Rondane Gear Part 1: Down

Gear is very personal. No two people will experience a piece of kit in the same way. Gear reviews are thus, by definition, highly objective. In my case it's even worse. Comparatively infrequent use in the field means that it takes time, in some cases measured in years, for me to build a firm opinion about my purchases. Even then, and even though the trips I undertake are all multi-day, strenuous and in exacting environments, my opinion is bound to be biased by the specific demands and conditions of just a handful of trips. The most valuable reviews will surely be those put down by lads and lasses that spend much time on the hill, use a lot of different gear and use it all intensively and under wide ranging conditions right? I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes but even then subjectivity plays a powerful role. Any review, be it by Chris Townsend or Joe Blogger, needs to be taken by the reader for what it is. In my opinion, reviews provide the reader with a series of ques: things to consider when buying this or that rucksack, one or the other sleeping bag. Nothing more nothing less. It remains the readers responsibility to place the observations into his or her own context. Here are the most important things I learned about my gear in Rondane. Think before you buy:

Cumulus Quantum 200: This is my first quality down bag. It's accompanied me on three big trips now. At 568g (manufacturer claims 495g) it's very light for a bag rated to 0 degrees. Whilst, for me, the rating is optimistic I do think it's miraculously warm given the weight of down used. Just 200g of Polands finest 870 fill goose down gets me down to around 2 degrees before I need to reach for my down jacket (see following). To be fair, Cumulus do state that their ratings assume use in a "typically sized 1-3 man tent" and I think the dead air in a tent may well account for the difference I experience. My bivvy bag or bivvy bag/tarp combination will certainly be colder. It's a well featured bag for its weight: full zip, neck warmer (a sort of simplified baffle), box wall construction, little internal goodies pocket. Cumulus havn't cut out features to save weight though in the case of the 200 they have arguably skimped on the size . It's recommended for people up to 185cm (6'1") and being, coincidentally, 185cm myself I can confirm that taller people need not apply. Those who don't like tight fitting bags are not going to be too impressed either. In Rondane, as in the Alps the year before, I found my lower limit when using this bag. Though in Rondane temperatures weren't very low on two of the three nights I lay exposed and the wind blew. I was glad of the extra down in my jacket. I see my jacket as part of my sleeping system and I learned a nice trick in Rondane. Instead of waking up cold in the middle of the night and having to dig out my jacket I started each night with my jacket on and my bag pushed down around my waste. As the temperature dropped I just reached down and pulled up my bag. I've toyed with the idea of switching to a quilt or a top bag but the truth is this system fits my needs well and, unless the opportunity of a winter trip rears its head, I won't be spending anymore money on sleeping bags of any kind. Not unless I see something in the PHD sale at least.

PHD Ultra down pullover: Rondane was the first time out for this bit of kit. I loved it from the off. At 295g (without the hood) it's madly warm for it's weight. 295g is much heavier than the stated weight of 230g but that's, at least in part, my own fault. I had PHD knock one up in Dryshell. I suppose that means it could equally well be described as a Minimus with 900 fill down? Whatever, it's become my insulating layer of choice and the extra warmth over my Montbell down inner together with the peace of mind afforded by dryshell is well worth the extra 85g . I only experience one problem with this piece of clothing: the elasticated waste doesn't cinch up tightly enough for my liking. This seems to be a recurring theme with my down layers. I think the jacket would perform even better with a tighter fitting waste. That's, one more gear mod on the list for the long, grey, Dutch winter.


  1. Very well written and thoughtful introduction, Dave - I concur, its always bound to be a subjective review to some extent.

    Cumulus makes fine bags, and the price is great. My friend got one just recently, and I will be able to see it in Sweden in October.

    PHD also makes great gear, and their sale is quite tempting...

  2. The spec of the sleeping bag is similar to the marmot bag that I use, again rated to 0C. But get close to that and I'd layer up. Incidentially I'm usually wearing the layer (a primaloft top) around camp so I usually retire with that on and take it off when (or if) I get too warm.

  3. Disappointing to hear about the weight discrepancy on the Quantum 200. My Ultralight 350 is marginally less than the advertised weight. I like my Ultralight, although I wish it had the neck collar. I agree that it's not a bag for tall people or those with an ample girth.

  4. Hendrik: I don't daarelook at the PHD sale I just know I'll end up buying something.

    Baz: Combining the extra layer with a bag works wonders and saves a lot of weight. My only dilema is what to carry to layer up my legs. Right now, if the temperature drops, I use thermal long johns, but at 160g they're heavy for their warmth. I'd prefer something warmer without too much weight penalty(something like the Montbel down inner trousers) or lighter without too much loss in performance (perhaps Silkbody longs?).

    Robin:Yes I was initially very dissapointed with the weight difference (incidentaly 598g was a typo, I make the weight to be 568g although that's still significantly heavier than claimed-post is ammended accordingly)but I got ove it pretty quickly. The bag still saved me over half a kilo on my then first choice synthetic. The pack size is tiny too.

  5. I also recko that kit choice and opinio can be a very personal thing. What's right for you might not be for me etc...

    I reckon my ultra pullover is one of my favourite ever bits of kit. In fact I rarely get to wear it as the girlfriend loves it even more I think (she's an Aussie and feels the cold here in Scotland you see)

    I'm not looking at their sale either or else I'll endup replacing my trusty old Alpkit bags and I can't afford to at the mo!

  6. The revised weight for the Quantum 200 is still higher than my modified WM HighLite. I reckon they will be similar in warmth as the HighLite has more down (225g) which probably offsets the part stitch through construction. If I was starting from scatch, I probably would have gone with the Quantum, though, as I like a full zip.

    Incidentally, you need to replace that orange toilet trowel with the Ibbo PT ;o)

  7. BBF: Got the missus a nice little down jacket so my Montbel would always be available when needed. From what I can see those Alpkit bags are the ebst value for money out there. There'll be other PHD sales.

    Robin: I would guess you're about right. I can buy WM bags off the peg in Holland and so have had chance to inspect them close up. I would have gone for one but for the fact that the lightest model retailed here is the Mity Lite at 740g (and 300 euros!)and thus went for Cumulus bag. Having, said that I wouldn't look at the PHD sale I did have a little peek and must admit I'm sorely tempted by the Drishel Minim 300 which, if I try hard enough to convince myself, could find a place in my kit list: a few grams heavier but I could see the extra insulation and drishel being a real benefit at times.

  8. Robin: By the way, you're entirely correct and the orange Jobby scoop has probably seen its last outing ;-)



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