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Western Mountaineering UltraLite Review

Western Mountaineering UltraLite
Top Pick Award
Price:   $500 List | $484.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Warmest bag in our review, very lightweight, lightest bag by far with its temperature rating and even lighter than several 30F bags, great no catch zipper design, excellent compressed size
Cons:  Expensive, very warm for mid-summer, weak velcro closure for draft collar, slightly on the tight side dimensionally
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Western Mountaineering
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday

Our Verdict

The Western Mountaineering UltraLite is an excellent 3-season backpacking sleeping bag that borders on the ability to use in some 4-season applications. It is best suited for colder sleepers or mid to high elevations during the middle of summer, and is warm enough to take along on late spring or early fall trips in the mountains. Its wider sibling, the Western Mountaineering AlpinLite, previously won our Editors' Choice award for its overall quality and reliable performance.

However, it has been surpassed by the lighter weight and packability of the albeit, yet less warm, (30F) Western Mountaineering MegaLite. The MegaLite offers more internal space and being on the warmer side of 30 F bags, is plenty warm enough for almost all 3-season applications. As a result of having less insulation, it is lighter and able to compress to a smaller size.

That's not to say that the UltraLite isn't a fantastic bag, especially for those who want a warmer option than the MegaLite offers. The UltraLite is slightly narrower than the MegaLite; however, even tester Ian Nicholson, a self admitted broad shouldered person, didn't mind the slimmer cut of the UltraLite, even while wearing a jacket. If you're a bigger person, and you want a little more space or plan on wearing a down jacket to bed on a regular basis, consider the wider Western Mountaineering AlpinLite.

As with other Western Mountaineering bags, we like that it is made in the U.S.A., uses ethically harvested down and has simple, functional features.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2017

up to 5 products
Score Product Price Total Weight Fill Power Temperature rating (F)
95
Western Mountaineering MegaLite $470
Editors' Choice Award
1.5 lbs. 850+ Goose Down 30 F
91
Western Mountaineering UltraLite $500
Top Pick Award
1.81 lbs. 850+ Goose Down 20 F
90
Marmot Hydrogen $350
Best Buy Award
1.5 lbs. 800+ Goose Down 30 F
88
Sea to Summit Spark III $469
Top Pick Award
1.38 lbs. 850+ Goose Down 25 F
87
REI Co-op Igneo 17 $300
1.81 lbs. 700-fill duck down 20 F
85
Nemo Salsa 30 $220
Top Pick Award
2.06 lbs. 650- fill 30 F
78
Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Spark 35 $220
Top Pick Award
1.75 lbs. Thermal Q 60 gram Thermic Micro 35 F
76
Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600 3-Season $300
3.06 lbs. 600-fill Duck Down 28 F
76
The North Face Cat's Meow $170
2.69 lbs. Synthetic/ Heatseeker pro 22 F
74
Kelty Cosmic Down 20 $160
Best Buy Award
2.81 lbs. 600-fill 20 F
65
Kelty Tuck 20 $90
3 lbs. ThermaPro Synthetic 20 F

Our Analysis and Test Results

The US-made Western Mountaineering Ultralite was the warmest sleeping bag in our review and also among the most compressible  lightest weight  and offering the "coziest" internal fabric.
The US-made Western Mountaineering Ultralite was the warmest sleeping bag in our review and also among the most compressible, lightest weight, and offering the "coziest" internal fabric.

Performance Comparison


Check out the Overall Performance chart to see how the Western Mountaineering UltraLite ranked amongst the competition.


Warmth


The 20 degree Fahrenheit rating of the UltraLite is pretty conservative. It is certainly on the warmer side of the 20F bags available and is the warmest bag in our review. We slept in a 14F night with long underwear and a light fleece and were super comfortable when the draft collar and hood were properly cinched.


While we appreciate the extra space to roll around in or comfortably throw a thick jacket on while using the bag, which can be found in the The North Face Cats Meow, Kelty Cosmic Down, the UltraLite is a much more thermally efficient sleeping bag for average sized, or even slightly larger than normal users. Remember that fit is a crucial component of a warm sleeping bag. The wider, "more-comfortable" bags have more dead air space inside the bag, resulting in a better chance for cold spots and the possibility of disrupted sleep.

The Western Mountaineering Ultralite was hands down the warmest bag in our review. Our testers even used this bag down to 14° without having to add that many layers and slept very comfortably.
The Western Mountaineering Ultralite was hands down the warmest bag in our review. Our testers even used this bag down to 14 without having to add that many layers and slept very comfortably.

Similar to the MegaLite, the UltraLite features continuous horizontal baffles. This design allows you to shift down from the top of the bag to the bottom of the bag, or vice versa. This is a very functional way to control the temperature inside your bag; you can have more insulation on the top of the bag for cold nights and the opportunity to shift that down to the bottom, where it can be compressed (and less useful for keeping you warm on those hotter nights).

Very inviting lofty down and soft  lightweight 12D Extrmelite fabric featured on the outside of the Western Mountaineering UltraLite. The fabric used on the inside of the UltraLite (and MegaLite) was our testers favorite for feeling the "coziest" and softest against our skin.
Very inviting lofty down and soft, lightweight 12D Extrmelite fabric featured on the outside of the Western Mountaineering UltraLite. The fabric used on the inside of the UltraLite (and MegaLite) was our testers favorite for feeling the "coziest" and softest against our skin.

Weight


The regular length UltraLite weighs 1 lb 13 oz. It's the lightest bag that is rated to a temperature of below 25F (in our review) and is lighter than a majority of bags rated in the 30-35F range (that are currently on the market). Check out the chart below to compare the weight score of the UltraLite to the other bags in this review.


What's more amazing than its weight is that the UltraLite is not only warmer than every bag we reviewed, but in several cases it was significantly warmer than 20F models, yet lighter weight than all of them.

At 1 lbs 13 ounces the the UltraLite remains among the lightest bags in our review and for cold sleepers or early season trips the UltraLite is more than reasonably weighted for even the most extended outings. Photo: The Western Mountaineering UltraLite out for an extended early season trip in the High Sierra.
At 1 lbs 13 ounces the the UltraLite remains among the lightest bags in our review and for cold sleepers or early season trips the UltraLite is more than reasonably weighted for even the most extended outings. Photo: The Western Mountaineering UltraLite out for an extended early season trip in the High Sierra.

The UltraLite uses "Extremelite", a 12D fabric for the shell, and is the exact same as our award winner; the Western Mountaineering MegaLite. Extremelite fabric weighs less than 1 oz per square yard, which is insanely light. The ultra-fine yarn that makes up this fabric is very soft and ultra-compressible. Albeit a little bit fragile, this very down-proof fabric greatly contributes to the bag's low weight and high compressibility. Another contributing factor to the low weight of the UltraLite is its slim cut, which is indeed one of the narrower sleeping bags in our test. Less material obviously shaves a handful of ounces from the overall weight.

The dimensions of the Western Mountaineering UltraLite are a little slimmer than several bags we tested here the Ultralite (center) compared to the Western Mountaineering MegaLite (left) and the 20F Kelty Cosmic Down (right)
The dimensions of the Western Mountaineering UltraLite are a little slimmer than several bags we tested here the Ultralite (center) compared to the Western Mountaineering MegaLite (left) and the 20F Kelty Cosmic Down (right)

Comfort and Fit


High loft and soft, lightweight materials make the UltraLite a very inviting place to lay your head for the night, earning it an 8 out of 10 in this metric. However, the narrow shoulder and hip girth make it less comfortable than the MegaLite, Nemo Salsa 30, or Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600 3-Season. Folks who mostly sleep on their back wont detect this as much, but for side and tummy sleepers, it is more likely to be noticed. Overall, the Ultralite and Megalite offered the softest and most comfortable feeling face fabric out of all the bags that we tested.


The Kelty Cosmic Down, Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600, and Nemo Salsa 30 are reasonably priced contenders that scored a 9, 10, and 10, respectively, in the comfort metric. If you're looking for an option that offers quality and comfort at a cheaper price point, consider these bags.

The Western Mountaineering Ultralite pictured in its included stuff sack. This stuff sack worked okay  but we could easily pack the UltraLite a 1/3 smaller with a compression sack.
The Western Mountaineering Ultralite pictured in its included stuff sack. This stuff sack worked okay, but we could easily pack the UltraLite a 1/3 smaller with a compression sack.

Packed Size


5 inches of loft looks like a lot to pack away when this bag is laid out on your sleeping pad. However, the 850+ fill down and extremely light weight materials make the UltraLite a much smaller package than you would expect, especially when stuffed into its included well-fitting stuff sack - or better yet, a compression sack.


Despite being the warmest bag in our review, it was among the most compressible, and packed down WAY smaller than all the 20F bags (and most of the 30F bags). The only bags that packed smaller were the Western Mountaineering MegaLite, Marmot Hydrogen and Sea to Summit Spark Spark III.

The Western Mountaineering Ultralite (third from the left) offered one of the smaller packed sizes among any bag we tested  something that was particularly impressive because it was also the warmest bag we tested.
The Western Mountaineering Ultralite (third from the left) offered one of the smaller packed sizes among any bag we tested, something that was particularly impressive because it was also the warmest bag we tested.

The included over-sized cotton storage sack for the Western Mountaineering Ultralite. This cotton bag was perfect for long term storage and helping keeping your bag lofty and preforming well for years to come.
The included over-sized cotton storage sack for the Western Mountaineering Ultralite. This cotton bag was perfect for long term storage and helping keeping your bag lofty and preforming well for years to come.

Features and Design


The continuous horizontal baffles on the UltraLite make for an easy-to-use thermostat. The down chambers encircle the sleeping bag from zipper to zipper, allowing the user to shift down towards the top of the bag for cold nights. Conversely, you can shift the material beneath the bag for warm nights. By opening the bag and laying it flat, you can press down and run your hands in the desired direction, pushing insulation to where you need it more or less.


The above chart details each bag's score in the Features and Design metric.

The well designed reverse differential hood on the Western Mountaineering Ultralite. This design is basically the fabric on the inside of the sleeping bag is actually larger than the shell fabric resulting in a very comfortably and effective fit without needing to tighten it too much.
The well designed reverse differential hood on the Western Mountaineering Ultralite. This design is basically the fabric on the inside of the sleeping bag is actually larger than the shell fabric resulting in a very comfortably and effective fit without needing to tighten it too much.

Similar to the AlpinLite, the UltraLite features a reverse differential hood, which is extremely comfortable. This basically means the the fabric on the inside of the sleeping bag is actually larger than the shell fabric. This hood covers your head, offering extreme comfort, and is excellent at trapping heat without needing to tighten it too much.

The Western Mountaineering Ultralite featured a one inch wide stiffening tape on both sides of the zippers that helps to aid in easy  snag free operation
The Western Mountaineering Ultralite featured a one inch wide stiffening tape on both sides of the zippers that helps to aid in easy, snag free operation

Western Mountaineering uses a one inch stiffening tape on both sides of the zippers that aids in easy, snag free operation. The draft tube along the zipper, and the draft collar on the UltraLite, are lofty; they mate well, which keeps the warm air in, and cold air out. However, Western Mountaineering should consider a different method for closing the draft collar and the hood of this sleeping bag. Both closures are small pieces of velcro that are hard to spot and operate, and come open very easily in the night. The draft collar in particular allows a minimal amount of cold air to enter the bag.

While there is a pretty big range in diner thickess among bags we tested  we didn't think that it greatly effected a bags durability as sleeping bags (hopefully) aren't exposed to too many sharp objects or abrasions where the none of the sleeping bags in our review would preform well. Conversely a lighter weight 10-12D shell fabric can weigh only a third of a average weight bag using a 30-50D shell
While there is a pretty big range in diner thickess among bags we tested, we didn't think that it greatly effected a bags durability as sleeping bags (hopefully) aren't exposed to too many sharp objects or abrasions where the none of the sleeping bags in our review would preform well. Conversely a lighter weight 10-12D shell fabric can weigh only a third of a average weight bag using a 30-50D shell

Versatility


The UltraLite is likely the most versatile bag in our review. It's capable of unzipping for warmer nights, but can be used in temperatures of 20F, as rated (and when sealed up). For sleepers that experience the cold sooner than others, or on extra cold nights, nearly all of our testers had no problem adding at least one lighter weight jacket to boost this bag's warmth (if temps really got frigid). The continuous baffle design also lets the user further regulate temperature. The bottom line is even for the weight-conscious backpacker, this one pound thirteen ounce sleeping bag is very reasonable to carry and is certainly warm enough for the cold nights of the shoulder seasons or at higher elevations.


The North Face Cats Meow and Nemo Salsa 30 are two contenders that also scored 10 out of 10s for versatility. The Cats Meow excels on shorter backpacking trips, extended car camping trips, or adventures where you might expect to feel a bit of moisture. The Salsa works for those fast and light backpacking trips, but is also comfortable enough to be used on extended car camping trips, especially as it ensures that the sleeper has adequate space to move around in.

The Western Mountaineering UltraLite is a very versatile bag. For warm-summer nights to shoulder-season alpine forays. Here we stayed cozy in the Western Mountaineering UltraLite even during a very cold late season rain storm.
The Western Mountaineering UltraLite is a very versatile bag. For warm-summer nights to shoulder-season alpine forays. Here we stayed cozy in the Western Mountaineering UltraLite even during a very cold late season rain storm.

Best Application


The UltraLite is the one of the best sleeping bag in our review for 3-season use. Because it's so warm, it's best suited for travel in the mid to high elevations in the middle of the summer. It is also warm enough to stretch your season into the shorter days of fall and transitional periods in the spring. If you're someone who gets cold easily, the UltraLite could be your anytime, anywhere 3-season bag. It's plenty warm for most summer-time mountaineering in the lower-48 and lower regions of Canada, and is light and compact enough for spring multi-day ski touring missions.

At $500 the Western Mountaineering Ultralite is on the more expensive side of sleeping bags  but we still think its a good value if you can afford the inital investment. The made-in-the-USA sleeping bag (with the sewers names labeled here) uses the highest quality materials and craftsmanship will easily 15  20 or more years and will preform well on an extremely wide range of trips.
At $500 the Western Mountaineering Ultralite is on the more expensive side of sleeping bags, but we still think its a good value if you can afford the inital investment. The made-in-the-USA sleeping bag (with the sewers names labeled here) uses the highest quality materials and craftsmanship will easily 15, 20 or more years and will preform well on an extremely wide range of trips.

Value


One of the reasons that we prefer high-quality down sleeping bags is that they have a very long lifespan if they are well taken care of. Unlike synthetic fabrics, they can be stuffed and unstuffed over and over without breaking down the insulation. If you are able to buy a quality bag that can handle most, if not all, of your on trail (or off trail) adventures, you will save some cash in the long run.

However, at around $500 for the regular length model, the UltraLite is a pretty big investment. But, if that bag can sustain 10-20+ years of use, and be your go-to for most of your backpacking trips, along with maybe the occasional mountaineering or ski touring adventure, we think that it is a good investment. You wont be disapointed by the UltraLite.

The Western Mountaineering Ultralite is a former Editors' Choice and remains a fantastic and versatile bag. THe only reason it didn't win our over-all Editors' Choice is beacuse its a little warmer than most people need for backpacking and the MegaLite featuring less insulation compresses smaller and is 5-ounces lighter. However with that said; for cold sleepers or colder than average conditions the UltraLite is tough to beat.
The Western Mountaineering Ultralite is a former Editors' Choice and remains a fantastic and versatile bag. THe only reason it didn't win our over-all Editors' Choice is beacuse its a little warmer than most people need for backpacking and the MegaLite featuring less insulation compresses smaller and is 5-ounces lighter. However with that said; for cold sleepers or colder than average conditions the UltraLite is tough to beat.

Bottom Line


The UltraLite is a former Editors' Choice and remains a fantastic bag. It offers few disadvantages, but is among the lighter, warmer, and most compressible bags for its temperature rating. This bag wins our Top Pick for the best 3-season sleeping bag for cold sleepers or "colder" 3-season use. The MegaLite won our Editors' Choice over the UltraLite because it is a little more spacious; it also offers a 30F rating that we think is warm enough and more appealing for most folks that are interested in backpacking bags. As a result of having less insulation, the MegaLite compresses smaller and is five ounces lighter. If you're a cold sleeper, the UltraLite is tough to beat for weight, packed size, comfort of materials, and warmth.

Ian Nicholson
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