Published on July 30th, 2010 | by Greg0
Big Agnes: Sleep Great, Anywhere
When you’re exploring the great outdoors, the last thing you want to do is hassle with a tent or worry about uneven ground keeping you up all night. Sleep, especially if it’s only for a few hours, is critical. We’ve tested out quite a bit of camping equipment, from great items for ultralight use and weekend trips, plenty of cooking supplies and beyond. But this our first time testing out one of the more venerable names in outdoor equipment, Big Agnes.
We’ll start out with an we loved- the Big Agnes Diversion Insulated Sleeping Pad. This is a fairly traditional air-chambered pad, and comes in three sizes (equivalent to short, regular, and long). We’ve been trying out the 72-inch model (regular), and found it quite comfortable. At two-and-a-half inches thick, we could sleep on a bed of rocks without noticing a thing. Inflation is fairly easy with a hand pump, and the valve is quite solid. It takes a bit to deflate, but you can store it valve open, which makes life a bit easier. And it thus packs pretty small, though adds a reasonable 26 ounces to your load- not a lot, but enough to be worth considering carefully. Of course, a pump adds a bit of weight, and without one it can be a bit annoying to inflate- everything is a balance. But even on colder ground, the sleeping pad kept us floating above it all, and we slept nicely knowing that the pad is made from recycled materials. Perhaps a luxury, but one we enjoyed, and available for between $90 and $100.
A sleeping pad isn’t enough though- you need a decent sleeping bag. Big Agnes came through with the Tumble Mountain, a 20-degree mummy-shaped bag available in both regular and long versions. Our version was regular, and meant for folks under 5’10”- some of us here are a bit taller that, but it still worked fine. One of the most distinctive parts of this bag is the Frost color- it looks like you belong in the arctic. And with 725 fill goose down, it’ll be warm enough for most any conditions. For those not familiar with fill power ratings, 725 is quite good (800-900 is really high-end). Generally, the higher the number, the better insulating it is for the weight. Our bag weighed around three pounds, or 48 ounces.
We’ve seen lighter bags in the same price and temperature range, but the Tumble Mountain is quite a bit more roomy and thus comfortable. We originally weren’t sure about the FlowGates, their system to minimize down shifting and cold spots, but we did notice an even distribution of down even after packing and unpacking several times! Our only complaint was the zipper- it might’ve just been our particular bag, but we got snagged a couple of times.Two other features make it worth a good hard look- the recycled materials and the pillow pocket- simply stuff in a fleece and you have an instant pillow. At $290 or so, it’s an investment like all good gear, but we’ve taken it out a few times and can vouch for both durability and warmth- we especially like the no-draft collar seals during colder conditions.
We’ve reserved the best for last- the Big Agnes Hager House 3, a three-season tent that is one of the most flexible we’ve seen. Not only is it a fairly roomy two-door tent, comfortable for three adults or a family with smaller children, we were impressed at the light weight. Under 6 pounds is pretty fantastic, though the footprint adds a bit more- and we definitely recommend it. They sent us the footprint, and a handy accessory as well (the triangular gear loft pouch), and we set about trying out this tent in some of the multiple combinations and formations. Unlike many tents, which maybe offer a couple of options with the fly, this one is as versatile as camping tools should be.
Both the floor and fly are made from the same material, a 1500mm waterproof polyurethane. Seams were tight, waterproof-taped, and we were happily kept dry even on some soaked ground. Setup was a bit more challenging than some tents, we have to admit- but the poles were solid, color-coded clips helped, and we liked the four pockets inside for convenient storage. We also loved the mesh top- it was pretty durable and small enough to keep the bugs out, but offered a lovely view of the stars and sky during summer nights warm enough to keep it open. When you’re not using the fly in a normal way, you can also fastpitch it, and it can work independently! This creates some interesting solutions to common problems not directly involving your tent- like a sunshade or rain shelter during daytime! And if there aren’t a lot of bugs and you feel like traveling light, you can pack and setup simply the fly itself- it isn’t quite as comfy, to be sure, but works nicely in a pinch. Guyline and stakes are included, and you can even treat the fly as a tarp- or, just as cool, you can pretty simply use poles and lean it against your car or a cliff face. It’s the most fun we’ve had with a tent, once you figure out some of the quirks, and as long as you aren’t much above six feet tall (it’s a bit tight for taller folks). At around $300, the Hager House offers solid performance in a variety of conditions, and several unique features.