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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Superlight 15 Review
Cons: Heavy, expensive, runs on the short side, poor stuff sack
Bottom line: The warmest bag in our review is a hooded mummy bag that somehow manages to remain under two pounds.
The North Face Superlight 15 is a super thick, high loft hooded mummy bag that was the warmest bag in this review. Using 18.8 ounces of 800 fill down, it was also the most heavily insulated, and not surprisingly, the second heaviest bag. At almost two pounds, it certainly raises the question of whether this bag could even be considered ultralight. While it is heavier than the rest, the truth is that this bag is pretty light for what you get — a mummy bag that is far more able to tackle cold temperatures than the rest of the bags here, but is likely a bit too warm for summer time use. Despite scoring pretty low in our comparative rankings, we think this is a quality offering well suited to cold climates and cold sleepers.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
In our comparative overall ratings, the Superlight 15 was on the low end of the scale, but that doesn't mean it isn't a high quality sleeping bag. Its overall rating suffers significantly from the fact that it weighs 30.3 ounces, or just under two pounds (weight accounts for 25% of a product's final score). It also suffered a rather low score for comfort because we found the fit to be off. We ordered a size regular, which proved to be too short and tight for our skinny 5'11" head tester. Most of the testing was thus performed by a 5'6" tall woman, who used it everyday for a month of trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal. If you don't mind carrying a few extra ounces to ensure warmth, and size your bag up when ordering, then we think this is actually an excellent sleeping bag.
See how The North Face Superlight 15 compared to the competition in our overall score table below:
We thought this was the warmest sleeping bag in this review, and as such it received the highest score. While the advertised rating of this bag is 15F, this number reflects the "lower-limit" rating of the EN standard test. In truth, the "comfort" rating for this bag is 26F, but we still found it to be warmer than the other bags rated to 20F. It uses 18.8 ounces of 800 fill power ProDown treated down, sewn into semi-continuous trapezoidal shaped box baffles, providing the fattest loft of any bag in this test. Since loft equates directly to heat-trapping ability, it is no surprise that this is the warmest bag we tested.
Not only does it use a ton of down to trap heat, but it also includes a whole heap of features that also work to trap heat. Unlike the Zpacks 20 Degree, another fat lofting mummy bag, this one has a full hood that is also packed full of down. While many people prefer not to have a hood, we must point out that hoods make a large difference in how warm a bag feels on a cold night. It also has a fat overlapping zipper draft tube, and another fat down filled draft collar by the neck opening. There is no doubt that it is warmer than the Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag 30, the most comparable design of the bags we tested. We tested this bag sleeping in a tent at 15,000 feet in the Himalaya on a 10F night when it was windy and dumping snow, and can attest that it does indeed seal off nicely to create a very effective heat-trapping envelope.
Our size regular Superlight 15 weighed in at 30.3 ounces, which is a couple ounces heavier than the advertised 28 ounces on The North Face's website. The included stuff sack weighed an additional 0.5 ounce. This made it the second heaviest bag in the review, only barely eclipsed by the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700. Using lower loft down, as these two bags did, means that comparatively more down feathers must be stuffed inside to create the same amount of loft, compared to a bag like the Feathered Friends Flicker 40 UL that uses 950+ fill power down.
When assessing for comfort, the first thing we look at is how well the bag fits. We ordered a size regular, which is purported to work well for people up to 6'0" tall. However, our head tester, who is 5'11", found the bag to be too short and tight to comfortable fit inside with the hood over his head. Additionally, we found this bag to be fairly tight in both the legs and torso area, adhering to the classic stereotypes of traditional mummy bags. If you are on the edge of the sizes, we recommend you order a larger size.
The short, restrictive feel when completely zipped up inside was reminiscent of the fit of the Western Mountaineering HighLite, which also felt a bit too short for us when the hood was drawn up. By comparison, the Patagonia 850 used a larger cut in the foot box to increase roominess, and was not as tight feeling around the torso and chest when fully zipped up. That said, we thought the feel of the fabric against our skin or clothes was nice, and the draw cords around the neck and face dangled outside of the bag, which we appreciated.
With its notable warmth, we found this bag to be better suited to high altitude or spring and fall in the mountains than many of the ultralight bags we tested, which were much better suited for regular summertime use. In that regard, it could be considered to be pretty versatile. We also thought that the ProDown treated hydrophobic down, combined with a DWR repellant on the face fabric, added to the versatility, making it suitable for wetter climates or cold nights where condensation inside the tent could be an issue.
On the other hand, this bag only has a half-length, center zipper, that makes it hard to open up and ventilate. For warm mummy bags, the Zpacks 20 Degree was much easier to ventilate on a hot night, and had far more ability to be used during the summer. If temperatures rise much above the mid-40's we think this bag has the potential to feel too hot, meaning it might not be the best choice for summer use, unless you sleep extremely cold. With a very similar design and the same limitations when it comes to ventilation, we gave it the same score as the Patagonia 850.
The features are a strong suit of this sleeping bag, as they all worked really well. We loved how this bag had a thick neck draft collar, which helped seal in the warm air on cold nights in the same way that the draft collar on the Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 did. While the half-length zipper also has a nice draft tube covering it, we found that the zipper would often get caught in this fabric, and made us wish that it was sewn with a durable Cordura fabric that couldn't get stuck in the zipper, like what was found on the Flicker 40 UL.
We also loved how the dual draw cords at the neck, one that tightens up the brim of the hood, and the other which tightens up the collar, lived on the outside of the bag, meaning there were no dangly cords in our face while we were sleeping. On their website, The North Face says there is an internal storage pocket, but we looked repeatedly, and never found this pocket. We also wish that the included stuff sack was made in a shape that worked better inside our pack — oddly enough it stuffs in to a giant ball shape that is unwieldy and doesn't work as well as compression stuff sacks for tight packing. Overall though, this one had some of the better features of any mummy bag, and we gave it 8 out of 10 points.
This sleeping bag is not as light as others in our review, nor as versatile, and as such is probably not the top choice for thru-hiking. It will work great for backpacking and other outdoor multi-day adventures, as long as there is room in the pack for this rather large sack. Where it will really shine is in colder temps, like spring and fall, or at higher altitudes. Unless you sleep really cold, we would probably recommend leaving it at home during mid-summer.
The size regular bag that we tested for this review retails for $419, making it the second most expensive sleeping bag in our review. For those who want or need the extra warmth this bag provides, the price will surely be worth it, but we must point out that for most ultralight purposes, there were far higher scoring products in this review that cost a fair bit less.
The North Face Superlight 15 is a hooded mummy bag that is both super warm, and on the heavy side for an ultralight bag. It has excellent, functional features and is well-designed, and its extra insulation makes it a great choice for those who will camp out in colder climates or colder seasons. It is probably too warm for strict summer usage, and is a bit limited in its versatility due to this fact.
— Andy Wellman
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