2008 Sleeping Bag Review: Summer Sleeping Bags

Best All-Around

Sierra Designs Nitro 30

Here's a rare find: a premium down bag that's rated 30°F, costs less than $300, and kept our tester warm below its temperature rating. All that, and it weighs well under 2 pounds, thanks to a half-zip and light but lofty 800-fill down. The Nitro (Spark 30 is the women's version) kept our tester toasty on a fall trek in Idaho's Sawtooths, when lows dipped into the high 20s and chilly gusts snuck under his tent's fly. The torso region atop the half-zip bag has stretch baffles that eliminate dead space, yet stretch when you stretch. A zip in the footbox allows venting on mild nights. Our only minor complaint was the hood, which bunched a little around the face when it was closed down to blowhole size. $259; 1 lb. 10 oz.; 30°F

Top Ultralight

Rab Quantum Top Bag AR

Making premium down bags lighter is a lesson in diminishing returns. Start with 850-fill down and Pertex Quantum water-resistant shell fabric, as this bag does, and the only way you can cut weight is to make it smaller, colder, or simpler. The Top Bag AR does all three, and we're not complaining. For starters, there's no zipper, no draft collar, and no down under the torso (there's a sleeve for a 20-inch-wide mattress). The cut is efficient and the simple, shallow hood closes with a drawstring. Result? "It packs smaller than a grapefruit and kept me warm at 40°F," says our tester, who found the 32°F temp rating slightly optimistic. If you're ruthless about weight–we're talking to you, adventure racers–this bag is a great deal. Note: The one size is best for folks 5'9" or shorter. $200; 1 lb. 2 oz.; 32°F

Most Versatile

Exped Wallcreeper

Think of this 750-fill down sack as a floor-length, hooded vest. It has a full-length front zipper, handwarmer pockets, a snug parka-like collar, and zip armholes that let you wear the bag while cooking or reading. "On some warm-weather trips, it's all I take other than shorts and a T-shirt," remarked our tester, who said the 35°F temp rating is right on. The hood is roomy enough to fit a helmet for climbing bivies, yet it adjusts down with a bungee cord to fit pinheads. The drawstring foot opens wide enough so you can lace your boots without leaving the bag, or you can cinch it high to create a thigh-length jacket for walking around. Size tip: If you're taller than 5'7", buy a long. $230; 2 lbs.; 35°F

Lafuma X 950 Pro

This inexpensive synthetic mummy has a smart cut for thermal efficiency. Our stocky male tester found it plenty roomy in the torso and shoulders, but slim around his legs and feet, where dead space is hard to heat. "It kept me warm in temps above freezing," he said. "And I loved the cottonlike feel of the microfiber liner and the way you can lay the hood flat on mild nights." The X 950 Pro is rated 20°F, but that's optimistic by about 10 degrees. Still, it's a great price and weight for a 30°F summer sack. Note: The one size fits folks 5'3" to 5'9" best. $120; 1 lb. 7 oz.; 20°F

MontBell UL Super Stretch Down Hugger #2

At less than 2 pounds, with an accurate 25°F rating, this high-lofting 800-fill down bag is a great choice for cold sleepers who want a lightweight summer sack with near three-season warmth. As in other MontBell Super Stretch bags, elastic baffles boost warmth by eliminating dead space. During a week of rainy, foggy nights with lows near freezing, at elevations up to 12,000 feet, our cold-sleeping tester got chilled only one night after turning in wet. She reported the bag remained reassuringly puffy even after days of humidity and drizzle, though it did develop a few insulation gaps. $315; 1 lb. 12 oz.; 25°F

REI Nooksack +35

With its wispy shell and a new, poofier incarnation of PrimaLoft synthetic insulation, this bag impressed testers with its low weight, small packed size, and comfortable tailoring. "It fit me perfectly," wrote a female tester who used the women's Nooksack +30. Others liked the cut as well, but the consensus was that, like most ultralight synthetics, the temperature rating is optimistic by at least five degrees. The simple hood closes easily with a captured cord lock for one-handed tightening, and a very wide, stiffened zipper flap is totally snag-free. Bonus: It comes with a lightweight nylon compression sack. $169; 1 lb. 12 oz.; 35°F

Bargain!

L.L. Bean Katahdin Climashield


Semi-Rectangular 40°

This synthetic-fill bag isn't ultralight or ultra warm–it's just ultra comfortable. "The semi-rectangular shape is luxuriously roomy, but not so floppy that I froze heating up interior space," said our tester. Other creature comforts include a full-length zipper backed by stiff nylon tape for snag-free exits and a well-shaped hood that closes down easily (if a tad wide around the cheeks). For such a roomy bag it's relatively light and packable; it stuffs down to bread-loaf size. Bottom line: For warm sleepers or lowland hikers, this is a bargain summer sack. $99; 2 lbs.; 40°F

Best Buy

MontBell Super Stretch Burrow #4

This well-priced sack easily justified its 35°F temperature rating on Utah nights that hovered just above freezing. Credit thick layers of Exceloft synthetic insulation and stretch baffles that eliminate dead air space around your body while allowing the bag to flex for roll-around comfort. Smart feature: A drawstring at ankle level lets shorter people cinch the bag to a 64-inch internal length, eliminating dead space at the feet. If you're shopping for a synthetic bag–either to save money or because you see a lot of wet weather–this bag delivers no-compromise performance. $130; 2 lbs. 7 oz.; 35°F