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The North Face Hightail 2S Sleeping Bag Review

Casual desert naps, sleeping until the sun gets to be too much:  That's livin'!
Summer's coming!  And it's coming fast.  With summer comes trail-running, rock climbing, and lazy Sundays and live music under desert blue. But summer also means backpacking, bicycle touring, and alpine climbing basecamps.  In our "light-and-fast" athletic community, we often lose sight of the joy of multi-day explorations. Sure, it's tempting:  "Kozak busts out eighteen passes in a day, why can't I?  I'll be back at the Burger Barn before the homemade ice cream is gone".  Is that all we're here for though?  I love an athletic challenge as much as the next guy, but our mountain wild is more than that. Regardless of the season, I challenge each of you to get out further.  Carry your "home" on your back and get way out there for a night, 4 nights... heck, all summer long.
Pushing the limits of a dry winter and a summer sleeping bag.  However, like anything else,
ski touring is nicer with a smaller, lighter backpack.  

Overview
Whether you are new to the challenges of lightweight mountain travel, or an old hand, you will soon find yourself seeking a comfortable sleeping bag.  For virtually all summer travel across the country, look no further than The North Face Hightail 2S.  Sleeping bags are difficult to construct well, but very easy to purchase.  Basically, you get what you pay for, warmth is subjective yet crucial, and lighter is better all around.  With the Hightail 2S, rated to 35 degrees, The North Face has cooked up an offering that hits the nail on the head for a summer sleeping bag. 

Warmth, Comfort, and Weight
With goose-down insulation, ultralight fabrics, and a tailored cut, the Hightail 2S cuts no corners in warmth and comfort.  In fact, whether we were reviewing ultralight gear or "standard" gear, the Hightail would stack up to all summer sleeping bags very well.  Goose down is the best insulation for a sleeping bag, period.  It lasts longer than synthetic offerings and just "feels" better to sleep under.  And it happens to be the lightest option.  Similarly, light-weight fabrics feel better against the skin.  Nylon fabric can feel cold against the skin initially.  Ultralight nylon presents less mass to warm up on first entry.  Basically, with sleeping bags, light weight construction and design is a win-win situation. 

Among it's competitors, The North Face Hightail 2S is within an ounce or two in weight.  For that weight, from the competitors you may get a shorter zipper and simpler hood.  While the hood on the Hightail is not perfect, and the zipper hangs up in the fabric as much as any, The North Face has done well to keep the weight under a pound and a half with all the bells and whistles.  Actual weight, with stuff sack, is 1 lb 5 oz. 

I tested the bag, admittedly beyond it's recommended rating, on a multi-day spring ski tour in the High Sierra.  With measured temperatures down to at least 23F, I stretched the bag well below its recommended rating.  I wore all my lightweight clothing, and never shivered.  I slept well, but woke chilly.  Sierra sun warmed the bones as the mornings wore on and I never suffered for poor rest that trip. 

Also, and unique among it's North American competitors, The North Face tests and labels the Hightail 2S to the European EN 13537 standard.  Standard temperature ratings are non-standardized and very subjective.  Essentially, sleeping bag manufacturers assign single temperature ratings for marketing purposes.  The third-party review and more nuanced rating scale involved in meeting the European standard provides far more, and more valuable, information on the insulating value of a sleeping bag.  In my opinion, presence of the EN 13537 rating tag is a worthy criteria by which to narrow sleeping bag shopping. 

The label required of European temperature rating certification.

Features, Construction, and Value
As noted in the weight discussion, the Hightail bag is a fully featured sleeper that happens to be ultralight.  Many bags eliminate hoods, shorten zippers, and confine the interior space in order to cut weight.  The North Face has intelligently left the bag fully intact, kept the construction tight and simple, and provides a bag that competes for weight with the lightest in the class.  For the most part, these features are well-done.  The regular-length separating zipper means the sleeper can vent from the bottom or zip the bag together with another for shared warmth.  One strange trend in recent sleeping bags, and a qualm that is solidly in the nit-picky category, is that the main zipper pull only has one tab.  This tab pivots inside or out, depending on where the user wants to pull from.  I prefer two independent pull tabs, one in and one out.

Down insulation is not inexpensive, nor is it simple to work with.  These facts result in down-insulated products that need to be thought of as an investment more than consumable gear.  Thankfully, sound construction coupled with the inherent long-term resilience of down insulation means that The North Face Hightail sleeping bag will last you 10s of years of regular backcountry usage.

Summary

I spend a great deal of time out camping in the backcountry.  I carry packs over large distances and to great heights.  For summer-time camping, anywhere in the lower-48 below 12000 feet or so, one can do no better than The North Face Hightail.  It will last 4-5 times longer than synthetic bags at half the cost.  It weighs less than bags that aren't as insulating nor as well-featured.  The fabrics used are comfortable and, with proper care, will hold the down in and the cold out for years and years to come.  Enjoy!

Mid Summer Update, August 18, 2013.  Already this summer I have spent more nights in the backcountry than almost ever before.  Aside from 2 weeks on the glaciers of Alaska in June, every one of those ~60 nights of camping was cozily ensconced in the Hightail 2s.  My initial impressions have only been reinforced with additional usage.  The temperature ratings remain reliable, the fabric remains comfortable, and the down has stayed put.  This latter-most observation is the most notable.  I remember vividly the one feather that has escaped, just the other day.  I have used boutique and mass-produced bags in the past, and all lose feathers far more rapidly than the Hightail 2S.  Most bags lose some down in the beginning.  Presumably this can be attributed to feathers caught in the stitching and working their way towards the outside.  Most of those same bags slow their feather-loss through "middle age".  The North Face bag has none of that.  I couldn't be more stoked.  -JP

The Northface Hightail 2S is available at Sage to Summit.

3 thoughts on “The North Face Hightail 2S Sleeping Bag Review”

  • Unknown

    Good to hear your 2S experience was good, that was my bag of choice this summer as well. Have you tried using liners or clothing to allow you to use the bag in colder conditions? I'm debating the need for a second winteralpine bag or using the 2S with additional layers...

    Reply
  • Martin K

    Hi,
    just found your very good review!
    I bought the hightail 2S for my wife for our yearly camping in summer in the south of Germany, on slightly elevated camping ground (but not enough height to mention).
    When it is getting chilly at night, close to the labeled comfort temperature of 6C, my wife complained that the bag was not warm enough.
    At first I thought "well, my wife is a wimp regarding temperature", but when I tried it out, I woke up at 5 in the morning, because I felt cold.
    Do you think this is normal or should be check the bag in a shop?
    All the best
    Martin

    Reply
    • Sage to Summit

      It is possible that the bag is faulty. If the shop stored the bag improperly then the loft can be compromised. If you cannot return the bag, then you can always add a liner to increase warmth. Good luck!

      Reply
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