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The Ultimate Sleeping Bag Review: Nine of the best three-season bags on the market

With specs, pros and cons, and Canadian prices

Photo by: Brandon Pullan of Sonnie Trotter and Mount Gimli

The three-season bag is the workhorse of the sleeping bag world. It covers you from early spring through to late fall, the bulk of the camping season for most users. Choosing a bag involves figuring out what your sleeping style is and what kind of trips you will be taking your bag on.

If you are a cold sleeper, get a bag rated to a colder temperature, if you are a lightweight backpacker or climbers, you will want something light and compact. If you mostly do shorter trips or car camp while you are doing other outdoor activities, then compactness will be less important.

Patagonia down sleeping bag

Down:  All of the bags in this review are filled at least partially with down. Down, the fine, compressible layer next to the bodies of geese and ducks remains the lightest and most compressible fill, despite improvements in synthetic fills. Down, if properly cared for, will last through years of use.

Fill power is essentially a laboratory measurement of warmth to weight and warmth to compressibility. A fill rating is derived from the number of cubic inches that one ounce of a particular type of down will expand to fill. The larger the down clusters, the higher the fill power. The higher the fill power, the more insulation per weight. Needless to say, the higher the fill power, the pricier the bag.

Down is traditionally sourced from live birds who are killed before the down is harvested. Many manufacturers now use the Responsible Down Source service to assure that the animals are treated properly. Down recycled from bedding has the potential for a more environmentally friendly sleeping bag. Although there are still some issues in achieving higher fill powers with this fill, exciting new entries into the market are filled with recycled down.

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Hydrophobic treatments of down that are now common and address the problem that down fill, when wet, lacks lofting power. These treatments won’t prevent down from losing loft when totally drenched but address common wet situations like the toe of the sleeping bag having prolonged contact with a condensation-covered tent wall or light snow at a bivouac.

Comfort Ratings: Most manufacturers send their bags to labs to be independently tested. This  provides some objectivity, but there are many other factors in real-world use, like how well you are fed, whether you are already cold or wet, what kind of sleeping pad you are using and so on that will affect your comfort. Generally, it is agreed that comfort ratings are a little optimistic. Choose a bag a few degrees warmer than the comfort ratings to be sure you will be warm enough.

Marmot Gallatin

Comfort Rating: -18 C
Fill: 650 fill goose down in the chest and foot area, HL-ElixR Micro synthetic in the hood and leg areas.
Weight: 1.66 kg
Shell: Pertex nylon
Price: $480

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With the new Warmcube construction, Marmot has made one of the first innovations in insulation design in some time. Warmcube divides the insulation into three-dimensional cubes separated by channels that trap warm air. The system allows an insulating garment or sleeping bag to conform to your body shape and for the channels between the cubes to trap air in places determined by your body shape. An outer layer of synthetic over the cubes gives the bag some structure and serves as a more water-resistant layer over the down.

The mummy shape is efficient but does not allow for much in-bag wiggle room. The hood is tailored to fit right around the head, the two-way, full-length YKK zipper is, therefore, tricky to get at inside the bag when everything is done up. The down-filled foot box, however, is roomy.

The advantages of the synthetic fill are both price and its superior insulating power when damp. One of the issues with the use of synthetic fill, however, is its lack of compressibility compared to down. As such, the Gallatin doesn’t compress as much as an all-down bag. The Pertex, water-resistant shell is a nice addition for when your feet touch the wet walls of your tent, or for sleeping under the stars.

The Gallatin is a good bag that works in any setting but will appeal more to anyone who does not need the lightest or most compressible bag. Canoeists and road trippers take note.

Mountain Hardwear Phantom -9

Comfort Rating: -9 c
Fill: 850 fill goose down
Shell: Pertex nylon
Weight: 941 g (regular)
Sizes: Short, regular or long
Price: $675

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This mummy bag is made for adventures where lightness and compressibility are the main concerns. Its responsibly sourced 850 down fill offers lots more warmth per ounce than most fills in 3-season bags. The four down chambers in the hood keep the down in place around your head and neck and a draft baffle at the shoulders and another around the inside of the hood keeps the rest of you warm when the hood isn’t cinched up. Make sure you practice with the cordlock for the hood before you cinch yourself inside. It is cleverly sewn into the bag to prevent it from rubbing against your skin and to protect it from breakage and takes a bit of a knack to find.

This is a lean mummy bag although the foot box allows movement. The chest and shoulders are snug if you have wider shoulders. This bag, however, is designed for those who are willing to trade roominess for warmth for weight and compressibility.

Climbers will appreciate the second zipper pull that allows you to keep most of the bag zipped up while you’re still tied into the rope. It also works for ventilation. A zip guard strip helps to avoid any snags.

The Pertex shell has a durable water-repellant (DWR), which although not waterproof, helps to keep the down dry in damp tents or on bivouacs. It comes with a compression sack, which is a rare extra, and a larger netted storage bag.

A top-of-the-line bag for the serious lightweight user.

MEC Draco -9

Comfort Rating: -9 c
Fill: 650 fill duck down
Shell: Pertex nylon
Weight: 1.29 kg (regular)
Sizes: Regular and long
Price: $270

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MEC claims that the Draco is “waaay cheaper than comparable options.” Unlike most premium bags, which are filled with goose down, the Draco insulates with duck down. Duck down is cheaper because more ducks than geese are eaten, but also because, due to the larger size of geese, they produce bigger down clusters than ducks. The result is less insulation for weight than goose down, but duck down is nonetheless, a high-quality fill that will give years of use. MEC’s duck down also meets the Responsible Down Standard for animal welfare.

The Draco’s other features are much the same as those seen in more expensive bags. The fill in the torso section is kept in place with vertical baffles. Zipper and shoulder baffles keep the heat from escaping. A laminated border on the inside of the bag keeps the zip from snagging. A small zip pocket in the top of the baffle can be used for a small item like a contact lens case. The hood and shoulder drawcords both pull through the same cordlock, and although one cord is flat and the other is round, in the dark it requires a little practice to choose the right one. A Pertex nylon shell with a DWR treatment that helps it shed moisture from the side of the tent.

This is a roomier bag, which will appeal to those who want something wider throughout, especially in the shoulders. Recommended for those who are happy to sacrifice a pretty minor degree of lightness and compressibility for a roomier. More economical, but still heavily featured bag.

The North Face Eco Trail 20

Comfort Rating: -7 C
Weight: 1.3 kg
Fill: 600 fill recycled down
Shell: Recycled Polyester
Size: Short, Regular, Long
Price: $180

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The North Face is an industry leader in the use of recycled materials and this is one of the first high-end sleeping bags on the outdoor market filled with recycled down. The shell is also recycled polyester, making for a sleeping bag with great environmental credentials at a terrific price.

Down recycling is tricky because down has to be removed, mostly from old pillows and mattresses, the feathers must be separated and the different quality downs divided. Duck and goose down are intermixed in recycled down because they are usually mixed in the original bedding items. The down is then washed and sterilized before re-use. Although the down recycling industry claims that its products are equal in quality to new down, few manufacturers have offered outdoor products with the fill.

When it comes to its design, the Eco-Trail 20 is a fairly standard mummy. There’s a shoulder baffle and a zipper baffle. The hood has single cord closure with an external cordlock. A unique feature is a zipper that is higher on the sleeping bag than in most designs and curves across the top of the bag above the ankles. This makes it easy to reach. Two sliders allow you to adjust airflow in different parts of the bag.

This bag is environmentally friendly, light, featured enough for a three-season bag and much less expensive than many models. 

Sea to Summit Ascent AC II

 

Comfort Rating: -4 C
Weight: 1.110 kg (regular)
Fill: 750+ fill 90/10 grey duck down
Shell: 20 D Nylon
Size: Regular and long
Price: $500

Sea to Summit began when Australian mountaineer, Tim Macartney-Snape, asked Roland Tyson to design him gear for an attempt to climb Mount Everest after making a self-propelled journey to the mountain from sea level. Now the company makes a wide range of gear and clothing, including a full line of sleeping bags.

The Ascent AC II is rated to -10 C, so it will take you well into the early winter season in most places in the world. It’s filled with 750+ duck down that is 90 percent down clusters, which makes it compressible, warm for its weight and durable. The down is certified Responsible Down Standard (RDS) to ensure oversight of the harvesting program for the humane treatment of the animals. Clever baffling, like the vertical baffles in the chest, so that the down says in place even when you roll on your side, and head, shoulder and zipper draft tubes will keep warmth in the bag when you want it there.

A unique feature of the bag is its Freeflow system of three zippers that allow you to vary how much ventilation you get. A half-length zipper over the chest on the opposite side of the long side zipper so that you can turn down the chest portion of the bag, a zipper in the foot section to help manage overheating in that area and the long zipper offer more options to the sleeper who wants to vary the warmth of their sleep than any other bag on the market.

There is also an internal pocket on the side baffle for a phone or other valuables. Comes with a lightweight compression bag and a larger storage sack.

Patagonia 850 Fill -1 c Sleeping Bag

Comfort Rating: -1 c
Weight: 913 g
Fill: 850 fill goose down
Shell: Pertex nylon
Size: long, regular and short

Price: $285 CAD short, $311, CAD long

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Patagonia has been making down gear for more than four decades and their experience shows in the 850 fill -1 celsius bag. The bag is filled with traceable down so that Patagonia is able to make sure that the down they use originates in farms where the birds are treated properly. 850 is more or less the highest fill power down in use in garments and sleeping bags, which makes the bag both highly compressible and light. The bags are also Fair Trade certified sewn, to ensure that the workers who made them received fair wages and good working conditions.

The ingenious and careful design makes great use of the fill. The inner bag is cut smaller to minimize compression of the down. Vertical baffles on the chest and legs help to keep as much down as possible from being compressed if you roll over. The foot box is ergonomically to concentrate insulation over the toes and also to give space.

The unconventional top-of-bag zipper definitely catches the eye, since almost all sleeping bags now have side zippers. Although it looks like the feature might make for a colder area, but the thick double baffles on either side of the zipper eliminated any cold spots. The triple slider top-of bag zipper allows you to make a gap anywhere you want in the top of the bag. Alpine climbers can thread in a rope and backpackers can use the sliders to reach for a headlamp without fully opening their bag. The hood is sculpted to fit closely around your head and easily adjusted with either right or left hand. It comes with a stuff sack and a larger storage bag.

This highly featured bag is at the higher temperature end of the three-season spectrum. It will appeal to those who camp in warmer fall and spring conditions or who just want a lighter bag. 

Big Agnes Blackburn UL 0 Degrees

Comfort Rating: -18 c
Weight: 1.19 kg/regular
Fill: 850 fill Down Tek treated down
Shell: Nylon
Sizes: Regular, Long, Small
Price: $550 (long)

The American brand Big Agnes makes a range of innovative shelters, tents, pads, and sleeping bags. The Blackburn, like many of their bags, features a sewn-on stretch sleeve to keep your sleeping pad in place. By inserting your pad into the sleeve, you can eliminate rolling off of it in the night. A sleeve in the hood does the same trick for a pillow. A pouch near the shoulders can hold a phone or other small items.

Big Agnes bags use DownTek water repellant down. Synthetic insulation is heavier and less compressible than down, but unlike down, it maintains a significant degree of insulating power when it is wet. DownTek treatment keeps the loft and lightness but makes it more resistant to saturation. The anti-snag zipper was easy to use and didn’t snag even on sudden pulls. The vertical baffling helps to keep you warm even when you roll over. This is a roomier bag than most mummies, which is especially nice in such a featured bag. The rectangular shape of the bag itself

This is at the warm end of the bags in this review, as it goes down to 0 Fahrenheit or -18 c, but it’s still light for all of the features it delivers. If you’re looking for a warmer, roomier bag for late fall/early winter this is the bag for you. 

Thermarest Questar -6

Comfort Rating: -6 c
Weight: .99 kg
Fill: 650 fill Nikwax Hydrophobic recycled down
Shell: Polyester
Sizes: Small, Regular, Long
Price: $370

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Thermarest, the pioneer of self-inflating foam mattresses also makes sleeping bags. The filling in this bag is recycled, so it is a mixture of goose and duck downs originally used in bedding, that has been separated from the feathers and sorted according to fill grade. The Questar uses Nikwax Hydrophobic 650 fill down, which is treated to make it more water repellant, a feature that helps the down maintain its loft when damp.

The Questar is cut to offer lots of room inside for fitful sleepers, of course at the possible expense of cold spots on chillier nights, although the box baffled construction and the  It’s a feature only seen in a few lightweight bags and well worth considering if it fits your sleeping style. Even if you move around a lot, you’ll still stay on your pad. Not surprisingly, Thermarest includes a removable elastic trap system they call the Synergy Link system to keep your bag on its sleeping pad. The zipper has a snag reducing housing, and on the outside of the bag, near the hood, a small zip bag helps to keep a cell phone, headlamp or other small items close at hand.

A good bag for environmentally conscious backcountry users or anyone who likes a little more room.

Rab Mythic Ultra 360

Comfort Rating: 0 c
Weight: 606 g
Fill: 900 fill fluorocarbon-free hydrophobic European goose down
Shell: Nylon
Price: $800

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Scottish climber Rab Carrington remains a legend in climbing circles for his daring alpine ascents from Scotland to the Alps and the Himalaya. He was also well-known for designing some of the most advanced lightweight technical gear available for his company, Rab, which is now under new ownership but continues his vision with products like the Ultra series sleeping bags.

The Ultra 360 is a bag focused on delivering the best performance for the lightest weight. The 900 fill down, treated with a Nikwax coating to make it water-resistant, is the highest fill power down of any sleeping bag in this review, offering an advantage of warmth to weight. The chevron-shaped baffles are designed to keep the fill in place and the ample collar baffle and shoulder and hood drawstrings with cordlocks on the inside of the bag will allow you to adjust for warmth. The Thermo Ionic Lining Technology (TILT), or TILT, of the liner material comprises a titanium treatment of the fibres to make a surface that reflects heat back to you but stays breathable. The silver lining is eye-catching and unique.

Although there is a roomy trapezoidal foot box, the rest of the bag is on the narrower side, like many lightweight sleeping bags. It also has a hip-length zipper (with two pulls, so you can tie in while bivouacking if you are a climber), a weight savings that represents some loss in the capacity to adjust the temperature.

The Rab Mythic Ultra 360 is a terrific bag for any lightweight backpacker or climber. Every component is carefully thought out and of the highest quality and every attempt has been made to reduce the weight.

Sonnie Trotter staying warm in Valhalla Provincial Park, B.C. Photo Brandon Pullan
Lead photo: Brandon Pullan of Sonnie Trotter and Mount Gimli