Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag
Marc MacMillan, November 3, 2011
Over the last few summers I have spent as much time as possible above and around the Arctic Circle in Europe. However, I hadn’t found a sleeping bag which could keep me warm in early June and late September whilst not over cooking me in the lower teens during high summer, especially with the midnight sun beating down on my tent. What I was looking for was a great 3+ seasons sleeping bag that would be able to deal with frosty nights down to -5oC and allow me a comfortable night’s sleep during the summer.
I had already looked at the pros and cons of down versus synthetic and since most of the trips I take are backpacking style expeditions where I’m carrying everything I need for 2 or 3 weeks, I settled on a down sleeping bag. Down bags are generally lighter and pack down to a much smaller size compared to similarly rated synthetic bags. However the main disadvantage with down bags is that they do not work when damp as the feathers clump together whereas synthetic bags will still trap some air and keep you warm. In this case I thought the advantages of down outweighed the disadvantages. I generally keep my sleeping bags in waterproof stuff sacks when hiking and sleep on a Therm-A-Rest, if I was careful and had a good tent above my head then in theory my sleeping bag should stay dry.
When I was asked to review Marmot’s Sawtooth sleeping bag I jumped at the chance, Marmot has a reputation of producing some of the world’s finest down sleeping bags. I wasn’t going to be disappointed with the Sawtooth, a down sleeping bag rated to have a lower comfort of -9oC. Marketed as an all-rounder I felt sure the Sawtooth would be great for a Scandinavian Spring/Autumn bag and equally at home for Scottish winters.
The bag is insulated with 600+ fill power goose down, this is a measure of loft or how “fluffy” the down is. The more loft the down has the more air it will trap and the warmer the sleeping bag will be. Serious expedition bags are made with 750-900 fill power down and can very expensive, whilst average goose down is around 500 fill power. With the Sawtooth being reasonably priced, and the cheapest Marmot down bag rated to go down to -9oC, I would say 600+ fill power is a very good compromise.
My first impressions of the Sawtooth were that it was a very well made and good looking sleeping bag. On getting in the bag it fitted well, I am 5’11” and have fairly wide shoulders but fitted snugly in the bag. The draft tube was in the right position around the neck/shoulders and was easily tightened, there was plenty of space in the foot box, and the drawstring and zipper were easy to operated from inside the bag. So far, so good.
Testing in Iceland and Norway
I’ve taken the Sawtooth on two trips, the first was in early June to Iceland for two weeks where we encountered high winds and minimum night time temperatures around 0oC. The second trip was a 16 day expedition over the end of September and beginning of October to the island of Soroya off the coast of northern Norway, a few hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. Weather in Soroya was a little more challenging but I’ll get onto that later.
In Iceland I had 14 comfortable nights in the Sawtooth. The locals said that the weather was unseasonably cold for that time of year but if anything, it was perhaps a little warm for the Sawtooth. I had to make full use of the two-way zipper, allowing venting at my feet and around my head in order not to overheat. However, once I got the hang of regulating the venting I found I could sleep quite comfortably, even when we did eventually get some nice weather and the temperature only dropped to 10oC during the night. In Iceland we encountered high winds, heavy rain and low temperatures whilst camping but fortunately never all at the same time; it seemed I would have to take the sleeping bag further afield to test them under these conditions.
Northern Norway in late September is a fantastic place to visit. If you get it right it is peak time for Autumn colours, berries, mushrooms, Northern lights and of course fishing. Weather-wise it can be unpredictable, when planning a trip you never know if you are going to have blue skies and 15oC sunshine or, just as likely, storms coming off the Bering Sea bringing gale force winds, horizontal rain and freezing temperatures. On arrival to the island we were pleasantly greeted by what was being described as an Indian summer, blue skies and 10oC.
This weather lasted about a week before the winds began to pick up and temperatures dropped below freezing overnight. Wind chill was an issue camping in the mountains and my expedition buddy had two or three chilly nights in his similarly rated synthetic bag. I on the other hand slept fantastically making sure the draft tube and hood were pulled tight, with only dreams about huge trout I had seen but failed to catch waking me up.
Towards the end of the trip we were camped in a mountain bowl when the weather started to deteriorate and within 30 minutes of setting up the wind started battering my 3 season tent. It was a great tent which had sheltered me for perhaps 400 nights in all sorts of weather, all round the world. An hour into this storm and I knew this might be one of the more memorable nights. The wind began hitting our tent from all directions, not helped by our exposed location between two lakes in a mountain bowl. Relocation was no longer an option as it was dark, raining heavily and gusting in excess of 65 mph outside (I have since checked the weather data). The horizontal rain soon found its way into the tent, everything was getting damp including the Sawtooth sleeping bag. By 2am I had not got any sleep and had resorted to putting every fleece item of clothing I had brought on under the now very damp sleeping bag, and yet I was beginning to shiver. My buddy however appeared to be asleep in his synthetic bag, not withstanding it too was damp to touch. In fact he only woke up when at 4am a freight train of a gust of wind hit the tent from the side, the sound of splintering aluminium and tearing nylon soon followed. In the space of a few confused seconds I went from being cold and damp in the relative safety of my tent to lying on a Therm-a-rest open to the elements with nothing but my now soaked Sawtooth sleeping bag protecting me from a raging Arctic storm. Luckily survival instincts kicked in and in no time we had packed up and were high tailing it to a known hut 4km away.
Later in the hut drying off our gear I could contemplate on the sleeping bags performance. Although admittedly an extreme situation, events like this do happen when camping in these types of environments. My tent for starters wasn’t built to withstand that sort of wind from the side and I have since replaced it with a sturdier 4 season tent. However what I did find was that the down bag offered me very little warmth when wet; had we not planned to camp within walking distance of a few remote mountain huts in case a situation like this should arise then I might have been in a lot more danger. In the hut the down bag took far longer than the synthetic bag to dry out, I think this was due to the feathers tending to clump up when wet. These disadvantages are general for all down bags and I would not expect any other down bag to behave differently than the Sawtooth. In fact I was very glad to have the Sawtooth with me for the entire trip, and apart from that one night slept fantastically. The Sawtooth also has looks of hanging loops which are useful when drying and airing the bag out.
Marmot does do a Sawtooth MemBrain sleeping bag which is exactly the same as my bag but uses Marmot’s own waterproof and breathable laminate fabric to ensure better performance in wet conditions. This looks like a really interesting concept and I would love to get out there and test it up above the Arctic Circle during Autumn on a multi-week trip.
Sleeping in the Sawtooth
Most nights in the sleeping bag I used just my silk liner, which is handy keeping the bag clean as down bags can be difficult to clean. I also slept on a Therm-A-Rest, had I been expecting really cold weather or camping on snow I would have used a thin closed cell foam mattress on top of the Therm-A-Rest to stop air in the Therm-a-rest circulating warmth away from my body. Other tips for keeping warm during really cold nights are: putting a hot water bottle inside the bag 30 minutes before you get in, wearing merino wool under layers, making sure you have a large, calorie high dinner and do some push-ups/star jumps to warm up before getting in the sleeping bag.
Overall I was really impressed with the Marmot Sawtooth sleeping bag, the only negatives I could find were more a disadvantage of down sleeping bags as a whole rather than the Sawtooth bag itself. I found the bag to be really warm when below freezing and perfect for sleeping in up to 10oC. After a solid month of use in all kinds of conditions I have not had any down leakage showing the seams and stitching are well made.
This is a fantastic product for someone looking for a serious bag that does it all at a reasonable price. You could use this bag for all but the very warmest months in the UK and in many different situations around the world, anywhere really where you could expect to sleep in temperatures from -10oC all the way up to +10oC. I am especially looking forward to taking it above the snowline in the Scottish hills this winter in my new 4 seasons tent. Will report back on both of their performances.