North Face, Kelty, Mt. Hardwear sleeping bag review

By RYAN DIONNE

For most conditions in most areas of the country a three-season sleeping bag is a no-brainer. There are times when you need more warmth and insulation, and there are times when you need less, but usually the three-season setup — those three seasons meaning spring, summer and fall, but not winter — is just about right.

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The lineup: three-season sleeping bags from The North Face, Kelty and Mountain Hardwear

For this test I compared three different three-season bags from Kelty, The North Face and Mountain Hardwear. These companies all make quality sleeping bags with similar dimensions, weights and temperature ratings, but, even beyond price, there are quite a few differences.

Here’s the lowdown from my test, a quick hit with bullet points before we dive into some details:

GOLD: Kelty Light Year XP +20

  • Pros: Zippered foot vent; Baffle collar helps keep you warm when draw cord is not cinched
  • Cons: Seams in foot box uncovered allowing you to feel them; New insulation makes it a half pound heavier than 2007
  • Weight: 2 lbs 14 oz
  • Stuffed size: 9 × 16 inches
  • MSRP: $130
  • Contact: http://www.kelty.com

SILVER: The North Face Cat’s Meow +20

  • Pros: Draw cords ergonomic and easy to use; One of the lightest synthetic bags in its class
  • Cons: Nearly full-length zipper unnecessary; Stuff sack isn’t lightweight nylon
  • Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
  • Stuffed size: 8 × 17 inches
  • MSRP: $149
  • Contact: http://www.thenorthface.com

BRONZE: Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina +15

  • Pros: Compresses to small size; Zipper on both sides of bag
  • Cons: Draw cords dangle in your face when on your side; Small face opening
  • Weight: 2 lbs 14 oz
  • Stuffed size: 7.5 × 12 inches
  • MSRP: $195
  • Contact: http://mountainhardwear.com

I’m a huge Mountain Hardwear fan, so to see the UltraLamina finish third was unexpected. But the gear-off essentially came down to which bag had the most pros, and the Kelty rose above the rest.

The company changed the insulation and a few features with the Light Year for 2008, but Kelty kept its focus on putting the details where they need to be while keeping the price low.

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Kelty Light Year XP +20

The first thing that made the Kelty stand out from the others was the zippered foot vent. Some nights when your feet get hot, it’s nice to have the option of unzipping down low while leaving the main zipper closed to keep body heat trapped where you need it — around your core.

While The North Face’s Cat’s Meow had a longer side zipper than either bag, it didn’t let me cool down my feet. As with many bags, including the Kelty and Mountain Hardwear, the Cat’s main zipper can also open from the bottom even when zipped to the top. But having a longer zip means unnecessary weight.

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The North Face Cat’s Meow +20

Weight was also a questionable aspect in the UltraLamina. With a zipper on both sides of the bag, it allows you to easily sit up while still inside it. Cool feature? Yes. Unneeded feature? Yes.

Both the Mountain Hardwear and The North Face have a small accessory pocket near the top of the bag, which, in my eyes, is excessive and potentially adds more weight.

Despite tipping the scale at almost 3 pounds, the Kelty, on the other hand, is bare bones. It has a partial side zip that makes it easy to get in and out, and it has an easily-adjustable hood area that doesn’t suffocate you — unlike the other two — and its storage sack is fully enclosed, which helps keep the dirt out when car camping. The other two have mesh-like storage sacks.

While the Mountain Hardwear was close behind, the Kelty also wins in the stuff sack category. Like the UltraLamina, the Light Year’s stuff/compression sack is made of rip-stop nylon, but the Kelty was much easier to stuff.

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Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina +15

The Cat’s was easy to stuff, but it has an old-school compression sack made of heavier nylon, and every ounce counts when backpacking.

Though it wasn’t an issue for a friend, both the Cat’s Meow and the UltraLamina had small openings around the face. With my head all the way in the hood, it either covered my eyes or the body of the bag came up too far and covered my mouth.

The hood and opening on the Kelty, though, I found to be non-restricting and easily adjustable to keep in the warmth.

While the Kelty Light Year was the winner amongst the three bags here, none of them would leave you hanging when on the trail.

—Contributor Ryan Dionne is based in Boulder, Colo. He writes a blog on the outdoors and gear at http://explore-it.blog.com

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