“Ugh, I didn’t sleep a wink last night.” This perennial camping complaint has been uttered everywhere from Zion to the Hillary Step, and with good reason. Mummy bags are weird. How many people do you know who naturally sleep like a plank on their back with their hands rigid at their sides? As the name implies, the Backcountry Bed from the innovators at Sierra Designs is a sleeping bag that captures the essence of being in your bed back home, all with the goal of getting better rest.
Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed Features:
- Zipperless Design
- Catenary Shaped opening
- Versatile Integrated Comforter
- Self-sealing foot vent
- Insulated hand/arm pockets
- Sleeping pad sleeve
- Available in 2- and 3-season models
- Available with 600 or 800 fill DriDown
- Tested: 800 fill, 3-season
- Weight: 2lb. 80z. (as tested)
- MSRP: $399 (as tested)
Count sheep, not ounces in the Backcountry Bed
For about as long as most of us can remember, performance and comfort have been somewhat mutually exclusive. If we demand ultralight gear, we expect the features list to be slashed. If we want gear to be user-friendly we expect some extra heft to lug around. These trends are analogous to the Bontrager triangle in cycling; you simply can’t have everything, especially if it’s to be kept at a low price. It takes some serious innovation to be circumvent the realities of the triangle, but that’s exactly what Sierra Designs has tried to do with the Backcountry Bed. It’s very carefully designed to offer extremely lightweight, technical performance in a manner that places priority on the comfort of the user. After all, who’s going to use a sleeping system, no matter how comfortable, that weighs 10 pounds and carry it around on their back? Thus, the Backcountry Bed.
Sierra Designs is offering the Bed in a wide variety of weights and options. Their most affordable is the 600-fill, 2-season model that clocks in at just 2.5 pounds and retails at $250. Their lightest model is the 800-fill, 2-season model that weighs two pounds and costs $350. I’m reviewing the mid-weight 3-season, 800-fill model that costs $400 and weighs 2.5 pounds. At this price point, my model is Sierra Designs’ most expensive offering (though it’s in-line with other premiere technical bags) but I appreciate that they’ve taken care to offer a wide variety of options at varying price points. Come next year, the 600-fill models should be in a very affordable price range as the gear cycle turns. After researching comparable products from a variety of manufacturers, it’s apparent that Sierra Designs has brought forth a sleeping system that’s middle-of-the-pack in both cost and weight, but with outstanding design.
So, we’ve laid out the basics of price and weight – what, then, makes the Backcountry Bed special? Welp, it’s a two word answer – user experience. Throughout the Bed you’ll find nary a hint of zippers, draw cords, Velcro or any other prickly hard thing. They’ve designed the entire experience to be one of soft polyester and fluffy down devoid of cold metal or scratchy fasteners.
The basic layout of the sleeping bag goes something like this. If you start at the bottom and work your way up, the Bed looks just like a mummy bag up until around the waist or so. At that point, the body of the bag opens up to a wide oval opening; covering this opening is a grey down comforter that is carefully sewn into the body of the bag. At the top of the quilt we’ve got two corner hand pockets and the oval opening closes with a subtle hood – I especially like the quilt’s design because it’s sewn with a bit of a lip on the edges to seal in drafts. Again, there are no zippers or Velcro or any hardware whatsoever. The Backcountry Bed is designed to feel just like your bed at home.
Using the Bed is something of an eye-opening experience as to what backcountry sleeping can be like; it has a generous pad sleeve that really acts like an anchor so the sleeping bag stays oriented throughout the night. The area beneath the sleeve is uninsulated to save weight so it’s definitely important to use a pad of some sort for maximum performance. Getting into and out of the Bed is easy thanks to the quilt design, and the oval opening has a deep enough overhang that you can stretch your arms and wiggle around to a degree. Doesn’t that sound like sleeping in a bed? The only rough spot here is that, since there’s so much volume around the shoulders and torso, it can take awhile before the bag really ‘heats up.’
How does it handle cold temperatures?
When it gets cold, simply pull the quilt up to your face and tuck the edges into the oval opening – the hand pockets at the corner of the quilt come in handy here, too. Alternately, if things are a touch too warm you can hang a leg out on top of the quilt while still keeping the rest of your body warm. What’s more, there’s also a foot vent at the bottom of the bag which makes it easy to stick your feet out for whatever reason; when you bring them back in, the vent seals itself up and you wouldn’t even know it’s there. It’s an incredibly versatile design.
As I said, I tested the three-season model which is rated for 31 degrees comfort level. The coldest I tested the bag was hammock camping with a low around 35 next to a river – the Bed was able to handle that with aplomb. While it’s definitely true to its comfort rating, one of the downsides of the design is that it’s easy for little heat leaks to open up while you move around in the night. For example, since the quilt isn’t fixed other than at the bottom, it’s easy for it to get shifted out of the way. Often you’ll automatically correct this without even waking up, but every now and then my sleepy brain had to click into gear to seal up the drafts. The other performance benefit to note is that the quilt, in my opinion, could stand to be attached two inches lower so that it’s easier to pull a leg out.
Also, I’ve barely mentioned this here but we covered the fabric and filling quite thoroughly in our Mobile Mummy review. The Backcountry Bed has the same double whammy of inherently hydrophobic polyester coupled with Sierra Designs’ high-quality 800-fill DriDown. I’ve slept under the stars and received a light shower in the Bed and, to its credit, the bag kept most of the moisture on the surface and what little did penetrate into the down certainly didn’t affect its loft. I was cozy and dry inside and it wasn’t until I touched the outside of the bag that I realized how much rain there’d been.
- I slept really well in it!
- Lots of options for prices, weights and temperatures
- Hardwear-free design is lightweight and comfortable
- Integrated pad sleeve really holds the Bed in place
- Self-sealing footbox vent is a useful, discrete touch
- DriDown and polyester fabric continue to be a winning combination
- The 3-season, 800-fill model we tested isn’t cheap at $400
- Design can tend to leak heat
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there really isn’t anything bad to say about the Backcountry Bed. If you’re in the market for a light three-season sleeper than this needs to be at the top of your list. Sierra Designs set out to capture the essence of sleeping in your bed back at home and, frankly, they nailed it. The generous shoulder width, integrated pad sleeve and enormous fluffy quilt are an unbeatable combination for sleeping comfortably in the backcountry.
Buy Now: Available at REI