Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Western Mountaineering HighLite

On the Tahoe Yosemite Trail and the Idaho Centennial Trail I will be using my favorite sleeping bag ever for fastpacking which is the Western Mountaineering HighLite.  Bag comes in at 16oz for the 6 ft model.  This is lighter than many down jackets dubbed light.

There are some unique differences in this model though compared to my other Western Mountaineering bags.  The biggest difference is the sewn thru and baffled box construction.  This is not to be confused with a true box quilt construction bag which means each seam is sewn thru.  Seams create cold spots in the bag when sewn completely thru.  I had made the mistake of thinking this bag was completely box quilted in construction, but since the vertical seams are baffled and only the horizontal seams are sewn thru the bag can attain unimpeded loft.  I had used a SummerLite for 2 years which comes in at 19oz for a 6ft model and comes with a temp rating of 32 degrees.  I was worried I would sleep colder in the HighLite which is rated at 35 degrees.  Now I know why I can’t tell any difference in the temp rating and that is because it isn’t completely a box stitched bag.  The SummerLite did me well, but back in 2006 I mostly slept inside naked which kind of hammered the down.  I have an oily complexion and this definitely hammered the down over 2 years of use.  Now I sleep inside in my running shorts on and in a wool t so this keeps the bag cleaner.  Another issue with the HighLite that helps with maintaining the integrity of the bag is to sleep with it on top as quilt most nights.  This works sweet with the HighLite as it has only a half zip.  It is a #4 YKK zip which is constructed a little differently than the other Western Mountaineering bags I have.  No draft tube backs the zipper, so I find when I do use the zipper I have to be a little more gentle with it as not to snag the bag.  I am willing to sacrifice this for the weight of the bag though as I sleep in it like a quilt for most 3 season use.

This bags hood is much different from my other Western Mountaineering bags which I think are a work of art.  I have slept in a number of other manufacturers bags over the years and the hoods have all been crude.  WM’s hoods kill it.  They are sculpted so well and when I really need to stay warm and need to cinch the hood down on a WM bag I can.  I can also sleep comfortably to boot.  Since this bag is constructed with the sewn thru and baffled box construction I can really appreciate the attention to detail with the baffles to get the proper shape in the hood.  On a bag this light it is still impressive to have a functional hood.

The footbox is constructed differently as well.  It suffices, but isn’t quite as roomy as my other WM bags footboxes.  The overall cut of this bag is just slightly smaller than my MegaLite.  This is OK as I am not wearing bulky winter clothes inside this bag and 80% of the time sleeping with it like a quilt.  When I do have to zip completely in though a bag with smaller internal volume is thermally more efficient.  Again this probably helps with me feeling as warm as a baffled bag from WM.

I have seen plenty of discussion of variable girth bags and quilts, but none of these options interest me.  The reason is that when the shit hits the fan I want to be warm, not restless trying to stay warm.  To stay warm I need to be zipped in and have a hood.  That is why the variable girth and quilt option don’t work for me.  The other reason these don’t work for me is that many of them are heavier than the HighLite.  Why sacrifice warmth and weight for a heavier product that doesn’t perform as well?

Here is a tip on cleaning your WM bags.  I was nervous about doing this as it is slightly more difficult than taking care of our hiking clothes.  However if I figured it out I am sure most folks can too.  I remember talking with some fellow thru hikers on the PCT in 2006 and many of them believed washing a bag reduced its loft.  Not so if done properly.  In fact since I was sleeping naked back then the bag had no loft, so I had nothing to lose by attempting to clean it.  Down has vital oils that help it retain its loft.  This is why we have to be careful to choose a detergent that is a down specific detergent.  Normal household detergents will strip the down of its vital oils and then it won’t loft correctly.  I recommend Nikwax Downwash.  I have used it for years now and am impressed with the outcome.  I only go to a Laundromat with front loading washers.  Why?  Because a normal agitator can rip the delicate baffles.  I usually do a couple down bags at a time as well as a down vest or parka too.  Let it rip in the front loader, then head home to my dryer.  If using a dryer at a Laundromat I would run my hand on the inside of the dryer to make sure there are no sharp edges or gum stuck in there.  Purchase 3 clean tennis balls from Walmart or something (1.99), which don’t have to be hi tech for this use.  I would put the 3 tennis balls in the dryer along with my down bag and garments and let it rip on medium heat for 15 minutes.  After 15 check to make sure it isn’t too hot that it is melting the bag.  All dryers have different temperature setting so medium on one may not be medium on another so checking after 15 can help from losing a bag to it being melted.  Drying is actually the most difficult part of this whole process.  It could take 2 hrs or more depending on the amount of the down in the bag.  Drying it thoroughly is important as it can effect how well the bag lofts.  So just be patient.  Once we know the medium setting isn’t going to melt the bag though let it rip.  Just pull it out occasionally and check the bag for clumps.  If there is still clumps of down we need to dry it more.  Of course WM has these same washing instructions here.  I recommend this to folks all the time as a resource for cleaning down garments and bags.

Also remember to take your bag out of its stuff sack for storage.  I actually don’t use any stuff sack for my HighLite.  It stuffs down as small as a thin down jacket so I just use it on the top of my pack to help keep my load riding well.  It rides good there and can help shade my water reservoir so the water stays cool.  However all WM bags come with a cotton storage sack and that is where your bag should live while at home so it retains its loft.

I really have become attached to all my WM bags.  When something keeps you warm over thousands of miles for years and years the value goes way up.  Again all these bags are handmade in the USA so that is a primary factor in the quality of the bag.  These aren’t made on an assembly line in a factory over seas.  In fact I found a cool link on Facebook the other day here.  Pretty cool little video on manufacturing process of a WM bag.


  1. I can second your vote for WM bags. I own a super ultralight 20 and can easily say it is the best bag I have ever had. As for cleaning, if someone is really timmid check out McNetts page on gear care and repair, it walks you through it step by step. I have even seen pamphlets of it in shops.

  2. Hey Lance! Nice site man! Dig your posts too. Real busy trying to get out of here for these trips, but will definitely jump into the discussion when I get back. Glad you dig the WM bags too. Have you used McNetts for cleaning your WM bag? Just curious how it worked out for you. I have access to Nikwax where I work so that has been my preferred.

    Take care,

  3. I have the Summerlite. It's absolutely superb - used it on two 4C nights and felt great with just merino leggings and a merino short-sleeved T-shirt on. I used to use the MH Phantom 32, but the WM bag is better made, warmer and slightly more snug, which suits me. It is lighter by a good 3.5oz/100g than the Phantom (mine weighs in at 20.5oz/580g which means I got a bit more down fill, I suspect), but certainly packs a bit bigger which does not really bother me. Discovered WM bags through Mark Richardson at ULOG and I am glad I did. Just discovered your site so I'll be spending some time here...

  4. That Summerlite is a Excellent bag Maz. I wouldn't have gotten rid of mine had I not hammered it so much. Digging your blog too man and thanks for the info on ULOG, hadn't heard of them.

  5. Thanks very much and no problem. Good luck tonight...