Posted by: davepidgeon | August 17, 2009

When 20 degrees doesn’t mean 20 degrees

Hanging out in a sleeping bag during a 2005 Catskills trip.

Hanging out in a sleeping bag during a 2005 Catskills trip.

I’m working on a story for a hiking magazine about the lack of an American standard to determine temperature ratings for sleeping bags and winter apparel. The Institute for Environmental Research at Kansas State has developed one for clothing and is pushing for a sleeping bag standard, but thus far major manufacturers appear resistant, according to one source. I’ll let you know when the article appears.

But the point of this post is that no standard exists like the European one, known as EN 13537. The European standard isn’t without problems like how different testing labs may or may not have the same equipment, which leads to (GASP) variability in the results. When does 20 degrees not mean 20 degrees? When it comes to testing outdoor equipment, it seems, which is when you would think a solid temperature rating is essential.

Outdoor clothing and gear make up such a small slice of the American economy, so the lack of an American testing standard for sleeping bags and apparel has thus far escaped the notice of Congress. I don’t expect hearings before the House Commerce Committee any time soon. But nothing short of an unfortunate disaster, in which someone or a team of people are seriously hurt (or worse) using a sleeping bag they thought would keep them comfortable at, let’s say, 0 degrees, is going to prompt lawmakers to look into the issue. For the time being, it’s up to the manufacturers like Mountain Hardware and The North Face to agree to a standard.

How likely do you think that will happen? Yeah, me neither.


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