There are two truths about camping in the backcountry that I think we can all agree upon:
1) No one likes being cold through the night and losing sleep as a result.
2) No one likes carrying an unnecessarily heavy backpack.
The modern market for backcountry sleeping bags has evolved to what it is today as a result of these two truths. From Truth No. 1, backcountry sleeping bags have been developed to keep us warm from 45? Fahrenheit (7?C) all the way down to -40?F (-40?C). From Truth No. 2, the weight of backcountry sleeping bags is as low as a pound (454 grams) for summer bags and up to 4.5lbs (2183 grams) for Himalayan and polar expeditionary bags.
The Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag 19?/-7?C, which I will call the Patagonia 850-19 for simplicity, sits toward the middle of the range–pretty warm and very light. This category includes 800- to 900-fill goose down sleeping bags that are rated from 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and that weigh between 30 and 40 ounces (850 to 1134 grams). All of these hooded mummy-style sleeping bags from the well-known brands in the industry have some kind of lightweight ripstop-type nylon shell, baffled chambers to keep the feathers from bunching, and cinching systems around the edge of the hood to keep the heat in and the face warm. So what’s special about the Patagonia 850-19?
For my review, I used the Patagonia 850-19 for 12 nights in Canadian Huts on ski-mountaineering trips, five nights in the back of my Toyota Tacoma, 22 days on Mount Rainier and in the North Cascades, 10 nights crashing in the Alpine Ascents International guide house in Ashford, Washington, seven nights in a KOA campground, and two nights at a bivouac in Rocky Mountain National Park–58 nights in all.
The Patagonia 850-19 meets all of the requirements of a good sleeping bag. It held true to its warmth rating, was within the acceptable range of weight for its type (32.2 ounces/913 grams), and is about average in price ($499). There are four features that make this sleeping bag stand out: 1) the centered zipper, 2) the ease of hood cinching, 3) wide knee girth, and 4) Patagonia’s dedication to making this an environmentally friendly product.
At first glance, the Patagonia 850-19 differentiates itself from other sleeping bags by its centered zipper. Other companies have tried this before in the past, but nothing seemed to persist or make its way into the mainstream. I believe Patagonia’s design will be different and set a trend in the market. The centered zipper is awesome. I will never go back to a side zip as long as there is a choice to have a centered one. The centered zipper is easy to find in the dark, gets hung up in the nylon far less than side-zips, and keeps the sleeping bag centered on the body when unzipped. For those light sleepers out there like myself who are easily woken up by a side-zipper digging into your cheek, Patagonia solved the issue by putting the zipper in the front and having a good amount of down and nylon between the zipper and your face.
At second glance, Patagonia used a hood cinching system I had not seen in other sleeping bags. When looking for the cinching cords in the middle of the night to either release the cinch because I was too hot or tighten the hood because I was too cold, the cords were easier to find and use than any sleeping bag I have used before. In other sleeping bags, there tends to be this mess of cordage hanging around one side of my face, which requires yogic flexibility to reach. Patagonia’s cinches are located under the cheeks, easy to find, and easy to manage. There is still a mess of cordage, but at least it’s better placed. I had one problem with the cinching system. Because the left and right cinches are connected, one of them got lost in a small hole in the nylon when I pulled the other side all the way through. I had to wait until morning to use daylight to fish the cord back out of the hole. Even though this happened on only one occasion, it is still an issue I’m sure Patagonia will want to address.
Beyond the visually obvious features that make the Patagonia 850-19 stand out from the rest, there is another set of data that is very important for potential consumers to investigate–shoulder, hip, knee, and foot width. To cut down weight and offer the lightest bag on the market, some sleeping bag manufacturers design the tightest little cocoon a person can fit into. I have a Brooks Range Drift 30-degree bag that weighs only 23 ounces. This is my super-light bag for big objectives when the lightest pack is necessary. In this bag, I cannot bring my knees to my chest, or even close. My shoulders touch both sides of the bag with little room for movement.
The Montbell Down Hugger 0 is on the other end of the spectrum. This 0?F rated sleeping bag has a Super Spiral Stretch System that enables the entire thing to stretch in every direction. It weighs just a little more than other bags in its category, but I can bring my knees to my chest for some evening stretching, sit cross-legged when cooking in a tent or vestibule, and reach down to take a pair of socks off in the middle of the night with little effort. This is the bag I take on expeditions when I plan to spend many hours tent-bound in fairly cold temperatures.
The Patagonia 850-19 fits somewhere in the middle of these two extremes leaning toward the larger more comfortable end of the spectrum. I can sit cross-legged in this bag, though the zipper is stretched to its maximum. I can slide my knees into my chest with little resistance. I can reach down to take my socks off. To make the cross-legged position more accessible, Patagonia added an extra zipper that can be pulled up to relieve the tension on the zipper. This creates an opening in the zipper, so warm air can get out, but at least it’s an option (see the video on the Patagonia website).
Finally, there is a story of environmental activism behind all or most Patagonia products. Though this factor does not affect the functionality of the product, it meets some of the needs of consumers who want to spend their money in globally conscious ways. I won’t go too far into the environmental aspects of this product, as the Patagonia website gives ample information, but I can pass on that the cotton stuff storage sack is made of organic cotton, the goose feathers are Traceable, which means the feathers come from birds who are neither force-fed or live-plucked, and the factory workers are educated in sustainable technologies and philosophies.
Other than the missing hood cinch one night, I only have two other minor issues with this sleeping bag. First, the nylon stuff sack that comes with the bag was useless. One of the toggles did not work and slid open each time I used it. Others complained about this in their reviews on Patagonia’s website. Finally, in all sleeping bags there is a gap of space between the neck and the zipped-up bag. Warmer sleeping bags in the 0 to -40? range have an extra baffle that cinches around the neck to keep warm air form escaping. The bags in the 15-45? generally do not. To stay comfortably warm in my Patagonia 850-19 in freezing and below-freezing temperatures, I had to clinch a handful of sleeping bag material in my hand and keep that tucked under my chin to close the gap. As my arm got uncomfortable with time, I pinched that handful of material with my chin. Then, as I slept, I naturally released the material and the gap opened. I have had this same issue with other sleeping bags in the same warmth category–so I can’t take a star away from the Patagonia bag for meeting the design standards of the category. I will say, however, that I am surprised that the companies, including Patagonia, have not come up with technology that closes the gap.
Patagonia is a new player in the sleeping bag game. Considering the quality of the bag I tested, which only had minor flaws, I think they are likely to become one of the big hitters, if they aren’t already. The other companies are going to have to step up their game to keep the fans happy and coming back. I will not hesitate to reach for my Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag 19?/-7?C when needing something in the lightweight, 15-20? range.
Mike Lewis, M.A. is an IFMGA/AMGA Licensed Mountain Guide living in Estes Park, Colorado. He has been guiding and instructing for 25 years throughout the U.S. and internationally. Learn more about Mike at www.LunchboxJackson.com.
Three zippers allow better comfort
Wide knee girth
Hood cinching system
Stuff-sack toggles do not work well
Hood cinching cords get lost
No cinchable neck baffle