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Hands-on Gear Review
Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600 3-Season Review
Cons: Internal fabric isn't as "cozy" feeling as other bags, heavy, not as compressible as other similarly rated models
Bottom line: A super unique design that brings unparalleled comfort to the backcountry albeit with some (though not terrible) weight and packed volume penalties.
The 3-season Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600 bag offers a truly unique design, creating one of the most comfortable and bed-like feels of any sleeping bag we have tested. The Backcountry Bed features no zippers, toggles or Velcro flaps of any kind, but instead offers a large "U"-shaped opening that is covered by a down flap. This down flap acts as a quilt. The quilt not only helps regulate temperature extremely well, but it also offers unmatched freedom of movement for the user's upper extremities, making tummy-sleeping as comfy as it gets.
For all its comfort advantages and range of temperature versatility, it is a little on the heavier side, and does not offer supreme compressibility. While we thought the Backcountry Bed was super comfortable, our testers found the Nemo Salsa won overall, offering more comfort for "high-knee" sleepers. The Salsa was around a pound lighter and much more compressible. That said, the Backcountry Bed 600 for 3-season use remains a rad option for someone seeking its unique advantages that few other bags can even think of offering.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The 3-season Backcountry Bed 600 was slightly warmer than average among 30°F bags on the market; we feel its rating is likely closer to 25°F (instead of 30°F). In fact, our testing team thought this bag was warmer than all of the other 30°F bags we tested, with the exception of the Western Mountaineering MegaLite. The Backcountry Bed was determined to be warmer than the Marmot Phase, Sea to Summit Spark III, or Kelty Tuck 20 via our side-by-side testing; it was also slightly warmer than the 20° F rated The North Face Cats Meow.
This contender uses 24 ounces of 600-fill treated duck down. While it might be defined as a lower quality fill, it is actually by far the most insulation (by weight) used out of any of the bags we tested. This fill is necessary to help keep the bag rated to around 25-30°F, while still ensuring that it feels spacious.
At 3 lbs 1 oz, the Backcountry Bed is on the heavier side of bags we tested. It doesn't use any zippers, toggles, or velcro flaps of any kind. Its weight derives from the volume of insulation and fabric used on this spacious and uniquely designed bag. With that in mind, it's worth noting that the Backcountry Bed was around a pound heavier than most other models.
If you love this bag but wish it was lighter, it is worth noting that Sierra Designs makes the Backcountry Bed 800 3- Season. It is a nearly identical, but uses a lighter weight 20D shell (instead of the 600's 30D) and a higher quality fill that makes it nine ounces lighter (at 2 lbs 8 oz); it's also $100 more expensive, ringing in at $400.
For its warmth, the Backcountry Bed 600 doesn't offer a very small packed size; it was one of the last compressible bags in our review. The only bag that didn't pack down nearly as small was the Kelty Tuck 20. The Kelty Cosmic Down offers a comparable compressed volume.
Comfort, Spaciousness, and Fit
Spaciousness and comfort are why you buy the Backcountry Bed. From the waist up, it literally feels like you're in a bed. It's super comfortable; you can flail your arms however you like, roll over, and just plain be cozy. The down flap acts like a comforter and is quite nice to pull up around your body on colder nights. There is an overlap in the bottom of this bag that allows for folks to sleep inside the back, but with their feet exposed, adding further potential to regulate temperature.
From the waist down, the Backcountry Bed is spacious; however, our high-knee sleeping testers actually preferred the Nemo Salsa 30. While it didn't offer the same freedom and unencumbered movement of upper extremities, it did offer more leg room. If you are a belly sleeper, this is one of the best bags for you. It lets you sleep tummy-down, or slightly on your side, with your arms wrapped around your pillow. You can remain outside of the "bag", but still tucked into the comforter/flap.
The exception to this is for folks who sleep on their back or stomach, with one knee straight out to the side. In this case, you'll likely appreciate the Nemo Salsa's dimensions and stretchy seams. The only real knock for comfort on the Backcountry Bed is its internal fabric isn't as "cozy" feeling as other bags we tested. But in the end, folks will love this bag if they dislike traditional mummy-style bags, are "thrashing" sleepers, or enjoy sleeping on their tummy.
The Backcountry Bed isn't super versatile, at least in the traditional sense. It is great for folks who don't like the feel of traditional mummy-style sleeping bags and want to bring that bed feeling into the backcountry. The Backcountry Bed 600 is killer for car camping and most modest backpacking trips, but it's too heavy and isn't compressible enough for most extended backpacking trips or summer mountaineering.
On the other spectrum of versatility, this contender does perform well in a wide range of temperatures, offering fantastic ventilation. The upper flap really helps fine tune the amount of warmth, depending on the user and the overnight temperature. Conversely, its' spacious cut does allow it to be used with multiple extra layers to increase the warmth, should you find yourself in below freezing temperatures. If it's really cold out and you do move around quite a bit, this bag can feel a little drafty - if the down flap/comforter untucks itself.
This bag is chock FULL of features. It's more or less a wider cut mummy-style sleeping bag. What makes it different is instead of a traditional side-zipper, the top of the bag has a large "U"-shaped opening with an insulated flap. This flap acts as the bag's temperature regulator and performs like a blanket; it can be completely opened up to maximize ventilation, or closed all the way and wrapped around the user's neck to keep the cold out.
This bag does feature a deep hood of sorts; however, most folks using this bag will end up using the hood as a pillow, or pillow holder for all but the coldest nights. There is a pad sleeve on the bottom of the upper portion of the bag to help keep your sleeping pad in place. This is nice, especially considering the volume on the bottom side of the Backcountry Bed is a little thinner than normal.
This is a sweet bag for car camping or shorter backpacking trips, where weight is less of an issue. However, we know a few backpackers who don't mind carrying a heavier or bulkier bag; they will take it on a wide range of trips because they just plain don't like traditional mummy bags, but still want something lighter than a rectangular bag. This or the Backcountry Bed 800 will hit the sweet spot.
Value and the Bottom Line
At $300, this contender isn't an amazing deal, but it is a unique bag with several comfort-oriented advantages - which is just what some folks are looking for. If you are just someone who wants a little more space than what a traditional bag offers, our Editors' Choice Western Mountaineering MegaLite provides noticeably space and still weighs a scant 1 lb 8 oz ($460), while the Marmot Phase also provides excellent value. The Nemo Salsa 30 ($240) is still a pound lighter (2 lbs 1 oz) and many side-sleepers and "high knee" sleepers liked it equally or even better than the Backcountry Bed. However, for unencumbered upper body movement and a truly bed-like feel while camping, it's hard to beat the Backcountry Bed 3-season.
— Ian Nicholson
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