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Fooling The Customer

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Several years ago I wrote an article about the 3-M product known as Liteloft, which was sold to sleeping bag manufacturers as the greatest insulation since sliced white bread. 3-M fooled their manufacturing customers, who in turn fooled the retailer, who then ultimately fooled the consumer. Lots of fooling around, only nobody had a good time.

What 3-M was marketing was a chopped staple polyester batting, a product that has been on the market since 1960. What I wrote was that this construction of fiberfill for use in sleeping bags didn't work then and wouldn't work now or in the future. 3-M sales people convinced several manufacturers to use the product, and after four years of receiving complaints "I was cold in the bag," "the bag has lost its loft," "and the fiber is bunching after laundering" these manufacturers gave up on the product. One might ask why it took four years before manufacturers gave up on the product: advertising bucks, that*s why. Today there isn't one U.S. manufacturer who uses Liteloft in sleeping bags. These companies have done exactly zero research into whether or not these materials can or can not do the job as insulators. The reason I say that is simple: if they did do the research they would not be using the material.

When I first started Wiggy's, I contacted Gerry Cunningham, originator of Gerry Outdoor Products. I consider him to be the grandfather of the insulated products business, which includes sleeping bags as well as clothing. Why? Because he did research and wrote about his discoveries in a booklet titled "How to keep Warm." The reason I called him was to get a copy and his permission to reprint it, which he graciously gave me. I did reprint it in my early catalogs. I was reviewing it recently and noticed a graph depicting the average thickness of insulation that should be used depending upon activity. When sleeping and the temperature is about +20 degrees F, two inches of insulation is needed above the body. Keep in mind he was using down, so when I started making synthetic bags, and believing down was superior, I used 2.25 to 2.50 inches above the body. I still make the bags that way. I think he was a little light with the down, but then again I don't know if he was using sleeping clothing or not, where I try to get the sleeper to sleep nude. So, I believe now my insulation is superior to down.


The fiberfill bags are using is a chopped staple variety, which gets flatter with use, and since they have chosen to make these products without stabilizing the fiberfill with quilting, you can expect that the fiberfill will start breaking up when the bags are laundered. I purchased a one of these bags and laundered it four times. The fiber bunched and separated from the side seams.

Does it pay to fool the customer? Of course not. I can't imagine the loss of good will experienced by 3-M when people were returning the Liteloft bags.

Each of these companies claims their bags are launderable. Yes, you can wash the bags; however, what they don't say is that the fiberfill will break apart and bunch up like all other chopped staple fiberfill bags have always done.

In the case of our competitors, they claim to use a lining material trade named Pertex, which has a unique capability. The fabric is a 30 or 40 denier ripstop nylon with a special finish, which will do the following and, I quote: "Any moisture forming on the skin is drawn into the weave of the lining of the product where it evaporates and continues its journey to the outside without chilling the occupant." A representative for the company that manufactures the Pertex material told me they had a special finish that was applied to the fabric to accomplish this action. They further claim that "The gaps between the strands [yarns] are very small, small enough to block water droplets but large enough to allow moisture vapor out." The claims coming from this firm sound very familiar don't they? It sounds very much like Pertex could be a waterproof and breathable, doesn't it?

Nylon does not absorb, so the material can not possibly function as they have described it. I recently received a sample of the material from the fabric supplier; it is nothing but a high count, down proof taffeta weave nylon.
I have said before and I will say it again: you don't fool the people who spend money with you. It can also be dangerous using a bag in a temperature zone recommended by the manufacturer, when the manufacturer doesn't have a clue if the bag will perform under the recommended conditions.

The real tragedy, as I see it, is that these two manufacturers are not by themselves hoodwinking the public, if you will. All of the other manufacturers I have seen over the years function pretty much in the same way. As an example, for as long as I have been in the outdoor products business, all +20 degree sleeping bags have been considered three- season bags. Recently I read in an advertisement from Campmor, a retailer located in New Jersey, that they had a North Face-brand sleeping bag that was a three-season bag, only it was rated to +35 degrees. Further, I came across a North Face bag that is insulated with Polar Guard 3-D, weighing four pounds, rated to -20 degrees. There is no doubt in my mind that no one in the employ of the North Face Company ever used this bag in such a temperature. If they had it would have been a onetime experience; they would have been more than mildly uncomfortably cold, once the temperature dropped below 30 degrees.

I believe most of the companies that sell sleeping bags, and are in the same price range as TNF, are equally guilty of embellishing the truth about their sleeping bag's capability to perform.

Back to the chopped staple fiberfill product and the North Face company. I use them as an example since they are so well known in the industry.

In the early 1970s when I was selling insulation to the outerwear and outdoor products industry, I visited the NF factory several times a year. On one trip I observed that they were making shingle construction sleeping bags. The fiberfill was Dupont's Hollofill sandwiched between two scrims. Aside from thinking the method of manufacture insane, the bags take about four plus hours to make. I advised the designer that the fiberfill would separate in laundering, since it was not quilted. I did inquire if he had washed-tested a bag. His answer was no. I advised him to do so, and he would know the bags weren't launderable, made in this manner.

Several months later I was again in San Francisco and visited the factory. Again I observed that the bags were still being made the same way with the same materials. I inquired if he had test laundered a bag, and was told yes, and he showed me the bag. The fiberfill had as I expected broken apart. I asked why he was still manufacturing the bags in this manner. His answer was simple: even though we put a washable label on the bag, nobody washes a sleeping bag. By 1976 NF was inundated with returned fiberfill bags that had been washed and destroyed by the laundering. They changed to the continuous filament fiberfill, Polarguard.

Considering the reputation of the North Face company, it is surprising to me that their competition doesn't recognize and copy what they have done; namely, not use chopped staple fiberfill for sleeping bags ever again. Note that when 3-M came out with Liteloft, North Face never used it.

The reality is that sleeping bags made with chopped staple fiberfill as insulation are not very good. They do not insulate very well and laundering destroys the fiberfill to boot.

RATING A SLEEPING BAG

I have noted that virtually all of the other sleeping bag manufacturers do not distinguish between a bag being used at sea level and at 10,000 feet. They have not thought about the simple fact that the oxygen content of air at 10,000 feet is less than it is at sea level.

This is very important to know because the body has to work harder to maintain itself at 10,000 feet. More insulation is necessary surrounding the body at altitude, even if the temperature is the same as at sea level. Here in Colorado I recommend the Super Light, 0 degree-rated bag as a three-season bag. However, I would recommend an Ultra Light as a three-season bag to someone camping in the southeastern United States.
I am quite sure if you were to ask a retailer to recommend a sleeping bag for altitude versus for sea level camping, given the temperature is about the same, given the bag would be different, the answer would be that the same bag is good for both.
The reason you would get that answer from a retailer is because the manufacturer hasn't educated the retailer. Of course the manufacturer doesn't have any knowledge in this area to begin with. The blind leading the blind.

NEW PRODUCTS

Military-Style Bivi Bag
No, it is not made with a material that is supposed to be waterproof and breathable, but with a urethane coated camo fabric. It is just waterproof. You may have seen the same type of product offered in military after-market catalogs for as high as $230.00. I have been supplying mine to the military for 10 years. Cost is $130.00.

Dog Jacket
Two years ago I made several for a dog musher who runs in the Yukon Quest, which takes place between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. He told me these were the best dog jackets he ever used. They are available in a variety of sizes, color black. Cost: $40.00

Light Weight Waders
Several months ago a fellow called and asked if I could make a very light-weight waterproof sleeve to fit over his boots and be as tall as his legs. I asked what he needed them for since there are several brands of waders made for fly fisherman. He wanted something lighter and very compatible. His specific need was for something to put on when crossing streams and then remove. Sounded good to me. They are made from 200 denier coated oxford nylon upper and a rubberized sole with all seams taped. They weight 8.9 ounces, total. Cost $50.00, includes stuff sack.

SPECIALS

Herman Survivor boots are $110.00 per pair. Overboots are normally $106.00, now $80.00 a pair.

CUSTOMER LETTERS

The following letter was an incredible surprise. I've talked for years as you know about the fact that waterproof / breathable materials don't exist, but I never knew there was a potential danger to them. I think the following information is of great interest. Subject: Hazards of "breathable" waterproof fabrics
"Dear Wiggy: I just discovered your company today (July 18, 2000). I have been reading some of your archived newsletters and found them very interesting, especially your reviews of the new products some other companies are advertising. You may be interested to know that even though they might allow water vapor to diffuse through them with some degree of freedom, research has revealed that many of the so-called 'breathable' waterproof fabrics (the ones with hydrophilic coatings) are effectively impermeable to oxygen and carbon dioxide.

If the carbon dioxide (CO2) that you breathe out cannot diffuse out of a bivi sac or tent because it has been made of an impermeable coated material, the concentration of CO2 will build up inside while you are trying to sleep. Eventually, it will wake you up. Remember the Apollo 13 when the CO2 scrubbers stopped working? Respiration rate increases and most people feel 'suffocated' and gasp for breath when the level of CO2 gets too high. The quality of sleep will be poor if you wake up every half-hour to get fresh air.

Also, because your body uses oxygen, the air in such a shelter can become depleted of oxygen if it cannot seep in through the fabric wall fast enough to replace what you are using up. On a very high mountain, where the amount of oxygen is less to begin with, this could become a serious problem, possibly leading to acute mountain sickness. The oxygen level might drop during the night inside your shelter if for some reason it is not properly ventilated. In the morning, the oxygen level inside could be much lower than it should be. Calculations suggest that in a two-man tent it could be the same as the oxygen pressures at an altitude a couple of thousand feet higher up the mountain. Of course, the same is true of a sheet of plastic film, or a polyurethane coated fly or sleeping bag cover, but the person using it doesn't expect such a material to 'breathe' and will probably ensure that there is ventilation.

The company that makes a very popular brand of waterproof, 'breathable' material for clothing does not sell their fabric for use in tents. They sell an earlier version for tents, one that does not have a hydrophilic coating, just a microporous film. However, since outdoor clothing manufacturers often make tents too, the wrong material can sometimes be accidentally used. I have seen this happen. Keep up the good work.

Randall Osczevski" Environmental physicist

Editors note: I am very grateful for the information that many people have contributed to furthering my education in the field of technical fabrics, most of whom are not in the outdoor industry.

I wonder if the companies marketing the so called "waterproof / breathable" materials will address what Randall has discovered. I also wonder if any climbers who use a single wall tent have experienced what he has described, waking up several times during the night, etc. So, now we not only know that waterproof / breathable materials don't function as advertised but are potentially a danger to the user.

For about 15 years the military has been issuing bivi bags made with Goretex film. I think it would be interesting for Natick Laboratories to test the bivis. In working with the military in Alaska I know they have had soldiers using these bivis in tents. I do know that the sleeping bags have not performed well, as I have reported. Is it possible that the bivi bags further contributed to their poor performance? As far as I am concerned the bivi bag just added to the poor performance, and it could not have made the bags perform any better than they did.

I received the following letter from a person in the Navy: "It is pretty rare in this day and age to buy a product that not only lives up to its claims but far exceeds them as all of your products certainly do. I own (6) Wiggy's bags and one sweater and am thrilled with their performance. I have put the bags through their paces (-80 degrees wind chill to +80 degrees summer camping to +60 degrees shipboard berthing) and have never been let down. On a recent western Pacific cruise I lent an Ultra Light to a sailor who was a cold sleeper and after six months she didn't want to give the bag back. She said she never slept better in her life. In fact the bag performed so well that on her days off the ship she had a waiting list of other females in her berthing fighting over who got to use it that night. What amazes me more than the warmth factor is the fact that I can use even my Ultima Thule FTRSS in the summer and not die of heat exhaustion which is typical in a super-warm down or fiber bag. I also applaud the fact that your bags wick moisture away rather than retaining it. I despise waking up with cold clammy feet in the morning which is typical of every other bag but yours (and I've owned many). I will continue to tell my friends and shipmates about your superior products and outstanding service."

Editors note: Several years ago I made about 400 bags for the Japanese Navy. I found dealing with them to be very pleasurable. They sent a representative to the factory just to see the bags in production. The gentleman came with a ruler and measured several bags to make sure they were all exactly the same size. He had no specific sewing knowledge, just a ruler for checking size.
Maybe some day I'll supply the U.S. Navy's ships.

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