Improving on their previous Backcountry bed design, Sierra Designs has updated their sleeping bags to be warmer, more efficient, and lighter through the use of streamlined design and revised materials. Is newer better? My review:
Let’s start by looking at the design. For the unfamiliar, the original Backcountry bed removed the zippers of traditional sleeping bags and instead opted for a luxurious, quilt like top section that need only be turned down to get in and out of the bag. It also provides a larger internal compartment for tossing and turning, and had a large open hood. The 2018 revision takes this concept and streamlines it, removing excess material around the feet and legs, snugging the hood up closer to the head, but keeps the comforter concept and zipperless design. Now, it’s a a bit of a mummy shape with a top quilt that flares out with small hand pockets on the ends. The bag comes complete with a cinch system around the chest and head to tighten the bag down on cool nights, there is a sleeve on the bottom of the bag that allows it to attach it to a pad, and it comes with a nice storage and stuff sack. It’s constructed from 20 denier polyester ripstop for the exterior with a water shedding DWR coating applied, and the interior lining is a softer 20 denier polyester taffeta. As tested, the 700 model comes stuffed with 24.6 ounces of 700 power fill DriDown, weighs 2lbs 8 oz, packs down to about 16″ x 8″, and retails for $289.95.
What I liked
Just like the original Backcountry bed, the 2018 revision offers a wonderful sleeping experience that is more reminiscent of climbing into a bed than zipping up in a sleeping bag. Getting in and out is as simple as sliding the feet inside and covering up. There are no zippers to contend with, no teeth to hang up on fabric, and the very use of the bag feels natural and thought free. This speeds up both entry and egress, and makes the act of doing so far less of a chore. I never really noticed how much time I spent zipping, unzipping, and working out hung up zippers until I tried a zipperless design, and it definitely makes it hard to go back. The sleeve on the bottom of the bag also helps to alleviate twisting and knotting that often happens with mummy bags. Instead of the bag rolling with the user, or not, the sleeping bag can attach firmly to a sleeping pad, allowing the sleeper to move freely inside, without tangles. This all comes together to create something that’s more straightforward to use, and ultimately, far more enjoyable as a result.
When it comes to comfort, the Backcountry Bed excels. This too is a testament to the zipperless design. The quilt like comforter top is supremely soft and wraps gently around the sleeper in basically any position, and can be tucked against the neck like a cozy blanket. Instead of the sleeping bag dictating how I could lay, I found that I was able to lay in basically any position. I could lay on my stomach with my arms still covered under my pillow (impossible in a mummy), on my back with the hood sealed up around my face, or just about any other position I could come up with. I adore the small pockets in the comforter, as they allow me to tuck my hands to into them, then pull the quilt over my back, like throwing a blanket over my shoulders. This lets me wrap the quilt around me any way that I want it, providing coverage when I’m not in a traditional sleep position.
The materials as a whole are supremely soft, with the new nylon taffeta liner providing an especially smooth feel. It is reminiscent of high quality silk, with a smooth, abrasion free finish. It really makes worming around inside a real delight as it moves effortlessly around the body. I also found that my legs had plenty enough room to move about as the bottom of the bag is not tether to the pad. Despite the new tapered design, the hood sits comfortably on my head without preventing me from rolling inside the bag, with just enough room to lay on my side, back, or even my stomach if I tucked it under me.
Warmth is another strong point here, and an improvement over the original. The older backcountry beds, although they provide a bit more room inside than the 2018 version, it was mostly unused space that simply required more body heat to warm up, resulting in a slightly cooler overall feel. For less weight, the 2018 redesign is actually warmer, especially in the foot box and legs. This slimmer profile paired with an excellent baffle system and high quality down allows the sleeping bag to be toasty warm down to about 30 degrees with only a t-shirt and shorts on inside. This can be pushed into the twenties when paired with a warm base layer, and perhaps a fleece top and bottom. The bag does an excellent job of sealing out any air leaks too, with the long, generously sized comforter on top overlapping the sides completely, creating a nice, leak free seal that prevents any cold air from seeping in.
Venting and heat regulation is some of the best available for any sleeping bag. When it gets too steamy inside, the quilt can be turned down completely, revealing the entire upper body, or partially, allowing for a dialed in temperature equilibrium to be found. There is even a small foot box slit that allows the feet to slip out, making for a nice way to cool down hot feet. Between the two, temperatures up to about 70 degrees or so are pretty comfortable, making it a great year round bag that accommodates a wide range of temperatures.
A 30 degree sleeping bag at 2 lbs 8 oz that costs $289 is a pretty solid deal, if you ask me. This is especially true when considering the unique feature set, high quality construction (not a single loose thread to be found on mine) and it’s long term durability. So far, it’s been holding up great, and it represents a great value.
The pack size is appreciable, easily fitting into any average sized backpack.
What I didn’t like
Getting in and out of the bag is a little more challenging than the old design, but not by much. The new tapered design, I find, requires me to slide my legs in first, instead of just flopping on in. It’s not difficult, and it certainly doesn’t deter me from using the bag, but would like to see open just a few inches further down. It’s still better than fighting with zippers, and more agile campers aren’t likely to notice this at all as most people don’t unzip their sleeping bags this far down anyway. Still, worth a mention for potential upgraders.
If I had to nitpick for a second complaint, I’d pick on the fact that the sleeping bag doesn’t open up all the way down the bag. This means there is no way to vent heat off around the knee area. No matter how you sleep, aside from being on top of the actual sleeping bag, there is no real way to regulate the midsection. Due to this, hot summer nights could become a little less pleasant for those determined to stay covered up at all times, but honestly, at that point I’m usually not covering up anyway.
It’s no secret that the original Backcountry Bed is one of my all-time favorite sleep systems. Being able to simply turn down the comforter like top quilt when it gets hot or when I need to make a late night trip to the bushes is a wonderful feature. The fact that the bag straps down to my pad to prevent twisting and tangling only adds to the streamlined, highly functional nature of this sleep system. I really enjoyed the fact that getting in and out is basically silent, which helps avoid disturbing any potential tent mates too. It’s warm, impressively comfortable, and the entire design is more efficient than ever before. The 2018 model cuts weight, reduces pack size, and boosts the warmth of the bag considerably, all without sacrificing any comfort. It is in nearly all respects a much better design, and now aimed towards those who are more concerned with fast and light travel. Overall, I really love the design and the performance doesn’t disappoint, no matter what the conditions. I’m not sure what more I could ask of a sleeping bag.
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I want to extend a huge thanks to Sierra Designs for providing this product for review. We couldn’t do it without their help. Our full disclosure can be found here.
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