Expert Review: The North Face ElkHorn -20 Degree Sleeping Bag

This review is my honest opinion of the sleeping bag, which I purchased with my own money in August of 2020.

A woman sitting on a tailgate with a sleeping bag around her.

All photos courtesy of Hunter Reed

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About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the sleeping bag, which I purchased with my own money in August of 2020.

My take

The North Face Elkhorn -20 degree bag is a warm and cozy bag for chilly nights of winter camping. It has all the best features for a winter sleeping bag, including a durable face fabric, synthetic insulation, and a water-repellent coating.

About the gear

  • Model: The North Face Elkhorn -20 degree sleeping bag
  • Size: Regular
  • Material: Synthetic
  • Temperature Rating: -20 degrees

About me

  • Height: 5’3”
  • Weight: 115 lbs
  • Experience: 25+ of hiking/backpacking

Test conditions

  • When I bought this: August 2020
  • Days tested: 15 days
  • Used for: Car camping, tent camping.
  • Where I’ve used it: Utah desert and mountains.
  • Seasons I’ve used it in: Spring and winter.

How it performs

Comfort
5/5
Durability
5/5
Packability
2/5
Versatility
3/5
Warmth
5/5
Weight
3/5

What I was looking for

My partner and I looked for a really warm sleeping bag. He camps a lot in the fall and winter for hunting. While I never go with him during those trips, I tend to be really cold while camping and make a lot of early spring/late fall climbing trips in the desert. Though we like to do these things (camping on cold fall and spring nights for me, camping in winter for him), we also don’t do them often enough to warrant spending over $500 on a warm bag. Since all of these cold weather camping trips are trips in which we would be car or tent camping as opposed to backpacking, packability and weight were not a concern as much as price.

Why I chose this gear

We chose this bag because it was very warm and at an awesome price of around $150. Also, since many of the spring/fall camping trips are wet and muddy, the durable and water-resistant face fabric was sold to us.

The North Face Elkhorn is a bit of a niche product. There aren’t many options for cheaper -20 degree bags so we couldn’t compare it to many other bags. Most of the other options on the market in this warmth range, such as the Marmot Col Membrain are down, way more packable, and approximately $500 on the cheaper end. We did not find any other synthetic -20 degree bags under $200.

Three people sit in a tent with sleeping bags and blankets around them.

What I love about it

  • Durability: The face fabric is awesome. It has a ripstop nylon shell, so if I get dirt or mud on it, I can wipe it right off easily. The fabric also has some water repellant capabilities, which is great for both those wet/muddy trips and just for regular condensation in a tent at night.
  • Warmth: This bag is so warm. The lowest I have used it in is zero-degree weather, and I did not even realize it had been that cold until people talked about it the following morning because I had been so toasty and warm. I get very cold when I sleep, so I bring this sleeping bag if it's going to be below freezing. My partner has used it in similar conditions (zero degrees) and has also stayed very warm.
  • Comfort: The Elkhorn -20 degree bag is incredibly comfortable. I was worried that it might feel too puffy or too warm on all but the freezing nights, but the zipper is easy to use, so if I start to get too warm (it has happened a couple times), it’s easy to unzip and dump some heat. It also doesn't feel overly puffy while sleeping, as I was worried about.
  • Features: There is a small internal pocket in the hood that can fit my phone and contacts, which is a great feature that I look for in a sleeping bag.
  • Weather Resistance: The outer ripstop shell has some waterproofing capabilities. I haven’t tested this in heavy rain or snow, but there have been a few times that this bag gets muddy or snowy, and I can wipe the mud and snow right off without it having soaked through the bag. I think that’s a great feature to have in a cold weather bag.
  • Car Camping: The Elkhorn -20 degree bag is perfect for car camping in really cold weather. For the price, it is insanely comfy and warm. I sleep awesome every time I use this. Though there have been a few occasions where I have woken up from being so warm, it’s easy to unzip the bag quickly and go right back to sleep.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Weight: It weighs almost 7 lbs, at least twice the weight of any -20 degree down bag. So it is cumbersome, and I wouldn’t want to carry it anywhere in the backcountry.
  • Packability: The stuff sack is 22”x14”, about double the stuff sack size of bags that are similar in warmth but down (and pricier). I wouldn't want to bring it into the backcountry for backpacking, etc., because of the weight. Still, even if I did want to carry it into the backcountry, it would be hard to fit it in my 60L backpacking backpack while also carrying other things.
  • Shape: It is a mummy shape, which is fine for this bag. I purchased it in regular but would have wanted short if it had just been for me. I am 5’3”, and my partner is 5’9” and weighs a bit more than me. I’m not too fond of the mummy shape quite as much as the rectangular shape because it feels like it constricts my feet. I think it’s better to have a tighter fit, such as a mummy shape in cold weather, but I wouldn’t say I like the shape.
  • Versatility: This bag is not terribly versatile. It would not be an ideal first sleeping bag unless someone intends to use it in the winter for car camping. I use my Big Agnes 15-degree RoxyAnne Bag nine out of 10 times when I camp because it’s more of a three-season bag. I would absolutely cook if I used the Elkhorn in the summer at all, and that’s coming from someone who is always cold.
  • Backpacking: Per the weight and packability, the Elkhorn -20 degree bag would not be a good option for backpacking.

Favorite moment with this gear

My favorite moment with this gear was on a camping trip to the Utah desert in late November, shortly after getting the bag. It was going to be really cold, and I slept in the bed of my truck alone. A truck bed is colder than the ground because it doesn't offer insulation. Because I slept solo, I didn't have any body heat to share. There were four other people on the trip with me. One of them woke up in the middle of the night to get in their Subaru Outback, hoping it was warmer in there; two got out of their tent and went to sleep next to the fire coals, hoping it was warmer there, and the last one had a similar truck bed situation but had a heater in there with him.

It was absolutely freezing, but I slept right through the cold with no problems, as did the other truck bed camper. The others were tired the next morning and had barely slept because of the cold. It felt really nice to have gotten sleep and that I was ready for the next day, having stayed warm all night.

Value for the money vs. other options

There aren’t really a ton of other options to compare this to, and it is kind of niche, but if one has a cold camping trip coming up, it is absolutely worth it to pick one of these bags up. The $150 is a low price to pay for sleeping soundly and warmly through cold nights! For the cost, it’s super warm, comfy, and durable. However, this wouldn’t be a good fit for someone looking for something for winter backpacking or an all-year bag.

Final verdict

The North Face Elkhorn -20 degree sleeping bag is a very warm, cozy bag to bring along on the coldest car/tent camping nights in late fall, early spring, or winter. It is a great value for the warmth and comfort it provides. Its not a good all-year or backpacking in cold weather bag, but if I just want an extra warm bag to keep in the back pocket for cold trips, it’s a great sleeping bag to keep in my gear closet!

Camping & Hiking Expert Hunter Reed
5.0
Hunter Reed
Camping & Hiking Expert
Hunter here! How can I help?
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Written By
Growing up in Utah makes it hard to not fall in love with camping and hiking! Lucky for me my parents got me out at a young age and I've been enjoying trails and campsites all across the west since I was little girl! There's just something special about making some dinner over a fire and going to sl...

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