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Review: Sierra Designs Cloud 35 & 20 || Premium mummy/quilt hybrid

A cowboy camp with the Sierra Designs Cloud 35 in upper Cascade Creek on the Pfiffner Traverse.

For eight consecutive nights in July, I slept in the https://goo.gl/ywp58a, which is new for spring 2018 and which may establish a new sleeping bag category. SD describes it as a “zipperless mummy,” but it takes just as many design cues from top bags and quilts.

Review: Sierra Designs Cloud Sleeping Bag

I can think of at least three audiences for the Cloud:

1. An existing mummy bag sleeper who finds it overly restrictive, who rolls off their pad at night, and/or who are annoyed by snagging zippers.

When closed up, the performance of the Cloud is on par with a conventional mummy.

2. A new backpacker who want a lightweight sleeping bag with premium materials that is priced lower than comparable models from the likes of Marmot, Mountain Hardware, and Sea to Summit. And,

3. An existing quilt user who wants a less drafty bag for colder temperatures, but who fears being confined in a mummy after enjoying the freedom of a quilt. Personally, I’m in this camp.

But its versatility and variable girth are more quilt-like.

The Cloud features 800-fill power water-resistant DriDown and 15d shell fabrics. It is most suitable for backpacking, when warmth-per-weight is a paramount concern. For camping, comfort and cost can be prioritized ahead of weight. It will be available in two versions:

Each version is available in two lengths: regular (up to 6-foot) and long (up to 6’6″; +$20).

The 20-degree will also be available as a women’s bag (1 lb 12 oz, $300), fitting up to 5’8″. It includes the same fill weight as the unisex 20-degree regular (14.8 oz), but since it’s proportionally smaller it should be a few degrees warmer; extra down was allocated to the footbox and top core. An EN test was not done for this version, as an expensive-saving measure.

Backstory

The Cloud originated with SD’s admission that it’s innovative Backcountry Bed can not compete with traditional mummies or quilts on a warmth-per-weight basis, all things being equal (like fill power, shell fabrics, and sizing). It simply requires too much build, like overlapping panels, extra seams, and a pad sleeve.

The Cloud, however, can and does. The 35- and 20-degree versions are each just 1 oz heavier than the new Nitro bags, which are pure vanilla mummies that feature the same materials and sizing.

Zipperless mummy

The Cloud differs from a conventional mummy (e.g. the Nitro) in two respects. First, it has no zipper. Instead, the top of the Cloud from the waist to the shoulders is more like a comforter or quilt, detached from the bag’s side on sleeper’s left. Despite this zipperless opening, drafts should be minimal or non-existent: the comforter hooks around the shoulder, and it overlaps with the side insulation when the sleeper is laying down.

The top comforter tucks into the side of the bag and has a shoulder “hook” to eliminate drafts even without a zipper.

Second, the Cloud is technically a top bag: it features a sleeve on its backside, into which a sleeping pad should be inserted. From the waist to the shoulders, the Cloud has no insulation on its underside, instead relying on the insulating value of the sleeping pad.

The weight consequences of these design differences are mostly a wash. By eliminating the zipper and underside insulation and baffling, the Cloud drops weight. But the overlapping materials and pad sleeve add it right back.

Gram weenies may wonder if the pad sleeve is critical. It’s not, but I’d leave it alone — I think it’s advantages are worth an extra ounce. The pad sleeve prevents the user from rolling off the pad, and allows the user to rotate within the bag. And in the particular case of the Cloud, the sleeve keeps tension on the bag’s top side, helping keep open the hole.

The pad sleeve adds about an ounce of weight, but improves the tension on the comforter and prevents the user from rolling off the pad.

Variable girth and sizing

Versus a traditional mummy, the Cloud is less restrictive and it lacks a snag-prone zipper. It has one more advantage, too: variable girth, due to the overlap between its comforter and sides.

This feature is most meaningful to backpackers who supplement the warmth of their sleeping bag by wearing their hiking clothes at night. For example, the Cloud fit me perfectly on warm nights, when I slept in just my hiking shirt and underwear. But it remained a perfect fit on cooler nights, when I also wore my insulated jacket (and later removed it because I was too warm).

I’m 6-feet tall, weigh in the upper 150’s, and have a 40-inch chest. The regular-sized Cloud offered sufficient height and more than enough width.

Temperature rating

The 35- and 20-degree versions have both been EN-tested. Your nighttime comfort may not coincide perfectly with the EN test (thankfully, mine does), but at least it gives you apples-to-apples comparison data between sleeping bags.

During my July trip — on which I used a drafty open-sided tarp — nighttime temperatures were typically in the 40’s. I found the 35-degree bag amply warm. If I had sealed it up while wearing my hiking shirt, shorts, pants, lightweight fleece, and puffy jacket, I’m certain that I could have been comfortable with temperatures in the 20’s.

Room for improvement

My single criticism of the Cloud is the side-sleeping experience. In this position, my face was directed at the side of the bag, whereas a traditional mummy bag would have rolled with me. This problem is inherent with top bags, and was remedied easily enough — I tucked the side or top of the Cloud under my face.

Thankfully, I’m generally a back sleeper, so the Cloud worked for me. And it’s not as if mummies aren’t also flawed — active sleepers can roll completely off their pads or become utterly twisted inside of the bag.

32 Responses to Review: Sierra Designs Cloud 35 & 20 || Premium mummy/quilt hybrid

  1. Jay September 14, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

    Really interesting bag. Love the design generally. The thing I think would give me a hard time is the fact that it only opens down to your waist, leaving no way to vent below that. I’m a hot sleeper and I live in Arizona, and I use the winters to enjoy the splendors of the desert and generally stay out of the high country then.

    The bigger upshot for me is that SD has been heavily discounting the Zissou bags, and I just picked up a 30 degree Zissou at a great price for Arizona winters when my warm-season 50 degree quilt just won’t cut it anymore.

    • Makerlight April 15, 2018 at 6:07 pm #

      If you are looking to vent below the waist then the Cloud 800 does have a solution that Andrew may have not mentioned. The footbox has an opening at about where your calves would be, facing your sleeping pad. It allows you to slip out your feet when they get too hot, without using your hands or fiddling around. When it gets a bit drafty then slide your feet back inside the bag. The opening overlaps so that no cold gets in as well. A good feature for sure.

  2. Rene September 14, 2017 at 8:04 pm #

    Andrew, your cowboy camp looks like such a mess for how I thought you’d want camp to look like…neat and tidy but I’m most likely wrong. Also, I almost cried when I heard you’re seriously contemplating not continuing with the ultrarunning races even though you’re clearly still a stud…please give UTMB another shot and double down! As always, I love the content and appreciate it. Take care.

  3. David Wiese September 15, 2017 at 11:28 am #

    Hey Andrew,

    When you use a mylar/emergency blanket as your groundsheet, do you always put the reflective side down like in the pictures? Or are there cases where you will turn it over?

    Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka September 15, 2017 at 11:51 am #

      I don’t think it matters.

  4. Karen September 16, 2017 at 8:14 pm #

    Thank you for the review. It’s something to consider as I am always off my pad!

  5. Brenden Woolley October 3, 2017 at 9:22 am #

    Andrew, does the footbox have a self sealing foot vent/hole like the backcountry beds do? That would allow heat venting and adjusting for when you need to cool your lower half down. I really liked that in the backcountry beds, it worked well.

    • Andrew Skurka October 3, 2017 at 10:04 am #

      Yes, it does.

  6. juan October 21, 2017 at 6:22 am #

    Those colors are awful

  7. Robert November 17, 2017 at 10:09 pm #

    How would you rate this bag for stomach sleepers and people who move alot
    I have 5 Montbell bags

    • Andrew Skurka November 18, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

      I’m a back sleeper and don’t move around a lot, so I can only speculate.

      The pad sleeve will help, because it locks the bag onto the pad in a correct position. You can move around inside of it without getting twisted.

      The half-comforter is better than a normal lightweight mummy (which will have a half-length side zip), but it’s not as good as the SD Backcountry Bed. The Cloud is about the same weight as the mummy, but quite a bit lighter than the BCB, especially the 2018 models because they’ve been redesigned for comfort and cost, not high performance.

    • Andrew Skurka December 6, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

      I have not slept in an EE bag and I’ve had few clients with them. I think they are highly regarded, although I think the consensus is that their temperature ratings are aggressive.

      A quilt and the Cloud are pretty different products. Given the temperature ratings you are looking at, I would push you to the Cloud. Once nighttime temps are reliably below freezing, I always take a mummy bag, because quilts are too drafty and leave the head too exposed. And when you start looking at how a quilt addresses those problems (e.g. lashing system to the pad, insulated balaclava) I just assume have a simpler mummy.

      As far as the Cloud vs a traditional mummy like the Nitro, I prefer the Cloud. The top-bag aspect is nice (you can roll inside the bag without getting twisted and without rolling off your pad), but the comforter makes it less restrictive than a mummy.

  8. Aaron Fisher December 7, 2017 at 6:19 am #

    I’ve used a Big Agnes bag with the same style of sleeping pad sleeve. It works great with a rectangular pad but turned out to be drafty with a narrower, tapered pad. Have you tested this with a tapered pad? Any issues? I will add that I was in zero degree temps and the draft was very unwelcome. Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka December 7, 2017 at 7:43 am #

      I used it with a regular length 20-inch NeoAir XLite. It was fine, no noticeable drafts.

      I don’t think a 25-inch pad works with the cloud.

      • Rob December 7, 2017 at 7:32 pm #

        Just checked on SD’s website; the long version will take a 25″ pad.

        With the opening on the left side, how would it be for right side sleepers?

        • Andrew Skurka December 11, 2017 at 9:55 am #

          The 25-in width on the Long makes sense.

          I’m a back and right-side sleeper, too. When sleeping on the right side, I simply tucked the hood under my face, so that I wasn’t breathing directly into fabric. You can tuck only part of the hood under, so that the top of your head still stays insulated. All that said, if you were pushing the warmth limit of the bag each night and really needed it to be sealed up, this would be a shortcoming of the Cloud, assuming that you keep it strapped to the pad (which you don’t have to — it just works better that way).

  9. Mer March 4, 2018 at 2:38 pm #

    Hey Andrew,

    Torn between the women’s Cloud and Backcountry Bed 20 700 DriDown – was leaning towards the seemingly less restrictive backcountry bed but the lower weight/warmer rating of the cloud is tempting (back/side sleeper). Input/advice appreciated!

    • Andrew Skurka March 5, 2018 at 7:54 am #

      The weight of the BCB makes it prohibitive for any serious backpacking. Car camping or leisure backpacking, fine, but if you ever want to cover miles, you’ll always know it’s an anchor.

  10. Keith March 6, 2018 at 2:58 pm #

    Hi Andrew. Is it fair to say this is your current go-to recommendation? I am planning to section hike the GDT over the next few years and have been completely overhauling my kit. I purchased a Flex Capacitor (which I love) and am about to pull the trigger on a duomid with solomid XL inner (I chose the duo for trips when my daughter is along).

    My next big purchase will be a sleeping bag. Current contenders are the MLD Spirit Quilt & E.E. Revelation quilt. Basically I’m looking for one bag to cover most conditions, weight of around 1.5lbs, and want the most bag for my buck. The E.E. Quilt is at the upper end of my budget.

    Thanks once again for your time.

    • Andrew Skurka March 7, 2018 at 9:10 am #

      Go-to recommendation? Hmm, I don’t know if I’d go that far, mostly because I think context is important before recommending ANY product.

      For your purposes I would stay away from synthetic insulation: you’ll be in very arid environments and using it for multiple years, so stick with the insulation that is more thermally efficient and that has better long-term performance. Among your choices, that would limit you to the EE and SD, but I’m sure if you looked more you’d find other similar options.

      I would not hesitate in using the Cloud as my only bag. It’s EN tested, light, and very reasonably priced. I think this is more of a preference issue: Are you okay with the relatively restrictive design of the Cloud in exchange for better draft protection and a much cleaner system to keep you on top of your pad? If so, then I think it’d be a good choice.

  11. Keith March 7, 2018 at 9:42 am #

    Thanks Andrew. I wonder if there’s some confusion. I’m talking about the Great Divide Trail up here in Canada. I’ve been told to expect intense bug pressure and “more rain than you’d expect”, hence my inclination toward synthetic.

    • Andrew Skurka March 7, 2018 at 9:45 am #

      Sorry, I read GDT and spaced out thinking Grand Enchantment.

      The GDT is still well within the bounds of down. It’s not the BC coast or the southern Appalachians. All that you need is 30 minutes of sunshine every 3 or 4 days and you’re good to go.

  12. Keith March 7, 2018 at 10:31 am #

    Thanks so much Andrew!

    Always appreciate the intel.

  13. Seb April 22, 2018 at 6:25 pm #

    How do you deal with pulling a bivi bag over this arrangement between the bag and the mat?
    Equally, don’t you find that the need to use a bivi can negate the liberating nature of a quilt?

    • Andrew Skurka April 22, 2018 at 7:55 pm #

      I didn’t use the Cloud with a bivy. I think bivies are best with quilts, because they offset the inherent draftiness of that product. In the Cloud, you don’t have a draft problem. And I didn’t encounter bugs on any of the trips for which I used the Cloud, so I didn’t need a bivy or inner for that reason, either.

      So long as the bivy has adequate girth, it does not interfere with the flexibility of the quilt.

  14. Patrick Moore May 21, 2018 at 3:54 pm #

    Curious about a couple things. I’m just under 5 foot 8 and weigh 160llb. Do you think a woman’s bag would be an option? Same fill weight but 4in shorter would correlate to a little more warmth.

    Second, my Big Agnes Q core pad is 4 and 1/2 in thick, is that too thick to to be able to use with the sleeve with the bag?

    • Andrew Skurka May 22, 2018 at 8:11 am #

      Customer service should have good answers to both of these questions.

      You should be aware that the women’s bag has the same amount of fill as the men’s bags, but the women’s bags are smaller. That means more fill distributed into fewer baffles = warmer.

  15. Albert May 24, 2018 at 12:45 am #

    Thanks for the review Andrew,

    I’m 6’3 and slim built, would a regular cut it or were you at it’s limits at 6 foot?

    Cheers

    • Andrew Skurka May 24, 2018 at 8:47 am #

      The regular was okay for me (at 6′ and slim) but for 6’3″ I think you’d want the long. There are few things more annoying than being jammed vertically into your sleeping bag.

  16. Eric June 8, 2018 at 3:18 pm #

    I have backpacked a fair bit, and am inspired to try out some nights of cowboy camping BUT have a mental phobia about cowboy camping in bear country. Here in Alaska a tent provides a bit of a psychological barrier. What are your experiences and recommendations for cowboy camping in Southcentral Alaska, or bear country in general?

    • Andrew Skurka June 12, 2018 at 3:04 pm #

      I’m glad to hear you describe it as a psychological barrier, because that’s all it is. Some sil-nylon is not going to stop a bear if he wanted what’s inside. I do wonder, however, if the shelter gives them pause, i.e. “WTF is that thing? Maybe I should get out of here, even if it smells like chocolate.”

      FWIW, I rarely cowboy-camped in AK. I liked being able to close out the world — it’s a mentally challenging place to backpack, especially solo. Also, there always seemed to be bugs or a risk of weather.

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