This Polish Outdoors Brand Makes High-End Ultralight Sleeping Bags for Cheap

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The category of ultralight sleeping bags and quilts is notoriously hard to improve upon. In many ways, sleeping bags are a solved product, and a quick glance through gear history proves it. Take Feathered Friends for example: the vaunted sleeping bag manufacturer has been around for more than 50 years, and its catalog has barely changed. In 1992, the brand’s 20 degree down bag, the Swallow, weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces. The latest iteration weighs just 3 ounces less. 

So when a brand making down sleeping bags and jackets sees a surge in popularity, as Polish brand Cumulus is currently experiencing, it might be hard to pin down why. That is, until you see the price tags. Cumulus provides the kind of customized, high-end insulation that makes ultralighters geek out, for prices that are often far below comparable American offerings: Cumulus’ 850-fill power 20-degree Panyam 600 bag rings up at $335, while comparable bags from major stateside players will set you back more than $500. We got in touch to learn more about the company and how it balances quality and affordability.

Unlike many brands that have popped up recently with ultralight hiking’s rising popularity, Cumulus has a long history. In June 1989, Poland held free elections for the first time, marking the end of Communist rule and the start of a new era of private enterprise in the country. Before the year ended, an avid hiker and cyclist named Zdzisław Wylężek joined the ranks of new business owners, founding an outdoor company called Cumulus Outdoor Equipment. 

cumulus Plancklite
The Plancklite from Cumulus (Photo: Courtesy Cumulus)

Wylężek wasn’t brand new to the outdoor industry; he had already worked as a product designer in a state-run enterprise that made outdoor gear. When he ventured out on his own, he first made products that he was familiar with, like bike bags and panniers, before deciding to specialize in down-filled gear like jackets and sleeping bags. It was a sensible choice, both for Wylężek’s own “fast and light” philosophy, and the company’s physical location in Poland. 

“From the very beginning, we’ve had a clear advantage—close access to one of the world’s best insulators, which is Polish down,” says Anna Wylężek, Cumulus’ communications officer. (She’s also Zdzisław’s daughter-in-law and our interview subject for this story.) From the brand’s headquarters in Gydnia, it’s just a few hours drive to meet with Europe’s top down suppliers. Along with Hungary, Poland is one of the largest producers of goose down in Europe, and Polish down is particularly prized in outdoor and luxury goods that require on high fill power ratings. According to Cumulus, the Polish climate, with its cold winters and hot summers, breeds hardier birds that produce better down. By exclusively using Polish down, Cumulus can closely track its quality and reduce import costs, Wylężek says. 

That’s not the only way Cumulus keeps costs low. Most of its sales are direct-to-consumer, and it relies on word-of-mouth for growth, rather than pricey marketing campaigns. The company also keeps its product line small and doesn’t make aesthetic changes just to drive sales, Wylężek says. In that way, Cumulus shares a model with the most venerated bag makers in the United States, like Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends, whose catalogs rarely change from year to year. 

To be clear, gear from Cumulus isn’t exactly dirt-cheap. Their latest jacket, the Plancklite, costs $185, about the same as your average down jacket from REI or a local shop. But the Plancklite isn’t your average puffy: it’s made of a newly-released 7-denier nylon, stuffed with 900-fill power down, and weighs just 4.6 ounces. Its closest competitors, like the Montbell Plasma 1000 jacket, cost about twice as much. 

Aerial Cumulus
The Aerial sleeping bag from Cumulus (Photo: Courtesy Cumulus)

Though Cumulus does offer a few products for the masses, most of its product line is similarly geared towards ultralighters. Its “false bottom” sleeping bag line, called the Aerial, shaves weight by removing the down on the underside of the bag. Its dedicated ultralight models, like the X-Lite line, use a fabric called Toray Airtastic, a 7-denier nylon that clocks in at just 19 grams per square meter. It also offers custom sleeping bags, and discerning customers can change everything from down fill weight and face fabrics to the size and length of the zipper.

For much of its early history, Cumulus did most of its sales within the country. Business increased across Europe when Poland joined the European Union in 2004, but wider growth, particularly sales to the United States, has been gradual and mostly by happenstance. It’s only in the past few years that demand from American ultralighters has ramped up, thanks to impressed customers spreading the word on ultralight hangouts like Reddit and Backpacking Light. 

In Wylężeki’s telling, this is a good thing. This “measured and cautious” approach, she says, means that Cumulus has been able to stick to its own values—keeping all production in-house, using only ethically-sourced down, and offering repairs and a lifetime warranty against defects.

“Our goal isn’t just growth at any cost. We’d rather steadily develop and reach out to people who share our values and choose us for what we stand for,” she says.