The ZenBivy Light Bed 25 Bundle is a quilt-style sleep system that prioritizes comfort while staying lightweight enough for backpacking. I prefer sleeping in a hammock when backpacking because I don’t sleep particularly well when camping on the ground. But I’ve sleep really well using the Light Bed and its by far the best sleep I’ve ever gotten on the ground.
The Light Bed 25 Bundle includes:
- a down quilt
- a fitted sheet with an attached insulated hood
- an inflatable sleeping pad with synthetic insulation
- a pillow
- two drybag-style stuff sacks
- compression straps
If the ZenBivy Light Bed looks somewhat familiar, you may be remembering the Backcountry Bed System introduced by Sierra Designs a few years ago. Michael Gavin was previously Sierra Designs’ general manager and brought a lot of product innovations to the company, including the Backcountry Bed and a collaboration with Andrew Skurka for the design of the High Route Tent and the Flex Capacitor Backpack. After leaving Sierra Designs, Glavin founded ZenBivy and continued to innovate. While the Light Bed shares some concepts with the Backcountry Bed, it applies those concepts quite differently in a distinct product.
Specs at a Glance
Size: Regular size (20” wide x 72” long)
Manufacturer’s Stated Weights:
- Total: 3 pounds, 9 oz / 1.62 kg (Total weight includes Light Bed (quilt + sheet), Light Mattress, Light Pillow, 7L Dry Sack, 7L Compression Caps)
- Quilt plus Sheet with attached hood: 1 pound, 13 ounces / 0.82 kg
- Total: 57.2 (3 pounds, 9.2 oz) / 1.62 kg
- Quilt plus Sheet: 29.4 oz (1 pound, 13.4 oz) / 0.83 kg
- Quilt alone: 21.7 oz / 0.62 kg
- Sheet alone: 7.7 oz / 0.22 kg
- Light Mattress: 20.9 oz / 0.59 kg
- Pillow and case: 2.5 oz / 0.07 kg
- Inflation dry sack (for mattress): 2.4 oz / 0.07 kg
- Dry sack (for quilt and sheet): 2.1 oz / 0.06 kg
- Compression caps for quilt dry bag: 2.3 oz / 0.07 kg
- Light Quilt: (the manufacturer gives the dimensions for cut fabric, with the note that “filled, lofted quilts will be several inches smaller in both length and width.”): 78” x 54” / 198 x 137cm
- Tested: 76” long, 51” wide at the head, 47” wide at the feet / 193 x 129.5 – 119.4 cm
- Light Mattress: 20” wide x 72” long x 3” thick / 50.8 x 182.9 x 7.6 cm
- Volume of drybag stuff sacks: 7 liters
- Light Quilt: 20d Nylon Taffeta, 800 fill power HyperDRY fluorocarbon-free water-resistant duck down (RDS)
- Light Sheet: 20d Nylon Taffeta, 800 fill power HyperDRY fluorocarbon-free water-resistant duck down (RDS)
- Light Mattress: 20 denier (top and bottom) polyester taffeta, 180 grams of 3d XD synthetic insulation
- Drybag stuff sacks: Fully welded (not sewn) 30d ripstop nylon body, 75d polyester bottom
- Velcro strap for keeping Light Mattress rolled
- Large mesh storage sack for Light Quilt and Light Sheet
Light Bed Setup
The basic hot-weather setup is pretty straightforward: slide the Light Sheet over your mattress, put the pillow inside the hood, and drape the quilt over the top. The loose quilt allows you to easily kick a leg out from underneath it. For cooler temps, the setup is a little more involved, as you’ll want to connect the Light Quilt and the Light Mattress together to minimize drafts.
ZenBivy produced a quick setup video here:
On the Light Bed’s product tags, you are instructed to go the website to find setup instructions. While there are videos there you can watch, they’re hard to follow. I found it much more helpful to go to ZenBivy’s YouTube site and watch the videos featuring Glavin, who’s great at explaining things, specifically walks and talks you through different setups.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the pieces in the system and see how they work together.
Light Quilt and Light Sheet
The Light Quilt and the Light Sheet are the keystones of the Light Bed system. The Light Quilt looks much like a standard backpacking quilt: it’s a 76” by 51”- 47” near-rectangle, with a drawcord cinchable footbox, a soft-feeling 20 denier nylon taffeta shell, 800 fill power hydrophobic down, and a neck cinch with a snap and draft collar.
The footbox closes with a snap before cinching closed, and the cinch cord runs on a slight arc instead of a straight horizontal line, creating a baffle that allows it to close up without a hole. A drafty hole is common with many drawstring footboxes, and this is a creative solution that beats plugging the hole with a sock. Smart.
The biggest difference between this and other backpacking quilts is a series of tiny cord loops set in a bit from the edges along the length of the quilt on both sides. These loops allow the quilt to snap into the hooks on the Light Sheet.
From the underside, the Light Sheet looks a bit like a fitted bedsheet, with a rim of fabric that stretches over the corners of your mattress. It is further held in place by a single compression strap with a wafer buckle, running underneath the mattress.
When flipped right-side-up, you’ll see:
- an oversized, down-filled hood attached to the sheet.
- two fabric “wings” along the sides,
- and a bunch of hooks on the wings and along the perimeter of the sheet
Using the oversized hood is much less claustrophobic than wearing a separate balaclava-style down hood with a quilt system, and you can toss and turn without getting smothered by a mummy-style sleeping bag attached hood.
You put the pillow inside the hood and slip the hood over the top of your head. Its shape allows you to move from side to side without it being restrictive. When I sleep on my side with my hand near my face, I like to stick my hand inside the hood along with my head, like a big mitten. While the hood doesn’t cinch tightly around your face, you can always tuck the quilt up around you to seal those gaps. When it’s too hot for the hood, you can sleep on top of it with the pillow inside.
The wings on the Light Sheet are ZenBivy’s answer to the problem of drafty quilts. The quilt and the wings connect to each other with the loops and hooks. The wings attach partway up the sides of the quilt so there is overlap between the pieces. They prevent drafts in a way that feels much less restrictive than using straps connecting the quilt to the pad. It also allows for tossing and turning, without the “bellows effect” of pumping warm air out of the sleep system.
You can clip all of the loops and hooks together to batten down the hatches, but I like to leave one side unclipped (the side I’m facing when lying on my side) and wrap that side of the quilt tight around me, while leaving the other side clipped to prevent drafts on my back. Leaving one side unclipped also makes it very easy to exit the system in the middle of the night.
The Light Mattress is a rectangular-shaped, vertical-baffled inflatable pad filled with 180 grams of synthetic insulation for warmth, which an R-5 rating. ISO-ratings for sleeping bags are determined using an R-5 sleeping pad. However, many popular pads on the market are less than R-5, so it is common for people, especially new users, to find themselves cold using a sleeping bag rated for the temperature they’re sleeping in.
The Light Mattress is not crinkly or noisy to sleep on at all, and the insulation is compressible, but it does add some bulk to the rolled size. It comes with a Velcro strap that can be useful in keeping it rolled up tightly. I usually roll it horizontally and then fold it in thirds, but you can also fold the flat mattress to your desired packed width and then roll from there.
The drybag-style stuff sack for the pad doubles as its inflation bag, with a nozzle at the bottom that seals tightly onto the pad’s valve. Unfortunately, the valve on the Light Mattress is not compatible with the 45L Exped Schnozzel pack liner/ inflation bag, which is one of my favorite accessories. The valve on the Light Mattress is a flat valve style, which is more durable than stick-type valves, although it does not sit fully flush with the rest of the pad. Despite the valve protruding somewhat, Glavin, in one of his YouTube videos, suggests orienting it toward the ground, to not get in the way of the sleeping user.
The website product page shows a repeating video of the fact that you can rotate (flip) the valve 180* which blocks it from releasing any air, but doesn’t give any explanation of what the purpose of that would be, since there’s already a closure cap. You use the one-way valve for inflation, pop it out entirely for rapid deflation, and close the cap to keep air in. Once you inflate the pad fully using the inflation bag, you can lightly press the button in the center of the one-way valve to release a little bit of air until the mattress is a firm or as soft as you want it. Many people find that air mattresses are softer and more comfortable if a little air has been let out.
The Light Pillow has two components: a clear polyurethane inflatable pillow with a one-way inflation valve, and a soft-touch polyester pillowcase. I like the fact that you can take the pillowcase off to launder it, because we all know drool happens, especially when you’re exhausted. Not to mention the oil your face produces, sweat, sunscreen and bug repellant! The pillowcase is somewhat oversized to the pillow, so you can add a puffy or fleece in there too to bulk it up, or just use those clothing items in the pillowcase if your pillow springs a leak.
Unfortunately, the Light Pillow valve is not compatible with the inflation sack. I know it only takes a breath or two to inflate, but, as much as possible, I like to avoid using my breath on any inflatable so as not to get moisture, and ultimately the growth of mold, inside them. The use of a fixed one-way valve on the pillow means there’s no way for moisture trapped inside the pillow to dry out or be exposed to the air. I hope that ZenBivy will change to using the same valve for both pad and pillow in the next iteration.
Drybag stuff sacks and Compression Caps
The Light Bed Bundle comes with two water-tight welded rolltop drybags: one for the Light Mattress, which doubles as an inflation bag, and one for the Light Quilt and Light Sheet packed together. This second drybag has a one-way valve to let air out after the rolltop is already sealed. This is especially helpful / necessary when using the Compression Caps.
If you’ve used a sleeping bag compression stuff sack before, Compression Caps are like the ends and straps of the compression sack with the bag cut away. This design serves two purposes. One, since the compression system is not sewn into the stuff sack, you are less likely to rip the stuff sack while cranking down on the straps. Two, it allows you to bring compression when you need it/ want it, and leave it home to save weight when minimizing volume is not a high priority.
Light Bed in Use
While I usually get uncomfortable and move from side to side to stomach, I found that I needed to move much less in the night when I was using the Light Bed. I think this was due to three factors: the comfort of the mattress, the draft protection from the wings, and the way the hood kept my head warm without me getting tangled up in it.
I have used the Light Bed 25 down to 35 degrees Fahrenheit and was comfortable, but below that I would need additional insulation, like a puffy jacket. This makes sense to me because ZenBivy uses the Lower Limit rating for their naming conventions (as do many manufacturers), and as a cold sleeper, I usually need to go with the Comfort rating (or add 10 degrees to the Lower Limit number).
During my testing, I primarily used the Light Bed in Mummy Footbox mode, and clipped the footbox to the bottom of the pad with a single hook, to keep it from falling off the pad, while still allowing maximum range of motion. I also mostly clipped one wing closed and left the other one open as described above.
I would be curious to compare comfort between the regular and wide sized Light Beds. Over the last few years I have migrated to greatly preferring wide pads when I am not in a hammock. Even though I’m pretty small (5’4”, 30” waist), moving from side to stomach to side at night means that my arms often fall off a regular width pad. But, in my testing, I found the Light Bed so comfortable I really didn’t miss the width of a wider pad.
It is incredible how comfortable the ZenBivy Light Bed 25 Bundle is, and at a weight that is low enough for backpacking. Not ultralight, mind you, but not unreasonable, either, given the benefit it provides of a good night’s sleep. It is adaptable across a wide temperature range and is the best sleep system I’ve seen for maintaining both warmth and flexibility for rotisserie / active sleepers. Folks who have had chronically bad sleep outdoors, or those who want to ensure comfort for a loved one they’re introducing to backpacking and camping, will benefit the most from this system.
The biggest downside of the Light Bed Bundle is its price. It is a very expensive system especially when purchased all together. Some may argue that the price of individual pieces of backpacking gear purchased a la carte–a sleeping bag, then a pad, then a pillow, etc, all at different times–can seem more economical, even if the total price is just as much, because you’re not seeing the cost all at once. This may be true, but it still doesn’t make the cost of the bundle accessible to lots of backpackers. I was glad to see a 25% off sale recently on ZenBivy’s website, and hopefully more sales will come in the future.
Fortunately, the foundation of the system–the Light Quilt and Light Sheet, can be purchased on their own for much less than the full bundle price, and the system can be used with a 20×72” rectangular pad you may already have or be able to borrow–you don’t need to only use the Light Mattress with these pieces. You could even use a closed cell foam pad or an old Therm-a-Rest mattress with these dimensions (or both together), and still have the benefits of the flexibility of the interface between the hood, sheet and quilt.
We tested the Light Bed 25. It is also available in a 10 degree (F) version and a synthetic 40 degree (F) version. ZenBivy makes a few other similar products at higher weights for car camping. Additionally, wider and larger systems are available, but the pieces need to be the same size (i.e. a wide Light Mattress needs a wide Light Sheet).
Disclosure: ZenBivy donated a Light Bed Bundle for this review.