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.