REI brand products have a reputation for offering consistent performance at an awesome price. The Igneo 25 and Trail Pod 30 sleeping bags certainly lived up to this reputation. The Igneo offers the performance of a premium down bag, but it won't cost you an arm and a leg. The synthetic Trail Pod, meanwhile, doesn't give you premium performance, but it's perhaps the best sleeping bag deal out there.
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it! The author testing the Trail Pod in the field.
The Trail Pod features an adequate draft tube and hood closure to seal your heat inside. In the industry-standard EN test, it receives a 29°F lower limit temperature rating. In the field, our testers thought this rating felt accurate compared to other EN-tested bags.
To sleep comfortably at a lower limit rating, however, most people will need a great sleeping pad, extra insulating layers, and residual heat from a tent buddy. The average backpacker will likely be happier in this and similarly rated bags closer to the EN comfort rating — in the Trail Pod's case 38F. With this level of warmth, it's well suited for all but the coldest 3-season conditions.
Many sleeping bags now receive EN temperature ratings. Although most bags are then advertised at their "limit" rating, we think most people will be happier in temps down to the higher "comfort" rating.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the cheaper sleeping bags is heavier materials. A size long Trail Pod tipped our scale at 3.04 pounds. This weight is more than double that of a premium lightweight bag like the Feathered Friends Merlin. The Trail Pod, however, is lighter than several similarly priced bags, such as the Marmot Trestles 30, Therm-a-Rest Saros, and Big Agnes Husted 20. Based on these comparisons, we believe the Trail Pod offers a respectable warmth-to-weight ratio relative to its price.
The Trail Pod features cozy polyester taffeta fabric (orange). Our testers think this matte fabric is comfier than the glossy ripstop nylon that a lot of bags, like the Cat's Meow (blue), are sewn with.
Although this is a traditional mummy bag, the taper from the head to foot of the bag is fairly mild. Its 64-inch shoulder girth is also among the widest of the budget sleeping bags. Together these qualities result in a bag that feels particularly spacious. The polyester taffeta fabric lining on the inside of the bag is also a favorite of our testers because it feels softer than the glossy nylon found on many more expensive bags.
Another drawback of affordable sleeping bags is that the insulation is usually bulkier and more difficult to compress. This situation is true for the Trail Pod's polyester batting. Using a third-party compression sack, we were able to pack it down to 12.1 liters in volume. This figure is nearly double the size of the Nemo Kyan 35 or the smallest premium bags. It's a liter smaller (or more), however, than several other budget bags.
The Trail Pod's stuff sack also serves as its storage sack. This unfortunate compromise leaves you with a stuff sack that's too big and a storage sack that's too small.
Keep in mind that this measured packed size is not attainable with the simple the drawstring stuff sack included with the Trail Pod. That sack is relatively heavy at 3.2 ounces and achieves a packed size that's roughly 20% larger than the minimum we observed with a good compression sack. So if you plan to backpack regularly, we recommend spending an extra $20 on a lighter, more effective, after-market compression sack.
In terms of versatility, this bag's biggest advantage is its synthetic insulation. When down gets wet, the clusters often clump. The Trail Pod's polyester fibers, in contrast, don't clump and are instead able to retain a considerable percentage of their insulative power even when soaked.
The versatility advantage of synthetic insulation is not very useful for distinguishing the Trail Pod from other budget bags—most budget bags use synthetic insulation because it's cheap and easy to work. Compared to these direct competitors, the Trail Pod offers about average versatility. Its ¾-length zipper is useful at venting excess heat while its hood seals in heat on colder nights. Unfortunately, it lacks any additional features, like a neck baffle or accessory vents, to extend its usable temperature range and enhance the overall versatility.
The grey/black fabric next to the zipper provides some rigidity that helps to keep it out of the zipper's teeth and prevents snags.
Features and Design
The Trail Pod is a spartan budget bag. It doesn't come with a stash pocket or functional compression sack. The thicker fabric next to its zipper, however, is fairly effective at preventing snags. We also found the hood closure to be comfortable and effective. We wish it used separate spring clamps for each of the two drawstrings so that it would be easier to adjust in the dark. Overall, the simple construction and barebones features combine to achieve the design goal of a functional sleeping bag that's extremely affordable.
The orange elastic cord and blue string operate the forehead and chin sides of the hood, respectively. They're reasonably effective but we wish they had separate spring clamps for simpler operation.
This bag isn't specialized enough to disqualify from anything. Its synthetic insulation and low price make it particularly suitable for wet conditions and rough activities, respectively. Its larger packed size and heavier weight are not ideal for deep backcountry trips or strenuous uphill travel like climbing or mountaineering. We think its ideal for novice outdoors people who roughly split their time between actual backpacking and car camping.
To get a bag for under $100 you have to accept some flaws. The Trail Pod is an awesome bag to sleep in, but it's not so great for carrying. It is considerably heavier than the best $200 bags.
With an MSRP of $89.95, the Trail Pod is one of the most affordable backpacking sleeping bags that we've tried. Although it doesn't provide outstanding performance, it is a legit backpacking sleeping bag. And considering its price, we think that's an exceptional value. This value can even be enhanced if you're able to use one of the '20% off a single item' coupons that REI regularly offers their members, and don't forget you'll rack up dividends for it as well.
Our favorite backpacking sleeping bag is the Western Mountaineering MegaLite. It weighs a pound and half less than the Trail Pod, packs 40% smaller, and supplies superior comfort. To enjoy these benefits, however, you have to fork over nearly five times as much money. The Trail Pod may not be the best sleeping bag, but it might be the best deal. For around $90 you get a real backpacking sleeping bag. Sure, you'll have to carry a little more weight, and your pack won't be quite as small, but after a strenuous day backpacking, you'll likely sleep just as well.