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

The North Face Cat's Meow Review

This bag remains a jack-of-all trades for general purpose backpacking, car camping, extended kayaking trips, or when extended poor weather is a possibility.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $169 List | $158.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Extremely quick drying, respectable weight for a 20° F synthetic bag, warm, killer value, comfortable interior dimensions, a work-horse
Cons:  Packed size, compression sack is a little big, interior fabric feels ok, not quite as cozy as other options
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 15, 2018
  • Share this article:
63
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#16 of 17
  • Warmth - 20% 7
  • Total Weight - 20% 4
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Packed Size - 15% 6
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Features & Design - 10% 7

The Skinny

The North Face has been making some version of this bag since 1977, keeping it a robust and reliable choice at an affordable price point. The Cat's Meow is a classic sleeping bag that is updated every few years and continues to withstand the test of time. The most recent changes include weight shavings, making it 5-6 ounces lighter, and around 10% more compressibility than previous versions. This versatile model is a work-horse, and not outrageously heavier than most down bags and lighter than many comparably warm synthetic bags. The Cat's Meow is ideal for general purpose backpacking, car camping, kayaking trips, big wall climbing, or anytime extended poor weather is a possibility. When soaked, its Heatseeker Guide (formerly Heatseeker Pro) insulation dried in around a quarter the time of down bags during our side-by-side testing even when these models were treated "water-resistant" down.

For the price, we can't argue against the Cat's Meow. But if you're willing to spend more, you could be sleeping in the Hyper Cat, our favorite choice for wet excursions that weighs less and packs down smaller.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


The Cat's Meow is a timeless jack-of-all-trades model that many of our testers have relied on for years.
The Cat's Meow is a timeless jack-of-all-trades model that many of our testers have relied on for years.

Warmth


This contender is a 20-degree bag that uses The North Face's proprietary synthetic Heatseeker Guide for insulation. The North Face made the change in insulation to their proprietary insulation from Polar Guard in 2014 and then changed from Heatseeker Pro to Heatseeker Guide in 2018. The switch from Polar Guard to their proprietary materials was for better compressibility and the most recent and more subtle name change is to reflect an upgrade in that insulation, which now packs down 10% smaller while maintaining the same level for warmth.

The Cats Meow features a well-designed hood that is one of the most comfortable and least claustrophobic feeling of any model in our review.
The Cats Meow features a well-designed hood that is one of the most comfortable and least claustrophobic feeling of any model in our review.

Overall this bag easily kept most of our users warm down to 25F; however, during a true 20F or colder overnight low temperature, most folks will need to layer up to stay warm. Compared to similarly rated 20° F synthetic bags, the Cat's Meow feels pretty average. For example, in a side-by-side test with The North Face Hyper Cat and Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark, each of our testers felt the Cat's Meow was slightly warmer than these contenders.

We found this model fine for three-season camping but if you are actually spending the night in temps around 20  most folks will need to layer up a little to stay warm.
We found this model fine for three-season camping but if you are actually spending the night in temps around 20, most folks will need to layer up a little to stay warm.

Weight


The newest version of the Cat's Meow dropped around 6.5 ounces from its previous version and now tips our scale at 2 pounds 5 ounces. This is quite respectable for a synthetic bag of this temperature rating, especially one that is slightly above-average in its all-around performance. Overall, this model is lighter than most comparably warm non-down bags on the market, with only a few of the most weight-focused designs being lighter. It's heavier than the less-insulated 35-degree Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35, which weighs in at a pretty amazing 1 lb 12 oz, nor as the The North Face Hyper Cat (1 lb 14 oz) which is similar but sports narrower dimensions and a half-length zipper. The Cat's Meow is also lighter than the Kelty Cosmic Down 20, which weighs 2 lbs 13 oz.

The Cat's Meow weighs 2 lbs 5 oz which is lighter than most synthetic bags and a handful of down bags of comparable warmth. That said  it's easy to drop around 10-12 ounces by going with a higher-end down bag.
The Cat's Meow weighs 2 lbs 5 oz which is lighter than most synthetic bags and a handful of down bags of comparable warmth. That said, it's easy to drop around 10-12 ounces by going with a higher-end down bag.

Packed Size


The Cat's Meow compresses down slightly smaller than most comparable synthetic bags, though like most synthetic models, it is roughly twice the size of a high-quality 20F down bag. The current and newest version of the Cat's Meow packs down roughly 10% smaller than its previous version.

The Cats Meow (4th from the left) packed down reasonably well  but could have packed a fair amount smaller if its included compression sack was slightly smaller. Left to right: Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed  Marmot Hydrogen  Western Mountaineering MegaLite  The North Face Cats Meow  Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina 35F  Western Mountaineering UltraLite.
The Cats Meow (4th from the left) packed down reasonably well, but could have packed a fair amount smaller if its included compression sack was slightly smaller. Left to right: Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed, Marmot Hydrogen, Western Mountaineering MegaLite, The North Face Cats Meow, Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina 35F, Western Mountaineering UltraLite.

It is about twice the size as the very packable synthetic Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35 or The North Face Hyper Cat which were surprisingly not that different in compressed volume. Unlike most sleeping bags, the Cat's Meow comes with an actual compression sack to help minimize the packed size. While we loved that it comes one, our testers all commented how they'd wish it came with a slightly smaller compression sack as the one included was HUGE!!! It's worth noting that both the Hyper Cat and the HyperLamina Spark come with better fitting compression sacks.

This model strikes a nice balance of spaciousness interior dimensions while still offering a thermally-efficient design.
This model strikes a nice balance of spaciousness interior dimensions while still offering a thermally-efficient design.

Comfort, Spaciousness, and Fit


This comfortable sleeping bag provides a nice balance of spaciousness interior dimensions while still offering a fairly thermally efficient design. From an interior space standpoint, it has a similar feel to the Western Mountaineering MegaLite and has a little more room than the The North Face Hyper Cat, Patagonia 850 Down 30, REI Co-op Igneo 25, or the Marmot Phase. The Cat's Meow is good for side sleepers and folks who like sleeping with their knees up or bent, but doesn't offer as much comfort as the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed. The internal fabric felt fine against our skin but isn't anything to write home about, nor is it as "cozy" feeling as several more expensive models.

Here  the Cat's Meow (center) compared to the cuts of the Sea to Summit Spark III (left) and the Kelty Cosmic Down (right).
Here, the Cat's Meow (center) compared to the cuts of the Sea to Summit Spark III (left) and the Kelty Cosmic Down (right).

Versatility


This contender proved versatile and a solid general-purpose sleeping bag. It excels for trips where its quick-drying properties and comfortable dimensions are most important and its okay weight and packed volume aren't an issue. It excels at shorter-distance backpacking trips, extended kayak or car camping trips, or any adventure where your journey has you traveling through a potentially wet location. Because of its slightly heavier weight and larger packed size, it isn't near as good of an option for long-range backpacking or summertime mountaineering trips where weight is a more of a priority.

We liked the large mesh storage sack included with the Cats Meow.
We liked the large mesh storage sack included with the Cats Meow.

Features, Water Resistance and Design


The Cat's Meow's full-length zipper makes for easy ventilation on warmer nights and mates by zipping together with any other full-length North Face sleeping bag.

Get the opposite zip so one bag isn't facing down when they zip together.

We love this large pocket (large enough for every cell phone we tried) as it's an easy place to keep our phone or watch so when our alarm went off  it was both near our head and easy to find to turn off.
We love this large pocket (large enough for every cell phone we tried) as it's an easy place to keep our phone or watch so when our alarm went off, it was both near our head and easy to find to turn off.

If this bag gets soaked, it dries exceptionally fast. A polymer or similar proprietary treated down ("AKA water resistant down") can't even compare to most synthetics, especially in our water-resistance and drying-time tests. During our testing, the Heatseeker Guide insulation dries in roughly a quarter the time as treated down.

One of our favorite features of the Cats Meow is its glow-in-the-dark zippers which worked perfectly and came in far handier than we would have expected.
One of our favorite features of the Cats Meow is its glow-in-the-dark zippers which worked perfectly and came in far handier than we would have expected.

Best Applications


The Cat's Meow is great for general purpose backpacking, car camping, or summertime mountaineering and has been our go-to bag for big wall climbing on El Captain or other similar walls in Yosemite or Zion for over a decade now. It's also a review team favorite synthetic bag for extended kayak camping trips in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and Alaska. However, now the The North Face Hyper Cat takes its place where weight and packed size are more important than comfort or ventilation needs. The Cats' Meow is still superior on car camping, mid-summer backpacking, and kayak trips where weight and bulk are less of an issue and comfort can be prioritized more.

Value


At $169, The North Face Cat's Meow strikes a nice blend of performance and price. It isn't quite as light or packable as other bags, but is also $70 less than those bags. Conversely, it is more expensive than the Kely Cosmic Down, but not by much, and is slightly lighter and more compressible.

This timeless all-arounder just keeps getting better. Of the 20F synthetic bags this is one of the most versatile and offers solid all-around performance for a reasonable price.
This timeless all-arounder just keeps getting better. Of the 20F synthetic bags this is one of the most versatile and offers solid all-around performance for a reasonable price.

Conclusion


The Cat's Meow is perfect for sleepers that get cold easily or who want a versatile bag for camping in wet climates. It's a legit option for those who don't want to shell out an extra $70-100 for a comparably warm down or high-performance synthetic bag that offers similar but better better features.


Ian Nicholson