This post is designed to go hand in hand with my recently released video review of the Big Agnes Orno UL 0F Sleeping bag. Be sure to check out the video
It’s late June 2017 and the next day we’re heading out. Four to five months of hiking through some of the wildest areas the Lower 48 has to offer. Myself and a bunch of experienced friends are setting out to thru-hike the entire length of the Continental Divide Trail, starting at the Canadian border in Glacier National Park and finishing at the Mexican border some months later. We’re all prepared for what lays ahead, or so we think. We’ve been planning for months but last minute nerves are running high. Behind the laughter and the gas station sunglasses lies tension.
That night we settle into our tents and I lay on my air mattress for the first time in many months, I wonder am I really ready?
I awake in the morning shockingly cold. The daytime temperatures were in the eighties but it had gotten cold in the night. The temperatures and the nerves left me shivering in my quilt. I got out of the tent, unwilling to show the emotions I was feeling. I laughed with the others, “got a little cold in the night”. They laughed back. Friends though they were I didn’t want to admit I was having doubts.
Two years previously I had completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail with some of these people and now I was about to set off on another adventure. The weather conditions and the temperatures didn’t swing wildly on the AT. I used a 20 Degree quilt for the Appalachian trail, it was warm enough on the coldest nights and rarely did I climb inside on the hot summer days. I was pretty impressed with my quilt, it was versatile, packed down small and the weight savings were undeniable.
A few days into the CDT I realised my old quilt from the AT wasn’t going to cut it. I’d washed the quilt after the AT and it had never really recovered. It lost a lot of it’s loft and I could never get the down to redistribute evenly, leaving down clumped in some areas and non existent in others.
I contacted the manufacturer and explained my sitaution. Even though I’d followed their washing recommendations there was nothing they could do. I decided to order a replacement from them, choosing a 10 Degree quilt. They put my order to the front of the line and I picked it up in the next trail town, I was impressed how lofty it was.
As we got further south and down into Wyoming it started to get colder. For the previous few weeks since picking up the quilt I’d been using it on a daily basis and it was a marked improvement. I’m a pretty terrible sleeper, even in “real life”, often waking up at 3am and tossing and turning for hours. I try to reduce the possibility of things waking me up in the night by peeing before I sleep, wearing ear plugs and not eating too much before bed.
The design of the quilt meant it had some open gaps in the back, even with all the buckles. Rolling around in my sleep like I do, I’d feel cold spots and it would wake me up, sometimes meaning I’d lay awake all night. I was managing to make it work by sleeping with most of my clothes on and accepting that I’d rarely sleep all the way through the night.
We got down to Steamboat Springs, Colorado and temperatures were still getting colder. On arrival in town we had arranged to meet up with the crew at Big Agnes and tour their facilities. We met the team along the way and got a sneak peak at some prototype gear they were working on.
I’d talked about my quilt dilemma and they offered to let me use a new bag they were soon to release, the Orno Ul 0 Degree bag. I was stoked to test out the bag even though I was worried about the extra weight it would add to my pack. It was a good bit heavier and more bulky in my pack but I was hoping it would help with my sleeping problems.
I was right. The first evening on trail after leaving town I setup my tent, blew up my air mattress and unpacked the Orno. I was shocked how lofty the bag was and when I climbed inside I was immediately glad I’d decided to make the switch.
Aside from being rated 10 degrees warmer than the quilt, the design of the bag made it extremely comfortable. I thought I’d find the mummy style restrictive but I found it roomy and the 3D foot box allowed my feet to move around freely.
Furter into Colorado and the temperatures and conditions continued to worsen. Several days we were battered by rain and had to be aware of thunderstorms moving through the mountains. The warmth of the Orno meant most nights I slept in the bag with the zipper open, even though some of the others’ were struggling with the night time temperatures.
We all had to suffer through the cold days of hiking through shin deep snow and strong winds but I felt at ease knowing I could retreat into my tent and be warm when the day was done. The coldest evenings on trail I slept in most of my clothes and zipped the sleeping bag all the way shut. The well designed hood felt luxurious after not having one on the quilt. At no point on the rest of the CDT was I ever so cold I couldn’t sleep. The tossing and turning continued, but no more cold spots meant it was one less reason for me to lay awake at night.
Condensation was an issue for everyone on the CDT, most of us were using single wall shelters and had to contend with the issues that come along with that kind of tent. Despite good ventilation and often sleeping with the doors open, we often woke with heavy condensation inside. This often meant that the toe box and the hood of the sleeping bag got wet during the night. The shell material of the Orno did a decent job of repelling the moisture but it could only be expected to do so much. Big Agnes uses Downtek down inside the Orno and from previous experiences I knew that would help prevent the down from being completely soaked through.
Packing up a wet tent and a damp sleeping bag is one of a thru-hikers’ least favourite things to do. Most lunchtimes we threw out our gear to dry whilst we stopped to eat. Most days, if the weather Gods were good to us, the bag would dry out with some moderate sunshine and/or wind.
When we finally dropped down out of the mountains of Colorado into the desert of New Mexico the conditions improved dramatically. It still got cold at night but no more were we trudging through snow in near freezing temperatures. Hiking through the hot desert during the day was a new experience, as was cowboy camping under the stars at night.
Tired and worn down we made it to the Mexican Border. All of us a little hairier, a little lighter and having learnt a lot about ourselves.
I’m a proponent of the ultralight backpacking movement but sometimes we try to cut it too close to the mark and bring insufficient gear for the task. I think I’m a convert back to mummy style sleeping bags, no longer do I fear their restrictiveness and bulky packed size.
As I’ve hiked the AT and CDT I do of course plan to eventually hike the PCT, it would be rude not to in my eyes. Will I take a mummy bag out on the PCT? I don’t know, possibly. What I do know is that I won’t compromise anymore. If the situation requires a certain piece of gear then I’ll carry it, even if it does add a little weight to my pack.
I want to say a huge thanks to Brett and the crew over at Big Agnes for providing me with the Orno and making my CDT thru-hike much more comfortable. If you’re in the market for a baller mummy bag check out their UL range, you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s the link again to the video review of the Orno Sleeping Bag.
Thanks for reading