Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gear Review: Marmot Cloudbreak 30, Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP, Therma-a-Rest SOlite

Most gear reviews address only one item even though most items are not used in isolation but in combination with other items that might affect how they perform.  In this review I will evaluate my new backpacking sleeping system consisting of Regular Length Marmot Cleadbreak 30,  a  Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP sleeping bag liner, and a small (20 x 48) Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOlite sleeping pad. All were recently purchased from REI.

I purchased the regular length Marmot Cloudbreak 30, rated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit and weighing less than two pounds, after comparing it to three other similarly priced and designed bags, even climbing into all four and zipping them up around me.  I bought it to use when backpacking in wet weather, coastal kayaking, and sleeping aboard a sail boat, all situations where my old three-season down bag might get wet and loose its ability to insulate. After two consecutive nights in temperatures down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, including rain, sleet, and snow, the second night, I found that the Cloudbreak 30 kept me warm enough if I used the bag liner and dressed properly.

The first night out the temperature dropped to about 45.  I wore Patagonia Capilene long underwear inside the liner bag but no socks and I had not eaten anything for three or four hours.  I awoke during the night with cold feet and a few other cold spots.  The second time the temperature dropped to 30 with rain that turned to sleet that turned to snow.  I wore the same Patagonia Capilene long underwear inside the liner bag but added clean, dry, wool socks and ate some carbs before turning in.  Even though the temperature was 15 degrees cold that the night before I slept warmer and never felt any cold spots.
The Cloudbreak 30’s regular length and roomy foot gave my toes plenty of room to wiggle, especially when they felt cold the first night, and left enough space for a poly bottle or even a stuff bag of boots if need be.  The girth felt a little constructing around my upper arms but no more than my old down bag.  As others have noted, the zipper can easily snag, and did a couple of times. Marmot should probably replace it with a larger tooth zipper.

I have never before used a sleeping back liner but I wanted one for three reasons, first, to help keep my new Cloudbreak 30 clean, second, to add extra degrees of warmth, and third, to serve as a summer weight bag when the Cloudbreak 30 is too warm.  The Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP sleeping bag liner,  weighing a mere 9 oz, is advertised to increase warmth by 14 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothetically allowing me to use  my  Cloudbreak down to 16 degrees Fahrenheit if I need to while also serving as a standalone warm weather bag. The REACTOP fulfilled my first two desires during my recent trip.  While the temperature did not drop below 30, I slept so warmly when it did that I can imagine being nearly as comfortable at  16 if I dress properly and keep myself fueled. I am still waiting for a summer night to see if the REACTOP will fulfill my third desire.
I used to use a full length inflatable Therm-a-Rest pad but recently misplaced it. Wanting to move toward more lightweight backpacking,  I replaced it with the small (20 x 48) Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOlite sleeping pad which weighs a mere 9 oz, far less than my misplaced Therm-a-Rest, although the SOlite takes up more space than the inflatable Therm-a-rest when rolled up. I may have felt a few more irregularities underneath my new SOlite compared to my old inflatable but too many.  I did not miss the old inflatable’s extra length but I did miss its ability to lay flat when inflated.  The SOlightt wanted to curl and partially roll up if my bag was not lying on top of it.  As a side benefit, the SOlight aluminized surface, advertised to reflect body heat back toward the body, could also serve in an emergency to help summon aid or identify location, something my misplaced inflatable would never have been able to do.  I also do not have to worry about the SOlight being stabbed by an errant branch or tent stake and losing its insulating ability or comfort.

Taken together, the above sleeping system weighs a little more than three pounds.
I recently used this sleeping system during a weekend in late March at over 4,000 feet.  As previously stated, the temperature the first night dropped to about 45.  It dropped to 30 the following night as rain first turned to sleet and then snow.  I woke up the second morning to about three inches of snow.

I used the new system in more than ten year old Sierra Designs Ultra Flash 2 person, lightweight, three season.  That is right, a three season tent!  Even though I was in a three season tent with netting all around, sleeping properly dressed and fueled inside a a REACTOP liner inside a Cloudbreak 30 on top of a short SOlite I slept toasty warm.

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