Sleeping Bags and sleep systems through the years

My first real sleeping bag was Army surplus, filled with feathers and down (more feathers than down it seemed) with some kind of cotton/poplin shell, stuffed fairly small but weighed like 8 pounds. But for $20 it was a vast improvement over the cotton flannel Sears bags we had.


Sleeping bags are always the most expensive piece of equipment to buy and hopefully they will last a long time, mine have. I now lend out the old bags to people who haven’t bought a good one yet.

0.  Army surplus feathers and down mummy bag ’70-’72, ~120oz.
1.  Camp 7 North Col, 600? fill goose down, -5 degree, ’72-’04, 55.5 oz.
2.  Camp 7 Arete, duck down, 25 degree, ’74-’04, 41.5 oz
3.  Moonstone Polarguard 3D, 15 degree bag, ’00-’04, 54.5 oz.
4.  Western Mountaineering Ultralight, 850 goose down, 20 degree, ’04-, 28.5 oz

5. Western Mountaineering Highlite, 850 goose down, 35 degree, ’11-, 17.9 oz. (not shown)

Camp 7 was the state of the art in the early 70’s and the Arete (#2) fit inside the North Col (#1) for those real subzero winter trips. Mostly I used them separately depending on the season.  At some point I must have fallen for the conventional wisdom that you needed a synthetic bag for wet conditions and got the Moonstone (#3) it was fine but heavy. In reality I have never had a bag get wet on a trip, down or not.

Finally after years of lusting after a lighter bag, and a Western Mountaineering one at that, I got weak after a Big Bend trip and bought the Ultralite (#4) in Austin at Whole Earth Provision, worth every penny!  Impeccably made and warmer than advertised (I have had it down to 6 degrees and many nights in the teens).  The Ultralite is a narrow bag but I am used to that from using the Arete for years.

The latest bag in the quiver is a 35 degree Western Mountaineering Highlite (17.9 oz.) for the desert trips and the odd summer trips in the East.  I have used it on trips with temps as low as the 20’s but mostly in the 30’s and 40’s and it was perfect.  I did sleep in it out in the open, no bivy, down to 20 degrees with a down vest and all my clothes on and did just fine but had to work at staying warm some.

I have never tried a quilt but because I am mostly out in cool to cold conditions I feel a bag works better in those conditions, most quilt users are summer backpackers.  People seem to like quilts so they can roll around under it.  I just roll the bag with me, as I side sleep and I am using narrow bags that are more form fitting anyway.


Sleeping pads have undergone lots of changes over the years. Part of it is new technology, part is the search for more comfort as we get older.

1.  nothing
2.  section of wool Army Blanket
3.  open cell foam pad, 36”, ’72-‘75
3.5.  closed cell ensolite pad, 47”, ’73-‘89
4.  Thermarest Ultralite, 47”, 19 oz., ’89-‘04
5.  Thermarest Prolite 3, 47”, 12 oz., ’04-‘09
6.  Thermarest Ridgerest closed cell, 47”, 8 oz., ‘06
7.  Thermarest Prolite XS, 36” + 36” Ridgerest, 8.5 + 6=14.5 oz., ’09-
8.  Thermarest Ridgerest  closed cell, 72” for snow trips, 12 oz., ’00-

Of course at first we were young and tough and didn’t need any pad. Then for insulation when cold I used a section of an old wool Army blanket.  The first foam pad was open celled and really not much padding or insulation but it seemed the thing to do.  The ensolite was a break through in both insulation and non-squishable padding. Finally inflatables arrived and they just kept getting lighter so I had to get new ones.  Like the sleeping bags these older models are popular lending items.


The final piece of the sleep system puzzle is a bivy bag and I have used one for years, because while I own a few tents, I almost never carry them but use a tarp or nothing instead.  I like them for wind, dew, rain spray and keeping the bag clean.  I almost never carry one in the desert.  Condensation is the biggest issue with a bivy and my thoughts on how to deal with it are here.

  1. North Face bivy, urethane coated nylon bottom, breathable taffeta top, way too big, 17 oz., ’74-‘01
  2. Outdoor Research Basic Bag cover, hydroseal bottom, Gore dryloft top, 18 oz., ‘01-‘08
  3. Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight, silnylon bottom, Pertex Momentum top, 6 oz. with long side zip, ’08-


No pictures of tents (hard to set them up in the office) and like I said, not much of a tent guy.  Here is the list just for continuity.  For many years the tarp I used was the rain fly from the 1972 North Face Mountain tent and I use my walking poles for the set up.  In 2017 I finally broke down and bought a Gossamer Gear Twinn Tarp to save 7 ounces.

  1. Canvas Army Tent Halves (they connected at the ridge with buttons so each person carried half a tent) about 10# complete
  2. North Face Mountain Tent, 7#, ’72-‘95
  3. Eureka Summit, 8.69#, ’96-
  4. REI Sololite, one person, 4#, ’98-
  5. Alps Mountaineering Mystique II, two person, 5.19#, ’02-
  6. 1972 North Face Mountain Tent rain fly (19 oz. w/stakes)
  7. The current set up- Gossamer Gear Twinn Tarp (12.5 oz. w/stakes), 2017 + MLD Superlight bivy (6 oz.) = 1.1#
  8. For stormier conditions I now have a SMD Haven Tarp and net inner but have only used the tarp on several higher elevation trips.  34 oz. total, 16 oz. just for the tarp, without stakes.
  9. Multiple other tarps, bivies, etc over the years
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30 Responses to Sleeping Bags and sleep systems through the years

  1. Eric says:

    I just bought a Camp 7 Timberline of Craig’s List. It’s a Chinese made Sport Chalet bag I assume. It has 32oz of fill and is a semi mummy shape with very little taper. It appears to be made pretty well and was never used. I got the original sack too. I paid $45. I’m guessing it’s good to 5-10 degrees. I know it’s not an original but did I get a decent bag at a decent price?

    • Eric, I am not familiar with the Timberline model, it is definitely after the time Camp 7 was still in Colorado. But if it is semi-rectangular with 32 oz. of fill I would guess more like 15 degrees. You got a good bag at a great price.

  2. Lisa says:

    You seem to know a lot about the different model of Camp 7 sleeping bags. I just purchased a 40oz purple camp 7 goose down sleeping bag. There is no model name of it. Do you happen to recognize a purple 40oz goose down sleeping bag made by camp 7?

    • Hi Lisa,
      I am hardly an expert on Camp 7, but the only purple one that I know of is the North Col. The large size was originally spec’ed at 40 oz. and had 7.5″ off loft. It is the one in the pictures in my sleeping bags post.

      • Lisa says:

        Thank you so much for responding to my post. Do you happen to know what the temp. rating was on this 7.5″ loft North Col. sleeping bag. 7.5 inches seems like a fairly large loft.
        Isn’t it?

      • Lisa says:

        Is 40 ounces a lot of down?

      • Gary says:

        i recently purchased a camp 7 bag, it is gray on the outside and purple on the inside no other tags to serial no is 204051 any idea what it is?

      • Wish I could help, my only reference is an early /mid 70’s hang tag and they do not have one that was gray outside. My serial numbers are in the 7 digits while yours is 8 so it could be after Camp 7 was sold.

  3. Lisa says:

    I notice under the pictures, your North Col. was 55.5 ounces and was -5 degrees. Since it is almost a pound more in down, it seems like my North Col would not be a -5 degree bag.

    • Hi Lisa,
      I mis-typed originally. I am working off a old hang tag from Camp 7. The North Col was spec’d at 31 oz. of down and 56 oz. total for the size large. A measurement of 7.5″ of loft would give you -5 degrees in the old ways of estimating warmth. On the hang tag they also give the colors of the different models and they only purple one is the North Col (at least at the time). They certainly could have used other colors at other times. The only bag they had that was spec’d at 40 oz. total was a blue Arete in size large, which was a 25 degree bag, which is also pictured in the above pictures.

      • Lisa says:

        Can you tell me if orange was mentioned on the north col tag. I also have two orange bags. one I bought myself when I was 18 or 19 years old. At the time, I remember the guy who was helping me at the great pacific ironworks (pre Patagonia name)yard sale said the bag was a -25 degree bag. They were selling off extra stock and this bag was one of their extras. Recently, I answered a craigslist add for another -25 degree camp 7 in orange. The man who sold it to me (original owner) was in his early 60s and he was an engineer for government. Not the kind of guy who would get numbers wrong , and since it matched what I believe I remembered about my first orange bag, I am assuming -25 is correct. Do you happen to know anything about this bag?
        Through some research, I found that lighter bags were part of a cold weather bag system. The lighter down bag was to be put in an outer synthetic bag for extra cold weather use. The Arete was meant for use this way. It did not catch on.
        Do you know anything about any of this. I would be interested in knowing what the actual name of this orange bag was or if there were a bunch of different weights for the north col.

  4. Hey, nice gear collection. Mine would be similar but my wife and I had all our gear stolen a couple years ago, and have been rebuilding. Today I picked up a Camp 7 down bag at an estate sale, Its hardly used, has the Boulder logo, and loft wise is comparable to my old 0 degree North Face bag. I’d guess its rating would be between 0-15 degrees. It is awesome and a similar color blue as the one you have pictured but much greater loft.

    • They had a blue model called Camp 7 that was rated to 0 degrees with 7″ of loft, that is probably what you have.

      • Thanks for all the info! The bag itself has no labelling except the Camp 7 Boulder Colorado tag next to the zipper. inside it says LG 6,6 Lt zp which is the length and zipper orientation. Do you know if Camp 7 was bought out by another company later, like Sierra Designs. The colors remind me of early Sierra Designs bags, which is the bag company Ive used mainly since 1987.

  5. My understanding is the designs were sold to Sport Chalet in California in the late 70’s, what happened after that I don’t know.

  6. Joey WC says:

    Hello PF,

    Like others, I just came into possession of a Camp 7 sleeping bag – given to me from my grandfather. The tag reads “Yosemite” style, 31 oz of fill. It’s made in China, but “imported by Camp 7.” It’s a little heavier than I’d like on the trail, but it’s in great condition and I’d like to use it for car camping. My grandfather said its a 20 degree bag. Are you familiar with this model? If so, can you confirm the degree?


  7. Lee Roberts says:

    hi there I have a old sleeping bag with a label that reads hobo its blue upper half brown bottom half (where you lay it on the ground) and white inside can you give me any more info on it thanks

  8. prof braddock says:

    I still have my Camp 7 Arete from the 70s (I used to sell them back in the day). I just weighed it and it comes in at < 2.5 lbs, but maybe my scale is off. This is a 6'6" model and the loft is in very good shape still (Goose Down). I've always babied it, hand washed it in a tub, tumble dry very low heat. It's interesting that over the years I've used it in warmer weather like a quilt with just my feet in the foot box and the rest unzipped and draped over. Lately I'm revisiting my old gear and will need to replace a lot of it because the old stuff is too heavy and I was considering a quilt bag but heck maybe I'll stick with the Arete for a while.

    • Sounds like we are from the same era and stock. I have only washed my Arete once but have used it a lot. I went with the WM Highlite because it saved be 1.5 pounds and was warmer with the now lower loft of the Arete but it does not take anything away from how good the Arete was for a bag made in the 70’s.

  9. Mountain Man says:

    Hi there, I have a Camp 7 bag that I bought at a thrift store and I was hoping to learn more about it. The tag on the hood says: “Shenandoah” which I assume is the model, the same boulder CO label as your Arete(and it is the same blue) it has a serial number of 234725, it is tapered, has the large white cord lock on the hood draw cord. Any info would be much appreciated.

    • Wish I could help, the only information I have on models comes from an early 70’s hang tag and it doesn’t list a Shenandoah model. The only other blue model was the Camp 7 which weighed 3# 12 oz. for the regular and 3# 15 oz. for the large.

      • Mountain Man says:

        The mystery continues, thank you all the same. I will say that regardless of age the bag is in exceptionally hood shape.

  10. Jim Holmes says:

    In 1981 in a store in Fairfax County, Virginia, I purchased a black Camp 7 North Col Expedition bag that was over-stuffed with 8 ounces of 550-fill down, so it came with 46 oz total. The store sign said it was rated from minus 20 to -30 degrees. I still use it and it weighed 4 lbs 8 oz today, having lost some down over the decades (with heavy winter use in Alaska and upstate New York in the 1980s). The only criticism is the poor Talon zipper – why they didn’t use YKK is a mystery to me. I can post 3 photos if you allow this.

    • Jim, that is yet another testament to the quality of the bags. I am not sure how available the YKK zippers were back then but yes, they are a better solution along with stiffer zipper baffles that don’t snag. I am not sure the WordPress software will let you post pictures in comments.

  11. Jim Holmes says:

    Nope, no photo upload ability. Just wanted to contribute my bit and thank you for all the great information here!

  12. I’ve got an old Camp 7 bivy tent (tiny). It is two layer, so it has an inner tent and a fly, but it is all one piece integral. 2 hoop tension design, small fiberglass poles and just 2 lbs. It has to be tensioned tight enough so the two layers don’t touch. It does not have the model name, just “Camp 7”, “Boulder, Colorado USA” and “Serial# 188996”. I can’t find any Camp 7 catalogs. I bought it around 1980-1981 from a small camping store in Goleta, California. No idea how long it was on the shelf. It was my first step up from the old teen years A-frame pup tent for boy scouts.
    Do you know what model it might be?

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