A couple of months ago I was sent the Microlite 700 Sleeping Bag (as well as an Ultimate Self Inflating Mat) by Mountain Warehouse. This is not a full review (that will come later) but I thought I would document my initial thoughts after a couple of uses.
[Disclosure – both products were provided by Mountain Warehouse for me to keep and to give my own personal opinions on based on my outdoor activities and they have no influence on these views and no editorial control]
Mountain Warehouse seem to me to have appeared across the country almost overnight, although they have been around since 1997 (albeit initially branded as Karrimor outlets) – there is even one in my local garden centre! I have to admit that my first response when they approached me was quite negative (even slightly snobby), but as I browsed their site the prices were amazing considering the specifications.
Take the Microlite 700 sleeping bag – it is a 2/3 season bag with a comfort range of 5 to 9 degrees (and an extreme rating of -8 degrees) and costs thirty five quid (well officially £59.99 discounted seemingly permanent). Thirty five quid…. that is a very attractive low price, especially for people on a tight budget or dipping their toe in the outdoor pond. Perhaps I should give Mountain Warehouse a chance?
My previous sleeping bag is a Technicals Transition 500 down sleeping bag (Blacks’ old own make). It happened to be the only square cut bag (a requirement at the time) in the store in my price range , but it has done the job over the years despite several flaws (a gap between the bottom and side zips let in cold air and had to be gaffered, and the hood pull disintegrated early on). Ultimately I am an occasional 2-3 season UK camper – of Mountain Warehouse’s range, the Microlite 700 seemed to balance weight with a suitable comfort range – my theory is on a warmer summer night I can unzip and on colder spring nights I can add my silk liner and some clothing layers if necessary.
My initial expectations when I opened the parcel were quite modest – but actually I was quite impressed. The bag itself has a manufacturer’s weight of 1.2kg – about the same as my down bag (albeit in a waterproof stuff sack), and the pack size is likewise only fractionally bigger at 15cm x 40cm. As it is cheap, my first concern was manufacturing quality, but a quick once over revealed no obvious issues, so I attempted to remove the huge ugly labels sticking out the bottom of the bag. Bad mistake!
Despite clearly suggesting they are supposed to be removed (“Not to be removed except by consumer”), it turns out that the labels are stronger than the seams that hold them – and the seam popped apart. A later chat with Mountain Warehouse (via their Twitter account) revealed that the labels should really be cut off (rather than clumsily torn) and that future versions will include scissor marks. My faulty bag was returned for a replacement.
When you are sent something to review, it is sometimes hard to tell whether you are getting the same service as a normal customer. In the case of Mountain Warehouse though, I probably was – every item comes with a pre-paid returns label to return a faulty or unwanted item. If the item is faulty or incorrect, or you want a different size or colour, a new item is despatched free of charge, otherwise a fixed fee of £3 is deducted to cover the return postage. Items can also be returned to any store or dropped off at a Collect+ drop off point. I (badly) packaged up the bag, applied the postage label, and a few days later received a replacement.
The Microlite 700 comes in one size and one colour (Denim – with is blue outer with a grey inside), but with an option to have a left or right zip. I am 6’3, but found the bag surprisingly spacious, with the mummy foot well less restrictive than I had expected. The hood is likewise quite roomy – there are two pull cords, one to pull the hood in around your head, and another to pull in a kind of draft excluder around your shoulders. Maybe all sleeping bags have this now, but I love this feature – I do not like to be too enclosed in sleeping bags, and this meant I could have the hood looser but still be cosy and snug inside without any drafts.
I have so far only managed three nights out with the bag – a dry bivi bag night on Dartmoor and two in Northamptonshire. I have also used the bag for about a week as an alternative to a duvet on my bed – this is obviously very different to outdoor use but it did reveal that the bag feels nice against my skin and validated the upper temperature range (my house is about 18 degrees – the bag was far too hot zipped up but copeably warm unzipped and draped over me).
(Photo credit: Paul Buck)
I would estimate the temperature on the first two nights out to be around 9-11 degrees. On the first night on Pew Tor, Dartmoor, I found I was initially too warm in both the Microlite 700 and my bivi bag (it is a survival bag, so it fits over the bag very snugly, blocking out more wind and trapping a layer of air), so I spent most of the night sleeping on top of the bivi bag. I awoke at about 5am (in time to see the sunrise) slightly chilly (not cold, just not warm) as the wind had picked up, but once back in the bivi bag I was quickly warm again and fell back to sleep. My experience on the second night was similar – there was little wind, so I spent the whole night on top of the bivi bag. I woke a few times with a slightly chilly head when the hood (which I had loose) had slipped off – but once back snuggled into the hood I was warm and cosy. In fact both nights were possibly the best I have had outdoors – in part that could well be to do with not being in a tent (the subject of another blog post), but I was comfortable (the Ultimate Self Inflating Mat will also be discussed in another post), snug and warm.
On the third night, I was in a Snugpak Stratosphere (with the top zipped up as there was a forecast of rain) – the temperature was around 16 degrees outside with up to 100% humidity (according to the weather forecast anyway). Initially I was clammy, then boiling and sweaty, and within an hour I had to completely unzip out of the bag to get my body down to a cooler temperature. Only as the temperature dropped in the early hours did I crawl back in.
Three nights are of course not exactly a vast test! I have a week camping (mostly on Dartmoor) coming up shortly which will give me a better, more reliable opinion, and I of course need to test the Microlite 700 throughout the year at different temperatures (although for me the upper comfort range at least seems accurate). I have also seen mention of possible issues with condensation inside the bag, so it will be interesting to see how the bag performs inside a tent (or bivi bag) without the benefit of a gentle breeze. There are also still the concerns over the seams, reinforced by the initial issue when trying to remove the labels – the bag comes in a compression bag and, under compression, the seam of the bag does seem to be loosening slightly, so I want to see how the bag lasts from more use.
Generally though, the Mountain Warehouse Microlite 700 is looking promising – yes there are lighter, smaller and better equivalents, but at £35….. it certainly seems to do the job adequately enough for my use!