Lightweight Down Sleeping Bags


Hi guys! I’ve been looking to upgrade my K-Way Zermatt 950 sleeping bag to something more substantial (and down-filled!) - the FA Ice Breaker comes to mind.

Enter the new lightweight down sleeping bags. FA and K-Way both have “mid-range” down models that cost around R2000 and are transition rated for 5°C.

They all weigh around 700g, which makes it all the more enticing since I’m gradually moving to lightweight backpacking - thus the FA Ice Breaker isn’t really an option.
I mostly backpack in the Western Cape, but with a proper bag I’m keen on seeing the snow (tented of course).

Anyone have experience with these bags/recommendations? Reviews are few and far between…


The First Ascent Down Light is a good bag, but not at all suited for cold conditions. I’ve slept in one, wearing full thermals, when the temperature inside the tent was 10°C and I was waking up every 30 minutes from shivering - you will have a VERY uncomfortable night if it drops to 5°C. Don’t skimp on your sleeping bag - shave weight on everything else, but make sure you can stay warm when the temperature drops.

First Ascent Ice Breaker is a suitable sleeping bag for most South African conditions. Also check out Naturehike’s sleeping bags. Always remember to gauge the sleeping bag on the comfort rating. Don’t plan around the “transition” or “extreme” rating - you won’t die, but you definitely won’t have a good nights sleep. Warmth and weight go hand in hand - no special magic there.


Thanks for your advice, @Arno… Makes a lot of sense to rather save on weight in other areas of the pack. Although the Ice Breaker is in my mind mind still bit of a holy cow among SA hikers that can’t be criticised - but it IS heavy and weighs twice as much as it’s counterparts from the US.


The Zermatt 950 did serve me well too! Light and warm when kloofing in the Langeberg… for years. Then I started guiding on the Rim of Africa and a good night’s sleep became paramount in order to be sharp and alert the next day navigating the ridges of the cape fold mountains: A First Ascent Ice Breaker at 1600g and -8deg in transition, did the job perfectly! Cozy warm in sub zero temps but heavy. Years have past, weight becomes of the essence every gram counts: So this year I go in luxury at 850g and -7deg in transition, with a Mammut Sphere Down became the answer! In short, one step at the time.


I could also add something here. In 2016 I bought a sleeping bag from Hex Valley Down Products ( Their “standard” sleeping bag (plus a cheap FA dry bag) only weighs 1kg and is rated -10 extreme. They fill them with 100% pure goose down that is unrated but their guess is that it is 800+ fill power. The down is locally sourced and supports local economic development etc. Custom made according to your own specs (colour/shape/materials). I paid R3200 back then but it doesnt seem like their prices have gone up since.

It is for sure old school construction (the baffles are skimpy and the drawstrings need some smooth-talking to work), but for warmth + weight in the Western Cape it has only served me well. Ive only slept fully zipped in when the temps drop to 2-3 degrees or there is mad wind chill (caves/bivy style sleeping). I doubt you will find situations in the Western Cape where this baby will let you down.

Another plus point is the husband of the lady owning the company is Retief Jordaan, a certified mountain badass (just this year I think he won the Fish River Canyon Ultra 60+ division). Its nice to support honest locals instead of mass-produced bags that have been lying in their stuff sacks for months out the factory…

For another local option I could suggest Makoti down products, but I think they are in KZN or something. Damn this is starting to sound like a sales pitch but hey local is lekker!


SA made sleeping bags are so far behind international standards, it isn’t even funny.

The best lightweight sleeping bags on the market right now (if you have someone that can bring them over for you, they aren’t available locally) are as follows:

If you are willing to spend a lot of money (or sell a kidney) - then this is for you:
900g for a -7c comfort rated water resistant sleeping bag.

Otherwise - try this synthetic bag. It is rated warmer than the FA down bag, is water resistant and folds up as small. My one of these was used for a bivy in the open on top of the Drakensberg, and there was dew - none of the water got through the outer layer and the bag dried very quickly the next morning. I wouldn’t recommend it for the top of the Drakensberg outside of summer, but it is a great bag:


Thanks @Gerrienel ! I checked them out, looks awesome and especially the customisation options … although those prices are quite mooi.


UPDATE: The search for the goldilocks down sleeping bag continues. I’ve had a decent look at the Naturehike site - seems decent from reviews, although I still have doubts about the quality.

An alternative might be the FA Explorer bag… like a stripped-down Ice Breaker, with Comfort just above 0. It certainly does look lekker to my student budget…