Friday, 14 February 2014

Gear Review: Vango Venom 300 Sleeping Bag

I was contacted by Silverfox Travel and Outdoors in August last year (I'm hoping the silver fox reference is purely coincidence), interested in a product review, who sent through the Vango Venom 300 Down Sleeping Bag.

When I was just getting starting in all this, I once considered the Vango as my way into a lightweight, down sleeping bag. What put me off back then was the negative reviews of people claiming the temperature rating was ludicrous and the basic build of the bag just wasn't suitable or 3 season camping.

I opted to take the bag and test it, more out of curiosity than necessity, and decided I'd take the bag on  wild camp with Paul in September and decide for myself. My thinking was that Charlotte might be able to use it if she fancied a summer wild camp or, more likely, I could and she could use my Cumulus bag.

The bag arrived and I set about my usual obsessive ritual of weighing it and taking some photos. The bag retails at around £100-120, described as a 3 season down bag and it weighs in at 828g on the alittlebitaboutnotalot digital scales.

I wasn't expecting much from this bag but have to say its pretty good on features at this price range and weight. There are shoulder baffles and a zip baffle for the 3/4 zip. I don't think the baffles are down filled as the fill feels too fluffy and synthetic but I'd be prepared to accept if I'm wrong here. As you might expect at this price level, the bag is simply constructed in a box wall fashion, no trapezoidal filled cavities here, and the first thing I noticed is how little the down seems to loft. This is generally a characteristic of cheaper down and will of course mean the bag isn't as light or warm as the more expensive bags in this weight range. It's no surprise then that, in my opinion, this bag wouldn't be suitable for 3 season high camping.

A minor niggle was the loose threads and wonky stitching which serves to make this feel cheaper than it need be. In every other respect its of a fairly decent quality.

Rubbish stitching
Paul and I headed for the Lakes in September and at the last minute I decided I'd bring it on account of the forecast temperatures and the fact I was using the Trailstar and would therefore have my Borah Gear bivy bag to top things up.

The weather was overcast but fairly warm for the first night and although to cleared to leave us with a beautiful full moon, I was a little too warm when zipped inside my bivy. I'd guess the temperature was around 13-15 degrees that night so it was never going to be a problem for this bag, bivy or not. In a way its a shame the temperature was a bit lower or closer to the limit so I could make an assessment on what the real useable temperature (for me) would be.

The second evening, the weather was atrocious and luckily, owing to a slightly later then planned departure from the Newfield Inn, a our plans changed at the very last minute and we abandoned our planned evening at Blind Tarn. That night the temperatures were only slightly lower but the wind and low cloud made everything wet and neither of us were that excited about pissing around finding two pitches in the fog, wind and rain - I think we might be gong soft!

Picture courtesy of Paul Beeby
Nevertheless, since this trip, Paul has found an incredible lady-friend and one which seems to happily head to hills with him for a wild camp! We agreed that she could take the Vango on their first wild-camping trip as she didn't have a down bag she could use. Sensibly, given that they ventured up there in November, she also took a spare synthetic bag which she then put over the top of the Vango. For us lightweight types this defeats the object but, I guess this situation probably optimises the potential use of this bag for most people: Its great as a starter bag thats light, packs small and is relatively cheap. It would work really well during the late spring and summer months, potentially stretching to autumn depending on the conditions and temperatures up top. Personally I find my Cumulus Quantum 350 a little warm for summer so it would service a purpose here and would make a good spare bag for occasional visits from non-wild-camping mates/lady-friends! Kudos to Paul for this.

I think if you can find this bag for around £100, its certainly good as a light, packable bag for travelling, festival use and the occasional stopover where you wouldn't drag out your best Alpkit, Cumulus or Mountain Equipment bag.

Now, if I could just get Charlotte to read this review, nurture the inter-girlfriend rivalry mechanism and get her to come wild-camping with me - this review could have much more far reaching implications than I ever imagined!

P.S. As soon as I get my act together I'll post a couple of trip reports - one of which was absolutely stunning!