relief, because I got the thing on sale for $60, and that’s a lot of money for something that you have to replace every trip.

Your mouth goes on this

It has a clever mechanism for inflation.  The thing unscrews a bit and you blow into the screw to inflate it. Then, when it’s as full as it gets, you spin it to close. It didn’t deflate at all when I closed it. Also, that rounded bit immediately inside the pad? It holds the plastic apart right there so that it deflats properly. I had a little trouble getting it deflated, but that was because then it’s folded, the air chambers can block themselves off. I still haven’t mastered the art of deflating the thing, but that’s my only complaint.

I haven’t slept on any other brand of pad. I picked this one solely because it was Big Agnes branded and designed to fit into the sleeping bag I ordered. However, after sleeping on it once, I don’t think I’ll have a need any time soon to branch out to any other equipment in this area. It does exactly what I wanted it to: let a fat person sleep comfortably while backpacking. What more can you ask?

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