REI is ready to introduce its newly redesigned sleeping bag line, consisting of 21 models, for 2009. The rolling launch is slated to begin in early January, with the final models hitting the market by March 1. Significantly, the new bags-with the exception of sub-zero and kids rectangular models-comply with European EN temperature rating standards.

Our line was looking fractured, and it was time to rebuild it from scratch, says Tom Kimmet, REIs product manager for tents and sleeping bags. Over the last five years, weve done selective updates. One year wed do down, and one year synthetic. The prices were not where we wanted them to be. With this, we will wipe the slate clean and start over.

The main focus of the line is comfort. These bags will have a more relaxed fit than previous models, notes Kimmet. Weve made our bags fit customers a little bit better. For example, Kimmet points out that REIs current Sub-Kilo bag is pretty darn tight with a 57 chest girth. The new version will offer a 59 chest girth.

In regard to previous temperature ratings, recalls Kimmet, I read third-party reviews of our [sleeping bag] line that said REI had good fabrication, design and great value, but that they felt cold. That really bothered me, so we had this opportunity to think about how we keep customers warm. For this reason, he says, We have adopted EN3537 testing protocols, which is the European testing standard.

There are presently five approved EN testing facilities in the world, with Kansas State University being the only one in the U.S. The testing involves the use of a thermal mannequin.

They dress [the mannequin] in one base layer undergarment and a hat, stick it in a sleeping bag on a 1 pad, and read the temperature, explains Kimmet. The mannequins are heated to simulate body warmth, and then surface temperature of the mannequin is measured. A maximum temperature/comfort level is assigned for which the standard-sized woman will be comfortable. The mens comfort level is at the lowest temperature at which a male can be comfortable. He adds that any REI adult mummy bag above zero degrees will go through EN testing protocol.

Of course, EN testing has multiple layers including the temperature rating system as well as the fabrics and insulations used in the bags. We are just looking at temperature testing part of that component, says Kimmet. The bottom line is that we want to create a level playing field for all our vendor partners and our retail customers.

It is no secret that for consumers, it is daunting to try to compare seemingly similar bags that have been tested to different standards. REI carries bags from 20 manufacturers that do their own testing, and each is a little different, says Kimmet. When consumers see a 20-degree bag from vendor X and a 20-degree bag from vendor Y, they cant necessarily compare them.

To eliminate the confusion, REI is in talks with its vendor partners that already do business in Europe to supply EN documentation. For vendor partners not doing business in Europe, REI is requesting that they go through EN testing processing. Id like to have everything in my assortment for 2010 tested in this manner, says Kimmet. This will help REI put together a better, more consumer-friendly assortment, and will eliminate varying standards.

On the sales floor, REIs new sleeping bags will boast hangtags with EN ratings for both men and women. The top temperature range will pertain to women, and the bottom range to men. This will help consumers better determine what they need, and will help them understand the differences between bags, says Kimmet.

Not surprisingly, the retail pricing of the new line will be slightly increased. Because the bags are more relaxed, more fabric and insulation are needed, and global economics are also a factor, says Kimmet. But customers will be getting a bigger bang for the buck. Our gear and apparel team really moved mountains to bring these to market.