What are the 3 Best three-season sleeping bags for diverse camping and backpacking situations?

by Bill Duffy - Read report

Western Mountaineering UltraLite
Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral Hugger #1
The North Face Cat's Meow
The 3 Best three-season sleeping bags to use in diverse camping situations are the Western Mountaineering UltraLite, the Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral Down Hugger #1, and The North Face Cat's Meow.
  • Background
  • Process
  • Comparison
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Sleeping bags come in a variety of types different shapes, sizes, temperature ratings all appropriate for different camping and backpacking situations, body types, and personal preferences. In general, unless you plan to camp or backpack in the winter, a three-season sleeping bag is perfectly suitable for most excursions – from casual family camping, to bike and float trips, all the way into the backcountry. In determining the 3 Best three-season sleeping bags I took the following criteria into account: warmth, weight, packed size and other features.

A sleeping bag's warmth is a function of fit, fill, and shell material. Sleeping bags come in two different shapes – rectangular and mummy (with special fits for women based on height and shoulder width). Mummy bags are typically warmer and more compressible, but you may prefer a rectangular shape if you run on the claustrophobic side! In terms of fill there's synthetic and down – the known virtues of synthetic is its price (less expensive than down) and insulating power even when wet, whereas down is warmer and more compressible, but more expensive and useless when wet. Shell material influences warmth by providing a windproof and water-resistant barrier between you and the elements, though it should be noted that there's an inverse relationship with varying water resistance and breathability.

Though a sleeping bag's weight may not be of much concern for casual campers, backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts will want as light and compact a load as possible. As stated above down bags are best for their lightness and compressibility; it simply takes less down fill to keep you warm than synthetic. However, there are plenty of lightweight synthetic bags on the market as well, so both types of fill were equally considered for this report.

Features were a final consideration for this report as different bags come with options such as hoods, stash pockets, neck baffles and zipper reinforcements.

For this report I ruled out rectangular bags, simply because there weren't any that showed up in my research that compared adequately to mummy bags in terms of warmth and compressibility.

Of course, the sleeping bag that is best for you will be determined by your size and sleeping preferences. You'll want to find a bag that fits close without being too tight; appropriate for your body shape (women may want to consider purchasing a women's sleeping bag, shorter in length and narrower in the shoulders); and for your sleeping preferences (for those who turn a lot a mummy bag may be more appropriate as it will stay in place, but a rectangular bag may be worth it if you want a more 'at-home' feel). Because of this, it's important to treat this report only as a rough guide and to try out bags at your local camping store before making any purchases.
I started by researching what goes into the making of a solid sleeping bag, and discovered the various components (as described above) that determine a bag's build and performance. Then, I narrowed my search to specifically three-season bags, looking up reviews and forum recommendations of various brands. Finally, I checked the reviews and forum recommendations against customer feedback and reviews on online retail sites.
 Western Mountaineering UltraLiteMontbell Ultralight Super Spiral Hugger #1The North Face Cat's Meow
Credibility850-fill down, water-repellent Pertex Quantum shell800-fill down, water-resistant 12-denier Ballistic airtight nylon shell (treated with Polkatex DWR)Climashield Prism synthetic fill, FireStorm water-repellent topshell fabric
UsabilityTemperature rating of 20 degrees; water-repellent shell keeps down dry even if outside shell gets wet; two -way zipper, breathable inner lining, insulated collar (no hood); extremely lightweight and compressible (1 lb. 12 oz.).Temperature rating of 15 degrees; water-resistant shell keeps down dry inside (dew, condensation & light precipitation will bead off); unique spiral elastic construction to promote comfort; extremely lightweight and compressible (2 lbs. 3 oz.).Temperature rating of 20 degrees; synthetic fill will stay warm even if it gets wet; unique features such as enforced glow-in-the-dark zipper; watch pocket; insulated hood with pullcord; lightweight (2 lbs. 10 oz.).
Does Product Get Results?Highly praised across a number of camping and backpacking sitesHighly praised across a number of camping and backpacking sites, though some have noted hood discomfortHighly praised across a number of camping and backpacking sites, many have attested using the same Cat's Meow bag for 10+ years
community rating: 0 (0 ratings)
In deciding the 3 Best three-season sleeping bags, I used these key considerations to focus my research:
  1. Trustworthiness – What kind of fill and shell materials are used?
  2. Usability – What is the temperature rating of the bag? Is it water-resistant? How light is the bag and how small is it when packed?
  3. Pricing – Does the bag deliver at an affordable price?
  4. Performance - Does the Product get the Desired Results?
While there were some other tangible factors in the selection process and included in the discussion below, these four attributes illustrate the most important factors in the decision making process.

Western Mountaineering UltraLite

My top choice for a three-season sleeping bag is the Western Mountaineering UltraLite, widely praised for its optimal combination of incredible warmth, loft, compressibility and quality build. This mummy-shaped bag comes with heavy-duty 850+ European down fill (withstanding temperatures of 20°) and its Pertex Quantum shell is water-repellent and prevents down from escaping. The Western Mountainering UltraLite also comes with a neck collar that is completely down filled, with a drawcord that eliminates the possibility of heat escaping. The inside is lined with a soft taffeta material that's breathable enough to control bag climate on warmer, balmy nights, and the two-way zipper is perfect for when you need ventilation. The Western Mountaineering UltraLite is extremely light – only 1 lb. 12 oz., making it perfect for those who need to optimize their weight. The only drawback to this bag is its price – at approximately $300, you are paying for the quality down fill, water-repellent shell, and portability.

Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral Down Hugger #1

The Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral Down Hugger #1 comes in second for its unique design and excellent build. The Super Spiral is unique in that it has drawcords (also known as baffles) threaded into the body of the bag in a spiral, causing the bag to evenly drape over the body and fit closer. Also, the seams in this bag are sewn with elastic thread, meaning that there is more wiggle room for shifty sleepers. The 15° temperature rated Super Spiral is filled with top-shelf 800-fill down, and the shell is a 12-denier Ballistic airtight nylon treated with Polkatex DWR, noted for being supremely water resistant (dew, condesnation, and light precipitation will roll right off the bag). The Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral bag is also supremely lightweight, weighing 2 lbs. 6 oz. and compressing to the size of a bread loaf. However, for all the stretch this bag lacks an elasticized neck drawcord, and some have noted that the hood is uncomfortable (there is also no pullcord on the hood). Finally, the price tag on the Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral #1 is hefty – at $379 this bag is definitely more suitable for serious outdoors enthusiasts willing to invest in quality products.

The North Face Cat's Meow

For the third best I chose The North Face Cat's Meow, unique in that it is the only synthetic-filled bag of the three. Because the fill is synthetic, this bag is naturally heavier and bulkier than its down-filled counterparts, weighing 2 lbs. 10 oz., but the high-quality Climashield Prism fill can withstand temperatures down to 20°, and will be able to retain warmth better in the event of rain or damp ground. The Cat's Meow lives up to its name in terms of features, coming with a glow-in-the-dark zipper enforced with a stiffener to prevent snagging, a filled collar and hood with a pullcord for easy adjustments, and a chest level watch pocket. Also at $160, The North Face Cat's Meow's price is far more attractive than the UltraLite or Super Spiral. This bag is certainly a a great option, perhaps best for campers who don't anticipate needing a light, very compressible bag.

Depending on your budget and preference, any of these three bags will prove perfect for your next trip. The Western Mountaineering UltraLite took first place for being the lightest, having the highest quality down fill, and for the somewhat reasonable price. The Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral Hugger #1 took second place for the unique design, incredible warmth rating and water resistance, but some commentary about hood discomfort and the high price tag held it back from taking first place. Finally, The North Face Cat's Meow rounds out the 3 Best, offering an affordable alternative with its high quality synthetic fill and extra features- though it will, of course, be heavier and bulkier than the down bags.

Again, the sleeping bag that is the right for you is ultimately determined by testing bags out for yourself in person and seeing what fits and what is most comfortable, but based on quality, price, and function you can be confident in considering these 3 Best bags when making a decision.

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