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Ad-Hoc Insulating the Sprinter Photography Adventure Van at 17°F + Western Mountaineering Down Cypress GWS Sleeping Bag

See my Nikon wish list and get Nikon D850 at B&H Photo.

See also Gear for the Mountains.

My Sprinter photography adventure van has (as yet) unfinished walls, meaning only the barest layer of insulation applied, so it gets very cold inside when it is cold outside. Yet to be done is for 4 inches of blue jean insulation covered by wallboard covered by a carpet-like fabric.

On my last trip, it got down to 19°F with the van reaching 23°F inside (the “low” figure at lower left of display). I was comfortable with a down comforter and and electric blanket, but even for me that is a colder than I prefer.

Last night it got down to 17° (preceded by 40mph winds at 25°F), but I had hung 4 down sleeping bags on the van walls (delaminated shells donated to me courtesy of Western Mountaineering). Those sleeping bags kept the van a comfortable 28°F (the “low” figure at lower left of display), probably 7°F warmer than it would have been. The next night, temperatures did not dip below 30°F outside and 32°F inside.

I bought two of these ThermoPro TP50 @AMAZON thermometer/hygrometer units at Amazon—they work great and are magnetic too. I stick one of then on the outside of the van (magnetic) to get nighttime lows and compare it to the inside readings. The bottom left “low” figure is the lowest temperature reached; ignore the other figures.

Lowest night temperatures inside my Sprinter van (left) and outside my Sprinter van (right)
f1.8 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 32; 2017-10-09 08:40:28
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

On another colder night with wind of 20 mph or so at 11,800' elevation, the inside temperature dropped to 22°F (outside temp 15°F). That wind really cooled things down more, in spite of the 4 down sleeping bags acting as ad-hoc insulation. Some water inside my Yeti Tundra 210 cooler had begun refreezing!

Lowest night temperatures outside, and inside my Sprinter van (right)
f1.8 @ 1/17 sec, ISO 40; 2017-10-12 07:35:01
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]
Mercedes Sprinter adventure van high above Patriarch Grove
f9 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 100; 2017-10-08 13:50:47
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

[low-res image for bot]

Give me power!

Even with a 5 kW lithium battery, power demands to both compute in the van and run a 1.45 kW space heater are too high to last for long (space heater is for intermittent use of 30 minutes or so, to take the chill off). Idling the Sprinter engine preserves battery life quite well, supplying 110 amps or so. Still, I don’t like idling for hours on end (and thus burning fuel in a remote area), and it’s clear that a 10 kW system is going to afford a lot more flexibility.

Power usage while computing and running electric heater

Give me insulation!

Before I came up to the mountains this trip, I paid a visit to Western Mountaineering in San Jose, CA. Their products are all made right there—Made in USA.

Western Mountaineering Flash XR down jacket

Western Mountaineering carries many weights of down jackets including my all-time favorite Flash XR down jacket*, down pants, sleeping bags , down booties, sleep sacks, and so on. In my opinion, all of their products are “undersold” or “understated” meaning the quality is the best you’ll find anywhere, really superb. For example, what Western Mountaineering calls their 850+ down is really 910 fill down. Look around and you will find that 850 is hard to find and only in the very top-end products, with most vendors using 800 (good), 700 (adequate), and 600 (low grade). So 850+ (910) is incredible

* The Flash XR is so critical to my outdoor adventures that if I were a hundred miles from home, I’d turn around and go get it (unless I had something else adequate but not idea along). It is an essential piece of safety gear.

I had come in looking for a queen side box baffled down comforter for these cold temperatures (FYI, comforters except the Cloud Nine are not sold to the public at large). It was not in stock but I spied a new sleeping bag they had, the Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS down sleeping bag.

I also purchased the new Western Mountaineering QuickFlash down jacket—I have never seen a better made down jacket, and it is 850+ down fill—extremely light and extremely warm, and without a hood (my Flash XR has a hood, which I deem mandatory for my colder outings).

I am definitely not a fan of tight feet or “mummy bags” and won’t buy 'em. And that’s what caught my eye: the Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS has a very wide footprint including the feet area, and it can be unzipped like a blanket. It has the widest foot box I have ever seen in a down sleeping bag of this quality. Too hot—not really—it lofts so well that it can be “tented” and hold its shape for less cold nights.

Needless to say, I pounced on it and brought it along. It performed fantastically well last night. What a superb product. I bought the 6' 6" model with right-hand zipper.

* In Western Mountaineering “underselling” parlance, 850+ down means 910 fill power down—ultra high end and rare to find. That kind of down (I was shown a sample) is very expensive, very light and fluffy, the puff of the puffs when down is processed by grade.

Water resistant? Heck yes, the Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS spent 30 minutes floating on Greenstone Lake for a photo shoot. Hardly a faint dimple in the fabric, what little there was dried out in 5 minutes and I stuffed it back into its back with no worries.

Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS down sleeping bag floating on Greenstone Lake
f14 @ 1/400 sec, ISO 200; 2017-10-14 15:18:07
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

[low-res image for bot]
Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS down sleeping bag
Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS down sleeping bag specifications

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