The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

Sierra Designs Zissou 15 Review

Sierra Designs Zissou 15
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $280 List
Pros:  Comfortable, when wet DriDown retains more loft than traditional down.
Cons:  heavy, expensive, not as warm as synthetic insulation when wet.
Manufacturer:   Sierra Designs
By Chris McNamara and Max Neale  ⋅  Jul 19, 2012
  • Share this article:
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Our Verdict

In June, 2016, The Zissou was Discontinued

The Zissou has been the darling of the outdoor industry press in 2012. The bag is one of the first of its kind to use chemically coated hydrophobic down that, according to Sierra Designs, stays drier longer, lofts better when wet, and dries faster than untreated down. Our testing- we slept out in the rain and in many wet environments- confirms that this is true, though the difference is much less significant than we anticipated. In our opinion, current DriDown is not yet the perfect hybrid of down and synthetic insulation; when wet it retains slightly more loft than traditional down, but it's not as warm as synthetic insulation when wet.

In our tests, we found the Zissou's 600-fill down was neither as compressible nor as light as higher fill powers. The bag weighs 40 ounces on our scale, making it a mere 4 ounces lighter than our top rated synthetic sleeping bag, but 15 ounces more than the Feathered Friends Hummingbird. In wet conditions we found the Zissou performs slightly better than a traditional down bag, but it weighs nearly 1 pound more than the top down bags, doesn't pack as small, and is made with lower quality fabrics. Going for $280 list, we believe the Zissou is a low value relative to alternatives and suggest- if you're psyched to try out this new technology- waiting for 800+ fill bags with hydrophobic coatings.

Quilt style sleeping bags are warmer for their weight, much more versatile, more comfortable in a wider variety of conditions, and lighter than traditional style sleeping bags with hoods and zippers. See ourBackpacking Sleeping Bag Review for all the details. If saving weight is a top concern see the Ultralight Sleeping Bag Review.

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Zissou won National Geographic Adventure Magazine's "Gear of the Year" award and Outside Magazine's "Gear of the Show" award. Although we're optimistic about hydrophobic down coatings, the Zissou, which uses low quality 600-fill down and costs far more than similar bags without the treatment or the hype.

Hydrophobic Down

Hydrophic Down is intended to handle accidental wetting, humidity, and perspiration. It attempts to take down, the best insulation on the planet, and make it better. This is great becuase down is virtually useless when wet and takes a troublesome amount of time to dry. Improving its performance in wet conditions could keep us outdoorsy types warmer when the conditions turn for the worse.

But can hydrophobic down replace a synthetic bag for use in wet environments? In order to do that the bag would need to insulate as well as a synthetic bag and have features that equal or exceed the synthetic bag's. It must be as light, as compact, as comfortable, as durable, and equally warm when wet. Using hydrophobic down on high quality down fills (800+) could be useful, but only if employed by the best sleeping bags. For example, a sleeping bag's weight and warm would, in most circumstances, be more important than whether or not the bag had a hydrophobic coating.

As of today, our testers have spent over 14 nights in the Zissou. Almost all have been int he open air in cold and wet environments. Along river banks and on multi-day backpacking trips in the rain. Most recently, this author slept out in the pouring rain in the Canadian Rockies (temps in the upper 30's F). Our testing shows that the bag, when wet, retains its loft longer than traditional down. But it's no where near as warm as a synthetic bag when wet. The National Geographic Adventure review claims the bag "stays dry seven times longer in wet conditions than untreated down." Having slept in over 50 down bags and over a dozen synthetic bags, in wet conditions all over the world, this author can confirm that DriDown does not stay dry seven times longer than untreated down. In real world conditions the difference is slight. Over the same period in the same conditions we estimate that the Zissou retains roughly 25% more loft than a traditional bag. Though less than we expected, this is significant! When used in lighter and more compressible 800+ fill powers DriDown could be an excellent addition to a well designed sleeping bag.

All things considered, a hydrophobic coating is just one of many components that make up a sleeping bag. We're optimistic about the future of hydrophobic down and believe that coated down serves as more of a finishing touch to an excellent bag than as the single component that makes a bag great.

Beyond the hydrophobic coating, the Zissou 15 weighs a hefty 40 ounces- that's 40% more than the lightest similarly warm and similarly featured down bag we've tested. The Zissou's features leave room for improvement, too. The hood pull cord is very difficult to pull one handed and many other bags have hood that are more comfotrable when fully cinched. The bag's cut is about average for an all-purpose "budget" down bag.


The Zissou is expensive for its performance.

Quilt style sleeping bags are warmer for their weight, more versatile, more comfortable in a wider range of conditions, and lighter.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale