Extensively tested and reviewed by Cairngorm Treks throughout late summer to early winter, 2018, in the Cairngorms and surrounding mountainous areas.
For a large majority of us our initial thoughts of a synthetic sleeping bag often brings with it memories of our first experiences of wild camping. Many a morning began with a battle to get this barely compressible beast back into its stuff sac, before squeezing it into an oversized rucksack only to find out it had taken up over half of the capacity.
Choosing a sleeping bag is an area most of us spend a lot of time researching into. This after all is where you will spend your time recovering after a hard day’s climb so you need to get it right. Synthetic bags are a great option for damp and cold environments as they will better retain their insulating properties even when wet. There are some brilliant options available but most fall out of the lightweight category, which is why most of us start out with a cheaper synthetic bag before replacing it with a more expensive, comfortable, compressible, and an increased warmth/weight ratio down alternative. But with a down bag comes an element of care, not only do you want to avoid getting your down bag dirty and having to spend money on dry-cleaning, but more importantly, if your down bag retains moisture it will quickly lose it insulating properties.
As young adventurers with our synthetic bags we could build huts, sleep on the ground, bivy on crags, all within the comfort that your bag would protect you at all times, and if it became dirty could easily be washed on our return. So, when we received the Marmot Ultra Elite 30 we were excited to find a bag that promised all the care free elements of a synthetic bag but that also brought with it some of the great features of a down bag in an increased warmth to weight ratio, low bulk, and also comfort.
Synthetic materials replacing down have recently been at the forefront of outdoor gear and we have reviewed many down-alternative products over the past couple of years, mostly being very impressed. There are a number of different directions in what style of fill is used. Marmot have opted for the ElixiR Micro Synthetic Insulation which marmot say is “a unique blend of 3 fibers, providing maximum warmth, compressibility, and down like soft feel.” To the touch it's noticeably softer than that of a more panel based synthetic, the fill feels loose and lofts very similar to what we would expect from a down insulation.
With 525g of the ElixiR Micro fill insulation and a comfort limit rating of 0.6 this is to be considered a 2/3-season bag, and being a synthetic fill should make for a great piece of kit for those expeditions in damp and humid environments. The overall weight in a regular size comes in at an impressive 825g. It packs down well for a synthetic bag (although this is an area in which down will always gain an advantage) and the inclusion of an excellent compression stuff sac from Marmot meant it was easy to get it packed tightly to a very manageable size.
In terms of extra features, this is a bag which pushes more on the side of simplicity, but there is no problem with that. A snag free zipper is always welcomed as well as a stash pocket for a phone or head torch. The usual baffle and draft tube keep the warmth locked in the bag and is something we would expect from a company known for making quality mountain equipment such as Marmot.
Once inside the bag it is obvious that to keep the weight to a minimum the fit is of a slim stature. The upper half of the body is spared enough room to move around without feeling too restricted although the lower part of the body may be a bit tight for some. Marmot have incorporated ground level side seams to feel as if the top section of the bag is draped over the user but we didn't really notice that much of a significant difference. The anatomical wrap-around footbox certainly provided better room for the movement of our feet and the increased insulation meant there were no noticeable cold spots.
We used this bag throughout a number of nights from mountain tops to lower woodlands with temperatures ranging from around 8 to -2 degrees. Every sleeping bag will work differently for the individual, but for our guides, we found the Ultra Elite 30 to push a bit further than its suggested thermal ratings. Even at around -2 pushing past its comfort limit rating of 0.6 we found this bag to be warm and throughout its use very rarely did we have to fully utilise its 3D hood construction. With each use of the Marmot Ultra Elite 30 we quickly gained confidence in its abilities. Nights out under a tarp became care free as the 20D Nylon Mini Ripstop shell combined with the ElixiR Micro fill insulation meant the odd damp spot wouldn't affect the thermal qualities of the bag. For use in Scotland this became our go-to bag for anything that may involve expeditions in wet weather or when choosing to shelter under a tarp or bivy bag. A notable advantage to add to this is the recent resurgence of single skin tents. For a large majority of the summer season we paired the Marmot Ultra Elite 30 with a couple of single skin tents with the aim of reducing bulk and weight. An issue with using single skin shelters is there is inevitably a large buildup of condensation which can work its way onto your sleeping bag. The Ultra Elite 30 was then a great companion for this choice of shelter
The Marmot Ultra Elite 30 has broken new ground for us as a truly workable synthetic option for lightweight expeditions. It's a simple bag in terms of features but we found this didn't matter as the most important technical element which really stood out was with the ElixiR Micro insulation. For the first time we have managed to find an alternative to down which near mimics all the qualities found within a down bag, whilst also providing the confidence and care free approach regarding a synthetic fill. Whilst camping in wetter environments or using within alternative shelters including bivy bags and under a tarp, the Marmot Ultra Elite will keep you well insulated even when damp. To be able to pack down as impressively as it did there is a reduction in width which might be a bit too restrictive for some.
Cairngorm Treks is a small family business based in the picturesque village of Tomintoul in the North East region of the Cairngorms National Park. They provide bespoke Mountain Guiding for Single Day Walks and Lightweight Multiday Trekking experiences, including wild camping, in the stunning Cairngorms wilderness and surrounding areas. Whether in the high mountains or lower valleys, their Multiday Treks are equipped with high quality, lightweight camping and trekking gear. They only work with small groups and, whatever your ability, pride themselves on designing your outdoor experience completely to your needs and with professional guidance and expertise. Adventure is waiting...