This review was first published in 2008. I still carry and highly recommenced my Big Agnes setup!
For many years I carried my trusty Gerry goose down sleeping bag on Troop camp outs. My father bought it for me in 1976 prior to an extended trip to Alaska. At the time it was among the best bags he could afford (or ill-afford). But even the best sleeping bag may have be retired after twenty or thirty years of faithful service.
For years tried out a number of less-expensive bags in the search for a suitable replacement. The Big Agnes Horse Thief, however, ended the quest. Here’s the reasoning behind my purchase;
I put a fair amount of stock in the thorough, thoughtful reviews at BackpackGearTest.org. These tests are conducted by regular folks, and there’s a plenty of reviews of Big Agnes bags and pads.
As a Scoutmaster I will camp about 40 nights a year. As each year passes a good night’s sleep becomes more a necessity than a luxury. $150.00 to $200.00 (2008 prices!) for a bag and pad that will last at least five or ten years (that’s around .50 cents a night) is well worth the price. Considering other top of the line down bags can set you back upwards of $350.00 the Horse Thief is a bargain.
I did my homework and got the bag and pad at a good price on Ebay from someone who had (purportedly) only used them once. They arrived in nearly new condition at a considerable savings.
I chose a bag comport rated to 35F. We hit some camping nights when the temperature is lower but I sleep warm and can always add a layer of polypropylene long underwear. Big Agnes bags have a reputation for conservative temperature ratings.
Big Agnes System
Big Agnes bags are designed to be used with an integral sleeping pad. The pad slips into a pocket built into the bottom of the bag:
When insulation material is compressed under your body, it loses most of its ability to insulate. We eliminate the unnecessary bottom insulation and replace it with a sleeve to accommodate the pad which provides the insulation. This design provides a secure foundation and keeps you on the pad all night. Benefits of the system include: weight savings, reduced packed size, increased girth and comfort and the ability to roll and twist without rolling off your pad or waking to the feel of a zipper across your face.
Weight and Bulk
We backpack or canoe about 8-10 nights a year. I could get away with a heavier bag but will be happier with carrying less. The Horse Thief bag and matching pad weigh in at a svelte 3 lbs 2 ounces. The bag packs down to 7.5″ x 15″, the pad 5″ x 12″.
Down bags have a reputation for loosing a lot of their insulating qualities if they get wet. The Horse Thief shell is made of a water resistant nylon microfiber. Down packs smaller and provides more insulation per ounce than synthetics.
With a shoulder girth of 72″ the Horse Thief has about ten inches more room than the average mummy bag. I am 6′ 1″ and weigh more than I should, but my shoulders are still much wider than my middle. The Horse Thief is a little tight when I put my arms across my chest, but they have an ingenious solution – Big Agnes Wedgie Bag Expander a tapered, insulated zip-in extension that increases the girth of the bag by 7 inches.
2 1/2 inches of insulated comfort in this award winning design equals an unprecedented ratio of comfort to weight. Backpackers rave about these inflatable pads that are more like air mattresses than their self inflating cousins. I have the mummy-shaped Big Agnes Air Core Insulated Sleeping Pad.
Bells and Whistles
A built-in pocket provides a spot for a rolled up jacket or similar padding to make a pillow. An integrated daft collar prevents air from getting in or out at the shoulders.
Big Agnes Horse Thief Sleeping Bag available at Amazon