Zenbivy set out to make the world’s most comfortable outdoor sleeping system, and I have to admit that after using both the Zenbivy Bed and their Light Bed for several different trips this summer, I am a fan.
The Zenbivy system is super comfortable and makes sleeping in the backcountry a more restful experience. The combination of sheet and quilt work together much better than a sleeping bag or quilt alone. However, neither the Zenbivy Bed nor the Light Bed is the lightest option available to hikers.
While there are a couple of things that I think can be improved, I have been converted and will use a Zenbivy system on my upcoming adventures.
I have a confession to make: I hate sleeping bags. I find them claustrophobic, and as I toss and turn all night, I tend to become tangled up in them. Sleeping bags are just not designed for me.
About ten years ago, I was surprised and delighted to find backpacking quilts. Finally, I found something designed for my sleeping style. As a bonus, the quilt was lighter and packed smaller. I was a convert, and like all new converts, I preached to anyone that would listen about the benefits of a sleeping quilt.
As the honeymoon period ended, I could admit that the quilt was not perfect. A quilt can be drafty. It would fall off of me sometimes in the middle of the night, and sleeping right on a plastic-feeling sleeping pad is not the most comfortable. I wasn’t ready to get rid of my quilt but I did start to look for an optimized version of it.
That is when I found Zenbivy. Definitely not a sleeping bag but also not quite a quilt.
Zenbivy Review and Bed Comparison
Before we get too far into the review, we need to discuss the naming of the products. Zenbivy basically has three levels of beds.
- The Motobed is designed as a car camping system. I did not get a chance to review this system.
- The Zenbivy Bed is a midweight system that prioritizes comfort and convenience over weight, but is still designed to be used backpacking.
- The Light Bed, as the name implies, is lighter than the original Zenbivy Bed. It gives up some comfort and ease of use in the process. For simplicity’s sake, I will call it the Light Bed.
I used the Zenbivy Bed and the Light Bed systems throughout several trips and will review and compare both systems. I’ll address what I liked, what I didn’t, and which system might be right for you.
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What Makes the Zenbivy System Different
At its core, the Zenbivy system is a quilt and sheet that combine to provide a comfortable night’s sleep.
Having a sheet and a quilt is nice, but the best part of Zenbivy’s system is that they combine to become more than their parts.
The top one-third of the quilt will attach to the sheet on both sides to help eliminate drafts and conserve heat. This also prevents the quilt from falling off in the middle of the night while having enough room to sleep on my side or roll over without getting tangled.
I am 5’10” and weigh around 175. I used the large-sized quilt and the 25”x77” sheet and I like how it fits.
You should also note that in both systems, the attachment system is located several inches from the outside edge of the quilt. This leaves a baffle to help protect you from drafts and is a well-thought-out design all around.
Now let’s look at the differences between the Zenbivy Bed vs Light Bed.
The Zenbivy attaches to the sheet by using a YKK #5 zipper. This system is easy to use and works great with minimal fiddle factor.
The zippers are of good quality and I never had a problem with the zipper getting snagged or caught. I could quickly zip the quilt and mattress together even in the middle of the night when it was dark and my mental capacity was not at 100%.
In an attempt to save weight, the Light Bed does away with the zipper and uses a hook and loop system. There are four small hooks on each side of the sheet paired with four small loops on each side of the quilt, attaching the two. While the system does work and is lighter, it is not as simple to use as the zipper on the Zenbivy Bed.
The hook and loops were easy to attach during daylight, but I had more difficulty at night. Sometimes, I was able to do it by feeling, but occasionally, I had to get my headlamp out to make it work.
My biggest problem was lining the right hook up with the correct loop. Most of the time, I would end up like my nine-year-old son buttoning up his dress shirt on his own. It didn’t always line up at the top when I was done.
I think that Zenbivy should come up with some sort of tactile and visual cue, like making the bottom hook bigger and a different color so that I know where to start.
The other difference between the two systems is that the Light Bed has the option of attaching the quilt down the entire length of the sheet, making it completely enclosed. I never did this while testing the Light Bed, so I can’t tell you how well it works.
I have one more thing to talk about in this section. It is difficult to make a hasty exit from the system when it is all done up tight, so you better plan ahead.
Like the comedian Jim Gaffigan says, “We are just prepackaging ourselves for the serial killers.” The original bivy isn’t as bad due to the zippers but the hook and loops of the Light Bed can take some time to undo. It is best to plan potty breaks and emergencies in advance.
The attention to detail that Zenbivy has put into its sleep system is impressive. The systems are well thought out, the materials are high quality and they are put together well.
Since the same company produces both systems, they score similarly in construction.
Zenbivy Bed Quilt
Outdoor Empire Score: 5/5
The Zenbivy Bed is made from 700-fill HyperDry down. The down is coated, making it resistant to water, a common problem with down. I never got the quilt wet while testing it, but I did not have any issues with the down losing loft during the night with condensation. The down is also Responsible Down Standard compliant.
The shell material is 20d Nylon Taffeta. Nothing earth-shattering there, but the liner is made from a material called 50d Polyester Pongee. Pongee is very soft to the touch and doesn’t have the slick nylon feel that most sleeping bags have.
Zenbivy calls the shape of the quilt a “purely semi-rectangular” shape but in reality, it is an elongated trapezoid. I like that the quilt will lay flat as this is more comfortable when it is warmer.
As the night cools down, you can zip the foot box closed with a zipper and seal the end with a drawstring making it look like a traditional backpacking quilt. The zipper works great and is hassle-free.
As an update for 2022, Zenbivy added a drawstring on the neck side of the quilt. It runs along the middle two-thirds of the top. When pulled tight, it bunches around the neck, helping seal out drafts. This leaves the ends to be tucked into the hood.
I wasn’t sure how much I would like it but I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked. I have slept in an older version of this quilt that doesn’t have the drawstring and I am glad they added it. It seals the quilt around my neck and reduces drafts, making the quilt feel warmer than the version without it.
Zenbivy Bed Sheet
Outdoor Empire Score: 5/5
The sheet is made of the same Pongee material and is very comfortable to sleep on against my bare skin. Way better than sleeping right on a sleeping pad.
The sheet is fitted and works much like a sheet at home. It has a single strap around the back to hold it in place. It also has holes built into the edges so that you can use it with a mattress with square or rounded edges.
I didn’t have any problems with the sheet moving around at night and rarely even used the strap on the back and it was still okay.
While the sheet was designed to be used with Zenbivy’s mattress, it can, in reality, be used on any mattress from other manufacturers as long as the mattress size matches the sheet size pretty closely.
The hood of the sheet is made from the same 700 fill down that the quilt is made of.
Light Bed Quilt and Sheet
Outdoor Empire Score: 5/5
The Light and the Zenbivy Beds are similar in many ways so I will skip over how they are the same and just talk about how they are different.
The Light Bed is filled with 800 80/20 fill HyperDry down. The 80/20 means that 80% of the fill is down and 20% is feathers. Other premium quilts, like the Enlightened Equipment Revelation, use 100% 850 fill down.
I would like to see Zenbivy move to a more premium down that is at least 850 fill. I think that it would be worth the extra cost.
It is also made from 20d nylon taffeta with a DWR coating but unlike the original bed, the 20d nylon covers both the shell and the liner. Gone here is the 50d polyester Pongee liner that is found on the original.
The sheet is made from the same 20d Nylon and 800 fill down as the quilt is.
One of the biggest differences between the two is how the foot box is made. While the Zenbivy Bed uses zippers to transform the bottom into a foot box, the Light Bed uses the same hook and loop system along with a drawstring. The hook and loop help the Light Bed lose weight but it does add to the fiddle factor.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Because of the different systems used to attach the quilt to the sheet, the two systems are not interchangeable.
Outdoor Empire Score: 5/5
The Zenbivy Bed is by far the most comfortable sleep system that I have used while backpacking. I found it easy to sleep on my side and toss and turn without getting tangled in the bed as advertised.
As I mentioned, Zenbivy uses a material called 50d Polyester Pongee.
I don’t know anything about the technical aspects of the material, but I can say that it is exceptionally comfortable against the skin. It feels more like a comfy t-shirt than the plasticky feel of past sleeping bags. I would buy sheets for my home bed made out of this stuff. I really, really like it.
Outdoor Empire Score: 4/5
The Light Bed is also comfortable, just not as comfortable as the Zenbivy Bed. I could easily sleep on my side and toss and turn to my heart’s content. I find this system to still be more comfortable than the systems I have used in the past.
The big difference in comfort between the two systems comes from the fact that the Light Bed does not use the Pongee material on either the quilt or the sheet. This leaves nylon against the skin and while not uncomfortable, it doesn’t feel as nice as the Zenbivy.
Ease of Use (Fiddle Factor)
Outdoor Empire Score: 4.5/5
While not as easy as slipping into a sleeping bag or throwing a quilt over you, the Zenbivy is quite easy to set up and use. It only takes a second to put the sheet over the mattress. The zippers work well and are easy to figure out.
Not much fiddling around with gear here and that makes me happy.
Outdoor Empire Score: 3.5/5
The Light Bed had significantly more fiddle to it. The hook and loops could be annoying and hard to use in low light or in the middle of the night when I wasn’t thinking as clearly. It wasn’t as intuitive as the Zenbivy was.
On the other hand, it wasn’t so annoying that I would give up. I think it is worth the extra hassle for trips that are more about hiking than camping.
Weight vs Warmth
The Zenbivy and the Light Bed we used have a limit rating of 25 degrees and a comfort rating of 35 F.
What does that mean? I’m not sure, but in my experience, I was comfortable down to about 40 degrees. I do tend to sleep a little cold so there is that.
Zenbivy does make different configurations with different temperature ratings that might give you more range. Check out our table below for our recommendations:
|Bed Options||Temperature Rating||Weight (size Regular)||Comments|
|Light Bed 40° Synthetic||Limit: 40°F (4°C), Comfort: 50°F (10°C)||2 lb (0.91 kg)||Good summer option, cheaper than other Light Beds, but not the lightest weight|
|Light Bed 25° (tested)||Limit: 25°F (-4°C), Comfort: 35°F (2°C)||1 lb 13 oz (0.82 kg)||Comfortable for summer even in high country, 3-season in some places|
|Light Bed 10°||Limit: 10°F (-12°C), Comfort: 20°F (-7°C)||2 lb 10 oz (1.19 kg)||Likely too hot in summer, but solid shoulder season option|
|Zenbivy Bed 30° Synthetic||Limit: 30°F (-1°C), Comfort: 40°F (4°C)||3 lb 5 oz (1.50 kg)||>Good summer option, affordable, but heavy|
|Zenbivy Bed 25° (tested)||Limit: 25°F (-4°C), Comfort: 35°F (2°C)||2 lb 8 oz (1.13kg)||Great summer option, cheaper than Light Bed, but noticeably heavier|
|Zenbivy Bed 10°||Limit: 10°F (-12°C), Comfort: 20°F (-7°C)||3 lb 7 oz (1.56kg)||Solid 3-season option that trades a little weight for a reasonable price|
Zenbivy does say that to get the most warmth out of their sleep systems, they recommend a sleeping pad mattress with an R rating of at least 5+ or greater, such as the Zenbivy Light Mattress or Flex Mattress.
To compare the different systems as equally as I can, I will divide the weight in ounces by the lowest rating given. In this case, I will use the 25-degree rating.
Outdoor Empire Score: 3.5/5
The Zenbivy Bed weighs in at 45.4 ounces, as weighed on our scales, for the quilt and sheet. That is not the best weight-to-warmth ratio but it is also not the worst. That is a ratio of 1.8 ounces for every degree of warmth.
Outdoor Empire Score: 4/5
The Light Bed weighs 33 ounces on our scale at home. That equals 1.32 ounces for every degree of warmth.
The Zenbivy Bed sheet weighs 14.1 ounces and the light sheet weighs 8.4 ounces and there is nothing to say that you have to take the sheet if you want to lose the weight. Without the sheet, the quilt acts like a regular backpacking quilt, but it will not be as warm and comfy as the complete system.
I also noticed on Zenbivy’s website that they are offering a new Fast Sheet that only covers half the mattress and does not have any down in the hood. This shaves 5 ounces off the current sheet but can only be used with the light quilt.
I plan on ordering one of these as soon as my wife lets me. It seems like a great compromise between weight savings and usability and I am excited to try it out.
A Normal Night with Zenbivy
Out in the woods, there is no A/C or heat so generally as the night goes on, it gets colder. I know that is common sense but one of the things that I like about Zenbivy’s sleep system is that they are made to adjust through the night.
This is how a normal night with the Zenbivy works for me:
I usually start the night with the sheet on and the quilt thrown over my top. With the original bivy, I might have it flat or the footbed already zipped up, depending on how warm it is. With the Light Bed, I usually just leave the footbed in place because I don’t want to fiddle with the hook and loop system during the middle of the night.
I also start with the pillow inside the hood but my head on the outside.
As the night goes on and it gets colder, I will attach one side of the quilt to the sheet, then the other later on as it gets colder.
Next, I will pull the top draw sting tight to seal out cold air from the top.
Last, I will put my head inside the hood. I did not think this would work as well as it does but I like it.
Accessories and Complete Bed Bundles
Zenbivy has also come out with several accessories for their sleep systems. We were able to try out the Complete Bed Bundles, which included not only the sheets and quilts but also mattresses, pillows, and stuff sacks. This is not meant to be an in-depth review of each, just my initial impressions of them.
Zenbivy Flex™ Mattress vs. Light Mattress
There are, once again, two mattresses to choose from: a comfortable mattress and a light one. It should be pointed out one more time that you don’t have to use the sheet and quilt on Zenbivy mattresses. I have used them on several other mattresses and they work just fine.
The first is the Flex Mattress. It is their comfort mattress and weighs 2 pounds 10 ounces as measured on our scale. It has a foam center that allows a certain amount of self-inflation if the valve is left open.
The next is the Light Mattress. It weighs in at 1 pound 8.5 ounces as measured on our scale. It is filled with 180 grams of synthetic insulation—no self-inflation for this mattress. The synthetic insulation is not noisy to sleep on like the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir pads.
Both have an R-value of 5 and use the same valve system, but more on that in a minute.
I found both mattresses to be warm and comfortable, but heavier and bulkier than alternatives. I currently use the Nemo Tensor for lightweight backpacking trips. It weighs in at 15 ounces, has an R-value of 4.2 (which has been warm enough for me), and packs much smaller.
It should be noted that after fewer than 10 nights of use, the Flex Mattress we got no longer held air. Not sure if it’s a defect or if it just got a small hole somewhere, but either way, it was disappointing.
While I would consider the Light Mattress a nice option for regular use, the Flex Mattress is nothing special.
For trips where I want a little more luxury, I have been using the Therm-A-Rest Prolite Apex. It weighs 1 pound 6 ounces and is once again less bulky. It does have a lower R-value at 3.8.
The valves of both mattresses are the same and did give me some problems during testing. There are two valves stacked on top of each other. When opened, the top valve is one-way, meaning you can blow air in without any air coming out.
Convenient for airing up the mattress without losing precious air volume when you go to take another breath. It also had a press valve to release small amounts of air to dial in comfort.
The bottom valve completely opens up the mattress so you can quickly deflate it for rolling in the morning. This valve works exceptionally well and, when open, air rushes out quickly. You don’t have to force air out of the valve while rolling it up. The air is just gone.
And that brings me to the problem. Several times, more than I should probably admit, I would reach to open the first valve to let a little bit of air out but accidentally open the second valve leaving the mattress flat on the ground in the middle of the night. This was, admittingly, user error, but easy to do so be aware of which valve you are opening.
Included with the mattress is a waterproof storage bag that doubles as an inflation bag. The inflation bag works. I was able to inflate the Flex Mattress with about 4-5 inflation bag fill-ups and the Light Mattress with 10-12.
If I bought the Light Mattress, I would probably use the bag just because it comes with it. But the Flex Mattress barely fits in the stuff sack and you’ll be crying out lots of expletives trying to get it back in when you pack up. For it, either use a different sack or no sack at all.
Stuff Sack and Compression Caps
Zenbivy sells waterproof stuff sacks that come in different sizes. The stuff sacks have a one-way valve at the bottom so that you can push all the air out of the sack. The one-way valve worked for me, except on several occasions it would be clogged by the quilt itself and I would have to reposition.
I kind of feel that the one-way valve is solving a problem that doesn’t exist. I’ve never had any problems pushing air out of regular stuff sacks in the past.
The compression caps are sold separately and are not attached to the stuff sack. They also work just fine, but I prefer my stuff sack and compression caps to be connected. That way, I don’t lose them. Though, there is a little Velcro loop you can use to attach the compression caps to the dry sack.
While they work well, I probably wouldn’t buy these accessories as I feel like I could find cheaper and lighter options elsewhere.
I liked both pillows that Zenbivy makes. Even though one has a quilted top and the other is just nylon, I had a hard time telling the difference between the two during testing. This is probably because I put them under the hood and then mostly slept with my head on top of the hood.
The hood does a great job of holding the pillow in place, and I didn’t have to search for it in the middle of the night.
The pillows are built in two parts: an inner inflatable plastic part and an outer covering. You can remove the inner part from the outer part if you want. The pillow has a one-way valve similar to the mattress.
Final Thoughts on the Zenbivy Bed vs Light Bed
The Zenbivy Bed and Light Bed are not the lightest options on the market today, but they are very comfortable and allow the user to sleep in various positions. They can also be used in stages throughout the night to stay warm as the night goes on.
I would have no problem recommending either bed to my fellow side sleepers, toss and turn sleepers, or just those unsatisfied with traditional sleeping bags or standalone quilts.
That being said, the two systems are meant for two different styles of backpackers and they are not for everyone. If you are the kind of ultralight backpacker that weighs every piece of gear and cuts off the handle of your toothbrush to save half an ounce, then look elsewhere. This is not the sleep system for you.
What Zenbivy System Should You Buy?
I have outlined below who should and should not buy each system.
Also, if you find yourself in between systems and trying to decide which one to buy, my advice would be to spend the extra money and get the light system. It will be more comfortable while carrying it because it is lighter and still plenty comfortable to sleep in.
Buy the Zenbivy Bed if you:
- Prioritize comfort over weight
- Don’t care or know what your base weight is
- Go on backpacking trips that include hiking to a base camp
- Hike around 5-7 miles per day
However, lightweight backpackers need not apply.
Buy the Light Bed if you:
- Are a lightweight backpacker
- Hike between 10-20 miles per day
- Care about your base weight, but still want functional gear
- Hike multiple days in a row
On the other hand, there are even more minimalistic alternatives out there for gram-counting ultralight backpackers whose only concern is the lowest possible base weight.