When the Sierra Designs Zissou series hit the market last year, they made a heck of a ripple in the pond.  For non-ultralighters, the Zissou may just be the perfect sleeping bag: the 700-fill down is reasonably priced, but provides much of the same stellar performance as 800-fill.  Most importantly, though, the Zissou has Sierra Designs’ magical DriDown technology, which helps down insulation hold up in wet conditions.  The Zissou and I have been through rain, hail and lots of condensation so it’s about time to release the play-by-play on this sleeping bag.

Sierra Designs Zissou 12 Sleeping Bag Features:

  • 700-fill DriDown Insulations
  • Ergonomically shaped footbox
  • Unique “corded” anti-snag zipper prevents snags and eliminates drafts
  • Snag-free zipper tracks™
  • Draw cord at collar
  • Draft collar
  • Ergonomic hood
  • Zipper draft tube
  • Pad locks
  • EN Tested
  • Includes stuff and storage sacks
  • Total weight: 2lb 7oz
  • MSRP: $269.95

Sierra Designs Zissou Sleeping Bag Review

The Full Zissou Experience

I have already had the chance to test out Sierra Designs’s proprietary DriDown insulation in our review of the Tov puffy jacket.  We were certainly impressed with the Tov’s ability to shed all types of moisture, but this is our first look at a hydrophobic down in a sleeping bag.  Before we get to the fun part, though, let’s get to the bag.

The Zissou is a pretty no-nonsense bag.  It has a full-length zipper for easy in-n-outs, though that does translate into extra ounces on the scale.  There’s a big fat baffle running along the length of the zip and it does a great job of sealing out drafts and cold spots.  I wasn’t extraordinarily impressed with the anti-snag technology – it’s better than others, but I’ll be darned if I don’t snag the zip at least once every time I pull it.  Sierra Designs makes such good down products that I tend to expect top-notch performance from every aspect of the product.

Sierra Designs Zissou Sleeping Bag Review

The hood and collar area on Sierra Designs’ bags are some of my favorites in the industry – the draft collar is nice and cushy and keeps your torso isolated very well.  The hood itself is a lightweight jacket-style which hugs and cushions your head very well.  The drawstring at the face is a bit of a clunker – it’s a fairly wide-gauge cord that seems to scream, “I don’t care about extra weight.”  There’s a small pocket right up at the hood wherein I like to keep my contacts.  Sierra Designs does a good job of keeping the cranial area comfortable in a sleeping bag while not adding ounces with extravagant baffle or hood designs.  That drawstring could use a redesign, since it’s both heavy and awkward to use.

Spending a night in the Zissou is a definitely the best way to get a feel for the bag – it’s really a classic mummy, but with a comfortable foot box and the aforementioned jacket hood.  I’m 5’11” and the normal size fits up to 6′, so I felt perfectly at home in the bag.  The only thing I’d like to see is the addition of a toe box zipper for a little bit of added temperature control — I think that’s important on bags for 15 degrees and colder.

Sierra Designs Zissou Sleeping Bag Review

Sierra Designs used horizontal baffles on the Zissou, but their newest bags (notably the Cal series) are using vertical baffles which distribute heat more effectively.  The upshot to the Zissou’s horizontal baffles, though, is that you can manipulate the down within the baffle to get it out from under the bag where it doesn’t do much good.  Sierra Designs chose a 30D nylon weave for the body fabric, so you can expect quite a bit more durability than the 10D nylon that you’ll find in most ultralight bags – admittedly, that durability comes at a weight penalty.  Additionally, I  like Sierra Designs’ choice of 700-fill down; it’s quite a bit more affordable than 800-fill down, but most of the performance benefits of 800-fill are here.  In any case, it’s leaps and bounds better than 600-fill down.

Last but not least, DriDown definitely deserves some praise – I never expected that the addition of hydrophobic down to a sleeping bag would make such a tremendous difference, but after spending several wet nights in my Zissou I can’t tell you how impressed I was by the bag’s performance.  The tent that I primarily tested the Zissou in, a Sierra Designs Mojo 2, has a chronic condensation problem at the foot of the tent.  Every morning when I woke up the outside of the bag was wet, but the down was still lofty and my toes were dry.  The one night that I spent in the Zissou during a serious storm at 8,700 feet saw me with the tent all closed up save for frog-eye vents, and starting to develop some substantial condensation by morning – the Zissou shrugged it off with aplomb.  You can also expect the Zissou to handle sweat and oils much better than a bag with conventional down as well, which is particularly important in the long run.

As good as DriDown is, a word of caution is appropriate: DriDown does indeed stay loftier and dry faster than normal down, but at this point it’s still not a substitute for synthetic down.  If you expose the bag to enough moisture that the fabric wets out, you can expect to get a little bit chilly.  DriDown is simply insurance against water, and it’s a little bit like the difference between ‘water resistant’ and ‘water proof.’

The Good:

  • DriDown is just as game-changing in sleeping bags as it was in down apparel
  • Full-length zipper slides fairly easily and is simple to get in and out of
  • Collar and hood are comfortable, don’t add extra ounces
  • 700-fill down is economical but performs more like 800-fill than 600-fill
  • 2lb 7oz total weight is decent for a non-UL 700 fill bag

The Bad:

  • Some feather leakage with 700-fill
  • Toe box zipper would be a nice touch
  • Hood drawstrings are chunky and awkward to use

The Bottom Line: Zissou Sleeping Bag

Now that I’ve been able to spend quite a few nights in the Zissou, I understand what all the kerfuffle around this bag was: it’s just a stellar product at a good price point, backed up by the down know-how of Sierra Designs.  It’s not an ultralight product so there’s no point in wishing it was a sub 2-pounder, but it’s still very compressible and the 700 fill down lofts up well.  DriDown is what gives the Zissou a true edge over traditional down bags, but it’s something that you’ll just have to try to understand why I’m so impressed.

Buy now: Available from REI.com

About Author

Kevin Glover is an outdoorsman living, climbing and biking in Spokane, WA. Originally from the Nevada high desert, he moved to the PNW for its mild winters and allergen-free summers. He has guided throughout the Cascades and Enchantments for Peak 7 Adventures.

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