Feathered Friends Vireo is a minimally featured sleeping bag for gram counters. It weighs less than a pound.
Coming out of a deep winter hiatus, I recently caught up on my atomic sunsets. Utah’s iconic San Juan Gooseneck’s provided the view. As the sun dipped down over the Navajo skyline, I put on my down jacket, shimmied into the Feathered Friends Vireo bag and watched the show explode in technicolor.
Back in 1972, Boeing engineers Peter and Carol Hickner were looking for a new start. Enamored with the backpacking and climbing opportunities of the Seattle Northwest, they put their design skills to work, producing some of the finest down garments and sleeping bags available. Feathered Friends was born.
Perhaps best known for their expedition bags named after arctic birds, they make a few quirky tools for the trade, including the footless Wren, the full-zip quilt Flicker, and the hoodless/zipperless Vireo.
We spent the last year testing the minimalist Vireo coupled with the recently released lightweight down jacket, the Eos.
Feathered Friends Vireo UL
- Weight: 62″: 14.4oz; 68″:15.5oz ; 74″: 16.7oz
- Fill: 900 fill (standard), 950 (UL, (tested)); RDS certified down
- Fill weight: 62″: 8.0oz / 227g; 68″: 8.7oz / 247g; 74″: 9.4oz / 267g
- Dimensions: chest: 64″; hips: 48″; foot box: 38″
- Liner fabric: Flite 15 denier ripstop nylon
- Shell fabric: Pertex® Endurance UL
- Packed size: 7″ x 10″
- Made in: USA
- Included: stuff sack and cotton storage bag
- More Info/Buy now: $250-350 (900/950 down fill (tested))
Elephant Foot Theory
An Elephant foot sleeping bag is a no-frills bag originally designed by gram counting climbers logging miles on steep slopes and first ascents. Climbing is hardly a pursuit of comfort, so gone were the zipper, the hood, and extra loft. The design is a simple down tube which you pull over your legs. Your belay parka, with its insulating hood, completes the kit.
Unlike other elephant bags, the Vireo liberally extends up over the shoulders, providing additional core warmth. But instead of consistently filling the bag with head-to-toe down, the Vireo lofts its horizontal baffling with a variable amount of down, providing “just enough” warmth where you need it most.
Since the torso overlaps with a parka, potentially repetitive down-fill is limited. The torso is filled with down rated to 45˚F while the foot box and legs are rated to 25˚F. The upside is flexibility. Use the bag alone in warmer temperatures. Bivvying in cooler temps? Simply pair the bag with a warmer jacket. Clean, simple, minimal.
I paired the Vireo with Feathered Friends’ recently released lightweight jacket, the 900-fill Eos. Hood zipped up over my head, I slithered into the bag for the night and cinched the draw cord snug around my neck. I was plenty comfortable for desert evening temperatures dipping down into the high 20’s.
The downside? Less fill in the torso potentially exposes the hands to cooler temps. For bivvying in downright cold temperatures, you’ll want to wear a pair of gloves or plan to stuff your hands in your pockets.
Responsible Down Standard
Feathered Friends uses 100% Responsible Down Standard certified down, and has done so since 2015. Responsible Down Standard certification means consumers can track the down through every step in the production cycle, from start to finish.
The Feathered Friends Vireo uses top end 900-plus fill down that can be tracked from source to shelf. Does everyone need such high quality down? Certainly not. Most people could get by with a lower quality, but plenty “good enough” 700-fill down bag and spend a fraction of the price.
With no hood and no zipper, the Vireo imbues pure minimalism. It certainly isn’t for everyone and Feathered Friends never would bill it as so. For those who sleep hot and like to kick the feet out to cool off will sorely miss a foot box zipper. And for people who frequently heed nature’s call, wriggling in and out of the bag repeatedly each night would quickly become tiresome.
But for those who have their sights on first ascents, ultralight pursuits, or savings in weight and bulk with respect for RDS certified down, the top-shelf 900-plus fill Vireo could be your ticket.