Alpkit's Cloud Cover
The following assumes the use of a tent / hooped bivvy or a tarp and bivvy in warmer conditions (hammock users will need to decide whether such a system may benefit them).
A great deal of testing in varied conditions has brought us to recommending this "modular system". However, more than perhaps any other item, sleeping bags and their worth seems a very personal matter. Everyone's metabolism is different, some sleep hot, some cold, some on their side, some on their back, some probably sleep upside down ... who knows.
All we can do here is recommend what works for us and in doing so provide some useful information to consider before spending what can be a considerable amount of money and often the largest budget item(s) in any pack.
We also assume some sensible sleepwear and this combination has been tested with the thermal underwear recommended in our "sleepwear section" (we do not assume the wearing of insulated jackets or over-trousers).
The combination of sleeping bags we recommend are intended to work together enabling their user to carry only what is likely to be necessary for each trip. This combination will work from the arid to the tropical and down into frostbite territory. It uses a mix of synthetic and down insulation, with the down bag always on the inside (except in conditions where warm dry weather is predictable and persistent).
This system will not be too relevant to those who venture out only when it's a nice day; but will likely be of interest to those who enjoy the challenge of enduring the unpleasant conditions that hostile environments visit upon them.
Test subject: Chest 42", Waist 33", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: Cloud Cover 2016 Model (Nylon, Plum)
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Material: 20D Polyester (C6 DWR) (Nylon model currently unavailable)||45 g/m2|
|Fill: Goosedown (Ethically sourced - Responsible Down Standard)||750 IDFB 90/10|
|Treatments: Nikwax Hydrophobic fluorocarbon free water resistant down||-|
|Dimensions: Length / Width top / Width bottom||180 / 130 / 95 cm|
|Weight (w/o stuff sack +14g, current version might be heavier)||438g|
|Pack size||27 x 19.5 x 6.5 cm|
Introduction: Cloud Cover versus PipeDream 200
Alpkit make a number of good quality budget down bags. We were interested in the lightest of these: the Cloud Cover down quilt and the PipeDream 200. We went with the Cloud Cover, which at the time of purchase was £75, up from £65 in 2015. However, since then the price has risen again, making the PipeDream 200 a possible alternative.
Alpkit suggest the max user height for their PipeDream is 6'1" with a max shoulder circumference of 128cm, over which the user will compress the down. The Cloud Cover has less limitations since the end can be opened. In our sleepwear section, we recommend the British Army ECW Arctic Socks. By ensuring ones extremities are warm you can fool the body into feeling more comfortable than the temperature would normally allow. With the Cloud Cover this is particularly the case, as although the end can be cinched shut it is never completely sealed.
According to the specs the Comfort Limit for the Pipe Dream 200 is 7.5°C, for the Cloud Cover none is given, but I'd guess ~10°C. In the Summer 2016 kit test (Mid + North Wales, late August to early Sept) over 10 days I didn't have one uncomfortable night, using a Multimat Superlite 25 3/4 Self Inflating Mat and a Mountain Equipment Compressor Jacket in case (but, except for one cold night, this just served as a pillow).
The Cloud Cover Shades It
The Cloud Cover hybrid quilt/bag has advantages in terms of weight and flexibility, the Pipe Dream 200 will certainly be warmer due to it being a standard sleeping bag, however for our purposes this benefit is debatable. With Scramble's recommended sleeping bag combination, the Cloud Cover still just shades it.
A Versatile Bridging Bag
The Cloud Cover is the ideal lightweight bridging bag that connects our two synthetic bags in the "system". Serving as a standalone ultralight summer bag when precipitation is likely minimal, and as an inner bag for the 1 Season (Wet + Warm) / Outer Bag (Nordisk's Abel +10) comfortably extending its range to 3 Seasons (good down to zero degrees). Then as the temps drop the Winter bag (Carinthia Defence 4) takes over. The Defence 4 is fairly rated down to -15°C, however when paired with the Cloud Cover this is extended at least down to -20°C and possibly as low as -25°C (though untested at this extreme).
The beauty of the Nordisk Abel +10 and Carinthia's Defence 4 is that both have sufficient room to accommodate the Cloud Cover without compressing it and reducing its loft and thermal efficiency. In addition warm air is trapped between the two bags getting that double glazing effect. In our opinion this combination of down and synthetic insulation is ideal, especially in UK and northern European conditions, where wet and harsh cold can often combine.
The Cloud Cover packs down ridiculously small and when packed down inside outer bags, goes almost unnoticed.
One of the Cloud Cover's negatives is also a positive, being a down quilt, the fastening method is a series of poppers. This means when the quilt is configured as a sleeping bag there are large gaps. This sounds bad, but in practice it's quite handy, since when it's cold you can sleep with the poppers facing the sleeping mat; when it's warm, with the poppers to the side or facing up. When it gets really warm it can be used as a quilt.
When used inside another bag, being primarily a quilt, the Cloud Cover can be doubled over, providing twice the amount of down on top of the body, where it achieves maximum loft (since the body compresses the insulation you sleep on, reducing its thermal impact). For extreme cold conditions, we recommend the high tog Multimat Expedition Summit Compact 38 self-inflating mat, with sufficient insulation from below, the Cloud Cover can then be doubled over and used as a quilt, inside the Carinthia Defence 4.
As with any product that genuinely falls into the ultralight category, there has to be a sacrifice, and such weight losses will inevitably effect durability. That said, I've not seen any signs of wear. Our advice is to treat it very gently. The beauty of using it as part of a synthetic/down system, is that the tougher synthetic outer bags take the bulk of the abuse, and serve to protect the baby down bag. A case of "look after it and it'll look after you".
Note: Due to the lightweight nylon fabric (there are 2 version - we went with the nylon, being a little tougher) one needs to take a little extra care when unfastening the poppers.
Conclusion & Rating
So, to sum up the Cloud Cover is something of a down floozy that mates well with synthetics: in particular Nordisk's Abel +10 and Carinthia's Defence 4. Synthetic insulation guarantees warmth when wet and down is still the winner when it comes to getting the most warmth for your gram. Pairing the two makes an ideal and highly flexible sleeping system. For this reason Alpkit's Cloud Cover is our top choice for Ultralight 1 Season / Inner Bag.
Now all Alpkit need to do is keep a check on inflation and future sterling devaluations. I love how Carney at the Bank of England talks about his 2% inflation target, when back in the real world, UK manufacturers like Alpkit have to deal with rising input costs which sees price rises of 50% since 2015!
In Context: Scramble's Recommended Sleeping Bag System
Weights (without stuff sacks, see our note below*):
- Warm + Dry Weather: Alpkit Cloud Cover = 438g (stuff sack +14g)
- Warm + Wet Weather: Nordisk Abel 10 (L) = 748g (stuff sack +65g)
- Spring + Autumn: Cloud Cover + Abel 10 (L) = 1,186g
- Winter: Carinthia Defence 4 (M) = 1,650g (stuff sack +209g)
- Extreme Cold: Defence 4 (M) + Cloud Cover = 2,088g (stuff sack = Ortlieb Mediumweight Drybag PD350 = 293g, having the bag on the outside of the pack means we can carry lighter packs in Winter and also reduces the fuss of stuffing the sleeping bag - the compression straps of the pack do this job well).
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Why not down all the way?
As an inner bag, down is superb. If you can guarantee arid conditions (deserts, Himalayas, arctic etc.) then down is the way to go, but for the UK and northern Europe, not so much and you literally have to factor in a daily thermal performance loss for down in wet conditions (regardless of hydrophobic patches to an insoluble problem).
Andy Kirkpatrick explains:
"There is nothing as great as a bone dry down sleeping bag. Unfortunately there is also nothing as grim as a wet one. Saturated down loses 90% of its insulation as the delicate structure of the clusters stick together and collapse. The down absorbs a lot of water and because it loses most of its thermal performance it must be dried via an outside heat source like the sun, a tumble dryer or a body. In many cases where there is moisture present, a down bag will lose performance each night it is used, as the down becomes slowly saturated. The rate at which this happens is dependent on the skill of the user and the conditions in which it is being used. This water contamination comes both from without and within the bag and learning to slow the speed of this performance drop is one of the skills needed to use a down bag effectively. Down just doesn’t work in high saturated environments and best suits cold and dry conditions, or the protected sanctuary of a dry space like a tent, hut or snow hole."
Our Winter Kit test in 2016 was particularly tricky and saw 4 days of permanent heavy rain, hail and sleet book-ended by 3 days of freezing cold (down to -8°C). Everything got wet (regardless of care and skill) and the Defence 4, being synthetic held up superbly, a down bag would have been a disaster and quite possibly dangerous.
* A note on stuff sacks and weight stats
We don't quote the weights including stuff sacks, mainly because we don't feel the manufacturer's choice of stuff sacks design has a great deal to do with their sleeping bags (an example is Mountain Hardwear's Lamina bags which come with something more akin to a Tesco's 10 gram shopping bag, whereas Carinthia's come with military grade compression sacks; apples and oranges and all that. In addition we only use a stuff sack for the Carinthia bag, and for that we use Ortlieb's 22L PD350 Drybag attached to the side of a Karrimor SF Predator 30L pack. The Abel +10 can simply go in the base of ones pack (assuming it has a waterproof liner) as it fills the nooks and crannies well and gets compressed by all your other kit. The Cloud Cover comes with a superlight sack and likewise easily gets compressed when you cover it with the rest of your stuff. If it's used as an inner, then it can just go inside the Abel +10 or the Defence 4.
Last updated: 05/09/18