Gear Review: Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL Sleeping Bag
I cannot count the number of sleeping bags I’ve used. I tried, really I did, but it’s a lot. I’ve used synthetic and down, mummy and rectangular and spoon, degree ratings from -10°F to 40°F, made by at least six or seven different companies. I also tried, to no avail, to count the number of nights I’ve slept in the backcountry; I gave up when I got to 1,000. Official counts aside, there’s no question that the Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL provides the warmest, coziest, and most efficient backcountry sleeping experience I’ve had.
Feathered Friends Tanager Specs
Temperature rating: 20 degrees F
Length: 68″ (also available in 74″)
Dimensions: 62″ / 52″ / 38″
Fill power: 950+ goose down
Fill weight: 12.6 ounces | 357 grams
Bag weight: 18.6 ounces | 527 grams
Lining fabric: Flite 15 denier ripstop nylon
Shell fabric: Pertex Quantum 7
The Tanager is unlike any other sleeping bag currently on the market for a few reasons that contribute to its substantial weight savings. CFL stands for Crazy Freaking Light, and off the top of my head I’m pretty sure there are only a handful of lighter quilts and no lighter bags.
First, it doesn’t have a zipper. No more twisting around searching for the key to your escape after you’ve managed to get completely lost in the tiniest of spaces. Instead, you just shimmy in and out. This not only saves weight and reduces bulk, it noticeably adds to the bag’s warmth. No matter how effective a draft tube is (or zipper baffle, depending on what language you’ve learned), you’re bound to lose at least a little bit of heat at the zipper. The Tanager’s design eliminates that possibility, and the shimmy is no trouble at all.
It also doesn’t have a hood. With a drawstring closure at the broad opening of a traditional mummy-style bag (though it seems slightly more narrow in the footbox), the Tanager is designed to be paired with the Feathered Friends Eos Jacket for additional warmth. You could pair it with any lightweight jacket, though. I tried it out with my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and with my Enlightened Equipment Hoodlum, as well as without anything at all (see below). If it’s warm enough you could also just use a hat.
As with most things regarding sizing, expect some variability with where this closure hits you above your shoulders. If you are small enough (which I am, at 5 feet, 2 inches), the bag can actually cinch around your head as if there were a hood if you shimmy all the way down. I was delighted by this discovery, and using it this way was actually superior to the pairing with either the Ghost Whisperer or the Hoodlum. Someone shorter than me could certainly do this as well, but I think any taller and it wouldn’t work. I imagine the same would be true for someone only slightly too tall for the 68-inch bag who has to go up to the 74-inch bag.
Versatility and Durability
I tested the Tanager on three different trips in vastly different scenarios: the Wind River Range in late summer/early fall (frost on the tent in the morning), the Wind River Range in early winter (I’ve really got a thing for those mountains), and the Utah desert in early winter. I slept comfortably on every trip, with the coldest air temp hovering right around 20°F, and the warmest around 32°F. That said, like with most outdoor gear-related considerations, it’s really about how a whole system of gear works together rather than one single item. On each trip, I used different sleeping pads or combinations of pads with R-values appropriate to the ground temperatures (for more on that, see this article).
I used a double-wall tent on all three trips, which may have minimally contributed to some heat retention, as well as reduced humidity from condensation. I will be very curious to see how much difference there is in warmth when I switch to my single-wall shelter come spring and summer. I doubt it will be substantial. With a whole system in mind, the Tanager strikes me as highly versatile so long as you are within the appropriate temperature range (a note on possible issues with the upper bound of that range, below).
You should always try to get into your sleeping bag already warm rather than relying on it to warm you. That said, I can actually feel increasing warmth almost as soon as I get in this bag. After a dip in a very, very cold alpine lake, I was warm within 10-15 minutes. In my estimation the 20-degree rating is trustworthy, if not a touch conservative. I’ve had other 20-degree bags that I wouldn’t dare actually push to 20 degrees, but it seemed like I might have even been comfortable slightly below 20. And that is coming from a person who is perpetually cold.
As for durability, the verdict is still out. The low-denier fabric that contributes to how crazy freaking light the Tanager is has greater potential for damage than a more durable fabric, but my guess is that if you treat your bag well it will hold up just fine.
Feathered Friends Tanager Pros
Warmth-to-weight ratio. The warmth-to-weight ratio of the Tanager is phenomenal. For comparison, a Western Mountaineering Ultralight 20° bag is 28 ounces, and a short/regular Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20° Quilt is 21 ounces. The Zpacks Solo 20° Quilt weighs less, as does an extra-short Revelation, but I would argue you lose some warmth with a quilt compared to a full bag, especially if you move a lot in your sleep like I do. In any case, the warmth you get in exchange for carrying 18.6 ounces is pretty rad.
Ethics. One of my favorite things about this piece of gear is that I have no question about whether it was made responsibly and sustainably. Based in Seattle, Washington, Feathered Friends upholds the highest ethical standards of the outdoor industry, including the responsible down standard (for more info on that see this article). So not only do you get to support USA-made products, you can rest assured the down that’s keeping you oh-so-cozy did not come from birds that were treated unethically.
Maximum efficiency. Why would you have a zipper when you could have no zipper? Why would you have a hood when you’re already carrying a hood on your jacket? The Tanager is beautifully pragmatic. For those considering or actively planning a thru-hike like the PCT or the CDT, I think this would be a perfect bag barring some potentially warm nights in Northern California and Oregon on the PCT (more on that below).
Feathered Friends Tanager Cons
Too hot? When you’re looking at something like a long-distance trail, you’re ideally selecting gear that will be appropriate for the entirety of your trek. (Don’t get me wrong, you’ll probably do some switching at some point.) One of the biggest drawbacks to the Tanager is that there’s no way to vent heat if you’re getting too warm, and you also can’t unzip it and just lay it over you like a quilt. You could lay the whole thing over you, or over part of you, but I imagine that would still be pretty warm. On the PCT in 2017, there were days in Northern California that got up to 118°F, with nights probably still in the 90s. In a situation like that, I simply didn’t use my bag at all. But if it were somewhere in between, let’s say like a 60-degree night, the Tanager might be slightly frustrating for its lack of possibilities.
Cost. This is probably a drawback of most sophisticated outdoor gear. It is for me, at least. But if you are heading out on a long trek and/or extremely unlikely to stop adventuring any time soon, I truly believe good gear is worth the investment—especially when it involves how well you sleep. The Tanager is no exception. $369 is a lot of money, but just think about it like spending a dollar a day. Trust me, it helps.
I love this bag so much I’m occasionally tempted to open my windows and sleep in it inside my apartment. I have my eyes on some higher elevation trips in Utah, the Colorado Trail and the CDT over the next few years, and currently I can’t imagine a better pick than the Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL. It is truly crazy freaking light, crazy freaking warm, and ethically made by an excellent company.
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