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Hands-on Gear Review
ZPacks 20 Degree Review
Cons: A little constricting, small foot box, not the best neck draw cord design
Bottom line: The second highest scoring bag in our review is warm and versatile enough for full three-season use, while weighing impressively little.
The Zpacks 20 Degree sleeping bag was the second highest scoring bag in our ultralight review in 2017 for the second test period in a row. It is a warm hoodless mummy that uses high-quality 900 fill power down in a box baffle design that really helps trap your body heat. With an enclosed footbox and ¾ length zipper, its design allows one to open it almost all the way up, making it highly versatile for such a warm bag. At only 20.3 ounces, it manages to retain a really light weight for how warm it is. We also loved that it comes with a great waterproof cuben fiber stuff sack. However, while it ranked highly in our cumulative scoring, it still has a few notable drawbacks, including a poor neck collar design and a tighter than average fit that held it back from being the best.
If your focus is building an ultralight backpacking system appropriate for a thru-hike of the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails, and you want pare your base weight down to less than 10 lbs, the Zpacks 20 Degree is one of the bags that we recommend for hikers that can afford them (along with the Katabatic Gear Palisade or the Feathered Friends Flicker). Some folks still prefer a mummy bag, and the ZPacks 20 Degree is the lightest and warmest mummy we tested. If the price tags of these two models are prohibitive, check out our Best Buy Award winner, the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20. It is nearly as warm, very versatile, and much more affordable.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ultralight Sleeping Bags of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Zpacks 20 Degree is a hoodless mummy bag that also opens up into an enclosed foot box style quilt. While it is awesome enough to be the second highest rated bag in our test, it also has a number of drawbacks, including a more restrictive fit than some other bags, and slightly less than awesome functionality out of its features. This sleeping bag is made by a small independent manufacturer that makes all products to order, and is thus supremely customizable (for a price, of course). While we tested a 20F Standard girth bag, they are also available in 10F, 30F, and 40F and in slim and broad girths. An additional feature that can also be added on is a zipper draft tube. We tested this bag during many nights spent sleeping in guesthouses, in homestays, in a tent, and outside while trekking in the Khumbu region of Nepal in the early spring month of March.
How to Get It:
ZPacks sleeping bags, shelters, and backpacks are custom made by the small manufacturer in Florida and are not available from online retailers or outdoor stores.
Get it online at: ZPacks.com.
As the second highest overall scoring product, we certainly think the Zpacks 20 Degree stacks up well against the ultralight competition. Check it out (highlighted in blue) in the chart below:
Stuffed with 13.1 ounces of light and fluffy 900 fill power down, this is indeed a warm bag. When looking at how well it lofts up in comparison to other bags we tested, it is puffier than most. Also contributing to its warmth is vertical box baffle construction around the torso and upper legs, and horizontal box baffles around the feet. Insulation sewn into box baffles means that there are no points where the material on the outer and inner parts of the bag meet, creating down "dead spots," where there is effectively zero insulation. With its high rating and thoughtful and quality sewing work, this was one of the warmest bags in our test.
However, there were a few things that stuck out to us as we tested this bag well below freezing, and once while being snowed on, in Nepal. The first is that there is no draft tube that covers the zipper, as there is on the Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag 30, although Zpacks claims this is no big deal since you should be sleeping on top of the zipper (they will also add one to your bag for $20). We also found that without a hood, the collar needs to be drawn really tight to keep warm air from escaping, and the very thin bungee cord that accomplishes this was not the most ideal for this purpose. A heavier duty cord like that found on the Feathered Friends Flicker 40 UL worked much better. The end result was that this bag was quite warm, although not nearly as warm as The North Face Superlight 15.
At 20.3 ounces (1 lb. 4.3 oz.) our Standard Long bag weighed in slightly heavier than Zpacks claimed, although the difference was negligible. The waterproof cuben fiber rolltop stuff sack, without doubt the highest quality stuff sack to come with a sleeping bag that we have found, weighed an extra 0.9 ounces. Compared to the competition, this bag was merely average when it came to weight, although was still super light given how warm it is.
For the sake of reference, we will let you know that this hoodless mummy was very close to the same weight as our Best Overall Award winning Feathered Friends Flicker 40 UL, another hoodless mummy design, even though it is rated 20 degrees warmer. The Feathered Friends Vireo UL was the lightest hoodless mummy, weighing in about four ounces lighter than the Zpacks, but it notably does not have a zipper of any sort.
The most important aspect when assessing for comfort was the fit of the bag. Despite the fact that we bought a "long" bag good for people 5'10", and our head tester is 5'11", we found that this bag was long enough and easily covered the tops of our shoulders. That said, the foot box was fairly small, and the fit overall was a bit constricting. Since it doesn't have a hood, on cold nights a hat is mandatory, but we were often more comfortable wearing a jacket with a hood, even though it meant filling even more of the valuable space inside.
One minor complaint we had when it came to comfort was that the neck draw cord, when fully tightened around our neck to keep the heat in, was excessively long and dangled around, often getting wrapped up around our neck as we moved about in our sleep. This was in stark contrast to the design of the Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag 30, which used dual draw cords that lived outside of the bag, so they didn't get in the way. When fully unzipped, this bag is very similar in design to the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700, although we found that quilts zipper-less design and extreme roominess to be slightly more comfortable.
When considering how versatile a sleeping bag is we like to consider how easily it can be used in all different temperatures, climates, and seasons. As a warm bag that can be zipped all the way up into a mummy, this bag is for sure appropriate for those colder shoulder seasons — spring and fall — or during rogue storms. In Nepal we were camped out in early March in this bag when a surprise downpour hit us, which soon turned into an all night snow storm. Suffice to say it was cold and the inside of our tent was completely soaked, but the DWR coating on both the inside and outside of this bag held up, retaining its loft, and our comfort. With the ability to open up most of the way and use it as an enclosed foot box-style quilt, this bag also does a plenty adequate job of ventilating on warmer nights.
With the ability to use it during all seasons, we graded this bag as one of the highest when it came to versatility, giving it 9 out of 10 points. Only the Feathered Friends Flicker 40 UL scored higher, mostly because it could be opened into a full blanket and shared with two people. We thought it was equally as versatile as the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700, which has a very similar (although more spacious) design, minus the zipper.
We can honestly say that if Zpacks chose to employ slightly higher quality features, this would be far and away the best ultralight sleeping bag in this review. Particularly annoying to us was the very thin, lightweight stretchy bungee cord used as the neck draw cord. Ours did not even have a buckle to cinch the cord tight, and after using it one night by trying to tie knots to keep it tight, we eventually had to pirate a buckle off of another stuff sack. The bungee cord is also not an ideal choice, as it requires pulling the cord super tight to keep it snug around your neck, and leaves a very long dangling end near your face.
We also found that the zipper was prone to catching on the inside of the nearest baffle fabric, and thought this could have been fixed with a draft tube made with some tougher material, like was found on the Flicker 40 UL. While we didn't test this bag to failure, we surmise that one of these two features will be the first fail point in this otherwise well constructed sleeping bag. Even considering the super awesome roll-top, waterproof, cube fiber stuff sack that is included with your purchase, we couldn't give the features on this bag nearly as high a score as similar products, like the Backcountry Quilt 700.
As a genuinely three-season ultralight sleeping bag, there are few camping applications where this bag will not shine. We think it makes a good choice as a down insulated bag in wet climates, and with its superior versatility is ideal for thru-hikers, or any sort of backpacking for that matter. Those that sleep warm or cold have the option of choosing more or less insulation.
The version of this bag that we tested, the 20F Standard Long, will run you $395 retail. Since you can only order this bag from the manufacturer, it's unlikely that you will end up finding a discount deal online somewhere. At this price, it is on the upper end of the price spectrum for ultralight bags we tested. Since we consider it to be one of the best ones available, we think it presents a pretty good value. We would be slightly happier to pay this price if the draft tube came included and the neck draw cord was beefier, but even so, we think this is a bag worth spending the money on.
The Zpacks 20 Degree is the second highest rated bag in our review for the second year in a row, packing a surprising amount of insulation and warmth into a relatively light package. We used it during high altitude treks and even snow storms in the Himalaya, and found it to pretty true to its temperature rating. While we have a few complaints about the components used as its principle features, we still think it is one of the most versatile ultralight bags available on the market today, and is one we would love to personally own.
— Andy Wellman
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