Friday, May 13, 2011

Gear Review: EMS Mountain Light -20F Sleeping Bag

Did you ever have a “binky” growing up: a tattered old blanket that you turned to for safety and security when your Momma wasn’t around?  Well, I had one. Until it mysteriously went missing one day. (I know it was you, Mom.)  As it turns out, binkies aren’t just for toddlers. 

Mountain climbers, winter campers and even backcountry skiers all have binkies.  Yes, grown adults are running around with security blankets.  Only their binkies are meant to save lives when they are holed up for the night in temperatures that make you second-guess a short walk to the mailbox, much less a night in a tent.

Let me tell you about my binky.

One of the few smart decisions I made before venturing out into the world of winter camping was to invest in a decent winter sleeping bag.  While there are some items that you might skimp on, this is one piece of equipment that cannot fall short when you’re hours from civilization and surrounded by icy death.  Your sleeping bag must work, or you’ll likely go home as a frozen dinner. 

I was lucky enough to find the EMS Mountain Light -20 Sleeping Bag on sale and immediately pounced.  While it is not the lightest bag out there, it comes in at a respectable four pounds.  It also comes with a compressible sack to help cut its volume down in your already crowded winter backpack.  While it uses down insulation (which doesn’t work when wet), it incorporates a water resistant but breathable shell to ward off moisture problems.  It has a handy pocket for stashing your alarm or other battery powered items you don’t want to freeze, as well as a neck skirt to keep cold air from creeping in your breathing hole and down to your body.

In the three years that I’ve owned this bag I’ve never been cold on a winter camping trip.  In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that I haven’t been out on a -20F night, but I’ve been into negative territory and lived to tell about it. 

If you don’t choose this bag (especially because it looks like its currently out of stock), here’s a few things that you want to consider on your quest for the perfect binky:

-                   Make sure it has some extra room for your boot liners, hot water bottle, and other items you want to keep warm, or dry out while you’re sleeping.  If you barely fit a regular bag, then you’ll probably want to consider a long size. 
-                   A bag with larger girth will also allow you to wear more layers without compressing the insulation.  Be sure to try it on in the store to be sure.  But don’t fall asleep in it there, as that would be kinda weird. 
-                   Get a bag with synthetic insulation or a down bag with a water resistant and breathable shell.  Moisture can be trapped as it escapes, or can work its way into the bag from outside.  Either way, a wet bag is not a happy place in the Winter.
-                   Try to find a bag under five pounds.  Just try.
-                   Be conscious of the compressed size of the bag.  The smaller, the better.  Duh.

Once you’ve found your new binky, test it out for a night on the back porch to get an idea of what it can handle.  (Okay you might have to wait a few months for that test.)

Treat it like it might save your life some day.  Store it in its larger mesh bag and only compress it when absolutely necessary.

And by the way, there’s no way Mom’s getting ahold of this binky.  I know what happened to the last one, and I didn’t forget.


  1. You forgot to mentiothat the neck drawstring creates a nearly odor proof lower compartment in the bag. Foot stank and tuna farts be damned.

  2. Yes. It holds heat and stank. Brooke makes you wear this to bed doesn't she?

  3. Andy,

    Nice review, I bought the same bag last year. It looks like EMS has a sense of humor as the bag is now completely bright yellow, not unlike a banana. I also think they took out the interior pocket you mentioned which is sort of a bummer. Either way its still a sweet bag full of fluffy down and nothing can match its warmth for the price. Even though I am 5'10 I still bought the long version to give my stinky boot liners plenty of space at the bottom of the bag.

  4. Excellent choice Grant. I bought it before I'd done much winter camping or I might have also gone for the long. Me and my bootliners get cozy. I suppose the yellow would come in handy in one of those "dying in a snowbank and the helicopter is looking for you" situations.

  5. I find myself putting boot liners, next day's clothes, water and electronics in the bag as well, there is almost no room for me in the bag. Thankfully we both have blue FA Sandstone jackets which are so bright that the helo can probably find us at night.