The North Face Cat's Meow Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 it also costs quite a bit less than those bags.
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 the extra money for a comparably warm down or high-performance synthetic bag that offers similar but better features.
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