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Moutain Hardwear's UltraLamina 15 Sleeping Bag Editorial Review


Submitted by vegastradguy on 2007-04-16

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by John Wilder


How to keep a desert rat warm in Jtree - a review of Mountain Hardwearís UltraLamina Sleeping Bag
By vegastradguy

When deciding on a cold weather sleeping bag, the decision often comes down between down or synthetic. Down usually wins out because the flat truth was that down is warmer than synthetic, and the fact that it stuffs smaller and weighs less also didnít hurt any. Down has its downsides as well- two of them are pretty big- if you get it wet youíre screwed, and the price will make you cringe. So, as a result, down usually rules the nest in the really cold temps/backcountry and synthetic makes a good car camping/mild weather option.

For years, manufacturers have been improving synthetic insulation in sleeping bags, and this year, Mountain Hardwear took a huge leap forward and just made the line between down and synthetic a little fuzzier. At the 2006 Summer Market, they introduced me to the UltraLamina 15 degree bag.

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Mountain Hardwear's UltraLamina Bag
Mountain Hardwear
Mountain Hardwear's UltraLamina Bag. Photo: Mountain Hardwear.

After the show, I talked with my rep at the company and they sent me a sample in November to try out. The bag has definitely been tested- since I wasnít able to get away that much during the winter, I sent it out with my friends when they went on their trips and their feedback is included in this review.

First, the specs:

The bag is a 15 degree synthetic bag filled with Mountain Hardwearís new proprietary insulation called ThermicMicro. Itís got a 20D Micro Ripstop Nylon shell, weighs about 2.86lbs, has 5.5Ē of loft, and comes with a compression sack to stuff it down to as small as 8Ē x 11Ē. The bag retails at $190 for the regular length and $200 for long.

The bag also has some special features. Itís a mummy bag, cut a little more snug than a standard bag. It also features welded construction where the insulation is, rather than using stitching. There is also a face gasket at the hood, which is nice when its really cold out. Finally, there is an internal pocket at the shoulder- nice for a headlamp or your keys.

So, letís do some comparisons Now, Iíve never owned a down sleeping bag, but Iíve certainly debated having one. The main reason I donít own one is because I donít do snow or backcountry- Iím mostly a car camper. If I make some annoyingly glaring error here, please forgive my ignorance and correct me in the comment section!

For consistency, weíll compare specs on 3 Mountain Hardwear bags- the UltraLamina 15, the synthetic 2nd Dimension 15 (my bag), and the down filled Phantom 15. Performance comparisons will be made between the UltraLamina and the 2nd Dimension.

First the weight- The Phantom still wins out at 1lb, 15oz, the UltraLamina comes in second at 2lbs 13oz, and the 2nd Dimension is the heaviest at 3lbs 5oz. All weights are for regular length. Youíll note, though, that the UltraLamina is a half a pound lighter than its predecessor (which is the average weight for a synthetic bag)- Mountain Hardwear went to great lengths to shave the weight on this one- 1/3 length zips, no stitching (less thread), and a lighter shell- but most of the weight savings still comes from the new insulation.

Second, stuff size. The Phantomís specs tell us that it stuffs down to 8Ē x 14Ē, so weíll have to believe them. Letís say it stuffs to 8Ē x 12Ē to be generous. The 2nd Dimension stuffs to 8Ē x 19.5Ē. The UltraLamina wins this one- it stuffs down to a tiny 8Ē x 11Ē! A note on the stuff sizes- Mountain Hardwearís website lists the stuff size for the UltraLamina at 8Ē x 17Ē- I assume this is a non-compressed size in its stuff sack. My sampleís stuff sack broke at the compression strap the first time I stuffed it, so I purchased a Sea to Summit compression sack for it, and its measurements are the ones I am using.

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The UltraLamina next to the 2nd Dimension.
John Wilder
The UltraLamina next to the 2nd Dimension. Photo by: John Wilder.

Finally, letís talk about warmth. The bags are all rated to 15 degrees, so in theory, they should provide about the same level of comfort in 15 degree weather, especially since they are all made by Mountain Hardwear. I wish I could have tested a down for comparison, but alas, only the two synthetics were tested. The 2nd Dimension has been in use for about three seasons- roughly three weeks worth of use a year. The UltraLamina has been used for about 10 nights in three different locations at different temperatures. I will also note that I sleep cold- if the temps are below about 65, Iím shivering.

I can say without doubt that the UltraLamina is a significantly warmer bag than the 2nd Dimension. The 2nd Dimension was comfortable for Yosemite in the summer if I left the tent door open and was just relaxing. In the winter at Joshua Tree, even with the hood up and pulled tight, I could still feel the cold. The UltraLamina, on the other hand, was nicely toasty at Joshua Tree in those same temperatures- the lows were around 18 on one trip, and the bag felt great.

Now, to the bag itself as a product. Overall, itís a good bag because it does the one thing I want it to really well- it keeps me warm on a cold night. There are, though, some not so great things about it that Iíll note here.

First, the zipper situation- it doesnít really bother me, but it might bother some. Instead of having a full length zipper on one side, the bag uses a 1/3 length zipper on both sides. This means you have to slide in and out of the bag. Not a big deal, but it may annoy some people.

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The UltraLamina fully open- the 1/3 zippers may not appeal to some people
John Wilder
The UltraLamina fully open - the 1/3 zippers may not appeal to some people. Photo by: John Wilder.

Second, the compression sack- itís weak. The straps were a quarter inch wide and one broke the first time I used it. Now, I will note that the sample I had was not new when I received it, so I do not know what sort of abuse it went through before I got my hands on it, but I still suspect that youíll be buying a new sack for it at some point. Hopefully Mountain Hardwear will fix this one design flaw in years to come.

Third, temperature regulation. My 2nd dimension had a nice baffle system to help regulate my temperature in non-freezing temps. This feature was really nice during summers at Yosemite. I spent four nights in Zion recently were night time temps were in the mid 40s, and in the early evening, I was so hot in the bag I could hardly stand it. On the last night, the warmest one, I soaked the bag with sweat! Mountain Hardwear notes that you can use the zips for temperature regulation- and you probably can, but again, I sleep cold, so the air outside was cold enough that I wanted some cover, but the bag itself was way too warm to be in. Of course, Iíll also note that Iím not complaining about this- having a synthetic bag that was too warm made me pretty happy, but it does mean that my 2nd Dimension will continue to see summertime use in Yosemite.

Overall, Mountain Hardwear has made a really nice bag. Itís very warm for the temperature rating- Iíd be willing to be that someone who sleeps warm could sleep down to zero or so in this bag. I like that its noticeably lighter than my old bag, but more importantly, I love how small it compresses- I always hated lugging around that giant stuff sack, and now Iím in heaven with my tiny ball of synthetic happiness! I still think that down will probably win out for a backcountry bag- mostly due to the weight, but I do believe that Mountain Hardwear has made a big step forward with this bag.

Go to this item in our Gear Database.

Full Disclosure: The manufacturer of this product provided it free of charge to rockclimbing.com for review. Rockclimbing.com then provided this product as compensation to the reviewer. This company does not currently advertise on rockclimbing.com. April 15, 2007

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9 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 natec
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 2007-04-17
I do not mean my comments to be a slight towards the author but this review is really of little to no value.

It's hard to write an effective review of a product in a situation such as this. The reviewer did not put this bag to the full test and hasn't any experience with down to give a quantitatve comparison.

A much better review would be to find a reviewer who would use the bag in a variety of instances and situations that take it to the extremes of its limits. Car camping, backcountry use, snow use, warm weather use and cold weather use should all be a part of this review and are missing.

Like I stated, I don't mean to slight the author but this review doesn't tell me much more than I could find out by looking at the bag hanging in a store.
 vegastradguy
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 2007-04-17
ouch- i like to think that i tested the bag given the time and situations i was able to. i spent about 10 nights in the bag, and my friends spent an additional 2 or 3. My apologies that i wasnt able to test it in the backcountry or snow- but car camping, semi-warm weather use and cold weather use are all covered.....
 scuclimber
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 2007-04-18
VTG, one of the main advantages of down is that it has a much wider comfort range of temperatures for different people. Geese live in cold as well as relatively warm climes. I guess R&D on insulation hasn't been able to replicate what a few million years of natural selection was able to create. That would help alleviate your venting issues.

Also, if you're going to compare how small the Phantom stuffs compared to the UltraLamina, you really should have a Phantom to compare it too. I know REI has carried it in the past, maybe go down and measure it in the store?

Other than that, the review was very helpful. I'm looking for a three-season synthetic for my GF and was originally thinking TNF Cat's Meow (specifically because I was familiar with that bag and I hadn't heard anything about this one yet), but this review has made me reconsider. She'd mostly be using it for car camping and short BC trips, so that works. Thanks.
 vegastradguy
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 2007-04-18
I should have included this in the review, but the Ultralamina at the OR show that I saw stuffed to the same size as a 20 degree down bag that Mountain Hardwear had on display. Given that their compression sack is somewhat weak, I'd be willing to say that the compression is similar, maybe a little less than a similar down bag.

Thanks for the info on the down- I dont own any down bags because i dont do anything that really necessitates having one. I live in the desert and car camp exlusively....and unfortunately, that did limit my testing, but editorial considerations restricted my choice of reviewers for this bag....
 murf
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 2007-04-19
Interesting comparison between the UltraLamina and the Lamina series. Both are the Thermic Micro, but usually have about a 5 degree difference. The Laminas have more loft, thicker shell (40D vs 20D ), and a full zip, but are rated cooler. My guess is that the Ultra series gets the rating due to a performance cut, smaller less space to heat, warmer rating. Overall the Ultralamina series only weighs a few ounces less.

For me, to not feel claustrophobic, have the ability to use the bag as a blanket ( full zip required ), plus the extra plus of a hardier bag due to a thicker shell, makes it a no brainer. Plus I got my Lamina 35 for $45.00!

Couple of other things, every time I've gotten a compression sack with a bag ( MH, REI and TNF included ) I've busted a clip. I go through about 1 a season. REI loves to replace them for me.

The other thing is that I believe its generally recognized that synthetic bags lose a noticable amount of loft each year. Checking a 3 year old bag vs a new bag might not be a fair comparison.
 vegastradguy
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 2007-04-19
murf- point taken on the comparison, although i do my best to keep the loft up in my old bag. the truth is, though, i dont ever remember being that warm in my 2nd dimension- until i tried the ultralamina, i've always been cold in jtree....
 esoteric1
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 2007-04-20
vegas trad guy,
maybee try a down bag next time your out in josh?
ive never been happy with synthetics and only use them on walls.
 vegastradguy
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 2007-04-20
maybe, although i'm pretty happy with the ultralamina- it'll likely be my standard bag for at least the next couple of seasons. plus, i'm cheap when it comes to bags, i cant imagine spending more than $190 on a bag....
 rudolphluciani
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 2007-08-09
I spent thirty days in the back country in this bag and found it lacking in very few areas. Warmth was great (temps down to 20 degrees), and it was very light and easily packed (though i didn't use the original stuff sack). What i didn't like about this bag was that the zippers were sometimes difficult to open and seemed awkwardly placed on the bag. the narrow cut of the bag also restricted my movement somewhat as i am a very active sleeper. Compared to my 15 degree down bag from Seirra Deaigns, this one stacks up in all areas.

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