Tuesday, November 20, 2012

EMS Solstice 20 vs Snugpak Sleeper Xtreme

I'm trying to get more backpacking in this Fall and Winter; but in order to do that, I needed to upgrade my sleeping bags.  I typically use a couple of lightweight, 32 degree (F) bags for three season camping, but that rating is really pushing it - they start to get pretty cold below 40-45 degrees, and using liners can be a pain or not real effective.  I also have a 25-yr old LL Bean 0-degree synthetic bag which is great, but it is fairly heavy and very bulky.  So, I started doing my research looking for a good set of sleeping bags that would be comfortable down to 20-degrees.

Warmth was my top priority, since they were specifically being targeted for shoulder season and warmer winter use.  Bulkiness was next - they had to pack well.  Then price was an issue - I didn't want to break the bank, and I like to find deals that don't always come from the big brand names.  Finally was weight - balancing the other priorities might cost me in pack weight, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

My search for cold-weather bags focused on synthetic bags, since they stay warm when damp/wet and tend to be less expensive - at the expense of weight and bulk.  When I had considered everything, I ended up deciding on the Sleeper Xtreme sleeping bags from Snugpak.  Snugpak is a UK company specializing in outdoor clothing, packs, and more recently sleeping bags.  They have a good reputation for quality, and a military grade ruggedness.  Their Sleeper series bags are their entry level category, which includes the Lite (32/20 F), Xtreme (19/11 F), and Xpedition (10/0 F).  I like the fact that they provide ratings for both Comfort and Low temperature use; and all reviews that I read indicated that these ratings were pretty accurate - we will see.  I found them online for $60 ea, so I ordered two - for a little more cost, there were other retailers with more color options; but I opted for price and stuck with the two-tone orange/silver.  I was hoping to use them the following week on a trip to the Catskills with my son, but due to extended handling they took 14 days to arrive (my fault for waiting so long to decide).

So before I go into the details, I was stuck for what to use on the Catskills trip.  I figured that I could use my old LL Bean bag for myself, and would just need to lash more gear to the outside of my pack since the sleeping bag takes up about 30 L all by itself.  My daughter had one of the 32-degree bags at college for a field trip that she had taken a month earlier, so we couldn't double bag it for my son.  During my previous search for bags, I did take note of a nice little bag at EMS - the Solstice 20, which retailed for $99.  I didn't want to cancel the trip, so my wife gave the go-ahead to spend the extra cash on the EMS sleeping bag.  It ended up to be perfect timing - when I checked online to see it it was in-stock at the local store, it turned out that they were having their member's-sale and everything in the store was 25% off - Bonus!  So, an hour later I had the bag back home, along with a bunch of other 25% off gear.  (Note: as I am writing this, I just checked EMS online, and they have this bag on sale for  $50 - I don't feel so lucky anymore; but this is a great time to buy for anyone else).

Similar Sized
So, how do they compare and stand up to expectations...very close, and very well.  Both sleeping bags use synthetic fill - Isofiber for the Sleeper Xtreme, and Omniloft for the Solstice.  As stated above, the Snugpak was rated for 19-degrees comfort and 7-degrees extreme low, while the Solstice was stated to have a temperature range of 10-35 degrees.  They pack down comparably - the Snugpak came with a nice heavy duty compression sack than crushes down to about 9" x 9"; while the Solstice packs into a stuff sack measuring 9" x 18" (similar to the Snugpak before compressing).  Weight-wise the Solstice is quite a bit lighter - 3 lbs, compared to 4.5 lbs for the Sleeper Xtreme.  Overall, both sleeping bags are reasonably packable for cold-weather gear; and at 3 lbs the Solstice is an impressive compromise over expensive (and moisture affected) down bags.  The weight of the Sleeper Xtreme is a bit more than I would have ideally liked; but it is definitely manageable for cold weather backpacking, and it is built like a tank.

Draft Collar on Snugpak
Looking at the bags - they are similar in size, with similar cuts.  They are narrow, but not too cramped - my skinny son (5'10", 145 lbs) had plenty of room, and my 5'9", 190 lb frame was comfortable and could turn easily in the bags.  The Solstice came in a nice, muted olive color, with a soft 40D nylon exterior and an extremely soft interior; but while very soft and smooth, it was a bit slippery on the sleeping pad and the material seems a little fragile (we'll see how it holds up over time).  The Snugpak on the other hand is bombproof - the exterior is a noticeably more durable ripstop nylon (less slippery than the Solstice), and the interior is a silky smooth nylon lining that they call Supersoft (which is not quite as smooth as the Solstice, but is definitely more durable).  The Snugpack bag is certainly the tougher of the two, and appears to be more waterproof (but not tested) - it is easy to see where the extra weight comes in.  Both bags have full-length, 2-way zippers - the Solstice uses a smooth gliding YKK, and the Snugpak has a beefy, unmarked zipper that feels durable.  Both bags have hoods with cinch drawstrings - the solstice being a little deeper; but the Snugpak also includes a draft collar that the EMS does not.  Also, while the Solstice does not come with a compression sack like the Snugpak, it does have a reversible stuff sack with a fleece lining that doubles as a very nice pillow when you throw your spare clothes in it - Sweet.

That's the inner fleece lining on the EMS stuff sack
How do the perform in the field?  Well we put the Solstice through the paces first, on the Catskills trip - two nights along the Devil's Path.  The first night went down to a dry 28-degrees, and then to a slightly more humid 32-degrees on the next night.  Using a Thermarest Z-Lite pad in our Terra Nova Wild Country Duolite Tent, my son remained toasty all night - sleeping like a baby in just a base layer.  A little sliding on the pad, but not a problem (he doesn't toss and turn much).  The second trip (with the Snugpak Sleeper Xtreme) was a solo, two-night trip for me to southern Harriman SP; going down to 27-degrees the first night, and only 34-degrees on the second.  I also used the Z-Lite pad, and was very comfortable on both nights in just my baselayer - the Snugpak lofts up like a quilt.  So, down to the upper 20s, both of these bags performed admirably - and that temperature range covers much of the shoulder seasons in NJ and southern NY.  As we move into winter, we will see how these bags perform down into 'teens - then I'll report back.


  1. What size compression sack would you suggest using with the EMS Solstice 20? I just bought one, and the stuff sack is pretty big.

    1. I like the stuff sack that it comes with when pack size is not a factor, because you can turn it inside out and use the inner fleece lining as a pillow. But when it needs to be packed down, I use a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression sack. I use the size small (7"x16'), but it is a tight squeeze and just fits. A size medium would be a much easier fit, but is an inch bigger in diameter.

  2. Happened across this review, any updates on the durability and performance in colder weather?? I just came across this bag on EMS website for $62, and I'm hoping it's a good buy. I definitely sleep cold, and usually have difficulty keeping my feet warm.

    1. The Solstice continue to be my go-to bag (for over 4 years). I has held up excellent - showing virtually no wear after dozens of outings. It packs down pretty small and light. I even use it year-round, except for the heat of summer - just leave it unzipped when warmer. I just had it out in February, down to 30-degrees, without a bivvy and was plenty warm. At the 20-degree comfort rating I use a reflective outer bivvy for additional warmth. The survival rating of 11-degrees might be accurate but it would only be that. I had this bag down to 13-degrees with a bivvy and slept, but was chilled. I love this bag, and at the current price it is a steal. My only complaint is that the zipper sometimes snags on the draft collar, but it hasn't failed or ripped yet. I'd say go for it. For under $70, I may pick up another...I just wish they still sold the green and grey color. Cheers.