I won’t lie. It was pure envy that drove me to buy the Big Agnes Horse Thief SL Sleeping Bag. I had a perfectly functional REI brand bag with a perfectly functional Thermarest self-inflating sleeping pad. But as the days wore on during our first Northville-Placid thru-hike, I grew increasingly jealous of Dave’s “sleep system” and soon wanted one of my own. It just looked so comfortable compared to my get-up – and comfort became my main priority after several days in the woods.
Never roll off your pad again
The Horse Thief provides a simple solution to a common problem. The bag has a built-in sleeve on the bottom for a sleeping pad, so you’ll never roll off your pad again – or wake up bound by a sleeping bag turned straight jacket. When I first saw it in action I had one of those “Duh. Why didn’t I think of that?” moments.
Here is a video of Dave inserting the pad into the bag’s sleeve.
Integrating the bag and pad in this way increases the level of comfort in ways that are hard to imagine until you try it. Along with keeping the pad secure underneath you all night long, this system also has the effect of increasing the wiggle room you have inside the bag. You can twist and turn until you find a position that is comfortable without having to contort the bag along with you. Sleeping on your side with your knees up, for example, is possible.
Saves weight and increases comfort
On its own the Horse Thief weighs just 22 ounces. When paired with Big Agnes’ 2.5″ thick Air Core mummy sleeping pad, the system weighs in at just over 2.5 lbs. Although I’m not in the business of shaving off toothbrush handles to save a fraction of an ounce, I do make an effort to keep pack weight down – especially on longer trips like the NPT. The Horse Thief achieves the seemingly impossible task of saving weight and increasing comfort.
One of the ways Big Agnes is able to keep the bag’s weight down is by eliminating the bottom insulation. I know that sounds radical, but the thinking here is that when insulation is compressed under your body it loses most of its effectiveness anyway. So why not cut out the underneath of the bag all together? Doing so not only shaves weight, but it significantly reduces the space the bag takes up in your pack, and with a proper pad underneath you the loss in warmth is negligible.
It’s the little things
Comfort and convenience are so often about the small things. Big Agnes seems to understand this and they’ve included a lot of well thought out features in this bag. A pillow stuff sack, sewn into the top of the bag, is one of my favorites. You can put a rolled up fleece jacket, or some other articles of clothing, into the sack and have a place to rest your head. Or, if you are like us, and you insist on bringing some sort of ‘camp pillow’, you can put it into the sack to help keep it in place throughout the night.
Another thoughtful feature is the hole in the sleeping pad sleeve that gives you quick access to your pad’s air valve. Need to adjust the inflation of the pad in the middle of the night? No problem, you can get to it without leaving the coziness of the bag.
A 35 degree bag in the winter?
Not on its own of course, but an interesting possibility presents itself with such a roomy, lightweight sleeping bag – the Horse Thief as a cold weather overbag. Overbags are based on the concept of layering. Just as you would wear several items of clothing to maximize your warmth in the winter, the same can be done with your sleeping bags.
We had an opportunity to test this out a few Novembers ago on a frigid night in the Adirondacks. I set out with my trusty zero degree rated bag, while Dave carried along two bags – a 20 degree bag, and his Horse Thief. By putting the 20 degree bag inside his Horse Thief he created a little cocoon of warmth that kept him content as the mercury plummeted. Meanwhile, my shivers were shaking the tent. Sweetheart that he is, he let me switch with him and the idea of layering sleeping bags for warmth quickly won me over too.
With its integrated sleeping pad and layering possibilities, the Big Agnes “sleep system” has changed the way I think about sleeping on the trail. More importantly though, it has provided some of the most comfortable nights I have ever had in the woods – followed by rested, energized mornings. It is hard for me to imagine going back to an old bag and pad combo.
The Horse Thief SL is a wonderful 3 season, goose down filled bag. When combined with an appropriate sleeping pad it has provided the most comfortable nights I’ve ever experienced in the outdoors.
Never slide off your sleeping pad again. Accurate 35 degree warmth rating. Generous girth allows for wiggling and turning. Goose down is light and easy to compress. Can be used in cold weather as an overbag. Integrated pillow stuff sack.
You’re tied to using a sleeping pad, and it has to match your bag in size.
Where to buy:
- Amazon.com also has a bunch of different deals on old and new models