The best days in life seem to start in a sleeping bag. Sure, you wake up sheathed in slick nylon, staring up at a wall made of more nylon, but once you escape your shiny sleep prison, you’re usually somewhere amazing—the High Sierra, lakeside on Superior, in a tree house in Laos.
I’ve never been fond of the sleeping bag part, though. Fortunately I am not the only person who feels this way. The designers behind the Zenbivy sleep system came up with a solution: a modular sleeping system that’s one part sleeping bag, one part Grandma’s quilt, and just about the perfect way to sleep outdoors.
It’s Really That Good
The internet is filled with superlative reviews of the Zenbivy. It’s almost universally praised with comments like it’s “the best sleep I’ve ever had in the backcountry.” I’ll confess, this made me skeptical. At this point, whenever I see something universally praised I assume that praise is being paid for by the company.
Except with Zenbivy, influencers aren’t the ones praising it; it’s actual users on Reddit and professional reviewers I trust. Having now spent a few weeks in the Zenbivy, I am here to join them. The 25-degree version of the Zenbivy original ed is the best sleep I’ve had in the backcountry, in a tent, and possibly anywhere else.
I might be divorced and disowned if I leave my wife and kids to spend more nights in the Zenbivy sleeping bag. Fortunately, I sent it back to Zenbivy before it became an issue. But I miss it. I want one. I may never go backpacking without one again.
Let’s start with what makes the Zenbivy system so great: It’s a sleeping bag, it’s a quilt, it’s a sheet, and it’s several things in between, thanks to its modularity.
There are a few different Zenbivy systems. I tested the complete Zenbivy Bed, which uses a two-piece quilt and sheet design common to all their systems, but also includes a sleeping pad, pillow, and dry bag with compression straps. While the extras are nice to have, the core genius of the system is the fitted sheet and zippered quilt combo.
The Zenbivy system works by wrapping a fitted sheet over your sleeping pad. The sheet also has the hood portion of the sleeping bag attached to it. Then you lay the top quilt over that. This is the coolest, loosest way to use the system and how I did most of my testing since I sleep rather warm. However, should the temperature drop, you can zip the quilt footbox up into a mummy bag configuration and zip the upper sides to the bottom sheet. I did this on a couple of cooler nights in the Keweenaw Peninsula when it got quite frigid.
Most of the time, I slept in quilt mode. Because the hood of the bag is part of the bottom sheet, you can keep quite warm even if you don’t zip up the bag. It also eliminates the need to sleep in a hat, which I’ve never liked.