Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $420
Pros: Most comfortable and most versatile quilt, high warmth to weight ratio, best pad attachment system, hydrophobic down option, ultra comfy neck closure,
Cons: Other Katabatic quilt models are warmer, ZPacks bags are warmer for their weight.
Best Uses: Ultralight anything, fast and light winter trips with a down jacket.
Manufacturer: Katabatic Gear
The Katabatic Gear Palisade is likely the best ultralight sleeping bag in the world. (We've tested nearly all of them and this is by far our favorite.) However, it's only available directly from the small manufacturer in Colorado, which is often backlogged due to high demand, involving long delays in delivery. Our top rated ultralight sleeping bag option available from major retailers is the Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed 32.
Based on our criteria for evaluation and experience testing more than 50 different sleeping bags, the Palisade tops the charts as the the best all-purpose bag for multi-day trips in three-season and light winter conditions. The bag weighs 18.8 oz. on our scale and has kept our testers warm to around freezing on a myriad of backcountry trips from Maine to Washington to Alaska. Critically, the bag's girth can adjust to the amount of clothing you are wearing, which enables it to be used with a puffy down jacket for ultralight trips below freezing--this is the primary reason to purchase a quilt instead of a tradition sleeping bag.
Moving from a quilt to a traditional style bag reduces versatility and adds weight. If you prefer a bottom to your bag we suggest the ZPack's 20 Degree for the highest warmth-to-weight ratio and the Feathered Friends Vireo for winter alpine climbing. The Enlightened Equipment Revelation is the best value ultralight bag we've tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Outdoor Gear Lab has tested nearly 40 different backpacking sleeping bags that span all categories and construction types. We went head-to-head with down and synthetic insulation, mummy bags, wearable bags, quilts, and hybrids. Our tests have two major findings: first, quilts are the best type of three-season bag and second, Katabatic Gear quilts blow all others out of the water.
The Palisade is our highest rated backpacking bag. It represents the single bag that our testers reached for most often; the bag that's best suited to all types of fast and light adventures. Whether long distance hiking, bicycle touring, or alpine climbing, the Palisade is our go-to sleeping bag.
The Quilt Advantage
Quilts are the panacea for backpacking sleeping bags. They don't have zippers, hoods, or insulation on the bottom, which makes them warmer for their weight compared to traditional style bags. Quilts are comfortable in a wider range of temperatures; they can be used as a blanket on warm summer nights, cinched down in colder conditions, and are usually easier to wear around camp than a traditional mummy bag. Quilts dry faster than sleeping bags with half length zippers or no zipper, common features on lightweight bags. Finally, and most importantly, quilts have adjustable girths that allow them to adapt to the clothing you're wearing or to various body types.
Adjustable girths are the solution to a sleeping bag's greatest drawback: fit.
A bag that's too large will leave cold dead air spaces, reducing its thermal efficiency. Similarly, a bag that's too tight won't be able to loft properly. A variable girth let's you wear a down jacket or down pants inside the bag whereas traditional style sleeping bags can't adapt to the varying conditions typically found by backpackers. The most thermally efficient traditional bag on a warm summer night will be too slim to accommodate additional clothing in colder conditions, too slim for a broad-shouldered male friend, and too large for a petite female friend. Quilts fit a wider range of conditions and body types.
Based on our experience testing eight different quilts and over 30 other three-season bags, we've found that Katabatic Gear offers the highest overall performance and best set of features, both among quilts and when compared to all of the bags we've tested. The result is a more comfortable and more enjoyable backpacking experience.
The Palisade is the warmest 30-degree sleeping bag we've ever tested. Unlike many other bags that are colder than their manufacturer's rating, the Palisade is the opposite; wearing just baselayers our testers were comfortable in the bag down to around freezing. While wearing 7 oz. hooded down jacket and thin wind pants, the Palisade kept two of our testers warm into the low teens!! This bag is a true three-season performer. We give it a 5 out of 10 score, not because it's cold, but because we compare it to other bags that are suitable for winter use, like the 10-degree or warmer Western Mountaineering Versalite.
(Note that sleep temperature varies widely by age, body type, fitness, diet, gender, sleeping pad, tent, campsite selection, and other factors. Consider the Katabatic Gear Sawatch for extra insulation and see our Buying Advice Article for more info on sleeping bag warmth.)
The most significant performance advantage offered by Katabatic Gear quilts is the unique sleeping pad attachment and adjustment system. Katabatic quilts wrap around your body, not around a sleeping pad like most other quilts. This design minimizes dead air space when you’re on your side; a huge advantage for side sleepers when compared to quilts that tuck under the pad. The Katabatic pad attachment system works in one of three ways: clipped loosely to a sleeping pad, clipped tightly to a pad, or strapped around your body, not a pad. This system is highly versatile and represents the best of any quilt we've tested. Drape the bag loosely over you as a blanket in hot weather, loosely clip it to a pad in warmer weather, or clip it tightly to a pad in colder weather. This system is uniquely position to work well with any type of sleeping pad. Use it on a lightweight 20" wide pad or a luxurious 25" or 30" wide car camping pad. The Palisade is not just an ultralight backpacking bag, it's a multifunctional tool that's comfortable and adaptable to a wide range of conditions and uses. See the Palisade's Product Manual for more details on the pad attachment system.
The variable conditions found while backpacking demand a highly versatile sleeping bag. A bag must be comfortable on a hot summer night and on cold nights at elevation found 250 miles down the trail or two weeks later. The Palisade does just this. It's our top choice for long distance hiking on America's major Scenic Trails like the AT, CDT, and PTC. We took the Palisade on sections of all of those trails. Further, the Palisade's variable girth also makes it an exceptional choice for fast and light climbers; for many Alpinists this bag offers more warmth than the best half bags.
It's Missing a Hood?!
Yes, and this a good thing. Hood-less sleeping bags have three significant advantages over their hooded counterparts: (1) They're more comfortable. Only a handful of the 70 sleeping bags we've tested have hoods that are truly comfortable when fully cinched. Separating the hood from the bag allows you to turn over without getting lost inside the hood and without spewing moisture vapor into the bag (which adds weight and reduces loft). Our testers unanimously agree that hood-less bag are more comfortable than bags with hoods. (2) Hood-less bags are lighter! Most people do the majority of their backpacking in above freezing conditions when hoods are rarely needed. Why carry it if you don't need it? (3) Hood-less bags cost less to manufacture. As described below, we rarely carry a dedicated down hood. Why pay the additional cost of a hood if you don't need one?
Our testers, who generally hike with a hooded baselayer, lightweight hooded fleece, or hooded jacket, rarely – perhaps on one trip out of ten – bring a dedicated down hood. We believe hoods are best if you're using the bag at or below its temperature limit and find a hat/jacket hood/balaclava to be heavier or less warm than a down hood. The ZPack's Goose Hood is the best down hood we've tested.
The most thermally efficient way to sleep is on your back. Tossing and turning exchanges warm air from inside your bag with cold air outside, so those who want to sleep the absolute warmest should train themselves to sleep still on their back. The great thing about the Palisade, unlike all of the other quilts we've tested, is you don't need to sleep on your back to be warm. The pad attachment system is remarkably effective even when faced with chronic tossing and turning. The Palisade is a supremely comfortable sleeping bag.
The least comfortable part of any sleeping bag can be the hood area. The Palisade tackles this problem by eliminating the hood and addresses it further by adding an overstuffed down collar that seals in warm air and is comfortable when cinched around your neck. This feature adds a significant amount of comfort at the expense of a slight increase in weight. The majority of the three-season bags we've tested have rudimentary hood and neck closures that are neither as comfortable nor as effective as those found on Katabatic quilts.
Weight and Packed Size
In its included silnylon stuff sack the Palisade weighs 18.8 ounces on our scale and packs down to the size of a small cantaloupe. This places it firmly amongst the smallest and lightest bags we've tested. The ZPack's 20 Degree bag is the only one we've tested that offers more warmth for less weight. That bag, however, has a fixed girth and loses the versatility of a quilt.
All Katabatic Gear Quilts are offered in a 850-fill hydrophobic down option that adds 0.6 ounces to the total weight. It adds up to 2 ounces of weight in other Katabatic quilts if substituted for 900-fill. OutdoorGearLab does not believe hydrophobic down is a viable alternative for synthetic insulation. See more about hydrophobic down and our plans for testing it here.
The Palisade comes with the best storage sack of any sleeping bag we’ve ever tested. It’s made of tough organic cotton and it’s large enough to let the bag loft up well, which increases the lifespan of the down. Cotton is one of the most environmentally destructive crops on the planet. Making it requires spraying organophosphates to kill all living organisms in soil. Such soil then requires intensive use of pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers (often over-applied to crops) that run off into rivers, lakes, and the ocean, causing eutrophication and dead zones in oceans that render vast areas unsuitable for marine life. Dead zones also have negative economic impacts: they destroy fisheries, close beaches, and reduces waterfront property values. The artificial nitrogen fixation required for cotton crops also causes numerous other significant negative implications for global change.
By choosing organic cotton Katabatic Gear minimizes its impact to the environment. Furthermore, this storage sack is the best we've ever seen included with a sleeping bag. Some companies like Marmot, Valandre, and Mountain Hardwear ship their bags with low quality mesh storage sacks that don't protect the bag from dirt. We also believe this sack will be more durable than similar size sacks from companies like Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering.
The Palisade's most significant limitation is not a performance drawback, but a minor nuisance. Attaching the two cords to the sleeping bag and clipping the bag to them takes an additional one to two minutes. You can save some time by taping the cords to the bottom of the pad (see photo above) and rolling the pad up with the cords attached. You still might need to adjust the tension of the cords before or after inflation. This is just a minor nuisance that quickly becomes part of a daily camp routine. The bag's tremendous performance benefits far outweigh the additional effort to attach the bag to the pad. A minor drawback: the Palisade's SilNylon stuff sack is a bit large. We would prefer a smaller sack that compresses the bag further, or ideally, a watertight dry bag style stuff sack.
The Palisade is priced competitively with other top-of-the-line three-season down bags. Seeing that it’s warmer and lighter than many other traditional style bags we recommend it to anyone who wants to shave some weight from their three-season system. It's slightly more expensive than some other ultralight bags, but we feel that the added versatility and comfort is well worth the extra cost.
Choosing The Right Size
The Palisade is available in the following sizes: : 5'6", 6', 6'6", 6' Wide, and 6'6" Wide. We suggest the wider size for wider people or those who might want to use the bag well below its intended limit, such as zero degrees. For example, Alpinists (who, unlike backpackers, often bring warm belay jackets) can pair a Wide Palisade with a jacket for a fast and light setup.
How to Get It
The Palisade is one of five Katabatic quilts. None are currently sold by major online retailers or outdoor stores. Choose your preferred warmth and size at www.katabaticgear.com
Tangential Note: Dream Backpacking Gear List
The Palisade is one of many items featured in our Dream Backpacking Gear List. Check it out to see other top-tier "dream" backpacking items.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: June 28, 2013
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