In a lot of ways, a good sleeping bag means the difference between enjoying the colder months, and absolutely hating them. There's nothing worse than waking up at 2 in the morning, shivering, and knowing that you still have a few hours before the sun (and temperatures) begin to rise.
I appreciate a warm night's sleep. But, for me and all of the other cold sleepers out there, that's a rather difficult thing to come by on a frigid night. I've been on a search for a high-quality, compact, yet warm sleeping bag for quite some time now, and I've finally found it. Though I'll admit the discount bin of Dick's Sporting Goods was the last place I thought I'd find it; and Columbia is probably also the last brand I thought it would come from.
Complicated circumstances temporarily left me without my usual sleeping bag, and a 4-hour notice on a week-long camping adventure throughout the East Coast this fall put me in a hard spot. Frankly, quality camping equipment is hard to find in the Suburbs of Chicago, especially on such short notice; but I ended up stumbling upon Columbia's Reactor 15-degree sleeping bag on clearance at a big-box sporting goods store for $80.
With no time to spare, I noted it was relatively small (about 18 x 9 in the included compression sack) for a 15-degree bag, and the display model showed that its construction wasn't half bad. Knowing that temperatures wouldn't be too far below freezing, which should give me some room in the case that the bag was crap, I threw down and bought the bag. At the time, I had the intentions of pawning it off on someone shortly after the adventure, as I told myself there was no way I would be caught dead in Columbia.
Three months later, and about 12 nights in the bag, I'm still using it, and it has blown away my expectations in nearly every category. I've spent nights in the bag that ended up being well below its EN limit of 17-degrees (EN is a European Norm standard, read about it here) and nights that tested its water-repellent Omni-Shield exterior. In both circumstances, the Reactor 15 left me impressed, and it's lead me to rethink my image of Columbia, it's clear that their acquisition of Mountain Hardwear has lead to some trickle-down in research and development. In fact, there's even a small Mountain Hardwear tag at the foot of the sleeping bag.
The real conversation starter about this bag is the Omni-Heat lining that helps to reflect your body's heat and keep it in the sleeping bag. It's impressive how well it works, though at first it sounds a bit cheesy, and it's notable how quickly the sleeping bag warms up to body temperature. You can think of Omni-Heat as a space blanket, only it's in the form of microdots on the lining. Some reviews mention that it feels like a space blanket, but I'm in the middle on this, it's an interesting texture, but it feels surprisingly natural—I wouldn't call it a space blanket. An smaller but thoughtful added feature is the inclusion of a small "stash pocket" on the exterior of the bag, I use it to keep my electronics from freezing and loosing a charge.
While the Thermix MX insulation isn't down, when combined with the Omni-Heat it's part of the reason this bag works so well. Down isn't cheap, but the two technologies combined together provide a fantastic alternative at a great price point. With an MSRP of $139.00, and a street price that fluctuates and is often much lower, it's something to keep your eye open for this holiday season.