Gear Review: Kelty Dualist 20 Sleeping Bag

Kelty Dualist 20
Kelty Dualist 20

Three-Season Sleeping Bag
Kelty Dualist 20
$150, 3 lbs. 1 oz. (regular)
Sizes: regular and long ($160)

Outfitting yourself with good-quality backpacking gear when you’re on a budget can be a challenge, especially core gear like your pack, boots, tent, and sleeping bag. That’s why I wanted to test out Kelty’s competitively priced Dualist 20 on a weeklong rafting trip down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River, where I discovered this dual-insulation bag delivers a lot of value for its bargain-basement price.

With an EN comfort rating of 22° F for men and 33° F for women, the Dualist 20 sports a hybrid construction that combines 550-fill, water-resistant DriDown as an outer layer of insulation (the layer beneath the shell) with ThermaPro synthetic insulation closer to your body. This isn’t a new concept—manufacturers have for years used a combination of down and synthetic insulation in bags to achieve the benefits of both: a good warmth-to-weight ratio from down, and the ability of synthetic insulation to keep you warm even when it’s wet. But you rarely, if ever, see a dual-insulation bag at this price. The Dualist 20 was certainly more than equal to the challenge of keeping me warm on the six nights I slept in it, inside a tent four nights and under the stars on two nights, in the mild temperatures I encountered in July on the Middle Fork of the Salmon (lows in the high 40s Fahrenheit). The box-baffle construction keeps the insulation from migrating, preventing cold spots. I sleep warm and I’d probably be comfortable in this bag on nights down to 25° to 30° F.

Kelty Dualist 20
Kelty Dualist 20

I really like its roominess from the shoulders right through to the foot box: I could sleep in any position without the straitjacket feeling I get in some ultralight mummy bags. I could easily get dressed or undressed inside the bag in cold temps; it’s roomy for bigger people. When condensation in my tent dripped onto the bag, the water merely beaded atop the 50-denier polyester taffeta shell, never affecting my warmth (though more water would eventually penetrate that shell). The 60-inch zipper opens from top or bottom, letting you ventilate at your feet and head while keeping your body core warmer. The Dualist has a draft tube along the zipper, a draft collar, and an adjustable hood that closes comfortably around your face.

Sure, there are tradeoffs for such a good price: The Dualist is heavier and bulkier (stuffed size 9×15 inches) than pricier bags with a comparable temperature rating, and lacks the lighter materials and cutting-edge construction employed in high-end bags that often results in them also being warmer. It also does not come with a storage sack (only a stuff sack); you’d want to buy a cotton storage sack or use an old pillow case so as not to crush the insulation by storing it long-term in its stuff sack. But if you’re looking for functional backpacking gear on a budget, the Dualist, consistent with other Kelty products, delivers good performance and value. Kelty also offers the Dualist 30 (EN 34, $110, 2 lbs. 5 oz. for the regular length).

See all of my reviews of sleeping bags that I like and all of my reviews of backpacking gear at The Big Outside, and my articles “Pro Tips: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag” and “10 Pro Tips: Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag.”

See also my stories “Buying Gear? Read This First,” “5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear,” “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun,” and “Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

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