In the beginning of March 2017 Anna and I went to Gdynia, Poland, where travelers, adventurers and other fearless souls gather every year to talk about their explorations. It was the 19th time that Kolosy (as the festival is called) took place, attracting over 10.000 people, who stood in long queues to listen to the stories of Polish travelers. We had the honor to share some of the memories from our life on the road, shake hands with old and new friends and exchange ideas about the outdoor activities. Fun!
Because the festival took place in Gdynia, I had the opportunity to visit the recently relocated headquarter of Cumulus – a Polish producer of top of the shelf down sleeping bags. It was quite a personal visit to me – while preparing for our round-the-world trip, I visited the old factory of Cumulus and bought sleeping bags for Anna and myself – they later accompanied us in some of the toughest locations we ventured into. We’ve spent hundreds of nights in our LiteLine 400, including a rather difficult one right below 5000m, near Shingo La Pass in Zanskar, where the mercury dropped well below the bag’s safety rating. The fluffiness of Polish goose down kept us warm throughout the entire journey. Later into the trip, to shave off the weight, we decided to replace the LitLine400 with the zipperless version of XLite 200 and thanks to that we could enjoy over 600g of total weight saving on both of our bags.
As soon as I entered a rather stealth looking building, I was greeted by countless smiles of the staff of Cumulus. I instantly felt a very relaxed atmosphere, and when the CEO of the company, Mr Wylężek welcomed me to his premises, I knew right away that it will be an interesting factory tour.
Cumulus, one of the most renowned Polish down sleeping bags, quilts and down garment producer, started to experiment with modern designs and fabrics already in the 1989 . They implemented Pertex into their line when it was still produced in the UK, that’s the time when its lightest incarnation was almost 5 times as heavy as Quantum GL. At the moment Cumulus offers ultralight equipment using Torray’s Airtastic – one of the lightest downproof woven fabrics available on the market.
I could not resist the temptation to have a look at the production process. I entered a large hall and quietly circled a gigantic table, where one hundred layers of ultrathin textile were stacked upon each other, followed by the pattern of sleeping bags of various constructions. A skilled master cutter effortlessly turned the sandwich of flimsy, silky Pertex into elaborated shapes, right in front of my eyes. I was really impressed how little remnants were left after the cutting. As I learnt later, a special program is used to minimize the waste.
The cut parts of the fabric – and Cumulus uses a variety of them – are later grouped together and sent to the crew responsible for sewing. They apply their magic to the shiny mass of polyamid and in a blink of an eye the empty shells are ready for the next step.
The next step in the life of a sleeping bag is to be filled with what really makes it special – down. Poland is famous of its geese – the harsh winters of the country’s East cause the birds to grow some of the best naturally available insulation. As I was told by my host, the down is sourced in an ethical way (live plucking is forbidden in the EU, unlike in China, where it is still quite common), and its fluffiest fraction is used to trap air inside the chambers of the bags.
Cumulus uses two types of down in their sleeping bags: 700 cuin (primarily in “Alaska”, to deliver a product that would make enjoying the outdoors in the coldest environment slightly more affordable) and this of 850 cuin – that’s practically as lofty as it can be without interfering with its natural properties. The biggest downside of using down is that it looses its properties when it gets wet. To combat that, the company recently started to use the hydrophobic version of down – with great success!
A very sophisticated machine is used to fill the bags. In some cases the bags are filled by hand, to make sure that the insulation is distributed evenly.
Straight from the filling station, each bag goes to a neighboring room, where the final stitches are applied to seal it. Bags are then ready for the quality check.
The closer to the summer, the higher is the demand for the products. I was lucky to visit the company right before the peak of the season – there was even enough time to enjoy a moment of celebration – one of the employee’s celebrated his names day and we all enjoyed a home made cake. I was told that such a celebration – when all staff members leave their workplace to eat together, take place quite often.
I had a great time visiting the manufacturer in Gdynia – it does not happen often that I can witness how the products I use every day are being made. I have always had great trust in equipment that is produced out of best available materials, weather it is outdoor related or not. I think that we, the users, have the tendency to take the quality of our gear for granted – we pay high prices for top of the shelf stuff so we expect it to work, often forgetting about the skills of the people who were responsible for its creation. After my meeting with the staff of Cumulus I know how much work it takes to make a sleeping bag, that keeps its user warm in the worst possible conditions. I also learnt how much the atmosphere of a workplace affects the quality of a product – in case of Cumulus the dedication put in the process of making their sleeping bags turns directly into warmth one feels during long, cold nights in the great outdoors.
Disclaimer: I have no ties with Cumulus, the bags that Anna and I have been using were paid by ourselves.