There’s a lot of myth-building around inventors. People are obsessed with the idea that Steve Jobs wore his signature black turtlenecks to free up decision-making bandwidth for more creative endeavors. Climbers swap stories about how Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard used to eat canned cat food when he was a Yosemite-dwelling dirtbag. But that’s hardly the most interesting thing about either man.
Take one of Chouinard’s more underrated contributions: In 1972, he stitched his own goose-down sleeping bag by hand, designing the mummy-style bed with a center-front zipper so he could tie-in on big-wall belays. Chouinard’s prototypal sleeping bag joined a slew of designs that popped up in the same era that expanded on what an outdoor sleep system could be.
In the 47 years since, the outdoor industry has figured out how to make the lightest and driest, loftiest and softest sleeping bags you could dream up. There’s The North Face’s burly -40 Inferno expedition bag, Big Agnes’ maximalist King Solomon double-wide, and Patagonia’s hyperlight Hybrid Sleeping Bag system (meant to be paired with a belay jacket). If you can dream up the perfect bag for your excursion style, it exists. It’s the Rule 34 of the outdoors.
When there seems to be a sleeping bag created for every whim or fancy, it’s difficult for a particular bag to stand out. That’s why Zenbivy decided to do something different: Instead of making a “better” sleeping bag, why not rethink what a sleeping bag is?
The Zenbivy Bed, which the company calls the world’s first two-piece sleeping bag, is not really a bag at all. More complex than a mummy or a down quilt, Zenbivy’s design is modular but simple: a sleeping-pad sleeve with an integrated hood, an inflatable pillow, and a lightweight down quilt.
Here’s where it gets interesting: The quilt can be used on its own, or it can be attached in myriad ways to the sheet using a color-coded hook-and-loop system. For colder nights, configure it as a mummy with a cinched footbox. When it warms up, opt for a rectangle bag or just toss the quilt on top. Like to sleep with one foot out from under the covers? Now you can. The entire system is designed to be more comfortable than any other “bag” on the market, because it’s completely customizable.
I was able to test out the ultra-light version of the sleep system, the Zenbivy Light ($253-$578), which cuts weight by eliminating zippers (the entire thing packs down to the size of a Nalgene and weighs in at about 2.5 pounds).
Even as a hardened skeptic of anything that comes across as a gimmick, I was truly impressed with the system. The premium 800-fill HyperDRY quilt, even toggled to the sheet, didn’t twist or trap me like other bags do, despite the fact that I sleep like a champion boxer taking a Zumba class.
My sleeping bag stayed effortlessly in place all night thanks to the pad integration, and during my customary sleeping-bag night sweats, I could un-toggle and toss off the top half of the quilt in seconds to cool off.
The materials themselves feel soft and floaty instead of clingy, and the entire system felt more familiar than traditional sleeping bag shapes — we don’t sleep in coffins at home, so why do we force ourselves to outdoors?
Another huge plus here is versatility: Because the quilt can be detached, it’s easy to use while car camping, hammock camping, chilling at the beach, or even on your bed at home.
Having only spent one summer night in the bag, I’m still skeptical (but hopeful) about the Zenbivy’s ability to keep out drafts in alpine conditions. The Zenbivy Light has a mix-and-match rating system, with quilts and sheets ranging in warmth from 40 degrees to 10. Of course – and this is the blessing and challenge of this modular design – the warmth of your night will also depend on your personal sleeping pad.
There’s also not much information readily available about the brand’s sustainability standards, and whether the down is traceable and responsibly sourced — two concerns larger brands have learned to address.
Overall, I can say this: I’m pleasantly surprised by the comfort, intuitive design, and true innovation of the Zenbivy Light sleep system, and will definitely be using it for most of my camping endeavors in the future. If it gets chilly, well, there’s always black turtlenecks.
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