Story by Jonathan Kilburn, Photos by Jonathan Kilburn and Zenbivy
When it comes to backpacking, there aren’t many items out there that seem like necessities to me. Clothes, food, a good knife, and a place to sleep.
Often, the most overlooked piece of necessary survival equipment is a place to rest your head. Although, there are books and books written about how to make shelters and produce mattresses out of leaves, and other natural materials, sometimes it’s just easier to carry the right equipment for the job.
In my opinion, the Zenbivy is a bit more revolutionary than other comparable items on the market. The company produces two main sleep systems: the Zenbivy Bed and the Zenbivy Light Bed – each utilizing their highly efficient quilt – and are offered in several styles for different uses and climates.
Let’s take a look at the Zenbivy Light Bed.
The Zenbivy Light Bed is intended for vehicle and backpacking camps. Composed of a sheet, mattress, and quilt it has a very small footprint in the pack and weighs a light 2lb 5oz (3lb for the largest size) – with the quilt itself weighing at around 1lb 6oz.
Most models are made with 800 fill 90/10 duck down and 20d Nylon Taffeta. After a quick Google search, I realized Taffeta is a fancy way of saying silky.
But here’s where it gets interesting. While the quilt pairs nicely with the sheet and mattress, it can also be used on its own, as an independent sleeping system. The light quilt uses small clips – while the standard uses zippers – to pair everything in several different arrangements.
Their website offers some directions on setup and different uses, but quick-thinking users can easily see a list of potential setups and inclusions, to augment their current sleep systems.
People who know me will tell you that I hate to carry things in my hands. I’m more of a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of guy, and really use backpacks to my advantage, whenever possible. So, for me, the compact nature of the Zenbivy was appealing.
The quilt is small enough to pack in nearly any bag, without sacrificing too much room, and the available Light Mattress rolls up for a small footprint as well.
Editor’s Note: When the author received the Zenbivy Light Bed for testing, the Light Mattress was not yet available and is not part of this review. However, the Light Mattress is now available through Zenbivy.
Set up is also pretty easy, even though it’s more in depth than a traditional sleeping bag. The Light Bed replaced all zippers with a series of clips, to affix the quilt to the sheet or itself. Setup took an average time of 7 minutes – so, if speed is your concern stick to a traditional sleeping bag.
However, once set up, it’s easy to pick up the entire ZenBivy and move it from one location to another, without falling apart or losing form. While this is not a necessity or intentionally designed feature, it is a nice added bonus.
As for warmth, my goodness it is warm – without being overwhelming. Even after being tightly packed, it still felt lofty and soft. The footbox features a draw string, allowing you to completely enclose it – for added warmth and heat retention – or leave it open for airflow on warmer outings.
One issue I’ve inevitably had with any sleep system, is the lack of durability when moved frequently.
Back in 2019 I planned a backpacking trip with some friends, which was a 500-mile round trip, following the same path as the Appalachian trail – but slightly east. The trip would take us through some of the most heavily congested parts of the US in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. This would give me the ability to practice a new skill – stealth camping.
And with that, I packed the Zenbivy in my backpack and we set off.
The one thing that stood out to me was the weight difference, with, and without, the bed and sheet. During the end of summer and beginning of fall, I found it was unnecessary weight and quickly shed the bed and sheet – opting for the quilt and pillow alone. I wasn’t going for an ‘ultralight’ style of hiking, because we were going to be making very frequent stops. My goal was discretion.
As you head north into New York, the elevation gets higher – from sea level in NJ and PA to 1400 feet directly upon entering New York.
Because we weren’t on the trail itself, our hike took us through a lot of neighborhoods and industrial areas, although they were still situated at the foot of some of these smaller mountains. Regardless, the constantly changing elevation was dramatic enough to exhaust all of us relatively fast.
No matter what, I knew I had something to keep me warm and comfortable at the end of each day. Each night we set up camp, and out came the Zenbivy. The summer and fall evenings were warm enough that I didn’t need much cover and could use the quilt as a ground cloth, sleeping directly on it. When it got cool and I would wrap it around me, it didn’t overheat me quickly, like a lot of other modern materials would.
On the way back down from Massachusetts, one of our group ended up getting extremely sick and we needed to end the trip prematurely. Regardless, we traveled nearly 500 miles over 2 months, almost completely free of cellphones, email, and vehicles. All but one of the nights, we slept under the stars or in small, makeshift shelters.
Despite the urbanization, there is still freedom in the ability to roam.
Come the colder months – and after the trip ended – the Zenbivy still finds its way into my bag, when doing quick overnight or backyard camps. During the cold months, the Zenbivy quilt pairs well with the bed and sheet for an insulated and comfortable sleep.
Personally, I like to sleep very warm and the Zenbivy I was provided is listed to 25 degrees. That said, a small blanket gave me just the added level of warmth needed to feel comfortable, but it was bearable even without a blanket.
Two months of persistent use and the Zenbivy is still holding up well. There are no broken clips or even small tears. It was a bit lumpy, but that was quickly resolved with a quick clean and fluff.
This will undoubtedly pair perfectly with an ultralight tent.
The old adage is true: ‘you get what you pay for’, and this is no exception.
While considerable care was taken to treat the loaner Zenbivy as if it were our own, it still handled 62 consecutive days of use and storage. The solid construction, lightweight materials and exceptional build provided a sleep system that was modular enough to go from cold to warm environments, and still keep me comfortable throughout the night.
I would be hard pressed to find another sleep system that could replace the Zenbivy and still fill all of my multi-season needs. If you are looking for a lightweight, multi-season sleep system option, check out the Zenbivy, you won’t regret it. K&G
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Regular:1 lb 6 oz78” x 54”
Large:1 lb 10 oz86” x 58”
XL:1 lb 14 oz90” x 64”
Includes: Mesh storage sack
Down: 800 fill-power HyperDRY™ fluorocarbon free water-resistant 90/10 duck downShell: 20d Nylon Taffeta, coating-free, 380T, cire, fluorocarbon-free DWR, 36g/m2Clips: Nifco HND5L, HND7
Jonathan Kilburn is an avid outdoors-man, shooting sport enthusiast, martial artist, and wanna-be comedian. He has spent many years involved in outdoors hobbies, which has led him to bring the outdoors inside. While his focuses are on getting back outside, his home life revolves around preparing, making, and learning about ways to improve his skills in the field.
When people close to Jonathan are asked to describe him, they often describe him as a "man's man," because of his involvement in the outdoors, firearms, knives, motorcycles, and various other activities. Despite this description, Jonathan doesn't enjoy watching or playing team sports. No one is perfect.
Besides his hobbies, Jonathan is deeply involved in the special needs community, in an effort to assist and help those who may need it most."
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