If you're done with frustrating zippers, our backpacking sleeping bag review really only gives you two choices: the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 700 / 35 or Sierra Designs Cloud 20. Both bags have interesting, but similar, designs. You can also find a couple of other options (think quilts) in our separate review of ultralight sleeping bags.
Of the two innovative zipperless bags from Sierra Designs, we prefer the "comforter" closure of the Backcountry Bed (blue) over the angled flap on the Cloud (red).
Although Sierra Designs gives the version of the Backcountry Bed we tested a temperature rating of 35°F, it receives a 27° lower limit rating on the industry-standard EN test. Our review team thinks the higher 35° manufacturer rating feels more appropriate. This is partly due to there not being an effective way to close the bag fully. In the latest version, an elastic cord has been added to help keep the bag's comforter flap in place. This cord, however, is too long to let you pull the thicker insulation on the sides of the bag together for extra warmth on cold nights.
An additional warmth issue is that the bag lacks a way to cinch the hood around your head. Both of these design flaws contributed to our reviewers describing the Backcountry Bed as unpleasantly drafty. Shoppers should also be aware that to save weight there is no insulation on the underside of the bag in the area of the sleeping pad sleeve. A good sleeping pad is thus essential for staying warm near this bag's temperature limit.
The Sierra Designs Cloud (top) and Backcountry Bed (bottom) both feature the same fabric sleeve to attach the sleeping bag to a sleeping pad.
For all of these reasons, we would only recommend the 35° version of this bag for warmer 3-season applications. For colder nights in spring and fall, check out the equally innovative Sierra Designs Cloud 20.
This photo from inside the Backcountry Bed shows light shining through the uninsulated underside of the bag. Down insulation begins in the darker areas on either side.
We weighed a size long on our scale at 2.10 pounds. Considering its mediocre warmth, this suggests a below average warmth-to-weight ratio. We think this is likely due to the extra materials that are needed for its luxurious comforter closure.
Whereas other sleeping bag makers have often developed zipperless designs to reduce a bag's weight, it is important to recognize that isn't the case with the Backcountry Bed.
As its name suggests, this bag is designed to bring the comfort of your normal bed to the wilds of the backcountry. In this mission, it is highly successful. The main comforter flap that's used to close the bag nearly achieves the feel of an ordinary blanket. In addition, the bag's spacious interior dimensions help it avoid the constrictive feel that's common in classic mummy bags.
Some of our testers really like these features and appreciated the bed-like feel they achieved. Other testers, however, complained that the zipperless design created chilly drafts that were less than comfortable. Due to this disagreement, it's hard to rate this bag's overall comfort objectively. Ultimately, we chose to give it the same top-score as the Western Mountaineering MegaLite and Nemo Riff 30.
The symmetrical "comforter" on the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed can be closed to seal heat in (top) or opened to let heat escape (bottom).
Each of the bags, interestingly, we consider comfortable for different reasons: the MegaLite for the coziness of its incredible loft, the Riff for its notably wide lower body dimensions, and the Backcountry Bed for its blanket-like comforter. We, therefore, recommend the Megalite for backpackers that like sleeping on their backs. Side sleepers, in contrast, may prefer the Riff. Finally, tummy sleepers or anyone that's always disliked traditional sleeping bags will likely favor the Backcountry Bed.
In our tests with an after-market compression sack, the Backcountry Bed packed down to an impressive 7.3 liters in volume. This is smaller than average, but larger than other bags that supply similar levels of warmth, such as the Nemo Kyan 35 or Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32 UL.
This bag also comes with a simple drawstring stuff sack that isn't very good at compression. To achieve the compressed volume that we report you will need to acquire a third-party compression sack. If you're willing to do that, the packed size difference between this and other quality backpacking sleeping bags is minor enough that it probably doesn't need to be a significant factor in your decision.
The Backcountry Bed comes with a simple drawstring stuff sack. In an after-market compression sack in packed down to 8.4 liters.
The Backcountry Bed is suitable for a wide variety of sleeping styles, supplying a high-level of comfort whether you sleep on your back, side, or stomach. This bag, however, does not supply a similarly high level of comfort across a wide range of conditions or applications.
Like all down bags, it will lose its ability to insulate if it gets wet. The zipperless design also restricts you're venting options. This partially solved with the built-in foot vent, but there were situations were our testers' legs got sweaty even with the foot vent open. Finally, the lack of insulation near the sleeping pad sleeve necessitates that you use a good sleeping pad to stay warm. Many backpackers won't consider this a problem, but it may be for hammock or portaledge sleepers.
The Backcountry Bed has a built-in foot vent that's nice for keeping your shoes on when lounging.
Features and Design
Our testers preferred the zipperless design of the Backcountry Bed over the alternative design of its Sierra Designs cousin, the Cloud 20. The centered comforter on the Backcountry Bed seemed to work better for side sleepers than the asymmetrical closure flap on the Cloud. Both designs, however, have negative consequences for warmth and weight.
The Backcountry Bed includes a useful elastic cord for keeping the comforter closed. But this cord was too short to close the bag tightly on cold nights. It also lacks an effective way to adjust to hood for improved comfort or warmth. On the plus side, we like the foot vent because it gives you the option to sit in the bag while you make breakfast on cold mornings.
The latest version of the Backcountry Bed includes a elastic cord (yellow) to keep the comforter in place. This cord, however, can't easily be used for pulling the thick side insulation to the center.
This innovative zipperless design is suitable for a lot of the same activities as an ordinary sleeping bag—things like backpacking, mountaineering, whitewater trips, or just crashing on a friend's couch. The same design, however, prevents you from zipping it together with another bag. In addition, the inconsistent insulation on the underside necessitates that you use it with a good sleeping pad, so it's not ideal for hammock camping.
Evaluating the Backcountry Bed's value is tricky. Although its $280 list price is toward the lower end of the backpacking sleeping bag category, its warmth and weight are as well. For roughly the same price you can get an REI Co-op Igeno 25 that's warmer and four ounces lighter. Most, however, will find the Backcountry Bed to be vastly more comfortable. So if you can appreciate comfort in your sleeping bag, this bag still seems to offer a decent value.
This bag largely lives up to its name and is successfully a bringing the comfort of an ordinary bed to the backcountry. It accomplishes this by offering a roomy fit and zipperless closure that mimics the feel of your comforter at home. These benefits, however, come with significant drawbacks in warmth and weight. Nevertheless, if you've always found traditional mummy bags uncomfortable, the Backcountry Bed is a godsend.