Gear Review: Montbell Downhugger

MontBell Alpine Downhugger 800 Thermal Sheet

I have had the opportunity to race with the Alpine Downhugger 800 Thermal sheet from MotnBell US for almost 18 months now and I think I have reached the point of use where I can write a review of why I think this is the best off-the-shelf solution for adventure racing as well as a fantastic sleeping bag for your camping, hiking and bike packing trips.

First I want to start with some background. As the team captain for New York Adventure Racing Association I have the opportunity race adventure races all over the world. A requirement from the AR World Series is that in many races we have to carry a sleeping bag with a minimum weight of 400 grams. The MontBell Downhugger thermal sheet fits that category perfectly as it weights in at 427gr. On my kitchen scale the actual weight is often somewhere between 435gr – 445gr depending on how much dirt is in the bag.

As an ultralight bag, one would think this is only something that can be used for adventure racing and ultralight backpacking but I have used it in a number of situations: car-camping the south island of New Zealand, climbing and mountain biking trips in Moab, Utah, a mountain biking hut-trip, and hiking in the Swedish mountains. On top of that it has served me well in adventure races like Primal Quest in Lake Tahoe, GodZone in New Zealand and the Happy Mutant races in Utah and New Mexico.

I have no idea how many “nights” I have spent in the bag – but if you count the 90-180 min sleep you usually take per night in AR as “nights” – it is a lot of them. At least it is too many for me to count.

First – let’s start with the best. If you are reading this you probably already know you want something ultra-light but you don’t want to throw away your money on something that doesn’t help when you are cold. This is the bag for you! The weight speaks for itself but it is filled with 800 fill power goose down. This makes it incredibly warm for the weight. The warmth rating is at 50F/10C, but I would say it is ok at way colder temperatures. As an example I slept in it (granted together with the MontBell Plasma 1000 puffy) at the top of a mesa in Utah in January at 15F/ -10C, with no tent or any other protection from the elements. That is 35F colder than it’s rating! Was this a cozy and warm experience? – no, but it was completely doable. I’m constantly surprised how warm it is for the weight and on many adventures there is just no reason not to bring this little “life-saver”.

While I talk about warmth – I need to point out one thing right away. There is no hood. Would it be possible to construct a warm sleeping bag for $200 that also weights 400gr and has a hood. Probably not – I haven’t seen one. This bag is not meant for situations like winter camping or sleeping out in the open when the temperatures are in the teens (even though I did). If that is what you are looking for – this is not for you. This is the lightest possible bag that will keep you warm overnight and allow you to keep moving light and fast through the environment or towards your objective.

MontBell has a patented spiral stretch system. This gives the bag a little more extra stretch than a “normal” sleeping bag. It is actually a nice feature and somewhat of an extra plus, but for me it’s not the selling point of this bag. If you are having leg cramps during the night it helps slightly, but overall the difference between it and a normal bag is not enough to tip the scale. Again – this bag is unbeatable because the weight and the warmth, not for any special features.

One last thing I want to talk about – it’s durability. This was a non-factor when researching sleeping bags for us. We wanted light and warm. If it broke down on us after a week of use we would have been ok with it, as with most high level racing equipment the focus is going extremely fast and not durability. This is true for your running shoes, bike, Formula-1 car and your adventure racing gear as well. I have now slept in this right on ground in a gravel pit, on a soccer field, beside a forest trail and multiple other places. Somehow it doesn’t show any extreme wear and tear. Anyone who knows me knows that I rely pretty heavily on my equipment, which is basically a nice way of saying that I’m ok with abusing my equipment equally hard as I’m abusing my body during races. Somehow this bag still looks new-ish. I might just be really lucky with this one – but it has definitely been a huge surprise to me. We do take care of the bags immaculately between uses, dry and store in a non-compressed state in a dark place without large temperature swings – but we do this with all our bags. So the fact that this looks like it just came from the store even though it has traveled the US and the world is fantastic and not what I would expect for an ultralight bag.

So, is this bag for you? If you are an adventure racers – YES! It’s basically impossible to find something better unless you have an enormous budget and can put in the time and effort to have custom made bags for you team. If you want to have something that is warm and light, carry your own stuff for long distances or have remote objectives – absolutely. If you need a hood and don’t mind to carry extra weight for some extra comfort – please look somewhere else. This bag is not for everyone or for every occasion (even though I seem to treat it like that sometimes) but it is the best bag in its category.

Olof Hedberg – NYARA Team Captain.

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