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Valandre Shocking Blue Neo Sleeping Bag: High-performance and complicated
Posted on: December 20, 2016
Most any sleeping bag will keep you cozy in temperatures above freezing, but down in the minus-digits the details of a bag really start to matter. Here at the cold end of the sleeping bag world the options are few, the bags are pricey, and the down is plentiful. The Valandre Shocking Blue Neo bag is the Cadillac of the zero to -5 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bags: spacious, beefy, and very warm.
The Shocking Blue sleeping bag is built around specific designs catering to cold-weather comfort. It's insulated with high-loft 850 fill down like its competitors, but while many comparable bags are basically low-profile mummy bags filled with more down, the Shocking Blue takes a few features to the next level: draft collar, girth, and foot box.
The first thing you'll notice getting into the Shocking Blue sleeping bag is the complex array of Velcro and zippered panels around the neck. Valandre calls this the 'Marie Antoinette' draft collar, and its multiple segments can be assembled around your neck to truly keep the wind out and the heat in. Keeping the heat in is important, because this bag is really roomy. The Shocking Blue bag expands greatly from tapered legs to a broad mid-section. The hip and shoulder width are 56.7 inches wide and 65.4 inches wide, respectively; that's 2.5 inches more than average for each. This design is excellent for high-altitude mountaineers who might crawl into their bag wearing a down suit, but when a skinny guy like me gets inside wearing long johns, there's a lot of empty space. Extra space in a sleeping bag is thermally inefficient, so skinny folks sleeping without a big parka on may need to bring their parka in anyway to fill the voids and sleep warm.
The foot box on this sleeping bag is very roomy as well. It will accommodate most people's feet wearing down booties or even mountaineering boots. Valandre says the design allows you to move naturally while you sleep; I've never had a problem with this, but if you do kick and squirm in the night, there's plenty of room to do so.
On the exterior, this bag is coated with a DWR to repel water. This coating repels mild exposure to wet weather, but the nylon still got soggy after a couple hours in wet snow. DWR coatings aren't as effective as membrane fabrics such as Pertex Endurance or Gore Windstopper, which can be found in some sleeping bags.
In summary, the Shocking Blue bag is a heavy hitter in its warmth class, and the plush features add some weight and cost. This bag weighs 2 lbs. 14 oz. in size medium and costs $750 (small and large are also available). Many zero-degree bags are lighter and cheaper: the Feathered Friends Snowbunting bag ($600) weighs 2 lbs. 11 oz. for size medium, and the Western Mountaineering Antelope MF ($635) weighs 2 lbs. 7 oz. for the same size. Western Mountaineering's Kodiak bag ($674) and Brooks Range's Drift 0 bag ($719) weigh in at 2 lbs. 12 oz. and 2 lbs. 11 oz., respectively. That means the extra features of the Shocking Blue bag add between 5 and 15 percent more weight, and the bag costs an extra $30 to $150 more than bags of comparable warmth.
Is the extra weight worth it? The answer depends on what you're looking for—simplicity and minimal design, or bomber comfort? This bag has the most complicated draft collar I've ever seen, and it's tricky to assemble, especially with cold hands. The double-clip pull cord involves two toggles that mate together and are really hard to manipulate with gloves. That said, it really does seal in warmth and keep every breath of wind out. That could be really nice during a windy bivy, however the time-tested method of wrapping a jacket around my neck has worked well for me too. The extra room in the chest could be great if you're using this bag for mountaineering, and could be less than ideal for general car-camping use.
As a nit-picky aside, the included storage sack is too small to let the bag fully loft. While this doesn't affect the bag's performance today, it will reduce loft in the long run if you leave it in this sack.
[Photo] Drew Thayer
Drew Thayer has been climbing for 12 years, including six years of ice climbing and five years of alpine and big-wall experience in the U.S., Peru, Argentina, Canada and Alaska. He received a Copp-Dash Award in 2016 for an expedition to Alaska in which his team established four new routes in the Neacola Mountains of the Aleutian Range.
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