Sleeping bags are important pieces of camping gear. You want a nice warm sleeping bag for any type of camping but if your adventures are taking you deep into the backcountry, having the right bag is even more important. Think of it this way: if you’re car camping and you get cold and wet you can always suck up your pride and head for a warm car or the nearest hotel. But that isn’t an option when you’re several miles into the wilderness! Having the wrong gear in the backcountry can leave you cold, wet, or worse.
But don’t worry, fearless backpacker! There are a ton of great options out there for lightweight sleeping bags that are easy to carry on your back and make sleeping on the cold, hard ground feel like a dream. And we’re here to tell you all about them! In this article we’ll tell you what to look for in a sleeping bag for backpacking and then tell you about some of our favorites.
So what are the important things to consider when picking the perfect sleeping bag for backpacking?
Above all else you will want to make sure that your bag is cozy enough to keep you warm when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Look for a bag with a temperature rating that is 10-15 degrees colder than the coldest temperature you expect to encounter on your adventures. Remember that you can always unzip your bag to cool yourself down if things get too warm but it’s much harder to add warmth if you’re already all bundled up. Keep in mind that temperature ratings are somewhat arbitrary and you know your body temperature better than anyone. If you tend to be colder than the average bear, it’s best to err on the side of warmth. Also remember that a bag’s ability to keep you warm depends largely on it being separated from the cold earth. Be sure to pack a sleeping pad to keep from losing heat to the ground!
After temperature rating the most important thing to look for in a backpacking sleeping bag is weight. It probably goes without saying but when you’re carrying your gear on your bag for many miles, you want that equipment to be as light as possible. You may think that you’re strong and won’t mind carrying a heavy bag but we’re pretty sure you’ll feel a lot different several hours on the trail! All other things being equal, weight is the name of the game when it comes to backpacking gear!
Another important consideration when choosing a backpacking sleeping bag is the material with which the bag is filled. Down sleeping bags are generally lighter, warmer, and more compressible than their synthetic counterparts. The downside of down is that if it does happen to get wet it loses its ability to retain heat. If you will be hiking in a soggy climate you may want to consider a bag with synthetic fill. Synthetic bags are great for their ability to stay warm even if they get wet but they are not as light and compressible as a down bag. If you like the idea of down but are concerned about possible precipitation problems, pick up a pack cover to make sure that your backpack (and all of it’s contents!) stays dry in the event of a downpour!
With all that in mind, which sleeping bags do we recommend for backpacking? Read on to find out!
Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags
The Cosmic 20 by Kelty is a 20-degree down bag that is warm, cuddly, and lightweight. This bag comes in three different sizes (short, regular, and long), allowing you to dial in the fit and minimize dead (and difficult to warm up) air. And with the regular size coming in at 2 lbs., 11 ounces, this bag is great for throwing into your pack and heading out into the wilderness. This sleeping bag features all the bells and whistles of a standard high end sleeping bag including a cinchable hood to seal in warmth, straps to help keep you on your pad, and a cozy collar to help fend off the cold. This bag is made from 550-fill duck down which will keep you warm on chilly nights and easily pack down for storage in a backpack. Kelty also makes a 0 degree version of the Cosmic for those needing a little extra warmth.
If you think you have to spend an arm and a leg to get into backpacking, think again! The Ledge Sports Featherlite is the perfect sleeping bag for the newbie hiker that wants to give backpacking a try before investing in more expensive gear. With a pack weight of 3.4 pounds, this bag isn’t as light as its down cousins but it’s a great option for the intrepid backpacker that doesn’t mind carrying a little bit of a load. Because this is a synthetic fill bag, it will stay warm even if it happens to get wet, which is a bonus for those hiking in rainy climates. Many people find that the Featherlite 20 isn’t quite as warm as its 20-degree temperature rating suggests. But don’t let that scare you away. If the minimum temperatures you expect to see are in the 35-40 degree range, this bag will suit you just fine… and it will do it at an incredible price. Dedicated backpackers will likely want the lighter load that a higher end bag can provide but for the newbie looking to give it a go without spending their life savings to do it, the Featherlite 20 is a great option!
If you are looking for a warm and light sleeping bag for long and chilly backpacking excursions, look no further than the Lost Ranger by Big Agnes. This 15-degree bag is filled with 650-fill down for comfort and compressibility. With the regular length weighing in at under 3 lbs., this is a bag that you won’t mind carrying for long distances over tough terrain. This sleeping bag features all the bells and whistles that you’d expect from a bag of its caliber. It has an integrated pad sleeve to keep you from rolling off your sleeping pad, interior loops to keep bag liners in place, and a built in pillow pocket to turn your fleece into a comfy headrest. While this may be one of the most expensive bags on our list, we are sure that you will find that the features, weight, comfort, and warmth of this bag make it well worth the extra pennies! If you really love backpacking (or think you will really love backpacking!) then it’s worth the splurge on a great piece of gear that you’re sure to love for years to come.
Let’s face it, not everyone who is going backpacking needs to take the warmest sleeping bag on the planet with them. Those of you hiking in tropical climates where the temperature rarely drops below shorts and t-shirts level are in luck because you don’t have to drop serious cash just for the sake of staying warm. The 40-degree Superlite bag by Kaufland is the perfect option for the warm weather backpacker looking to shed some weight and save some coin! This bag weighs in at a feathery 1.75 pounds and packs small enough to be easily stuffed in a backpack. With its wind and water resistant shell it’ll stand up to the elements and keep you comfortable on warm summer evenings. Because many people have found the 40-degree rating on this bag to be generous, we recommend this bag only for those of you who are sleeping in 50+ degree weather. But if you fall into that category, you should do yourself a favor and pick up this great little bag that comes at an awesome price!
The Slumberjack Latitude 40 was designed for the three-season backpacker looking for a lightweight and affordable bag – and it fills that role mightily! People who find the feet of typical mummy bags to be a little too constricting will appreciate the Latitude 40’s trapezoidal footbox which allows the feet to stay in a more neutral and natural position. Slumberjack outfitted this bag with a draft tube that runs the length of the zipper to keep cold air from seeping in. While this bag’s synthetic fill makes it less compressible than its down-filled counterparts, it is still light and squishy enough to put in a backpack and haul into the backcountry. If you are a dedicated backpacker you may find yourself wishing that this bag compressed down a little smaller but if you are a newbie wanting to give backpacking a try, you will love that this bag is comfortable, light, and affordable!
We hope that this article has helped explain some of the things to look for in choosing the perfect sleeping bag for backpacking!