With a high quality down fill, Exped's new Ultra range of sleeping bags offers lightweight performance in a range of models suiting uses from summer conditions through to winter or alpine mountaineering. Complementing these are a number of new Ultra mats at various weights, sizes and temperature ratings. With spring and summer use on the UK hills in mind, for this review we paired an Ultra 0° Sleeping Bag with the three-season Ultra 3R mat. To complete the set we added a light and compact Ultra Pillow.
I've found this a really good backpack-friendly setup on a number of camps and bivvies, used to date in the cool, wet and windy weather that has so far passed for summer in the Highlands.
There's an environmental angle worth mentioning too, with the use of recycled materials, and Exped's commitment to offsetting the CO2 emitted during the products' lifecycle, something they're now doing for all mats and sleeping bags.
Ultra 0° Sleeping Bag: £360-£445
This new bag comes in several versions: Ultra 10°, Ultra 0°, Ultra -5°, Ultra -10°, Ultra -20°, and the even toastier Ultra XP. Since the 10° is aimed more at hut use than outside (particularly in the British summer) I went for the Ultra 0°.
Easy on the scales, but cosy enough to keep you happy in temperatures getting down towards zero (if not perhaps quite as low as its name implies), this well-made lightweight down sleeping bag is ideal for summer and bridge seasons on the hills.
Weight and packability
For fair weather backpacking, bivvying, or if you're heading somewhere overseas with a temperate climate and need to keep the baggage weight down, you won't want an excessively warm and heavy sleeping bag, but one that offers just enough insulation at a light overall weight. While synthetic fills have come a long way in recent years, a down bag will still typically give you the most warmth for the least weight, so if the budget can stretch that far then it's worth investing. At 547g for my size Medium sleeping bag (Exped say 530g), plus 40g for the stuff sack, the Ultra 0° should be light enough for all but the most weight-fixated users, and can be squeezed down fairly small for easy transport.
Yes it's a little heavier than some - for instance a Rab Mythic 200 sleeping bag I reviewed some years ago, which weighed just 482g and offered equivalent warmth (if anything slightly more):
However for me the Ultra 0° is definitely still in contention in the weight stakes. I'd happily carry it on a trip where weight and pack space were big concerns - a Cuillin Ridge traverse for instance, or a backpacking hill-bagging mission.
The drybag-style rolltop stuff sack that comes provided feels robust for its weight, and with its sealed seams it ought to remain reliably waterproof inside your rucksack if you're out in rainy weather (I've had no issues so far - and you do certainly want to keep your down bag dry).
The 0° part of its name is potentially rather misleading. Tested in accordance with the EN ISO 23537-1:2016 (a standard which was replaced by an updated version in 2022) the Ultra 0° rates as follows:
- Comfort: 7C - this is the 'lower limit of the comfort range, down to which a sleeping bag user with a relaxed posture, such as lying on their back, is globally in thermal equilibrium and at the threshold of feeling cold'
- Limit: 2C - the 'lower limit at which a sleeping bag user with a curled-up body posture is globally in thermal equilibrium and at the threshold of feeling cold'
- Extreme: -13C - 'very low temperature where the risk of health damage by hypothermia is possible'
While people's tolerance for cold varies, some sleeping warm and others feeling colder at night, for practical purposes you should always ignore the 'extreme' rating of a sleeping bag, since anyone is going to be very unhappy long before getting down that low.
In this sleeping bag I'd say the 'limit' rating of 2C feels about right. As someone who generally sleeps warm, I've used it in low single digit temperatures and a draughty tent; I fared fine, and didn't wake in the small hours shivering, but it was borderline and I was certainly glad to be wearing a few layers of clothing (plus hat and socks) inside the bag. Down at the freezing level implied by this model's name I think most people would be pushing it for an undisturbed night's sleep, though you'd certainly survive. For camping in the UK hills, or the likes of a mid-altitude alpine bivvy, I'd consider this a 2-and-a-bit season model - great for summer, and milder spring and autumn weather, but not the sleeping bag I'd be packing if the temperature was forecast to get as low as freezing.
There's no scrimping on stuffing here. The business end of this sleeping bag is a high quality 850+ fill power European 90/10 goose down. You get 275g of fill in a size Medium, which seems quite a generous amount. The loft is fantastic, and for a lightweight sleeping bag it feels luxuriously thick and puffed up. I imagine the warmer models in the Ultra range must be really very snug. The down is RDS-certified too, so you can be sure you're getting something produced to an ethical standard.
To help avoid cold spots at the seams the down is held in baffles with a box shape (Exped call it I-beam construction), and because these baffles run crossways they say it's possible for the user to move the fill around a bit - for instance thinning the insulation underneath and making it deeper on top if you have a warmer mat. Most sleeping bags I've used have horizontal baffles so I'm not sure that's a unique feature, and I doubt that fiddling with a differential distribution of down is something I'd ever feel the need to do. Each to their own.
Outside it's Pertex Quantum Pro fabric, a 10 denier recycled ripstop nylon. This is pretty thin stuff, and while it doesn't feel notably tough it's definitely lightweight, and importantly seems down-proof too; I've had no escaping whisps as yet. Also 10 denier nylon, the lining feels smooth and non-clammy against bare arms. All the fabric is PFC-free, and Bluesign-certified - a strict standard for environmental protection.
Size and shape
Coming in a choice five different sizes, the Ultra 0° should fit most adult users, and taller folk seem to be particularly well covered. Small is for people up to 170cm tall, Medium (officially) up to 180cm, and Long up to 195cm. In addition, Medium and Long are also offered in wider-fitting versions. If anything the sizing is roomier than advertised. I have a Medium, standard width on review. At 183cm/6 foot tall, and being reasonably broad, I might have expected this size of bag to be a bit small in all directions, but it turns out to be comfortably long enough, and neither does it feel too restrictive in the shoulders. In fact the size is pretty much spot on for me, with no excess (which would represent unnecessary weight and bulk).
As you'd expect, there's quite a weight difference between the extremes of Small (510g) and Long/Wide (690g), so it's worth trying the bag for size in a shop to make sure you're not going to be carrying more than you need.
The bag's mummy shape offers efficient insulation with no baggy cold spots, while the hood has a close fit without feeling claustrophobic. Speaking as someone with big feet I think the shaped toe section is great, allowing plenty of room for the feet even when you're lying on your back with your toes in the air.
While (sadly) I've not yet found this sleeping bag's upper temperature comfort limit, I have been out in weather warm enough to at least partially unzip once or twice. The long YKK zip is good for venting, and has a double zipper which allows you to get some airflow towards the bottom while staying zipped higher up; alternatively you can keep the mouth of the bag closed with a popper and then unzip from the top for ventilation. However since the zip doesn't extend all the way to the foot you can't completely open out the bag like a quilt. As someone who gets hot feet, and considers anything into double figures to count as an unpleasantly close night, I'm sure there will be times when I miss not being able to poke my feet out of this bag. Still, it's a lot better than being entrapped in a half-zip bag during a summer heatwave. It's worth noting that the zip is made from recycled PET bottles.
Drawcords can be a bit of a fiddle on sleeping bags. Made of thin, lightweight cord, the adjustments are easy enough in this case to operate, and with two separate cords it's possible to get a different tightness on the hood and the neck. I'll often want the hood looser than the rest, so I've really appreciated this. Helping keep the draught out, you also get a secondary baffle around the neck, which seems to work well.
When zipped into a sleeping bag, especially if I'm bivvying and don't have a tent pocket within reach, I sometimes wonder where to keep my watch, torch and/or phone. To help with that Exped have provided a useful internal zipped pocket. Just big enough for a smartphone, this has been placed on the inside rather than the outside, which is good if you're protecting your phone battery from the cold.
What doesn't come supplied - and for the price it should - is a big bag to store it in uncompressed; I've been using the Schnozzel Pumpbag for this.
Value for money
In terms of fill, fabric and design this is a premium product. The price reflects that, starting at a not inconsiderable £360 for a size S and going up to a hefty £445 for a long/wide version (showing how much more material and down is in it). Whatever size you buy it is likely to be a considered purchase, but given the long service life of a quality down sleeping bag that's well looked after, it's likely to be an investment that pays back over many years.
- For more info on the Ultra 0° sleeping bag see exped.com
Ultra 3R Mat: £150-£165
Exped's range of camping mats must be one of the most extensive of any brand, with a huge number of models and permutations. It is, however, ordered in a systematic way, making it easy to select the right pad for the job in hand. Sam Green from Exped explains the logic to our own Rob Greenwood in this recent video:
Designed for the more weight conscious user, the Ultra series is ideal for backpacking and mountain bivvies. The R part of the name reflects the mat's R-value, a measure of resistance to heat transfer, allowing you to assess the warmth of each model at a glance. Summer-oriented synthetic-filled 1R mats prioritise lightness, while the down-insulated 7R series goes all out for winter warmth. Representing a balance between warmth and lightness, the Ultra 3R (R-value 2.9) is clearly the most versatile for 3-season UK use.
Size and shape
In keeping with Exped's more-is-more philosophy, this mat comes in either a mummy-shaped version, or an oblong - both in a number of sizes - in addition to a two-person Duo. The mummy shape cuts quite a lot of weight (and bulk in the pack), but as a larger user and someone who tends to fidget about between sleeping on my back and side, the slightly bigger area of an oblong mat often feels like a weight tradeoff worth making, so that's the one I went for in this review.
The oblong mat comes in size S (160x52cm), M (183x52cm), MW(ide) (183x65cm), and LW (197x65cm). Since it's the same length as me, I chose a Medium. Lengthways this is absolutely spot on, with or without a pillow, while the 52cm width gives me sufficient shoulder space when lying on my back, and enough room that my arms at my sides are still on the mat (with a narrower mummy-shaped pad I often find them slipping off onto the ground). While I don't feel there's acres of area on the Ultra mat at this size, there's certainly enough for a decent night's sleep, or for lounging around camp in comparative comfort.
Weight and pack size
For out and out lightweights the 3R Mummy starts at just 365g in size M, which for a mat this warm seems pretty minimalist. You do pay a noticeable weight penalty for the extra size of an oblong version, and my Medium mat weighs 471g according to my digital scales (Exped say 465g). It may be worth comparing this to another backpacking-oriented insulated inflatable mat I reviewed a couple of years ago, Therm-a-Rest's Neo Air XLite, which is warmer (R-value 4.2), lighter (435g size M), and packs a bit smaller:
To the weight of the mat itself you'll need to add that of the stuff sack (16g) and the Schnozzel Pumpbag (56g), the comically-named inflation method that comes supplied. Some brands have managed to incorporate a pump bag into the stuff sack, saving a little weight and clutter in the process, so it's a bit of a shame that Exped's design team hasn't yet done similar.
Performance and comfort
This mat has two robust valves, one for inflation and the other for deflation. Designed to avoid filling the mat with moisture from direct breath (which can degrade the insides over time), and with the added benefit that you don't pass out from hyperventilating, the Schnozzel Pumpbag is easily filled with air, then rolled to squeeze it into the mat. It's quick and easy, and takes just four or five bagfulls, with a final top-up to full firmness on lung power.
Modern air mats are so much more luxurious than the old foam-filled blow-up designs, and this is a really good example. At 7cm thick it's deep enough to smooth over lumpy ground, giving you a comfy kip even on an imperfect pitch. Its baffles run lengthways, an arrangement I prefer to horizontal baffles for helping you feel centred and held on the mat.
While the warmer (and heavier) Ultra 7R series is down-insulated, Exped have used a synthetic fill here, welded to the top and bottom of the air chambers. The R-value of 2.9 puts the Ultra 3R very much into 3-season contention, and Exped say it should take you down to -5°, which makes it comparatively warmer than the Ultra 0° sleeping bag I've been using with it. While I've not yet used it in freezing temperatures, I've certainly found it toasty on chilly spring nights in the hills, and can see myself packing it with confidence even at the wintry end of autumn when I'll be likely to pair it with a warmer bag.
Value for money
Priced from £150 for a Medium Mummy to £165 for a L/W oblong version, the Ultra 3R couldn't be called a budget model, but it's on a par with quality insulated inflatable mats from other brands, and actually cheaper than some. It feels like it's made to last, too. If you only want to buy one insulated inflatable mat, you're keen to save weight but not at the expense of comfort, and you don't intend to do much camping in full-on winter conditions, then the Ultra 3R would be a solid and versatile choice. For more of a budget option, look at Exped's Versa range.
- For more info on the Ultra 3R mat see exped.com
Ultra Pillow: £27 - £31
Carrying a camping pillow might seem an unnecessary indulgence on a backpacking trip. What's wrong with a coiled rope, or some smelly socks rolled in your sweaty base layer, like we used to have? Well nothing, if you're trying to prove a point through self abasement. But as I've become older and wiser, I've learned that a good night's sleep in the tent more than repays a very modest increase in your pack. An inflatable pillow adds a feeling of comfort and luxury out of all proportion to its size. And the Ultra Pillow is one of the lightest, most compact, and most comfortable I've used.
Weight and pack size
You're only going to carry a camping pillow if it's light, and at just 50g in size M (plus 5g for the stuff sack) this one clearly qualifies. When deflated it scrunches down tiny - you could literally carry it in a pocket - so it's not going to be a significant bulk in even a really minimalist backpack.
Two sizes are available, M and L. I have the former, which seems easily big enough for comfort for a night or several; on an extended trip, or for car camping, the larger size might be worth considering - it weighs just 15g more, and will set you back only £4 extra.
With a decent depth and a rounded, sculpted shape, the Ultra Pillow feels anatomically friendly, and I actually find it more comfortable and supportive than a bog standard home pillow. Its 20D recycled stretch polyester fabric has lovely soft, almost brushed feel against the skin, and doesn't seem to get sweaty when it's warm. It picks up stains fairly readily - as I discovered from camping on peaty ground - but I daresay could be washed.
The pillow inflates in two or three breaths via the robust single valve, and is equally easy to deflate. I don't find it slidey on a camping mat, but should you wish to secure it to the mat there's a tab on each side that you could fix some elastic cord to.
Value for money
At £27 in size M this is not a cheap option, but though you can pick up an inflatable pillow for a fraction of the cost, I haven't seen a budget alternative that looks as well made, comfortable or lightweight as the Ultra Pillow. This model from Exped is both cheaper and lighter than some premium branded rivals.
- For more info on the Ultra Pillow see exped.com