Saturday, 7 September 2013

Blown Away by the Alpkit SkyeHigh 600 - A Review

Sleep is an important part of our lives, it's essential. Sleeping outside with only a couple of layers of thin nylon between yourself and the elements can bring up all sorts of issues. The simplest is being warm enough that you can manage a night of restful sleep.
So as lovers of the outdoors, many of us opt for a sleeping bag. Now it gets complicated, the various manufacturer's temperature ratings being a bit of a mine field. There has been a bit of a revolution lately, with the manufacturers trying to simplify the temperature ratings on their bags. I sleep very warm, and regularly find myself asleep with my bag fully unzipped on a chilly, clear summer night. Yet some people are the complete opposite and have to wrap up in the same conditions.
Then comes the! A good quality and sensibly weighted sleeping bag can be your single most expensive piece of gear. I can buy a car that would probably last me 12 months for the price of some of the expensive sleeping bags. I'm not knocking these more expensive bags as they are essential in many environments and situations. But there is an option that won't break the bank and will keep you warm in those cold nights. They aren't the lightest, maybe not the most efficient, and not the most flashy looking. I'm talking about Alpkit's SkyeHigh series of entry level sleeping bags. I'd just like to make it clear that I have no connection with Alpkit, and have bought the sleeping bag with my own money around twelve months ago. I opted for the SkyeHigh 600 due to the times and places I intended to use it, 3 seasons in the UK. For 4 seasons I would go for maybe the 800 here in the UK. I went with a long bag with a left zip, to give me enough room, and a zip I can easily operate.

First Impressions
The bag is certainly well made and lofted surprisingly well for the expected price to quality ratio with quite a heavy outer material. The colour, ice blue, is quite subdued, so the bag doesn't really stand out, and actually just looks functional. It also came in a cotton loft sack, something that is rare at the lower end of the price range, a feature I associated with the expensive bags.

The bag is mummy shaped with box construction, a surprise at the price point, offering the maximum performance by the 650+ goose down used as insulation. A couple of points about the goose down used, it is of a 650+ fill-power, measured by the EU rating, so the US rating would be higher. Some British manufacturers use the US rating, because it is higher, so I imagine looks better. Alpkit us the EU rating, lower, but more appropriate to us. Secondly, the goose down has a 90/10 ratio of actual down to feathers in it's fill. So there is 90% down and 10% feathers, pretty good again at this price range. The down is a better insulator than feathers, and more expensive. I find that the lower the ratio of feathers, the lower the amount of feathers that find their way out. I have a cheapo down jacket that leaves feathers everywhere.

There is a neck baffle intended to keep drafts out from around your neck. Plus a baffle that follows the full length of the YKK zip. The foot box is sculptured, as they put it, I assume to follow the shape of your feet. The bag is quite a curvy shape, not just a cone shape like some cheaper bags. It has hanging loops at the foot of the bag, and a storage pocket inside the bag. And as mention before, comes in a cotton loft sack with a compression sack.
My bag weighs around 1.3kg, a good weight for such a warm sleeping bag. And it compresses down well considering the outer and liner materials aren't particularly light weight. I really can't wait to get my hands on a Pipedream when they become available.
Specification (from the Alpkit website)
• Fill: 90/10 goosedown (650+ fill power EU)
• Fabric Outer: Micro ripstop DWR nylon
• Fabric Inner: 300l Tactel nylon
• Fill Weight: 600 grams
• Bag Weight*: 1215 grams
• Compression Bag Weight: 130 grams
• Compressed Size: ΓΈ 23 x 25cm
• Temperature Limit (T lim): -5C
• External Length/Width Short: 190 / 70cm
• External Length/Width Regular: 210 / 75cm
• External Length/Width Long: 230 / 80cm
• Max 'regular' user height: 6ft 1
• Long/Short only currently available in Left hand zip option

In Use
I'm not a small guy, 5' 10" with around a 48" chest, most standard sleeping bags can be a bit of a squeeze. I find it very difficult to find a sleeping bag that I can wrap completely around my shoulders and not feel like I'm having the life squeezed out of me. This falls back to what I said earlier about sleep being important. My regular summer bag is a Snugpak Softie 3 Merlin, with the expansion panel. This makes the Merlin just right for a good sleep with enough room to roll.
The SkyeHigh needs no such expansion, there is loads of room. The bag lofts very nicely making it a cosy place to be. It's the first sleeping bag I have found I don't want to get out of. I've slept in the back well down into single figures in just a t-shirt and boxers and I was plenty warm enough. The zip is a little liable to snag now and again, until you get used to a specific way to operate it. By pushing on the pin end of the zipper with my left foot, the slider is allowed to move a little less hindered as the teeth are pulled tense, while also taking my time.
I store the bag in it's cotton sack when at home or car camping. It allows the down to loft properly and any moisture to escape. I do this with all bags whether down or synthetic to lengthen their lifespan and maintain efficiency.
The Alpkit SkyeHigh bags, as I have previously mention, aren't the lightest, or warmest to weight ratio. But they are cheaper than most, work at the specified temperatures, pleasant to sleep in and well made. On top of this is the excellent sales team at Alpkit, fast despatch, and good after sales service.