Nothing is worse than lying in your sleeping bag shivering all night. Except if it’s laying in your sleeping bag sweating all night. It’s that ongoing dilemma which causes many people to struggle with buying a sleeping bag. Even if most of your trips are in the summer or fall, you still want to be prepared for a winter night, but don’t want to shell out big bucks for two bags.
High Peak saw that struggle, and the answer is the Chameleon. It’s a 20 degree synthetic bag that comes with an additional blanket-like attachment that easily zips onto the top of the bag to bring the comfort rating down to zero. Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?
I put the Chameleon to the test on a snow camping trip in the Crags, beneath Pikes Peak in Colorado this February. I knew there was no way I could be warm in a 20 degree bag while sleeping at 11,000 feet above sea level in the snow, so I zipped on the extra layer and hit the trail. We saw temps in the single digits, and I was glad to have a thick, warm bag. The chest collar snugged up tightly to prevent warm air from escaping around my neck, and the draft tube kept air from leaking through the zipper.
However, the extra insulation is only on the top of the bag, not fully wrapped around it, which caused my back to get cold when I slept on my side. There was quite a bit of condensation on the bag in the morning, but after laying it out in the sun the shell dried in under 30 minutes. I found the zero degree rating to be a little optimistic, but if you sleep solely on your back and can take full advantage of all the extra insulation on top you might say otherwise.
On a March snowshoeing trip to Francie’s Hut (part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association), the extra warmth wasn’t needed while staying inside the furnished hut. So before heading out I quickly unzipped the top layer and had a smaller, lighter (by a full two pounds) 20 degree bag, perfect for inside the hut. The standard mummy shape is cut extra wide at the shoulder, which gave me a lot of room to move and turn, but also adds bulk.
I know some folks would rather sleep in a tight cocoon to save a few ounces, but I prefer the extra space to move and it was a nice addition. I found the hood rather shallow and not quite as “hood-like” as I prefer. Wearing a hat to bed is of course part of my winter camping routine, but a deep, thick hood goes a long way in keeping you warm. The Chameleon comes in one size, but easily fit my 6’3” body with room for socks and a jacket at the bottom.
The bag is insulated with Invista Thermolite Quallo, and like all synthetic insulators is not as compressible as a down bag. When the Chameleon is in zero degree mode, it is a fairly large package, over 18 inches long and nine inches wide. The stuff sack has nice compression straps to squeeze it down, but it still takes up a lot of room. And since there is a lot of extra material the weight tips the scales at nearly six pounds. Top quality zero degree down bags might be smaller and lighter, but also four to five times as expensive and won’t convert to a three-season bag in a matter of seconds.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the Chameleon. Most people don’t have a quiver of sleeping bags, but it is difficult to find one warm enough for your coldest trips but light enough for summer outings. The Chameleon has its shortcomings, but nicely works as both a 20 degree and a winter bag. At just over one hundred dollars it is far under what you’d expect to pay for most 20 degree bags, much less two separate bags, making the Chameleon a killer bargain.