Over the last few years, perhaps in response to an aging body prone to sore bones, I set out to test several of the leading sleep systems on the market. The traditional sleeping bag and pad combo has gone largely unchanged for years with only subtle tweaks made here and there to reduce weight and bolster comfort––albeit modestly. When Nemo Equipment’s team set out to create the ultimate car camping bed, they started from scratch and the results are nothing short of incredible.
At the risk of spoiling the suspense, I’ll go ahead and skip to the chase. The Nemo Equipment Symphony Luxury Duo sleep system is the most comfortable backcountry bunk ever released into the wild. And with that I could simply post some pictures, add a link to their website, drop the mic, and walk away.
Available in both single and double-person sizes, I elected to evaluate the Symphony Luxury Duo with its gratuitous real estate large enough for two sprawling sleepers. The foundation of the system is a pair of Nemo Nomad Insulated Sleeping Pads. If you stumbled upon my Mother of All Sleeping Pad Reviews, you know I tapped the Nomad as the best of the bunch. Each Nomad is 80-inches long, 30-inches wide, and a whopping 6-inches thick. Combined they offer the same area as a standard queen-size bed. With vertical sidewalls and latitudinal baffles, the Nomad in both insulated and uninsulated versions are sublimely comfortable.
With the two Nomad pads inflated and fastened together with a series of built-in locking tabs, the Symphony Luxury Duo bedding can be slipped into place. An adjustable strap at the waist of the bag system secures the bedding as does a 360º lower bed-skirt that fits around the pads much like a fitted sheet. With the three pieces joined, the two pads slot together so tightly, it’s difficult to detect where the two meet.
At the base of the system is a quilted layer filled with synthetic Stratofiber insulation. It acts like a pillow top for the two mattresses and fits perfectly with no bunching or wrinkling. Above that is a brushed polyester sheet fixed along both sides with two medium-gauge zippers. The top piece is the heavily insulated comforter also filled with Stratofiber insulation.
The comforter is attached to the foot of the bag and secured along the sides with a series of snaps, which I found helpful when retaining my half of the comforter from my wife who is always trying to steal more than her fair share. Just like your bed at home, one sleeper can snuggle up deep under the blankets while the other can pull it down or swing a leg out to cool off.
In keeping with their innovative approach to sleep system designs, the top layer also includes an additional blanket-fold which can be tucked around the sleeper’s necks. When temperatures plummet, a deep hood fold with extra shoulder yokes also seals out a cold draft. During our first test, temperatures dropped into the low 30’s and the hood and neck features provided a perfect refuge from a freezing chill.
Like all Nemo products, the Symphony is festooned with additional details like dual mesh pockets inside the bag for stashing headlamps, chapstick, or other nighttime essentials. The lower pillow top layer includes two large pouches used to secure pillows, or filled with other items to boost your pillow height. The footbox is even covered in waterproof OSMO fabric as the lower portion of any bag is prone to touch wet tent walls.
A bed not a bag
After just one night in the Symphony Luxury Duo, it was easy to identify Nemo’s design goal. Everything about the system has been created to emulate the better aspects of a bed––not a bag. The vertical walls of the Nomads create defined edges with no slope, while the well-engineered baffles afford the stability of a bedroom mattress. The sheet and comforter feel natural and for lack of a better descriptor are decidedly––bed like.
One system for every season
With its multi-layered design, it’s easy to adjust the Symphony for virtually any season. Although rated for 25ºF, I felt the lower limit for optimal comfort might be in the mid 30s, but with a few tweaks the temperature range can be extended.
For hot summer nights, simply push the comforter down exposing only the lightweight sheet. Made of wicking fabric, the sheet has a slick finish preventing it from clinging to clothing when shifting or rolling from side to side. To augment insulation we added Nemo’s Puffin Blanket between the sheet and comforter and stayed gloriously toasty all night long.
The value proposition
To dispense with the obvious, good gear does not come cheaply and the Symphony Luxury Duo, when paired to a couple Nomad Inuslated pads clocks in at over $800. That may seem like a bitter pill, but when you compare it to other combinations of pads and bags, it is a sound value, particularly if you struggle to put a price on a good night’s sleep.
Packed size and portability
When I first unboxed the Symphony Luxury Duo system, I was a bit shocked by the sheer size of it. It’s only after using it I realized how much insulation, fabric, feature, and––comfort–– is packed into the design. One thing I absolutely love about Nemo Equipment is their attention to the complete user experience. I loathe an undersized stuff sack. The Symphony comes packaged in a generously sized duffle bag fitted with two padded backpack straps. Although the Symphony is not heavy at just under ten pounds, the duffel makes hauling easy and it is spacious enough to accommodate two pads and even a pair of Nemo pillows.
The wrap up
I’ve been sleeping on the ground for the bulk of my 45 years and in that time, have never experienced anything to rival the comfort of Nemo’s premium camp bed. Whereas many backcountry sleep systems are designed to simply keep a body warm, the Symphony addresses every aspect of a good night’s rest. No detail, insignificant as it may seem, was overlooked.
So, I will say it again. The Nemo Equipment Luxury Duo is the best car camping bed in the backcountry. [Mic drop]