Published on March 24th, 2013 | by Greg
Better Down: Sierra Designs Cal 13 Sleeping Bag
We slept like babies the last time we went camping. And it wasn’t the long hikes or even the cold drinks- it was thanks mostly to today’s piece of gear. One of the first things we learned about camping is that there were a few items that you did not want to skimp on- your tent, your sleeping bag, and your boots. And while we’ve covered some footwear recently, it’s been a bit since we’ve looked at a good solid place to lay your head.
The three-season Sierra Designs Cal 13 looks a bit different from many sleeping bags, thanks to the vertical baffling. And it’s a technical piece of gear, hence the slim mummy shape and what they call an Ultralight Jacket Hood. Weighing in at a mere 1 pound, 12 ounces, this is a bag worthy of the fairly serious price tag. After all, the last bag we saw from them was a great model, the dual-temperature Pyro 15/30, which weighed a full pound more! That isn’t a big difference when you’re car camping of course, but every ounce counts for ultralight campers who need to shave weight however possible.
Granted, this model doesn’t offer a lot of extra warmth- there are plenty of three season bags out there, even if they aren’t quite as light or as nice (800-fill down feels great if you’re wondering). Sierra Designs does offer models meant for colder temps, down to 6 degrees or lower, but the real advantage of the Cal 13 lies inside with the award-winning DriDown technology. We had been hearing about this stuff for a while- a nifty process that takes down feathers and coats them with a water-resistant, hydrophobic polymer. The benefits claimed: the treatment has been shown to help down feathers stay dry ten times longer and dry 33% faster than without. We try not to get our bags wet in the first place, but it’s hard to avoid- whether it’s a sudden downpour when you’re setting up, morning dew or even just your body’s natural sweat. And one major downside of down is that it dries slowly, and worse, is changed by moisture, losing loft. If you’ve even wondered why your sleeping bag gets wet, and even when fully dries no longer seems to perform as well, this is the essential reason. Basically, it loses fluff.
We didn’t turn on the garden hoses or set out to get our bags truly soaked. But we did end up with a bit of a wet spell and were happy to worry less about the threat of moisture overnight. Upon waking, our bags were a bit damp, but they dried faster and felt fluffier, helping to increase their lifespan and keep us warmer. We’d much rather our bags be hydrophobic than us. Like most bags, it’s a tight fit for anyone over six foot, but they make a long version to help taller folks out. Also, we’re fans of left-handed zippers (more natural for right-handed campers), but we should note that this one is only available in that style.
The best sleeping bag that we’ve tested in quite a while, the Cal 13 is warm, incredibly light, and offers a nifty advantage over regular down that you can feel. Construction is excellent, from seams to zippers, and we’ve always had luck with Sierra Designs gear (the Zeta 2 is still holding up). Available online and in stores now, priced for serious outdoor lovers at $500.