Purchased December 2016, reviewed September 2017
The Shocking Blue is the namesake sleeping bag in France-based Valandre’s “Shocking Blue Series” of cold-weather sleeping bags.
Many winter sleeping bags are given names that conjure up warmth, such as the “Inferno,” “Torch,” or “Furnace.” But that would be too conventional for Valandre, which named their bag after a late ’60s Dutch rock band whose hits include “Never Marry a Railroad Man” and “Blossom Lady.” Valandre’s sophisticated “Marie Antionette collar” system, which cinches down on your neck, is named after the guillotined French monarch.
But perhaps the most curious aspect of the Shocking Blue is its temperature rating. Sleeping bags are typically referred to based on a standard that approximates the “lowest level of comfort.” A 20 degree bag, for example, should keep you comfortable down to 20 degrees. Outdoor Gear Lab lists the Shocking Blue at -10℉, CampSaver claims -25℉, and EMS puts it at an authoritatively demical-placed +10.4℉. On its own website, Valandre rates the Shocking Blue at +11℉ and -13℉ on the same page and the Shocking Blue Neo (which shares claimed dimensions, fill weight, and total weight with the Shocking Blue) at -3℉ and -4℉.
What is going on here?
Materials and Design
According to Valandre, the Shocking Blue uses 1 pound 11 ounces of fill down from the “French fatty gray goose.” This weight of down is typically found in approximately 0-degree-rated bags by other manufacturers. Valandre states that down used in their products comes from geese that are allowed to roam outside, though in a 2009 post on Backpacking Light a user claiming to be the designer for Valandre does seem to state that the down comes from geese used in the fois gras industry. Many of us would rather not think about the materials used in our outdoor gear (animal-derived or otherwise), but it may be worth noting that fois gras production is banned in many countries and in California on animal welfare grounds. In any case, the down used in the Shocking Blue is of excellent quality–soft, lofty, and evenly-dispersed in the sleeping bag’s baffles. Some sources describe the down as 850+, and some describe it as 800.
The Shocking Blue’s shell is made of 40.7g/m2 DWR-coated ripstop nylon fabric from Japan-based Asahi-Kasei. Many companies spec their winter sleeping bags with warm colors: oranges, reds, yellows. But here again, Valandre takes its own path: the Shocking Blue’s shell is an icy, cold pale blue that really is true to its name. Many top-of-the-line winter sleeping bags incorporate ultralight waterproof-breathable shell fabrics, while the Valandre’s soft, wrinkly Asahi-Kasei shell relies on DWR for water resistance.
The Shocking Blue’s 80 separate shell fabric panels are designed to naturally lift off a sleeper. Valandre alternately calls this a “tubular bell” and “3D-baffle” design.
Valandre seems to be bucking the industry by spec’ing a non-waterproof fabric for the Shocking Blue shell, but they may be on to something. Despite advances, waterproof-breathable fabrics still don’t breathe as well as non-waterproof fabrics. On other high-end sleeping bags with waterproof-breathable membranes, I’ve observed the down sticking lightly to the inside of the shell by the morning, indicating that water vapor from perspiration has cooled and become trapped on the inside of the membrane. I have never noticed this issue with the Shocking Blue. A waterproof-breathable fabric may be better at shedding water from the outside, but how often is liquid water sloshing around in extremely cold environments? The Valandre’s DWR shell fabric still does a good job blocking water, but does a great job handling the moisture on the inside of your bag.
The down-stuffed Marie Antoinette collar is comfortable and extremely effective at keeping warm air from escaping from the sleeping bag. Contrary to one prominent online review, as long as you can use a pull-cord and velcro it is easy to use. The Marie Antionette certainly is heavier than the simple collars used by other top sleeping bag manufacturers, but I have no doubt that it’s worth its weight in increased heat retention.
The plastic-toothed full-length YKK zipper is pretty straightforward to use, and while it does occasionally snag it isn’t hard to free.
The Shocking Blue really is big in the torso. Even while wearing a fleece and a super-puffy Arc’teryx belay jacket (the Cerium SV) I still have space left to move. Valandre obliquely describes the Shocking Blue as “compatible” with its own down suits–whatever you make of that, the Shocking Blue is clearly designed to accommodate a full-on mountaineering jacket. It’s often pointed out that extra room in a sleeping bag can lead to thermal inefficiency, because your body has to heat extra air and airflow can circulate heat away from your body. Therefore, it’s probably fair to say that you can use the Shocking Blue like a conventional sleeping bag, but it becomes a more and more compelling choice the more you can fill the available space with extra layers.
Valandre’s own measurements suggest that this is the case. The medium-sized Shocking Blue, rated to -4℉, has an interior shoulder measurement of 65.4in. The Odin, rated to -22℉, has an interior shoulder measurement of only 60.2in. The Thor, Valandre’s coldest-weather bag rated to -40℉ also shares the 60.2in shoulder measurement. The Bloody Mary, a somewhat warmer bag than the Shocking Blue at +11℉, has a shoulder measurement of 62.6in. Though all of these sleeping bags are included in Valandre’s Shocking Blue Series of sleeping bags, it’s clear that the flagship Shocking Blue and the Bloody Mary employ a significantly different design philosophy than the Odin and Thor. One might reasonably wonder why these bags are all included in the “Shocking Blue Series” of sleeping bags.
So what about that temperature rating? Well, the bottom line here is that conventional temperature ratings don’t apply to this bag because it’s not designed to be used like a conventional sleeping bag. Based on my personal experience, while wearing minimal clothing the comfort rating for this bag might be about +5℉, but again, that’s not what this bag is designed for. With my Cerium SV down jacket I have slept happily through the night at -10℉ in the Shocking Blue, and have no reason to doubt those reporting that they’ve been comfortable below -20℉.
The Shocking Blue ships with two accessories, a compression sack and a larger mesh storage bag. Neither is especially flattering to the Shocking Blue. The non-waterproof compression sack is a bit crude and heavy, and the single line of widely-spaced stitches on the drawcord sleeve has already started to pull out on both sides of the drawcord. The larger mesh bag for long-term storage is about 50% too small and doesn’t allow the Shocking Blue to fully loft.
On its website’s “About” page, Valandre has a bolded subheader for the topic “Philosophy.” The text reads:
“If you are looking for a philosophy in Valandre, you came to the wrong place. Valandre has no philosophy at all, and producing technical high altitude expedition is not a little dream world, where the designers float around in an idle dreaming… SPORT has never been a philosophy.”
Valandre’s swaggering, vaguely nihlistic ad copy certainly has personality, and naming a sleeping bag collar after a beheaded woman suggests an impressive commitment to dark humor in a sales environment. But while Valandre might not have a “Philosophy” in some college-class sense, it nevertheless does have many ideas, and at least some of these are worth sharing. It may be worth noting that I’ve sent messages to Valandre twice with questions about their products, and neither time did I receive a response. At least some of the confusion over the Shocking Blue is simply a result of the company’s reluctance to communicate (clearly or otherwise) with consumers.
The Valandre Shocking Blue is a obsessively thought-out and fastidiously built sleeping bag that probably isn’t for everyone. Those who want a conventionally-fitting bag and/or who don’t want to layer inside their bag should probably look elsewhere. But those willing to give Valandre’s concept a chance will find that they can push this bag way below where its weight (or listed comfort limit) suggests. Those with large torsos or who simply want a lot of room to move at night will also be thrilled by the Shocking Blue’s spacious design.