Big Agnes Sentinel 30 Double Review
Cons: Bulky, ineffective hood closure, limited versatility
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
Our Analysis and Test Results
There are plenty of budget double sleeping bags that are ideal for car camp or short trips near the trailhead. It's much harder to find an affordable two-person bag that's suitable for backpacking. The Sentinel is our favorite model that fills this niche. Higher-end double sleeping bags are certainly available, but this one is our top choice for any seeking a bargain for snuggle-filled, backcountry overnights.
When it comes to temperature ratings for two-person sleeping bags, you usually have to take the manufacturer at their word. The Sentinel does not receive a standardized EN temp rating but Big Agnes assigns it their own 30F rating. This seemed to be overly optimistic in our tests. The 19.5 oz of 650FP feels like it's plenty lofty to achieve this rating, but the design has other issues that compromise its warmth. These start with an unreliable hood closure and meager neck baffle that are fairly ineffective at sealing heat inside. The underside of the bag is also uninsulated so our testers observed highly variable levels of warmth depending on the sleeping pads that they used. The system to attach pads to this underside was also frustrating.
We think experienced backpackers may be able to employ enough tricks to enjoy this bag down to its advertised temp rating, but beginners or anyone who seeks a bag that easily meets its temp rating should temper their expectations with the Sentinel.
The Sentinel 30 might not set any records for low weight. On our scale, a size Regular weighed in at 3.25 lbs. In hand, that even makes it feel like a hefty package. But its overall weight equates to just 1.63 lbs per sleeper, which is lighter than even some premium single-person sleeping bags. It's also considerably lighter than comparable two-person sleeping systems at the Sentinel's lower price point. Among budget double sleeping bags, it's the lightest option that we're aware of.
One of the biggest benefits of a two-person sleeping bag is that it supplies roomier interior dimensions to both sleepers. With 105" of shoulder and waist girth, this bag should provide ample space for everyone inside, even if one of them happens to be a bed hog.
The experience of a double-wide sleeping bag is also much more akin to using an ordinary blanket than a restrictive mummy sleeping bag. This can be a welcomed difference among only occasional backpackers. Our testers also raved about the polyester taffeta lining fabric. It proved to be soft and cozy without any of the annoying crinkling sounds that can sometimes accompany ultralight fabrics.
All double bags will show certain drawbacks in the packed size department. In a third-party compression sack, we measured this behemoth at 11.2 liters. Although that equates to a respectable 5.6 liters per person, it can be difficult for one person to fit the combined volume of the whole bag into their backpack. With proper coordination and sharing some of the other group gear, it's simple enough to mitigate this issue. However, one person should be prepared to have a substantial portion of their pack occupied by this sleeping bag.
Another issue is that this bag only comes with a simple drawstring stuff sack that proved to be ineffective at compressing the bag. It was even worse than most stuff sacks, with a substantial section of excess fabric leftover with the bag stuffed inside. To pack this sleeping bag as small as possible, we suggest investing in a sturdy after-market compression sack.
The Achilles heel of a two-person sleeping bag is probably their limited versatility. They're too heavy and bulky for single-person use, so they're only viable when you have two willing sleeping partners. This can be an issue if you don't have a regular adventure partner, or if your plans blow up and someone must cancel last minute. Most folks will want a single-person bag in addition to having a double bag.
The Sentinel 30 also specifically suffers from an ineffective hood closure that invites drafts on cold nights. This shrinks the usable temperature range of a bag whose insulation might otherwise allow it to stay functional down to considerably lower temps. The underside of the Sentinel is uninsulated so it must be paired with good sleeping pads if you hope to be warm down to its manufacturer 30F temp rating. Collectively all of these issues leave the Sentinel with a disappointing level of versatility.
Features & Design
Big Agnes includes an impressive feature set on the Sentinel 30. This bag is fitted with separate sleeves for securing your sleeping pad and camp pillow. Some of our seasoned testers believed that these features were unnecessary, but others acknowledged that they helped the Sentinel achieve a closer feeling to sleeping at home with an ordinary blanket. The neck baffle is even sewn closed at the corner of the bag to create a shallow pocket that accepts a hand and lets you nestle in even deeper.
This bag is fitted with two-way, 3/4-length zippers on either side. This allows both sleepers to adjust their venting and stay comfortable in a variety of conditions. The Y-shaped zipper slide also proved to be effective at reducing snags. Unfortunately, the Sentinel doesn't include any organizational pockets for storing a headlamp or smartphone, but this is pretty much the only feature it doesn't have.
The inclusion of the Sentinel 30 in our budget backpacking sleeping bag category might raise some eyebrows because it retails for twice as much as many of the other bags in the review. The total cost might be hard to stomach, but we still think it's affordable if you go by the adjusted cost per person. With this adjustment, this bag offers one of the lightest two-person sleeping systems at a budget price point. In fact, the cost to achieve similar warmth and weight with two separate single-person bags would be substantially higher. That's why we consider the Sentinel to be an awesome value and an option that should be on any budget-conscious shopper's radar.
Two-person sleeping bags will always come with some versatility disadvantages. However, if you have a reliable backcountry partner who is willing to share a bag, double sleeping bags can offer considerable advantages in terms of weight savings and roominess. The Big Agnes Sentinel 30 supplies these benefits at a reasonable price. That's why it's over favorite bargain sleeping bag for pairs of backcountry travelers.
— Jack Cramer
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