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Big Guy Gear Review: Sleeping Bags

Big Guy Gear Reviews are what the sound like--gear reviews focused on the usability for big guys. If you're a proportional six-footer, congrats: you can use literally every piece of gear on the market. If you're a big guy, however, you know it's a frustrating marketplace. I'm here to help.

For reference, here are my basic dimensions: 6'5", 260 pounds, dress shirt is 17"x37".  I wear XL shirts and 38x34 pants. I'm built with more of a weak-man's barrel chest than a fat-man's beer belly. I have what Lululemon calls "hockey butt." If you're tall and not broad, or broad and not tall, these reviews will still help you find usable gear.

Being a big guy and finding a sleeping bag mix like oil and vinegar, with no option to emulsify. At this point I've tried and returned so many bags that I'm keeping my current bag out of embarrassment more than complete satisfaction (though it is pretty comfortable comparatively). 

Read through to find the winner and see recommendations and precautions along the way. And for basic tips, check out the Gearing Up article on sleeping bags. Also, thanks REI, return policy made it possible for me to get a bag I could sleep in. I honestly feel bad about the returns, but I think the goodwill earned makes up for it.

I had to upgrade my sleeping bag for backpacking from my car-camping bag, a rectangular 40-degree bag from Sports Authority...comfy, but heavy, bulky, and unable to keep me warm on a July night I'm Flagstaff. Like any clueless purchaser I made a trip to REI, figuring their selection and expertise would do me right.

All bag dimensions given are for the long version of that bag. If you don't need a long the Mobile Mummy and Big Agnes bags still offer more girth than most bags.

The first bag I tried was a Sierra Designs Zissou 23. At REI. The random temperature rating seemed good for 3-season use in Arizona and it was available in long. My body fit inside, so I purchased. Then on a December backpacking trip outside Phoenix I froze my ass off because it was too tight in the hips and shoulders, making cold spots that kept me awake through the night despite being in long underwear and a +15 bag liner. Turns out that even though 78" length works, the 64" shoulder girth and 60" hip girth didn't provide me enough room to move and stay warm.

So I returned the Zissou and ordered a Kelty Ignite 16, not realizing it had basically the same dimensions, hip girth is actually 2" slimmer. Once I got inside I realized my mistake and made another return.

After considerable research my next purchase was a Sierra Designs Mobile MummyAt REI (available in 1.5 to 4 season, and ultralight versions). Its 84" length, 68" shoulder girth, and 60" hip girth seemed like it had to be a large enough bag. The "mobile" aspect seemed gimmicky, but also didn't seem to take away from function. The arm holes were positioned such that I felt like they would rip when I pushed my arms through (or I'm just too tall), so I only used them for the times I zipped it all the way up and the zipper wouldn't unzip from the inside and I had a panic attack. I took this bag on an Easter weekend backpacking trip to Havasupai falls. Temperatures at the bottom of the canyon were quite mild--to the extent that I had to start the night with the bag fully unzipped. I woke up chilly and got in my bag liner, I woke up chilly again and zipped up. Around 4:00 AM I woke up again with a cold butt. The way I lay when sleeping combined with the hip girth were causing compression and cold spots. There's no way the temperatures dropped below 40f overnight (we got up at 5:30 am amd i comfortably wore shorts and a light sweater to break camp) and this bag is rated to 16 degrees so this shouldn't have been a problem. If you don't have a large hip/butt, or don't sleep jackknifed like me, this bag may be a great option.  Unfortunately, this went into the returned column for me.

At this point my frustration was getting intense--I couldn't find a way to filter by hip or shoulder girth on any website, nor could I find anyone locally to help. Finally I found that REI has a gear pro available by email, so I sent them my predicament.  Their suggestion was the Big Agnes Lost Ranger. So I went to my most local store to try it on. It felt magical, but the REI guy at the store suggested the Big Agnes Summit Park because it has a 25" pad and more shoulder and hip girth than the Lost Ranger. It wasn't available in-store, so online I went...

The Summit Park was the worst bag I tried, though by numbers the biggest at 78" long, 80.5" shoulder girth, and 74.5" hip girth. At REI. It has an older design than the Lost Ranger, which tied the head of the mummy to the pad and pulled the sides of the bag taught. Laying in the bag was instantly uncomfortable--the drawstring on the head cut into my forehead and the bag was pulled so snug that there was more compression in this bag than in the smaller Lost Ranger. It is also heavy and bulky...over 5 pounds, and nearly $600, with the lightweight long, wide pad (that is required with the Big Agnes sleep system). This bag has great user reviews so apparently people like it, but I found everything to be lacking...except the 25" wide pad. Another immediate return. If it suits you, it is worth noting that this line has several bags of different temperature ratings. 

Worth mentioning is the Kelty SB20. At REI. I tried it on against the Lost Ranger, my ultimate purchase, and found it surprisingly roomy at 84" long but just 64" shoulder girth. It was a tempting option and the waterproofing at the head and feet appealed to me since I'm tall enough to always touch part of my extra long tent.

The Big Agnes Lost Ranger, was previously designated the winner of most comfortable sleeping bags, but after additional use I found that it didn't work for me for several reasons.  Purchase At REI. With dimensions of 78" long, 73" shoulder girth, and 68" hip girth, and its updates design as compared to the Summit Park, this was the roomiest bag I found. Notable design updates include a head area not attached to the pad and sidewalls that are not pulled tight to the pad--meaning you're not unwillingly tucked in tight. As a result I was able to sleep on my side as usual, and move around, without any compression or cold spots. In fact, during my camping trip to Flagstaff with overnight temperatures in the mid to low 30s, I actually woke up sweating. There are two major downsides to this bag. First, at 20" wide its pad is difficult to fit on, even sleeping on my side and stomach. If it had  25" pad it would be the most comfortable bag I could hope for. Second, because the bag is attached to the pad it doesn't move with you meaning if you sleep on your right side with your head in its compartment you get a face full of sleeping bag and drawstring...not at all comfortable. But overall this bag gave me room to move and the pad provided fantastic cushioning. I took this car camping in Flagstaff and used it on the Inca Trail.  After multiple nights of use I found that though the pad was thick enough, it simply wasn't wide enough at 20".  Even exhausted from days on the Inca Trail and sleeping on my side I found myself waking up throughout the night needing to reposition myself back onto the pad.  This too was returned to REI.  A 25" wide version would be a nice update, but this bag really doesn't work well for a side sleeper due to the hood.

The REI Lumen (or the REI Radiant, it's down-filled twin) has been crowned the new winner.  Available in long and wide, it is a mummy bag that I comfortably fit into and can use for a good night's sleep.  I have camped in this several times now and have stayed warm down to low 40s, where I was using it as a quilt.  It's rated to 20 degrees so it should be very versatile.  In the long+wide variant, it is 78" long, 70" shoulder girth, and 66" hip girth.  It's not the lightest bag on the market, but I would rather carry more weight to be able to sleep comfortably.  Available only at REI.

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