The North Face Eco Trail Synthetic 35: Tested
Besides good company and plenty of adventures during each day, one of the other absolute essentials for a memorable and fun camping trip is a good night’s sleep. And this, folks, means a good sleep system, starting with a sleeping bag that will keep you warm, comfortable – in short, that’s the sleeping bag’s remit. For Australian camping conditions a three-season rated sleeping bag is the ideal ‘all-rounder’ that should guarantee a decent night’s sleep in all but the coldest of conditions. The North Face Eco Trail Synthetic 35 is a new sleeping bag from the US outdoor brand, rated to 2°C (the 35 indicates the comfort limit of 35°F, equal to 2°C). We’ve been testing one for the past couple of months to see if it does offer that versatility of multi-season sleeping comfort.
The ‘Eco’ in the The North Face Eco Trail Synthetic 35 nomenclature is thanks to the bag’s 100 per cent recycled ‘Heatseaker’ (synthetic) insulation, with the bag part of the Eco Trail product range. . This includes the Synthetic 55 bag, two down-fill bags (including a 20°F/-7°Celcius rated jobbie) and a three-person tent, all of which utilise fully recycled materials in their construction.
Warm and fuzzy eco feelings aside, this bag also delivers on the design and practicality front, with some unique (and clever) features. Firstly, and most notable, is that the main zip curves around like a ‘J’, rather than running along the bottom of the foot box then up the side as per most bags. The team at The North Face designed the zip shape this way for ‘increased mobility and venting’ (more on that later). A very welcome feature for this 6ft-tall tester is the additional width in the knee section of the bag, as are the tie-down loops that allow you to affix the bag to your sleeping bag. Any toss/turn sleeper will appreciate this.
Adhering to its eco design DNA, the bag includes a Non-PFC DWR (durable water repellent) finish on the exterior. A vaulted footbox is another cool addition; this curved foot section of the bag allows your feet to move/flex during the night and keep those lower extremities warm. The outer shell material is 50-denier (D) recycled polyester ripstop (with the aforementioned non-PFC DWR), while the lining is 50D embossed polyester taffeta and the insulation is also recycled polyester.
The usual sleeping bag design elements are also included: a fitted hood (with cinch cord), a draft collar (always welcome), and the now ubiquitous phone storage pocket. The stuff sack measures 216mm tall ad 381mm long and is quite roomy, i.e., there’s no need to add muscle when packing the bag back in the sack. All-up, the regular length Synthetic 35 weighs 1260g.
In the field
The North Face Synthetic 35 has been tested by various Aus Geo ADVENTURE staffers over the past two months, in scenarios ranging from hiking-based camping, through to family camping in a large 12-person tent.
During the hike camping testing, we found the bag to simply just do its job. The regular stuff sack was ditched for this testing, however, as by doing so it allowed us to compress the packed size of the bag quite significantly – always welcome when you’re loading up a backpack with everything you need for a weekend away. Weather conditions varied during this test period (during late winter/early spring), and the 2°C comfort temperature rating of the bag was tested. This writer used a bag liner to add some warmth on one particularly cool weekend (overnight temps down around 4°C, accompanied by a cold wind) but that was the only time in the hike test period that we felt cold in the bag. Being synthetic-fill, of course, means the bag will, if wet, still offer a modicum of warmth (compared to when down-fill gets soaked) but, thankfully, the bag didn’t cop a drenching during testing.
The J-zip is surprisingly easy to open/close, something that can be attributed to the actual curve in the ‘J’ not being too sharp in angle, along with the robust zip itself. The tie-down loops worked as expected, and the combo of vaulted footbox and that wider knee section helped this restless-sleeping tester have a great night’s sleep.
Interestingly, during the family camping test phase, camped beside a beach on the NSW Central Coast, I was notably colder in the bag. The wind off the water was chilly, plus I was also a sole occupant in the big 12-person tent also being reviewed. All that additional ‘cold space’ in the tent interior no doubt didn’t help me stay warm, but it was still surprising as the external temperature was probably around 8°C – but that was without taking that cold offshore wind into account. Adding in the bag liner did warm me/the bag up, though, and the next night (zero wind but a similar temp) there was no repeat of the chills.
The North Face Synthetic 35: The final word
As an all-rounder sleeping bag – one that can be used for anything from a hike/bike/paddle camping trip through to a family sojourn up/down the coast – The North Face Synthetic 35 offers more than just the average. The unique design elements not only sound fancy but they work very effectively, with the standout for this tester being that wider knee section, as well as the easy-to-use J-zip and that just-roomy-enough footbox. Add in the excellent overall construction that promises many years of use, the fact the bag is made using recycled materials, and The North Face Synthetic 35 represents good value for money.
RRP: $250 Available at The North Face Australia