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Gadling gear review- Western Mountaineering Caribou MF sleeping bag
Because I backpack when traveling for work, it was time to upgrade to something lighter and more compressible than my old-school down bag. I had several key criterion in my search for a new one: price (as in, as low as possible without sacrificing quality), size (I'm practically a midget, and why pay more for a bag that's designed for someone tall?), weight (I have a bad back, so shaving off even a few ounces is helpful), and three-season capability.
A trusted sales rep acquaintance told me about the Caribou MF, a full-zip mummy bag made from microfiber-a synthetic fabric known for its softness, water repellent / wicking abilities, and durability. He thought it would be the ideal bag for my upcoming, month-long assignment in Ecuador, which would include mountaineering at up to 19,000-plus feet, as well as camping in the Amazon Basin. I decided to give it a try, and purchased an Outdoor Research stuff sack as added protection against moisture (All of Western's bags do come with their own stuff sacks).
If you're not familiar with Western Mountaineering, they're a small, independently-owned company out of San Jose, known for exceedingly high-quality, made-in-the-U.S. of A. products such as sleeping bags and down jackets.
Caribou's Microfiber bags are constructed from their patented, 20-denier Microlite XP™ microfiber, which possesses over 400 threads per square inch. Their ExtremeLite bags weigh a little less, are made from a different outer fabric, and are thus slightly less water-resistant and -breathable than the Microlite series. I decided to go with the Microfiber. The other deciding factor for me was the Caribou's "sewn-thru box" stitching, which is designed to keep the down from shifting (some 3-season bags are designed to shift, so you can regulate the temperature). Look at the spacing of the baffles before you purchase a bag.
The Caribou comes in three lengths: 5'6," 6'0," and 6'6." Obviously, I chose the shortest bag, which had the following specs: 35-degree F. rating, 3.5" goose down loft, and a fill weight of just nine ounces. The inside girth (shoulder/hip/foot) is 63"/56"/39." Western is known for making bags that run broad in the shoulders, for maximum comfort.
The total bag weight is one pound, three ounces, which compresses to 6" x 10." Pretty impressive, especially for $275.00.
Road testing: The Pros
Because I knew I had a midnight arrival at Lima airport for a hellish, 12-hour layover, I clipped my Caribou's stuff sack to my day pack carry-on. After deplaning, I unfurled my bag onto a bank of seats, and had a really great sleep (FYI, the Lima airport totally rocks- the seats don't have armrests so you can lie down on them, it's spotlessly clean and safe, the duty-free is open 24-hours, and the suspiro at Manacaru Restaurant is delicious.).
The Caribou kept me toasty at a snowy mountain refuge situated at 15,750-feet on the flanks of Cotopaxi, but what blew me away was my night camping on the Hollin River in the Amazon Basin. Our take-out was a gorgeous little beach the size of a postage stamp. There was no natural shelter, so we rigged a couple of tarps off of a huge boulder for rain shelter, and lay down a ground tarp for our bags. I was awakened at 3am by the sound of rain pounding the tarp. The water was also falling between the gap in the tarps, and the top right side of my bag was soaked. I was sure it was ruined.
The next morning, I shook out my bag, and beads of water flew off. After about ten minutes in the sun, it was completely dry. I couldn't believe it. The Caribou went on to survive being crammed back into its sack (which I then sealed in the stuff sack) in tropical humidity, where it stayed the remaining three days of my trip. Upon arriving home, I unpacked it, steeling myself for an onslaught of jungle funk and new and exciting strains of mildew. Nada. The bag was as good as new. Didn't even have to wash it.
I also used it in a badly leaking tent during a horrendous summer thunder storm in Aspen, and what little dampness it had acquired dried quickly once i spread it out the next morning.
After a year of ownership, I can't find anything to complain about with regard to the bag itself. My only nitpicking- and because Western doesn't do mail order, this isn't a huge consumer issue- is that every single employee I've dealt with at Western appears to be terminally cranky (perhaps they're sleep-deprived?). They also forgot my stuff sack when they sent my bag, but since it was a special order for a gear review, I'll forgive them. The main thing is that I ended up buying it, and I'm a Western convert for life. I just hope they're allowed to catch up on their zzz's this week.
The Caribou MF is $275; for additional product prices and to find a dealer in your area, click here.