A good sleeping bag is probably one of the first things most people upgrade in their quest for better gear; and not surprisingly, a good sleep can really make or a break a trip. I also think that a sleeping bag should be the first big investment towards a lightweight backpack as it is the best return on investment.
When it comes to sleeping bags, there is no way around it: you get what you pay for. A good sleeping bag is light, compressible, fits the temperature range that you are after, durable and comfortable. After years of using less good sleeping bags (some were plain bad), I was ready to make the investment and finally get a good sleeping bag. My first question was:
Down or synthetic?
This is probably one of the age old questions about sleeping bags, especially when used in usually wet conditions such as here in the UK, New Zealand, North-West USA or Patagonia. The classic users say without a hint of doubt that in the conditions I usually face, I should use a sleeping bag with a synthetic filling and thus make sure it works in all conditions; even if wet. The lightweight community supports the down insulation bags for a better warmth to weight ratio and better compressibility. As a progressive guy and a sucker for ultralight gear I had no doubt I was on my way to investing in a mummy shaped, down sleeping bag – and the hunt was on.
After months of research (the only way to buy gear), I read about a small British company that specializes in down products – PHD (Peter Hutchinson Designs). The PHD catalog is very much aimed for lightweight and high performance seekers, offering both synthetic insulation and ethically sourced down (and some combinations of both). All PHD’s products are made in the UK, in Cheshire.
I personally have a soft spot for small specialty brands and I tend to pay more for those products (especially with my inside connections) just to support one. PHD is one of those companies, so we ended up buying a pair (left zip and right zip) of Minim 400 sleeping bags with our own adjustments in the Autumn of 2012. Since then our 2 sleeping bags (at £290 each) have been used tens of times all over the UK and around the world. In the last year, I personally have used the bags at least 20 nights in varying places and I still love them.
PHD offer a range of sleeping bags, including a “design your own” option. Among their ranges they have:
- Minim Range -Minimalist lightweight bags
- Diamir Range -Mountaineering / expedition bags
- Zeta and Delta Range -Active-use bags
- Baltoro Range – Classic mountaineering and expedition bags, roomy and high spec
- Xero Range -Expedition bag, with expansion room
- Hispar Range -Ultralights for the mountain runs
The Minim 400 is a 3 season lightweight down sleeping bag. We go a standard width and length, full zip and the standard M1 shell. Specs:
Typical Operating Temp: -5°C (23°F)
Weight: 780g (28oz)
Height: 169 – 184cm (5′ 7″ – 6′)
Width: 93 – 107cm (37″ – 42″)
900 Fill power (European)
Straight wall baffle system throughout
Open: Length – 199cm, Head – 55cm, Shoulders – 66cm, legs – 40cm
Packed (not compressed) in cm: 34x15x17
Weight: bag – 835g, sack – 26g
Included in the order: Sleeping bag, carry sack and a mesh storage sack.
How I use it
The Minim 400 is the primary (and by now the only) sleeping bags we use when outdoors or traveling. The bags are always stored and maintained according to the recommendations for down products:
- Stored loosely in a big mesh bag
- Only compressed while walking and open as soon as possible when outdoors
- Kept in a dry bag while outdoors even if rain is not forecasted
- On damp/humid trips allowed to dry during the day if the weather permits
- NEVER stays more than a few hours damp
- Allowed to fully air dry spread out after each trip
- Only a specialty cleaning service
As I mentioned above, the bags have been pretty much everywhere we have:
- 3 days hiking and camping in Dartmoor, UK – summer
- A night in a couple’s bivvi in the Bracon Beacon, UK – autumn, windy
- 3 days hiking and camping lightweight, family style in Desolation Wilderness, USA – summer, cold nights
- 7 separate nights bivving on the South Downs Way, UK – winter and spring
- 3 bivvi nights on the Ridgway, UK – summer
- 1 night family camping (including a baby!) near Plumpton, UK – summer
- 4 nights in the Peak District, UK – winter, snow
- 2 nights in the Lake District, UK – winter, windy and frost
- 1 night in the Yorkshire Dales, UK – winter, snow
- 11 nights along the Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland – summer, windy, cold and wet
Despite all those many nights, the Minim 400s are in great condition and are perfectly useable.
I’m 1.75m, slim (medium shirt, small trousers) and most of the time was really happy with the Minim 400’s fit. I have just enough room for my feet and head, but when using a pillow (insulation jacket in the bag’s carry sack) my feet usually ended up compressing the down at the bottom.
I tend to toss and turn a lot and prefer sleeping on my side, so at times the bag was a little tight on the knees, causing some cold spots on really cold nights. In my opinion, going for a wider fit would have had solved the tightness issue, but I haven’t tried it so can’t give a full input on that.
- Very compressible – about the size of a handball
- Easy to maintain
- Can be a tight fit, especially if you toss and turn much
- Fabric is not “stretchy,” so can get cold spots when the down is compressed from the inside
- Down is not treated to deal with humidity well – still very sensetive
I have been enjoying the Minim 400 for almost 3 years now and I plan on continue doing so for a while more. Despite my love for a small brand such as PHD, I’m not sure my next sleeping bag (4+ seasons) will be from them as they are yet to offer treated down to avoid the sensitivities that down has with humidity.
Despite the high price tag, this is one of the items I use the most outdoors and if you are after a high-end, well made sleeping bag for 3 seasons, the Minim 400 is for you. Keep an eye on PHD’s bargain box or join their mailing list to get some great offers and deals to make the bitter pill of such a high price more manageable.