When camping in wet weather, a synthetic insulated sleeping bag provides a safer bet than down because it continues to insulate when wet. The Marmot Ultra Elite 30 proved to be one of the lightest and smallest synthetic bags on the market. Its simple design keeps the weight down and the included compression sack stuffs the bag into a small package. While heavier and less compressible than down alternatives, the Ultra Elite is our choice for rainy summer camping and backpacking.
The Ultra Elite is our favorite synthetic bag for summer camping. Rated for 30-degree temperatures, it fills a more standard niche than the Therm-a-Rest Space Cowboy, which is only really comfortable in very hot weather. Instead, the Ultra Elite is just as warm as many of the down summer bags in our test and it packs remarkably small for a synthetic bag. One advantage to a synthetic bag is that it is often less expensive than down. The Ultra Elite only costs $179, which is a steal for a durable and high performing bag, and this is our recommendation for those on a budget.
At 1 pound 13 ounces, the Ultra Elite boasts a surprisingly low weight for a synthetic bag. The Ultra Elite is lighter weight than the down Nemo Ramsey (2 lbs 1 oz) and the half down/half synthetic Campforter from The North Face (2 lbs 6 oz). This low weight makes the Ultra Elite an attractive option for backpacking in wet weather or for a backpacker who is on a tight gear budget. It is by no means too heavy or bulky to carry into the backcountry and provides extra weather resistance at the same time.
Synthetic bags are never as compressible as down insulated options, and this is true for the Ultra Elite as well. But, for a synthetic bag, we found that it compresses quite well. It comes with an excellent compression sack, and the synthetic insulation compresses and fluffs up remarkably well. It packed to roughly the same size as the down insulated Nemo Ramsey and packed even smaller than the half down/half synthetic North Face Campforter. We think this is one of the most compressible synthetic bags you can buy.
The Ultra Elite does not have any special ventilation features other than the side zipper, which can be unzipped so the top of the bag can be tossed off. If you want more ventilation options, consider the nontraditional quilt design of the Feathered Friends Flicker or the Nemo Ramsey with its unique Thermo Gills.
The Ultra Elite is insulated with HL-ElixR Micro. This insulation uses a blend of three different types of fibers with the goal of creating a synthetic insulation that has high loft and a soft feel. Throughout our test period, we slept in this bag over 10 nights. Based on our first-hand experience using this bag, we agree that the bag feels fluffy and warm. We rate it as equal in warmth to the Nemo Ramsey and the Big Agnes Willey- both also rated for 30-degree temperatures.
In terms of fit and comfort, the Ultra Elite is very narrow and confining around the legs. This can feel restrictive if you like to spread out and roll around when sleeping. However, this trim cut does reduce cold air pockets and keeps warm air near the body, making the whole bag feel warmer.
What keeps the Ultra Elite so lightweight and compressible is its simple design. There isn’t a lot going on with this bag, and that is a good thing. It has a full-length side zipper, a cinchable hood, and a small draft collar and tube running the length of the zipper. The only extra feature on this bag is a small stash pocket on the inside top of the bag. This is a safe and convenient place to keep a headlamp, a phone, or a contact case. Most other bags in this review did not have a stash pocket, so the inclusion of one on this otherwise simple bag feels like a luxurious addition.
A bag filled with synthetic insulation has a couple of unique advantages over a down bag. First, it is more resistant to water and wetness. Unlike down, synthetic insulation maintains loft when wet, so it can continue to insulate. Though a person in a wet sleeping bag will still be uncomfortable, they are less likely to freeze than in a down bag, which becomes useless when wet. Second, a synthetic bag is more resistant to abrasion, tears, and snags. If a hole is ripped in the outer material, it doesn’t affect the performance of the bag. If a hole is ripped in a down bag, the feathers and insulation leak out and also make the bag useless.
The Ultra Elite is constructed with 20-denier ripstop nylon fabrics, which is right on par with most of the other bags in our summer test. In our experience, this fabric is adequately durable to withstand regular use. The side zipper has an excellent no-snag guard that makes zipping and unzipping easy, and it is unlikely that the material will get caught in the teeth of the zipper and tear. During our test period, we slept in this bag directly on the ground in the woods of Oregon – insulated with a sleeping pad but dangerously close to rocks and pine needles – and we experienced no rips, tears, or durability issues.
We think a synthetic bag like the Marmor Ultra Elite is ideal for camping in wet conditions or for adventures that will be particularly hard on gear, such as big wall climbing, bike packing, or cowboy camping.