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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Cat's Meow Review
Cons: Packed size, included compression sack is a little big, interior fabric feels ok, is not quite as cozy as other options
Bottom line: While hardly high-performance, the Cat's Meow remains a jack-of-all trades for general purpose backpacking, car camping, extended kayaking trips or when extended poor weather is a possibility.
The North Face has been making a version of the Cat's Meow sleeping bag since around 1977. They've done a solid job at updating this timeless classic over the years, continuing to offer small additional features like glow-in-the-dark zippers and an included compression sack, along with materials to keep it at a respectable weight. This versatile, above average synthetic bag is a work-horse of a synthetic bag; it's not outlandishly heavier than most down bags and is lighter than many comparable warm synthetic bags. The Cat's Meow is a jack-of-all-trades for general purpose backpacking, car camping, extended kayaking trips or when extended poor weather is a possibility; when completely soaked, its' Heatseeker Pro insulation dried in around a quarter the time of other bags during our side-by-side testing (when compared to treated "water-resistant" down).
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
This contender is a 20-degree bag that uses The North Face's proprietary synthetic Heatseeker Pro for insulation. The North Face made the change in insulation to their own Heatseeker Pro (from Polar Guard in 2014). We don't necessarily think that was for the better, but the new material just works as intended and does pack down slightly smaller. This bag easily kept us warm down to 25F; however, during a true 20F or colder overnight low temperature, most folks will need bulk up on the layers they are wearing.
That said, compared to similarly rated 20° F synthetic bags, the Cat's Meow feels slightly warmer than most. For example, in a side-by-side test with the Kelty Tuck 20, The North Face Hyper Cat, or Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark, each of our testers felt the Cat's Meow was slightly warmer than the previously mentioned contenders.
The Cat's Meow weighs 2 pounds 11 ounces; the weight is not horrible for a synthetic bag that is slightly above average in performance, especially among comparably warm non-down bags out there on the market. It's obviously heavier than the less-insulated 30 degree Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35, which weighs in at a pretty amazing 1 lbs 12 oz, nor as the new The North Face Hyper Cat (1 lbs 14 oz) but it's still comparable to the equally warm Nemo Salsa 30 (2 lbs 1 oz).
When compared to the Hyperlamina and Hyper Cat bags, the Cat's Meow offers a full-length zipper, whereas the previously mentioned models only feature half-length zippers and in the case of the Hyper Cat the Cats Meow is much wider. The Cat's Meow is lighter than the Kelty Tuck 20, which tips the scales at 3 pounds, or the Kelty Cosmic Down 20, which weighs 2 lbs 13 oz.
The Cat's Meow compresses down slightly smaller than most comparable in warmth synthetic bags; like most synthetic bags, it is roughly twice the size of many down bags. The Cat's Meow packs down roughly 25% smaller than the synthetic Kelty Tuck 20 and offers a comparable, though slightly bigger packed size than the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600 3-Season or the Kelty Cosmic Down. It is about twice the size as the very packable synthetic Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35 or The North Face Hyper Cat which was only a little larger yer. Unlike most sleeping bags, the Cat's Meow came with an actual compression sack to help minimize the packed size. While we loved this feature, our testers wish it came with a slightly smaller compression sack, as we maxed it out every time. Its worth noting that both the Hyper Cat and the HyperLamina Spark come with better fitting compression sacks.
Comfort, Spaciousness, and Fit
This comfortable sleeping bag provides a nice balance of spaciousness, while still offering efficient insulation. 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 was good for side sleepers and folks who like sleeping with their knees bent, but didn't offer as much comfort as the Nemo Salsa 30. The internal fabric feels average against our skin, but wasn't as "cozy" feeling as several more expensive models.
This contender is fairly versatile and we and would categorize it as a general-purpose sleeping bag. Because of its weight and packed size, it isn't a great option for extended backpacking or summertime mountaineering trips where weight is a more important factor. However, it excels at shorter backpacking trips, extended kayak or car camping trips, or anytime your adventure has your journey traveling through a potentially wet location.
Features, Water Resistance and Design
The Cat's Meow's full-length zipper makes for easy ventilation on warmer nights and mates to zip 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.
If the 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 Pro insulation dries in roughly a quarter the amount of time as treated down.
The Cat's Meow is great for general purpose backpacking, car camping or summertime mountaineering. It has been our go-to bag for big wall climbing for both spring and fall routes on El Captain or other similar walls in Yosemite. It's our favorite synthetic bag for extended kayak camping trips in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. However now the The North Face Hyper Cat will take its place where weight and packed size are more important but the Cats' Meow is still superior on car camping and kayak trips where weight and bulk are less of an issue and comfort can be prioritized more.
Value and the Bottom Line
At $170, The North Face Cat's Meow is nearly the perfect blend of performance and price. It isn't quite as light or packable as Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina or The North Face Hyper Cat bags, it is also $70 less than those bags. The Cat's Meow offers higher performance, though is $70 more than the functional Kelty Tuck 20; the Cat's Meow packs down smaller, and is lighter, warmer, and offers nicer feeling face fabric. 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 simply don't want to shell out at least another $70-100 for a comparably warm down or high-performance synthetic bag that offers similar albeit slightly better features.
— Ian Nicholson
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