Capsule reviews: Western Mountaineering VersaLite, Patagonia Lightweight R4 jacket

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I'm one of these people that runs cold (even more true now that I have no hair), so I tend to get cold on camping trips, especially as I tend to get up ahead of my backpacking partners and have to sit around outside the tent waiting for them to wake up. After a pair of trips last fall and this spring where I made the mistake of underestimating how could it would be—and in the spring trip failing to let me tent ventilate enough leading to condensation soaking into my down bag—I decided to get serious about staying warm and buy a heavier jacket and a high-end sleeping back to replace my REI sub-kilo. After a bunch of research, I bought a Patagonia Lightweight R4 jacket and a Western Mountaineering Versalite bag.

Patagonia Lightweight R4
The lightweight R4 is a stripped down version of Patagonia's super-warm R4 windproof fleece. It's got a layer of windproof material sandwiched between two layers of fleece/insulator. I got the lightweight R4 instead of the regular R4 both because it's lighter (270 g less) and a little less warm and I was informed by the Patagonia salesman that I would be too hot in anything besides winter camping with the regular R4. Worn with a long sleeve capilene 3 shirt, the LR4 seemed warm enough for sitting around in the low-mid 40s, but I did find I needed a hat (bald, remember) and in one case long-johns underneath my lightweight camping pants. This is right on the edge for me, since I wasn't overwarm. On the other hand, I'm not sure the jacket was the limiting factor and I did have a couple more layers of clothing I could have put on. I think for a winter trip I'd also bring my R1 hoody. The LR4 does take up a fair amount of room (2 liters?) in my pack, which is a lot when you're carrying a big bear bin, but I was able to get everything in. It also makes a good pillow when stuffed into your pillowcase—much better than my usual "stuff the next day's clothes and your laundry in" theory.

Western Mountaineering VersaLite
In terms of staying really warm, a sleeping bag really is the most important backpacking item. After a bunch of research I decided on the Western Mountaineering VersaLite which is a 2 lb 20°ree; mummy bag. In terms of warmth, the VL seems like a big improvement over the sub-kilo. I haven't been cold since using it. I'm a little skeptical of the 20°ree; rating, but that's solely based on never having overheated while using it, even though I was fully zipped up (though not really tucked into the hood). On the other hand, if I'm really camping in the winter I should have plenty of long underwear and the like so I should be able to stay warm even if the rating is a bit aggressive. I have two minor negative comments. First, it would be nice if it came with loops on the outside so I could use straps to attach it to my pad. I'm getting better at not rolling off but this would still help. Second, it comes with a pretty lame stuff sack that's quite large and isn't a compression sack. After confirming with WM that it wouldn't damage the bag, I went out and bought a Sea to Summit Small silnylon compression sack which I use instead. This crams the bag down pretty substantially—with work I can get the straps tightened all the way. It's not that the compression sacks are expensive, but for a premium bag it would be nice to have one included; this would also let you know that it was OK to use it without having to call the company.

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