Women-specific sleeping bags are cut shorter (although the Angel Fire comes in regular and long lengths), wider in the hips, narrower in the shoulder and have more insulation in strategic areas (torso, head and feet). This not only makes the sleeping bags more comfortable for women to sleep in and lighter (who wants to carry around an extra foot of fabric and down?) it also makes them more thermally efficient. How? Well there are fewer gaps between you and the bag, so there's less air space that needs to heat up.
"It looked so good I wanted to climb inside and cosy up on the sofa, so... I did."
My first impressions of the Angel Fire were that it looked good, felt well designed and was well made. It is definitely curvy and woman-shaped and boasted an awesome snuggly hood. It looked so good that I wanted to climb inside and cosy up on the sofa, so... I did.
While in there I did some exploring, and discovered that my feet were quite free to move around in the roomy foot box (it's a classic trapezoidal shape). There was loads of padding around my feet, and this is indeed an area I really feel the cold, so that was promising. There was even a stash pocket near the top to put a snack in!
Since that day, the Angel Fire has been on loads of camping trips, and I've learnt more about it on each. First it camped on a beach in Norfolk in the summer. Here I learnt that the zippers lock, so the bag won't annoyingly unzip when you're asleep. They are two way zippers, so if you get a bit warm in summer (which I did) then you can vent your feet, and the zip has an inch of durable fabric stitched alongside the zip so it won't eat holes in the thinner, breathable main fabric and make the bag spew down. I also discovered that the zip pull glows in the dark so you can find it easily if you overheat and need some air quick!
In the autumn I took the bag to Arran, on a cycling, climbing and walking trip. Here I actually carried the bag around, rather than tipping it from car boot to beach, and I learnt the benefits of the bag's light weight and compressibility: it really does squish up titchy, and took up little room in the foot of a 45 litre pack. There's a stuff and storage sack included with the bag – the stuff sack is tough and durable for carrying around while walking, the storage sack is made of mesh to air your bag when at home.
It rained all weekend on Arran, and I learnt that the bag's outer is water repellent: important in a down bag!! It's not waterproof though of course, so waterproof stuff sacks were needed for carrying it around. There are hang loops on the outside of the footbox for airing the bag – you can attach it to your tent and let it dry out in the wind (if it ever stops raining).
"Next, the bag became my trusty companion on the Bob Graham Round in December. Here's where I discovered the beauty of the sleeping bag's warm features..."
The material the bag is made of has a technical name, mainly comprising numbers - basically its qualities are that it's tear resistant and breathable as well as stretchy and super lightweight. It's quality stuff that's constructed to be strong and durable so the bag doesn't rip despite being roughed around on trips and repeatedly stuffed and unstuffed.
Next, the bag became my trusty companion on the Bob Graham Round in December. It was stupidly cold in a bothy at Honister, so here's where I discovered the beauty of the sleeping bag's warm features. The whole bag is stuffed with good quality certified 600+ (EU) fill goose down, and there's a down filled 'draft tube' alongside the zip which keeps the draft out. Under your feet there's a pocket for heat packs – and this, combined with the extra padding around the feet, kept me snug and warm. Plus there wasn't an extra foot of cold space around my shoulders and dangling from my feet like when I sleep in a unisex size bag!
The hood is my favourite feature of the Angel Fire – it's a six baffle design that fits really well to the shape of your head, with well-situated and accessible draw cords. First you can cinch the main sleeping bag around your neck to keep the heat in, no matter how much you wriggle, then you can tighten the hood itself around your hood like a well-padded balaclava!! There's no annoying velcro near your face either – the zipper is kept away from you by more padding.
The Angel Fire has a comfort rating of -3 degrees C. It's always difficult to say whether sleeping bag temp ratings are accurate, as people differ with how much they feel the cold. In the early days, Marmot used to send their staff into meat lockers overnight to test their sleeping bags. Nowadays, things have looked up, and during the development process all samples are sent to Norway, where they are tested by a professional sleeping bag tester: a copper mannequin called Charlie, to (EN) European Norm standards, so you can be sure they want their bags ratings to be as universally accurate as possible.
A superb bag with an outstanding hood and well-thought out features throughout – many that I would never have thought of but now can't live without, at a sensible price and a good weight, making it ideal for most camping situations. I really have no bad things to say about the Angel Fire, at all.
Marmot began as a sleeping bag company and although they now make plenty of other outdoor gear, I reckon they retain a particular pride in their sleeping bag range. As well as always being up there with the very best in terms of performance, insulation and value, their sleeping bags also tend to show an attention to detail that is characteristic of obsessive perfectionists at work.
The advantage of down over synthetic is that it's the most thermally efficient material there is – it has an amazing warmth-to-weight ratio. The advantage of synthetic over down is that it doesn't shrink to nothing like down does when wet, so it keeps you warm when it's wet.
Down ratings are a bit confusing of course, because down gear comes with two ratings. One rating is for quality of down and the other for quantity. The quality rating is further confused because US ratings are generally 100 higher than EU for the same quality of down. The higher the down rating the better it will loft – better lofting down will keep you warmer for a lighter weight of down. The highest down rating is 900.
You can see more about down vs synthetic, and how bags are made and tested at this UKC Product News: VIDEOS: All About Marmot Sleeping Bags
You can find out more about Sarah at www.sarahstirling.com.