There were days when choosing a backpacking sleeping bag was easy, because there was only one simple rectangular model and not much else. The evolution of tourism influenced the creation of thousands of different sleeping bags which made a shopping process much more overwhelming. This shouldn’t make you choose the first one you see or turn shopping into a nightmare though. Since a sleeping bag becomes not just your temporary bed but also a survival tool, you should spend some time on finding the one that perfectly suits your needs. After all, both comfort and safety are important for wilderness sleepers.
And although there are thousands of sleeping bags to choose from, if you know their types and understand what needs a sleeping bag should meet, you can choose it pretty effortlessly.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the best backpacking sleeping bags and help you find a sleeping bag that suits the person, temperature, location and time of the year.
The Shape Of Sleeping Bags: Mummy Sleeping Bag To Rule Them All
The first thing to thing to consider is the shape of a sleeping bag. There are rectangular, semi-rectangular (or barrel-shaped), mummy (don’t worry, they aren’t creepy), double-bag and body-shaped sleeping bags. Rectangular sleeping bags are best suited for basement sleepovers, backyard campouts, and camping. They have lots of room, but because of this, they’re not thermally efficient. In addition to this, they usually don’t have a hood to keep the head warm. Semi-rectangular bags save a little more warmth than rectangular ones, but they’re still heavier and bulkier than a backpacker usually needs. Typically, these two types of sleeping bags are used for summer and late spring temperatures. All these factors make rectangular and semi-rectangular sleeping bags not the best choice for backpacking.
Then, there are double sleeping bags and zipped-together sleeping bags. The former are big sleeping bags that can fit two people, while the latter are single bags that can be zipped together. And there’s even such a strange thing as body-shaped sleeping bags that look like a spacesuit and repeat the contour of your body.
Mummy sleeping bags are best when you need minimal weight and maximum warmth and for this reason, they’re the most popular among backpackers. They repeat the contour of the body and have a tapered leg and foot box area. Due to this, they keep the warmth better and use less material, which makes mummy sleeping bags lighter and more compact. These sleeping bags have such a name because they’re reminiscent of a mummy’s sarcophagus. But what can you do? Sometimes to get the maximum thermal efficiency and least weight, you need to look like a mummy.
Recommended: Top 5 Best Mummy Sleeping Bags For Backpackers (From Cheap To Expensive)
- The North Face Cat’s Meow 20 ($159.95): it’s a very popular sleeping bag among backpackers. The North Face Cat’s Meow 20 is very durable and after the newest upgrades, it became lighter and warmer. On the downside, it’s still a little bulky compared to more expensive sleeping bags.
- Kelty’s Cosmic Down 20 ($170): these 3 seasons sleeping bag features exceptional warmth and excellent moisture defense. Another important advantage is that you can dry it rather quickly. Just like Cat’s Meow, it’s also a little bulky.
- NEMO Kyan 35 ($199.95): if you’re looking for an ultralight and ultra-compressible sleeping bag, you have found one. NEMO Kyan 35 is a great choice for backpackers who want to be outside in snow and rain while carrying a compact sleeping bag. It’s rather warm, but unfortunately, not as warm as its temp rating.
- REI Co-op Magma 15 ($202.90): if you’re not very limited in terms of finance and want to reach a perfect balance between price and specs, then REI Co-op Magma 15 (or 30) is a great choice. It’s ultralight and compressible and has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. On top of that, it’s water-resistant.
- Western Mountaineering Alpinlite Sleeping Bag ($425.00): quality has its price and Western Mountaineering means quality. Its Alpinlite Sleeping Bag is not that light as the two previous products on the list, but it has exceptional quality and an impressive warmth-to-weight ratio. Expensive, but worth every cent.
Mummy Sleeping Bag Vs Backpacking Quilt
We’ve just got acquainted with so many types of sleeping bags, but what the heck is a backpacking quilt? In a nutshell, a backpacking quilt is a sleeping bag 2.0. The heaviest parts of the sleeping bag such as zippers, hood and the back are eliminated, which cuts weight but doesn’t cut warmth. Quilts can be 30% lighter than a sleeping bag but remain just as warm. So if you were looking for an ultralight sleeping bag or a compact sleeping bag, think about buying yourself a backpacking quilt.
The reason why many backpackers switched from sleeping bags to backpacking quilts is that the latter:
- are 20-30% lighter than sleeping bags
- take up less space and require less compression
- are almost as warm as sleeping bags
- provide more space (important for side sleepers)
- are cheaper than sleeping bags (because they require less material)
You may wonder, why do I need a sleeping bag then? The answer is that cold weather sleeping bags are still better than cold weather quilts. Secondly, sleeping bags are a better choice for those who like lying on their back, love a ”cocooned”-like feeling and prefer not to worry about the additional layering of their heads to keep them warm.
Recommended: Top 3 Backpacking Quilts For Backpackers
- Hammock Gear Economy Burrow ($139.95): an inexpensive but well-designed quilt with many options for customization. The best thing about it is its price because it’s a rare thing that you can buy an ultralight quilt for such a price. Its only downside is that it’s a little heavier than other quilts.
- Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt ($280.00): one of the most requested products among ultralight backpackers. You can use it in any activity that requires you to minimize weight and maximize adaptability.
- Flicker UL Quilt Sleeping Bag ($424.00): a quilt for those who are looking for a combination of flexibility, quality, and lightweight. Actually, it’s more than just a quilt. It’s more of a sleep system that you can adjust for various temperatures.
The Temperature Rating: Which One Is Right For You?
One of the most important parameters of sleeping bags is a temperature rating that indicates the lowest temperature that a bag can handle. There’s no point in taking a bulky and heavy sleeping bag for summer hikes and it is dangerous to take an ultralight sleeping bag in cold places, so you should be very precise about your needs.
Because there is no universal standard to determine the rating, you can’t be 100% sure that the figures you see on the sleeping bag are always accurate. In some cases, they may be too optimistic and it is advised to read what other consumers say to make sure that you can use the sleeping bag for cold temperatures.
There are three temperature ratings: comfort, limit, and extreme.
- Comfort temperature is the optimum temperature for an adult female to sleep comfortably in a rolled-up position.
- Limit temperature (or lower limit) is the optimum temperature for an adult male to sleep comfortably in a rolled-up position.
- Extreme temperature is basically the survival temperature. It’s the limit at which the sleeping bag will keep you alive.
3 Tips When Looking At Temperature Ratings:
- Compared to men, women tend to feel cold more and you should consider it when studying temperature ratings
- Take into consideration the clothes you will be sleeping in. Warm clothes suppose sleeping bags with lower temperature rating and vice versa.
- If you know that you’re a cold sleeper, you can buy a sleeping bag with a higher temperature rating.
Insulation Type: Down Or Synthetic?
There are two types of sleeping bag insulation: down and synthetic. Both have their pros and cons:
- Down insulation is best in most cases because it’s made of birth feathers and it keeps warmth better, compresses better and lasts longer. The only downside of this type of insulation is that it doesn’t perform well in wet conditions. The quality of a down sleeping bag is measured by the fill-power rating that defines how stuffed is the sleeping bag with feathers.
- Synthetic insulation takes more space, weighs more and keeps warmth worse than down insulation. On the other hand, it costs less, dries faster and is a much better choice if you’re planning to sleep in moist conditions. And they are non-allergic!
In case you want to use the natural material but don’t want to get wet, you can search for a backpack with DWR finish face fabrics that repel water and keeps it from getting inside the bag.
Important Things A Backpacker Needs To Consider When Choosing A Sleeping Bag
- There are different sleeping bags for women, men, and children. It’s because women and men perceive cold differently and have different body shapes. Sleeping bags for women usually have more insulation around the feet and are wider at the hips.
- Although there’s such a thing as a 4-season sleeping bag, they are pretty useless. If you need sleeping bags for both cold and warm temperatures, it’s a good idea to buy several sleeping bags.
- Make some research before buying a sleeping bag. See what people say and focus on long-term reviews of consumers who used the sleeping bag you’re interested in for long periods of time (not days, or even months, but years).
- If you’re a kind of backpacker who loves to travel for long periods of time and you need an ultralight and compact sleeping bag that you don’t plan to use in freezing cold temperatures, better buy a sleeping quilt.
- Features of sleeping bags that you may find useful: inner pockets, stuff sack, draft collar, hood, two-way zip, zip baffle, zip cover, pillow pocket, and a sleeping bag liner.
If in the 19th century you needed to make sleeping bags on your own, in the 20th century the choice was still limited, now our ability to choose is limited only to our financial capabilities and knowledge. As you have the knowledge now, you can go and select an ideal backpacking sleeping bag that will suit your individual needs. It’s waiting out there for you!