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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Inferno -20 Review
Cons: Half length zipper doesn't allow for venting the footbox
Bottom line: This contender is a warm lofty barrier between you and the cold.
The aptly named The North Face Inferno -20 is one of the warmest bags in its class. It achieves this with a combination high loft down and a conservative(ish) cut, leaving less uninsulated space than the wider Marmot Col -20. A unique, half-length two-way zipper zips in the warmth from the top the bag and dissects a series of trapezoidal baffles. While the winds howled outside, our testers found themselves pleasantly roasting inside this high lofted heat-trapping sack. However, when warmer spring temperatures arrived, our testers were burning up and wished they could fully vent the bag.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The chart below highlights the Inferno's performance when compared to all of the contenders in our fleet. With a total possible score of 100, this bag scored a 73.
The Inferno cranks up the heat with 36.4oz of 800 fill down. That's more down than the Feathered Friends Snowbunting, the Mountain Hardwear Phantom Torch 3, and just a smidge more than our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Brooks Range Drift -10. Only the hefty Marmot Col -20 has more down. The zipper is offset with the baffles on the top of the bag, so there is not a dedicated draft tube protecting the zipper. Instead, an extension of the chest baffles sits between the user and the elements. Arguably, this may work better than a closed draft tube, since it allows warm air to circulate into the zipper area. Our testers, human and ignorant to the subtle movements of hot air, didn't pick up on any cold spots near the zipper, so we feel confident in saying that this design performs as well as a regular draft tube. The draft collar contains an ample amount of snuggly down, and tightens in conjunction with the dual hood cinches.
Tipping the scales at 3lbs 7oz, the Inferno scores a 5 in the weight metric. Though only an ounce and a half heavier than the Brooks Range Drift, the shell fabrics make up a larger percentage of the Inferno's total weight. This is hardly noticeable to the user, but consider that the Drift has a full-length zipper and a roomier cut and is still lighter, and the advantage of lighter materials becomes apparent. While this bag doesn't have as good of a warmth-to-weight ratio as the Drift, it's still much warmer than heavier bags like the Kelty Cosmic Down 0, The Big Agnes Storm King 0, and the slightly lighter Rab Ascent 900. If you need less warmth and a cheaper price point, these contenders might be for you.
An inch wide strip of fleecy material lines the draft collar where it touches the chin, giving a general impression of plush snugglyness. Our testers who primarily sleep on their backs felt the cut of the bag is plenty wide, but the side sleepers among us preferred the more generous cut of the Marmot Col -20. The two-way half-length zipper makes it difficult to sufficiently vent the footbox, and on a warmer night where temperatures climbed into the mid 20s, one of our testers (a self-proclaimed cold sleeper) felt so hot that she had to completely get out of the bag. The Inferno earned a 6 out of 10 for comfort, whereas the Nemo Sonic 0 and Brooks Range Drift were top scorers.
The Inferno -20 packs down smaller than the Marmot Col, but a touch larger than the Brooks Range Drift, since it has a heavier shell fabric and just a little bit more down. The Inferno's high fill goose down makes it much more compressible than the Kelty Cosmic Down 0, though it's almost triple the price. It's one of the few bags that comes with a stuff sack that has compression straps. The Inferno took home a 7 out of 10 for this metric.
The most apparent and unique feature on the Inferno -20 is the half-length, two-way zipper located on the top of the bag. This design saves a little weight, and the two-way zipper allowed our testers open up a hole in the front of the bag to stick their hands through so they were able to drink coffee and eat breakfast while remaining almost completely inside the warm bag!
Again, the disadvantage of the half zipper is that you can't vent the foot box as well as a full-length zipper. The hood has a cinch cord on either side the like a jacket, but it doesn't really tighten the draft collar. Finally, a small zippered stash pocket is located inside the bag over the left side of the chest. Top scorers in this metric include the Big Agnes Storm King 0, Brooks Range Drift, and the Marmot Col.
The silky feeling Neovent Air shell fabric does an excellent job of protecting the down from moisture, but not quite as well as the Marmot Col or the Feathered Friends Snowbunting, earning the Inferno a strong score of 9 in this metric. The shell proved itself to be truly waterproof and breathable in our submersion test: we squeezed out all the air and no water was able to penetrate the fabric, and a barely detectable amount of water entered through the seams. We realize this test is beyond what these bags were designed to handle, and feel the Inferno can easily deal with the frozen forms of precip it will encounter in its natural habitat.
We recommend this bag exclusively for colder temperatures, since it's not very versatile because of the half zipper. However, it keeps out the cold and beats back the weather while remaining light and packable enough to carry into the mountains.
At $619, the Inferno -20 is big investment. It's only a few ounces heavier than our Editors' Choice Award Winner, the Brooks Range Drift -10, and feels warmer due to its narrower cut. If you think you'll dig the half zipper design, then you can pick up this cozy bag for $150 less than the Brooks Range Drift -10.
The North Face Inferno is an excellent bag that warmed us up and kept us cooking through the night. If you're interested in its unique design, but want less or even more(!) heat, it is also available in -40, 0, and 15-degree versions. If this warm of a bag is not a necessity, consider the Nemo Sonic 0, Western Mountaineering Versalite 10, Western Mountaineering Antelope MF, Rab Ascent 900, Big Agnes Storm King 0, and the Kelty Cosmic Down 0. While these bags may earn a lower overall score, they are a pretty penney cheaper.
— Matt Bento
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