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Nunatak Back Country Blanket

 

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Back Country Blanket. Picture from Nunatak Web Site

Weight (advertised): 24 base + 4 ounce overfill = 28 ounces

Weight (tested): 26.5oz

Price: $348 = base: $219; Baffles: $49; endurance shell: $50; 4oz overfill: $40.

Temperature Rating: 15 = standard: 40; baffles: +15; 4oz overfill: +10.

URL: http://www.nunatakusa.com/

Ordering

The Design

Initial Tests

AT Experience

Final Report


Ordering

I talked directly to a live person, Tom Halpin, who apparently owns the company. It's a small outfit akin to Hennessy Hammock, another of my favorites. All gear is custom ordered, there isn't an inventory. If you like a piece of gear but want some modifications, just ask. Took 3 weeks from order to receipt.

I love the customer service, felt like they knew what they were doing. The web site had little information that was helpful at that time, so a knowledgeable person on the phone made all the difference. Since then they have really made a huge leap and the web site has everything you need to know - except the price of the overfill which is now $10 an ounce.

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The Design

What I got. A medium Backcountry Blanket with baffles, endurance shell, and a 4oz overfill. Price: $348, very expensive, but I wanted it. It was the first sleeping system that was along the same lines as something I had envisioned getting over a year ago during a winter hike. It is the most I have ever spent on gear, and is probably about 1/3 the amount of everything I carry, or pretty close. In hindsight I might not have got the endurance shell, but I was concerned about the possibility of getting my down wet in very bad storms. Thinking more on this I believe it was probably overkill. Anyway, a standard blanket with baffles is supposed to cover you to 25*, and they say you get another 5* for ever 2oz of overfill, so I got a 15* bag - sort of. 

Weight: 26.5oz. loft: 2.5" Build: It is a down comforter basically. It is a straight blanket from top to bottom. At the top and bottom are plastic snaps and draw cords, this allows you to snap the ends, then draw them tight to make a foot box and a bag without head, or you can pull your head in and make the top into a hood. The edge has Velcro the full length instead of a zipper which works fine if you don't toss and turn a lot in your sleep. It doesn't have a draft tube, but I always do the tuck and turn with my old Army poncho liner, and it is very like that except a lot warmer. 

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Initial Tests

I tried it out in 45* weather with wind chills into the 30's in my Hennessy hammock, clothing was spandex shorts and a coolmax T. Step one was just the hammock, but my butt and shoulders got cold. Step 2 I got out the car sunscreen that I use as a pad/heat reflector, that worked great. I had to open the blanket up it was so warm. Step 3 was to add a pad, just a 20"x26" foam pad, very slim, but that didn't change the warmth level, it was toasty. Since then I replaced the pad with a Mt Washington 20"x60" enzofoam (7.5oz). 

If your over 5'8" (my height) or not very slim (I'm 155 pounds) the blanket won't make a good bag unless you go large, but it will make a good blanket. The Velcro won't do you much good if you move around a lot in your sleep, but it wasn't a problem for me. I really like the design because it has been years since I have zipped up my old 30* bag even when I slept down to the single digits. The lack of a draft tube may present a problem to some, but I just turn the Velcro edge down to my sleeping pad and the sleeping pad does the insulation job of a draft tube. I think adding a couple of extra plastic snaps along the edge like the two already on there would be a good ides, and could be done by the owner. Oh yea, they don't come with stuff sacks or storage bags, I just sewed my own real quick.

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AT Experience

I just returned from a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. I used my blanket in temperatures down to 50*. During this time I found out that the blanket when used with a sleeping pad works well when used like a fur sleeping system.

Let me explain. +800 fill down compresses greatly under your body. The down insulates you best when lofted, but poorly when compressed. I came to this when using my Hennessy Hammock with my Army synthetic bag, the loft in it doesn't compress well, which makes it bulky, but when sleeping in it, it retains more loft under you because of that. I could be warmer in my bag with it than my old down bag I sometimes take on field training instead. So this means that whatever the bag, the extra lofty +700 and +800 down under you is hardly doing a thing for you.

The first night it got down into the 50's on this hike, I was trying to use the blanket as a bag, with the Velcro seam on the top for easy access. I was comfortable, but it could be a hassle at times.

The next night, it was raining, I was dog tired, it was cold, and was slightly wet climbing into bed. So instead of the normal routine I had been using, I just climbed on my pad then covered up with my blanket. I heated up quickly, and even had to uncover some and strip down (admittedly I wore too much clothing that night because of the cold outside). Maybe I had found something.

The following nights I played with putting my pads down then just covering up, and using my silk bag liner. I finally hit on the warmest combo for that trip, which could also have me and my clothing dry by the morning. Make the bottom of the bag into a foot box. I think adding a plastic snap about 18" up from the bottom (AKA Hungry Howie's quilt) is a good idea. Put both my pads into the hammock (gotta rig some Velcro to hold them together). Lie down in the hammock on the pads and get into my silk sheet, then put my feet into the foot box with the rest of the blanket over me like a normal blanket. This was so warm, even at 50*, that I was in just a pair of spandex shorts and had to sleep with my arms, chest and head out, and part of my legs uncovered to cool off. I often brought my wet clothing (except my stinky shirt and socks) into bed with me to have dry in the mornings.

I hope to try this out in the coming winter.

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Final Report

After about 2 years of use I'm still happy with the Backcountry Blanket. It is holding up very well without any loss of loft. The only problem is one of the shock cords is screwed up. It is the one at the foot end, but I can fix it.

I have taken the blanket as low as 30 degrees in my Hennessy Hammock using a variety of pads, and the only complaint about it has to do with how I use it. When making a foot box with the blanket, there is a small hole where the end gathers using the cord. My solution is to normally use a piece of clothing to plug the hole.

If you intend to use the Backcountry Blanket like I have, then let me make a recommendation - don't buy it. This blanket is probably best for temps above freezing with the occasional dips under freezing. With the overfill and the +800 down though, it is WAY too warm for summer, best used under 70 degrees. What I plan to do, is get a Nunatak Arc-Alpinist, which was not available when I got my Back Country Blanket, but was more like what I envisioned. I say this because besides using the Back Country Blanket in a way it probably shouldn't be, I am very satisfied with it. The lining is so silky comfortable it is decadent. The +800 fill is like sleeping in a cocoon of warm air - the blanket is so light, you can hardly tell it is there.

I figure the Arc-Alpinist, with epic shell and 4 ounce overfill will weigh about 26 ounces, the same as my blanket.

Arc-Alpinist. Picture from Nunatak Web Site

Nunatak has great customer service and great product quality. They make a large variety of products, and someday I would love to try them all. What I envision myself doing is getting an Arc-Alpinist as my main bag, then using my Back Country Blanket at temps between 35-70 F, and the Arc-Alpinist for temps 20-50F , then if I go any colder, use the Arc-Alpinist as the main bag, and add the Back Country Blanket as an outer wrap over it. I figure it would work down below 0 F easy.

Maybe I could talk Tom Haplin in to giving me an Arc-Alpinist to test <grin>.

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