Warning- kind of long review
This is a review of the Speer PeaPod 3 with 2 oz overfill, based on limited use so far, since it may be a while before I go on a multi-day trip. None the less, I feel like I have gained a pretty good idea of how this is going to work out, good enough give a preliminary report, which I hope to add to later.
First, the Pea Pod arrived from Speer in the usual speedy fashion. I laid it out on the bed, and after a little while, it was puffed up like a ballon. It quickly seemed obvious that the loft ratings are pretty conservative. Though the down distribution can be a bit uneven, because the down is so easily shifted around from head to foot, it still seems to me that the loft averages more than factory specs, sometimes by quite a bit.
inside surface, one layer only, of 900 fp PeaPod layed out across my bed. Outside the picture frame it hangs down almost to the floor:
Loft appears to be VERY conservatively rated. Here the loft of ONE layer appears to be easily double the rated 2.5" (The angle of the pic makes it hard to tell, but it was over 5".), though it is less in some areas ( the down is easily shifted) and is less between baffles. But it still seems to average well over factory specs:
top and bottom layer looks like a good 6+" loft. Kind of hard to tell from this angle.:
taking 4 layers(top/bottom/top/bottom) and averaging= 13" loft, or average about 3.35" per layer though it is compressing itself a bit with it's own weight. This 900fp down will compress if you breath on it.:
But, I've got a theory about this excess loft: it is valid when using as a bag on the ground or a quilt in the hammock. But, I suspect during actual use around an occupied hammock, that stretch in various places reduces loft so that you end up with an average closer to the rated 2.5". Just a theory.
I got it into it's stuff sack, and weighed it. It weighed at exactly 42 ozs on my scales which are not very precise and only measure to the ounce.
I headed for the woods for a few hours. First time set up was pretty quick and easy. But I was glad I contacted Ed first. I would have left an inch or two between hammmock and pod, figuring that when the hammock headed down, the pod would go with it, like my SS. Not so, Ed said I should start with 5 or 6" more sag in the pod than I have in the hammock. So I did just that. The hammock looks blue in these shots, but it is really dark green.
It was in the mid to high 40s under dark gray skies with mild wind. I set up the Speer hammock in a few minutes, and started to attach the pod to it. Then I realized I had forgotten the PeaPod directions! But I gave it a shot anyway. It seemed pretty straight forward. I put one end of the pod around one end of the hammock and stuck the pod Velcro together and pulled the draw strings tight and wrapped them around the end knot. Then, ditto for the other end. Now I went back and adjusted the draw strings so that I was left with about 5" of distance between the unweighted hammock bottom and the Pod's inner, lower surface, which was already starting to fluff up pretty good. Set up, so far, was about as easy or easier than any thing I had previously tried with a hammock. It was certainly way easier than my first time setting up a SuperShelter! Even though I can almost do that now blindfolded. But not the first time for sure!
Then I took my jacket off and stood around and looked at the results for a few minutes. Since I had worked up a very slight sweat hiking in with my jacket on, and since I now had on very slightly damp cotton shirt and blue jeans and there was a light wind, I realized I was quickly starting to get a noticeable chill!. So I hopped in and closed the Velcro down to a small breathing hole. From what I could tell, the pod is only rated to 50* for the top layer, due to the air gap caused by the hammock edges holding the top layer up off of your body. Even though it is supposed to be 2.5" loft on bottom and the same on top, the gap reduces the temp rating on top. So I was doubtful it would perform ok at 47*, with a little wind and no tarp and me already chilled in damp cotton. The sun was out intermittently, when not blocked by thick clouds.
In about 5 or 10 minutes, to my surprise I was starting to overheat, so I had to open the top up a bit more. It makes a huge difference when you close it down all, or almost all, of the way. Very much, I guess, like closing the hood and collar of a mummy bag, which greatly increases a bags efficiency. Of course, in this case you worry about condensation if you close it all of the way. But I have not noticed any so far, even when completely closed. I'm sure there must be some moisture in the down, but it has not affected the loft at all, so far. But if I was to close it down tightly very often, I would want to make sure there was some sunshine available for drying. So I was very pleased with these first results, though I figured the Sun occasionally peaking out from the clouds was warming up the dark green pod. But so far, so good!
I then set up at home, and went back out that night at 44* with mild wind in just my BMWs Polargard Cocoon pants(8 oz) and hooded jacket (14 oz) and wool socks. That's it, no thermal long johns and no bag or quilt. I started with my hood up and the PeaPod closed except for a very small vent hole. I had used these BMW pants/jacket last Sept( with thin long johns), on one night with no bag, in WA's Olympic Mtns. Lows were mid to hi 40's. I was OK, but when I woke up at 0645, I had noticed I was a little chilled on top. So Hi 40s or lo 50s was going to be the comfort limit for these clothes in my SS without a bag/quilt. But this night I wore them in the Pea Pod instead of the Super Shelter.
Within about 10 minutes, I was over heating and let the parka hood down. I was plenty warm thru the night, sometimes even fully unzipping the jacket. I thought that was pretty darn good results. After a few hours it was obvious I was going to be MORE than warm enough at these temps, so I went in to escape the usual noise from the neighborhood's barking dogs. It was obvious to me that I could take this combo to even lower temps without a bag.
I went back out the following noon time for a little nap, still in my cotton PJ bottoms and a cotton t-shirt, under grey skys and 56*. Before I could even get in, it started raining buckets and the wind started blowing really hard. As I lay there, I really thought my tarp was going to blow away, and my hammock was whipping around like crazy. The wind would come under the hammock, which was pitched fairly wide, and try to lift the tarp staright up! I thought something was going to rip or at least pull the stout stakes out of the ground. A little rain blew on the ends of my PeaPod, and the temp dropped 10* in a matter of minutes. But with the PPod almost fully closed, I was fine for an hour or so at 44-46* and a stout wind chill. I didn't feel any cold at all ( again, no quilt or other insulation other than PeaPod, just cotton PJ bottoms and short sleeve tee shirt. I may well have gotten chilled after a few hours, but still, I thought that was definitely great results, especially considering the wind. The windward tarp would often be blown hard against the side of the pod, surely compressing the down. But I still felt no cold. It seems to me that, for me, the 50* top rating , with no quilt/bag, is very conservative. YMMV and probably will. Even with not much loft under my low point I was fine at these temps.
It was at this point that I had found some minor problems with my set up. Even though I had set up with the suggested 5" space, and even though I could not feel any down compression between hammock low point
(with me in it) and the pod ( it felt to me like they just barely were touching), when I felt around under neath the pod ( again, while still in it) I noticed that in the center, right under my butt, there was almost zero loft, or maybe 1/2" at the most. Just a few inches to the right or left, it felt like there was at least 2 or 3" loft under me. But one narrow point was very thin, I'm surprised I wasn't cold. So I gave it another inch or so of sag, and this helped a little. But now I was starting to worry about and air gap from too much sag. Finally, while looking at the pod with no weight in it, it occured to me that there might be, in that one center baffle, too much down towards the head and feet( which seemed about to bust open from loft) and not enough near the center low point. So, I scooted some down from foot and head to where my butt would be. That mostly solved the problem, and now I had at least close to full rated loft under my butt.
So, the other night we ended up getting down to the low 20s. I went out again, The PeaPod had been hung out all day under the tarp. It was about 32* when I went out, so the pod was nice and cold. I had a 40* quallofil bag and short CCF pad under the hammock on the ground, as I was planning on using them later when I got cold, as I expected to do.
But first I wanted to see how far I could push my BMWs pants and parka, with the addition of gloves, hat and neck gater(sp?). Since it was already 10-15* below the temps I had been able to get by with the jacket/pants alone last Sept. in WA, I figured it would take me about 30 min to realize I was uncomfortable and needed the bag. Instead, after several hours, with the temp now in the low 20s*, I still was not cold. In fact, if I closed the pod completely I was plenty warm. But due to paranoia about condensation, I would leave a breathing hole from quarter size to several inches right above my face. I certainly was not overheating, but I was not uncomfortably cool at all. But I don't think I actually could have gone even 2 or 3 degrees colder without needing a little more on top. Now and then, apparently my breath would go up and out the breathing hole, freeze and fall back on my face waking me up! Either that or frozen condensation would be knocked off of the tarp and fall in the breathing hole. When I got in or out of the top loader, I kept getting "snowed" on as frozen precip would fall off of the tarp when I brushed it, trying to fall inside my hammock or pod. I either needed a wider, higher tarp pitch or my bottom loader HH to avoid this.
Overall, a very positive impression, so far. I frankly could not believe that I was not uncomfortably cold at close to 20* with out a bag or quilt, just very warm clothes. I am looking forward to learning to use this more effectively and test this at colder temps. And though it is expensive, for such a huge 900 fp down bag that includes a top layer, and can seal you in and with more than rated loft, the PeaPod is really a bargain, it seems to me. There is a lot to like about this huge quilt.
First impressions (negative) and questions to be answered:
1: Down, and questions concerning the effect of moisture on long trips in deep wilderness. We all know the pros and cons. For some it is not an issue, for others it is a concern. But that same down is a huge advantage when it comes to warmth/weight.
2: Cost, compared to my SS or even to some other down quilts. Though I feel it is a bargain compared to what you get ( 19 oz 900fp down!) and to other down gear, it is still a lot of actual cash spent compared to some other options, and very much so compared to pads. That cost to benefit ratio is for each individual to decide if it is worth the price. Much as with expensive down under quilts, but even those cost a bit less, with no top layer.
3: This is really a concern more about the hammock I have to use it with than about the pod: I have not yet been able to get as comfortable in my Speer 8.5 as in my HH UL Explorer. But, I know there are some who actually prefer the comfort of the Speer and others who feel they are equal. So I hope to figure out how to get more comfort out of the Speer. Tips from users will be appreciated. I don't have as much shoulder room, even on the diagonal. And the pod may make this even a smidgen tighter, or it felt like it did. It's not that it is actually uncomfortable, I just- so far- prefer the feel of the HH which seems more comfortable. I hope I can change my mind. Regardless, other Speer/top loader/ PeaPod benefits may prove more important than small differences in comfort. Time will tell. Since that cold night, I have used my structural Ridge-line to add a bit more sag to the hammock, and first impression is it feels a bit better. But I don't think it's ever going to be as wide and open feeling as my large HH. Again, suggestions wanted! Also, I am considering that if I love the PeaPod enough, it might be usable with the HH if I cut the net off. Or maybe another top loader like a TTTM or Treklight might work well with the pod and maybe be a litle more comfortable for me. But, the width(volume) of the PeaPod around my shoulders may prove to be the limiting factor, as it is really not much more than the Speer hammock. Or I could just lose 40 lbs and be done with it! Then, I could also get my BMBH back!
First impressions (positive)
1: Very nice quality, mucho down and loft- appears to me to have a good bit more loft than rated, in most areas.
2: Very easy to attach, though caution is required to keep it off of the ground. Very easy to adjust except for some going back and forth initially to determine the proper sag for both full ( or nearly full) loft with little or no air gap. Mostly, really very intuitive. I was able to set up mostly correct the first time, in just a few minutes, without the directions. Set up in a nut shell for a 205 pounder: Wrap one end around hammock and close some Velcro to hold pod on hammock. Repeat on other end. Attach tie cords around webbing or knot on both ends, and adjust so end of pod is 2 or 3" from end knots as needed to give 5" of space between low point of unoccupied hammock and pod. Tie off cords like a shoe lace or whatever. Get in hammock and wrap pod around you like a sleeping bag, close Velcro as needed, or not at all if it is warm. Prepare to be warm.
3: Very flexible, from fully closed to wide open and only bottom warmth.
4: For 42 ozs, I am sure I can use this as bag alone- no quilt- at maybe 45*, certainly 50* and up, with no other warm clothing, or at most some thin long johns. Others ( like Ed Speer, for ex) will probably need more, but surely some others can go even colder. I am no where near as warm natured at 58 (59 on Jan15/08) as I was when a young, more muscular man. Fat may insulate,but muscle generates heat, assuming adequate caloric intake. All I know is I get colder easier these days.
5: For this weight(42 oz) plus 8 oz of PG pants and 14 oz of jacket and some gloves and such, I think I can maybe do low 30s, easily hi 30s. I did about 24* the other night with no problem, but I didn't stay out all night, so I might have gotten cold by morning. But for several hours I was not cold at all until I my cell phone- in my jacket pocket- woke me up ( I apparently got on a button, or I dreamed it beeped, whatever), so I realized I had to take a leak and just got up and went in to bed. But at that point, I was not at all cold. At least not until I got out of the PeaPod, then: Oh Brother! It felt real cold, and my thermometer that was a few feet from my hammock read 20*! But, I'll stick with the official coldest local low of 24*, though as best I can tell, my thermometer is accurate. So adding a 10*-15* fudge factor for wilderness conditions, I think I can safely do the mid to hi 30s with this combo, with out a quilt. Really closer to 30 than 40, and the limitation is top only. Dang, that is really good for a total weight top and bottom of less than 4 lbs including synthetic jacket and pants, which I carry with me anyway for warmth around camp or on the trail! Or so it seems to me. And of course, those weights could maybe be lowered if I was going with down all the way.
By comparison, I have a 3 lb PG Cats Meow Endurance bag, and with that(plus some warm clothing) on a pad under the stars, or in my HH on top of added weight of my SS, I'm not sure I could do much better than this. I know I was a little cold once at 27* ( under the stars, on the ground on a 2" thick TR pad) , though other times I have slept a little warmer. But always with the hood/collar cinched down and some extra fleece( =weight). Of course, these things are subject to many variables. Still, I'm impressed to have stayed warm for even just a few hours with just that jacket and pants at 24*. My down vest and/or down hood, and some vapor barrier socks or vb top/bottoms would have probably put me over into very warm territory indeed.
A No Sniveler would be really promising with this pod for severe winter use, along with a space blanket or pad or extra clothing or some combo added to the pod for even more bottom warmth.. Assuming the No Sniveller filled up the pod without compressing its loft , wouldn't that be about 5" of loft on top? What kind of temp rating would that be? Mighty darn warm! Total weight of pod and NS would be about 3.8 lbs, not much more than my Cat's Meow which provides virtually no bottom insulation and would be nowhere near as warm on top. I guess that's the advantage of high quality down. And naturally a Speer top blanket would probably work great for very little weight. But really, I think any 40 or 50* bag/quilt, down or synthetic, with whatever warm clothing will push this PeaPod into a serious piece of winter gear. I'm looking forward to finding out.
I remain a lonely fan of my SuperShelter, and further testing will tell me whether or not this PeaPod's warmth, multiple use possibilities and convenience is worth the difference in cost and having to worry about keeping down dry. Not to mention having to give up my HH Explorer, which I'm not sure I can tolerate. This product definitely meets the manufacturer's claims and then some, and it is on that basis that I am rating it. That is not to say that it might not be less than perfect for those who prefer synthetics or those who might find a different hammock more comfortable. That is, they might prefer a hammock that the PeaPod will not work on. Looked at from that angle, the PeaPod would get a lower rating.
But so far, despite these concerns which would apply only to certain groups, it seems there is a lot to love about the Speer PeaPod 3. Right now, I feel I can very highly recommend it for people that prefer Speer hammocks and who prefer down. For that group, this would seem to me to be 5 stars out of 5, and that is what I used to determine the official rating. This works at least as good as advertised, and maybe a good bit better.