Text, photo and film from GR&EI
Tomas Carlström sits by a sunbaked wall at the lake Eldrevatn on Hemsedalsfjellet mountain – 1,100 meters above sea level – with two Norrøna sleeping bags in his lap. One from the 1980s and one from 2021.
At age 79, Tomas is a living legend in Nordic mountain sports and outdoor life. Not only did he start the renowned mountain sports chain Skandinavisk Høyfjellsutstyr in the ‘70s, but he was also a designer for Norrøna for more than 20 years. Among other things, Tomas is known for having developed Norrøna’s tunnel tent and for creating the first Gore-Tex garments in Europe – including the iconic Norrøna Trollveggen set.
Now he looks back at the last time Norrøna produced sleeping bags in the 1980s.
“The Norwegian sleeping bag tradition was largely developed by Ajungilak,” says Tomas.
“Ajungilak was the leading manufacturer of down sleeping bags in Norway. Personally, I was inspired by American sleeping bag manufacturers who used more advanced designs. Down sleeping bags can be made with sewn-through seams – like household down quilts usually have. But that creates a ‘cold bridge’ at each individual seam. However, the Americans used various methods to avoid such cold bridges, with partitions between the outer and inner layers, so there were no sewn-through seams. There could be baffles with straight or sloping partitions or a more advanced V-shaped baffle system. That eliminated cold bridges on the whole length of the sleeping bag shell. We took those concepts with us when designing our sleeping bags at Norrøna. And then we got Ajungilak to make a new series of sleeping bags just for us,” he says.
Tomas holds one of the most advanced Norrøna winter bags from the eighties, marketed under the name “Høgevarde.”
“This doesn’t have sewn-through seams, but rather partitions between the outer and inner layers,” says Tomas.
“Plus, it has a longitudinal, two-way zipper that you can open at either end. We put an internal down flap all along the zipper, so it doesn’t become a cold bridge either. This was a winter bag that might also be used in slightly warmer conditions. So, it’s nice to be able to open it at the foot to allow ventilation. You can also open the zipper along the whole length of the bag and use it like a quilt,” he says.
The same basic principles
Norrøna is now launching a completely new series of sleeping bags, after several years of design, development, testing and quality assurance. Tomas believes that many of the same basic principles used in the sleeping bags he designed over 30 years ago still apply to today’s bags.
He picks up a prototype of the brand-new sleeping bag and goes through the details.
“This is a down sleeping bag without sewn-through seams. It also has a zipper with a flap inside to avoid cold bridges. The zipper is two-way, as in the old design. What is new is the shape of the ‘hood’ which gives the sleeping bag a better fit around the head. With this new design, it becomes tighter around the head and neck, something that can be very useful and comfortable when it’s cold. If you want more ventilation, just open the zipper and let air in.”
Sleeping bags as life insurance
Tomas believes a good, dry sleeping bag can be vital on mountain hikes when spending the night in a tent or snow cave.
“A sleeping bag is life insurance on your trips. You know that you are safe in all temperatures and in all kinds of weather. Being sure that you can feel comfortable and warm – and can enjoy the winter night – means a lot to a good hiking experience,” he says.
It turns out that sleeping bags have meant a lot in other areas of Tomas’ life as well:
“I met my wife, Sissel, at Kolsås Climbing Club’s Christmas party in 1972. It lasted until late at night and I didn’t have a sleeping bag with me, but Sissel had a down bag from Mountain Equipment. We shared it that night and got married the following year,” he recalls.