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Hands-on Gear Review

REI Co-op Joule 21 Review

Price:   $299 List | $299.00 at REI
Pros:  Lightweight, high quality materials, warm
Cons:  Uncomfortable fit, zipper fabric bulky and uncomfortable
Bottom line:  The Joule is a great lightweight, quality choice for all your backpacking adventures.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   REI

Our Verdict

This is the second highest scorer in our review and shares the Editors Choice Award with the Rab Neutrino 400. It's heavier than the Neutrino but also warmer and much less expensive. It kept us warm and cozy on cold, wet, and windy nights in the High Sierra. The 700 fill-power down insulation provides a good night's sleep in the backcountry, and we appreciated its low weight-to-warmth ratio. In the 2017 update, the dimensions of the bag are no longer exaggerated.

New Version - April 2017
The Joule 21 was recently redesigned and we love all the changes, see more details below.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Women's Sleeping Bag Review


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Jessica Haist
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Friday
August 12, 2016

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The New Joule 21 vs. The Old Version


The new, completely redesigned, Joule 21 was released in 2017. The shell is now made of 20-denier ripstop nylon and the lining is 20-denier nylon taffeta. The temperature rating is slightly warmer at 21 degrees Fahrenheit (versus 23) and the weight is the same. The list price for the Regular size remains the same as the previous model and you can identify the new model by its stylish Vin Rouge color.

Check out the side-by-side comparison below, with the Joule 21 pictured on the left and the Joule shown on the right.
 


Here's a summary of the key differences between the Joule 21 and the previous version:
  • New Lining Material — The new version features 20-denier nylon taffeta, updated from the Ripstop nylon lining in the older model.
  • Updated Shell Material — The Nylon taffeta is replaced with 20-denier ripstop nylon.
  • Lower Temperature Rating — The temperature rating is a touch warmer at 21 degrees Fahrenheit (versus 23).
  • Fresh New Color — Along with new construction details, the redesigned model also got a color makeover, donning a wine colored hue.
  • Wider in the Legs — Now roomier below the waist.
  • Neck Baffle — REI calls it a "face-muffler". Wraps around your neck to keep heat in. See photos below. We didn't like this is earlier versions and we are still on the fence if we like it in the update.
  • Now only one Drawcord - perhaps because of the baffle above, there is now only one drawcord for the hood. The drawcord for the neck was removed.
  • Zipper Liner Removed — this was not needed. Good riddance. Saves weight.

The text and ratings in the hands-on review still reflect the Joule, not the Joule 21.

Performance Comparison



Warmth


After the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 800 Women's, we think this contender is one of the warmest sleeping bags in this review, and is just a little warmer than the Mountain Hardwear Heratio that is rated to 15 degrees. We feel that its EN rating of 21F is dead on, and indeed, it kept us warm down to that temperature. The bag feels cozy, and the 700 fill down is very lofty. The Joule's shell material protected our testers from wind when they slept out under the stars on windy nights.


The bag's shell material has a waterproof coating. This is added piece of mind when we were in a torrential downpour in a floorless shelter. It kept us dry throughout the night despite a constant misting from water bouncing off of the ground and tarp. This could be a good option for someone who wants a down bag in a wet climate like the North Cascades.

Weight


The Joule 21 weighs in at 2 lbs 3 oz, which is not super lightweight for a down sleeping bag but is the 2nd lightest women's bag we reviewed (the Rab Neutrino 400 - Women's is 4.6 ounces lighter). This is a pretty average weight for a down backpacking sleeping bag, but we think it could be lighter.


Comfort


One big change in 2017 is the shape. REI abandoned the woman's hour-glass shape and made the leg area larger. This was an upgrade. The proportions are about as exaggerated as Barbie's. There is lots of space in the articulated foot box, but not enough leg room around the knees. Then there is ample, if not too much space in the shoulders. All this is to say that we could have done with less room in the shoulder area, but our legs were a little too squeezed together. We do love how warm this bag is, and we like the feel of the material, so we forgave it for a little leg discomfort.


Packed Size


The stuff sack that is included with the Joule is not a compression sack, but is made from lightweight materials. When we took it out in the backcountry, we used one of our own compression sacks instead, and it packs down quite small. We really like the compression sack that comes with the Rab Neutrino 400 - Women's. Check out our The Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack review to find a compression sack that works best for you.

Features


REI has trimmed the fat in this department and we are in favor of the work they have done. They have gotten rid of the stash pocket entirely and added a light colored liner fabric so you can find your missing sock without difficulty. The color hides dirt. The zipper works well, contrary to reports we read about this bag and so we are wondering what's with the super burly zipper lining fabric? We think it may be a reaction to complaints of zipper catching on this bag, but unfortunately, it adds weight and bulk and our testers can feel it when they're sleeping; it bunches and creates a hard, uncomfortable lump.



Although the waterproof coating on this bag works well, it also adds extra weight. We appreciate the degree of mental comfort it gave us when using it in an exceptionally wet summer season in the Sierra. We watched water bead off the coating with relief more than once in our floorless shelter, but we wonder how long this coating will last without being re-treated.

Value


The Joule is a great value for your money and we agree that it is worth it to invest in a quality down bag like this model. At $300, the Joule is at the same price point as the Marmot Angel Fire and the Mountain Hardwear Heratio and it weighs less. It's a less expensive and potentially more durable option to the Rab Neutrino, although it is seven ounces heavier.


Conclusion


The Joule is warm and relatively lightweight. But it is available for a lower price and is now a great deal. If it weren't for the lower fill power weight, this bag would be neck and neck with our Editor's Choice, the Rab Neutrino; we still think it would be a great choice for your backpacking adventures.

Other Versions


The REI Serrana is slightly lower quality down bag and lower priced than the Joule. REI Lyra 24 is a synthetic fill bag similar in dimensions to the Joule. The Igneo 17 is the men's version of the Joule.
Jessica Haist

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Most recent review: August 12, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:     (0.0)
Rating Distribution
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5 star: 100%  (1)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
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