CAMPING & HIKING

Sleeping Under The Stars: Finding The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag

Best sleeping bag for backpacking
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

The wilderness is a great way to center ourselves.The outdoors have become a home, even just temporarily, for many people throughout the world as well. Going backpacking is a great way for you to get out and immersed in nature and is a great way to travel cheaply.

It’s become a pastime for young kids and it a tradition we should try to keep alive as long as we can. Backpacking is less prevalent in adults, but is a great way to bond with your spouse or family. Getting up and out for a walk even is a great way to do this but why not take it to the next level?

Backpacking has a few different forms these days, from camper vans to glamorous camping, also known as “glamping”, to all out, in tents (intense) types of camping. Backpacking is just a great way to take a break from the rush of a city and step away from technology for a bit but being prepared is a crucial part of the enjoyment of it all.

For those taking their leisurely walks to the next level, there are some key items you need to pack along when planning to rough it outdoors. One of the most important items you will find in your pack is your sleeping bag. No matter how well you plan or how tough you think you are, the rough ground, a frost-covered tent, and frozen toes are quite a humbling experience.

Backpacking sleeping bags in the wild

Choosing the best sleeping bag for backpacking is pertinent when making the decision to head out into the wild. The choice isn’t that easy, though. Obviously, a key factor that each individual needs to consider is the location. If backpacking takes you to the desert then your sleeping arrangements will be vastly different than those heading up to the summits of a mountain range.

Either way, what kind of sleep you get will change the entire course of your trip. A poor night’s sleep in the wilderness will zap you of your energy, slow you down on your course, and just sour the whole experience which may make you less likely to go out again.

Sleeping bags come in many shapes, sizes, and colors and may have lots of bells and whistles but there are some key elements that matter most when choosing the best sleeping bags for backpacking.

What Makes Up A Quality Backpacking Sleeping Bag

There are four main deciding factors to hash out when choosing the sleeping bag that is right for you. Taking each of these factors into account will add up to the best backpacking sleeping bag and will give you confidence to take your dreams outdoors. Buying the right sleeping bag for you is key to making sure you are getting outside and enjoying nature.

Each of the categories need to be address both individually and as a larger group. The combination of these four factors will give you the best results, keeping in mind you will most likely pay for it. Taking the choice seriously and balancing the pros and cons will help you make the best and most education choice. Maybe be the end you will actually want to sleep outside!

Material

When trying to make the right decision on what sleeping bag will be best for you, one of the first things to discuss is the material. You want something both waterproof, but not sticky, strong and durable, but not rough and warm enough to last you through even the coldest of mountain nights.

There are a few main types of materials that compose the outside of your sleeping bag. The main two fabrics are nylon and polyester. These two materials are both fairly strong and durable in their own right.

Sleeping bag material

The material paired with many other add-ons and details will stand out from a regular sleeping bag. The stitching pattern is also a factor to consider when paying attention to the outside of your bag. The pockets of down, of baffles, hold the down feathers in one place to keep them from sliding and lumping up in the corners. This ensure that you will always have down to cover you and cushion you.

The inside of your bag is a bit of a different story. Most bags are now equipped with goose down feathers which are some of the warmest and softest material out there. They are light weight and hold a ton of heat right where it’s needed.

DriDown is another type of insulation that is a bit more moisture wicking which can help if you are a sweaty sleeper too. Ask any experienced backpacker and they will tell you about a time in their early years when they tried to save money by buying a cheaper sleeping bag.

Waking up in the middle of the night from being so cold that your chattering teeth wake you up is an eye-opening experience. It makes all the difference in the rugged terrains of the backcountry to get a good night’s sleeping before attacking the miles of the next day.

Taking this lesson from veterans may cause you to pay up now, but will prevent you from paying the ultimate price later. After all, the inside of the bag is just as important as what is on the outside.

Fill Power

Fill power is a number that corresponds to the volume of down feathers when they are at full size, or “fully fluffed”. The higher the fill power, the warmer your sleeping bag will be. For example, the higher the fill power number the more air space that can be trapped within the down resulting in more warmth and insulation for you.

Fill Power

This number is often followed closely by the price tag but is worth every penny as opposed to freezing in your tent. If getting by with a lower fill power works for you then by doing your research on the thickness and heating ability of different bags, you can more easily narrow down the contenders.

Weight

Anyone who had been backpacking before will tell you that weight can make or break your excursion. Carrying too much weight in your pack will not only cause cramping and soreness in your muscles, but it’s also highly inconvenient and inefficient when backpacking.

Taking into consideration your tent, potential sleeping pads, food, clothes, and other necessary supplies, a heavy sleeping bag could cause one to downsize in another area to compensate for another which is something that could be potentially dangerous.

Taking less food or warm clothing because your sleeping bag it too large is never a good idea. Balancing the weight between your absolute essentials (food, shelter, water purification) and your less absolute essentials (clothing, gadgets, etc.) is one of the most critical decisions you will make before you head off into the wilderness.

Temperature Rating

Temperature rating really only comes into play when you already know where you are going. It is almost always better to plan for colder temperature than hoping for warm, but that may come with a higher price tag as well. Most bags come labeled with a temperature rating that suggests how cold it can be with the sleeping bag will still provide enough warmth.

Sleeping bags in action

Keeping in mind that you can also layer up inside your bag with thermal trousers or tops which will also keep you extra warm so you don’t have to pay for the lowest temperature-rated bag. Some bags are rated for below zero temperatures while others could be around 40 degrees Fahrenheit and each have their own pros and cons.

The Hot And The Cold

Western Mountaineering Summerlite Sleeping Bag

Western Mountaineering Summerlite Sleeping Bag

Material: Ripstop Nylon & Goose Down

Fill Power: 850

Weight: Approximately 1 lb.

Temperature Rating : 32℉ or 0℃

Specific Features: Easy Ventilation, Coil Zipper with Dacron Stiffening Tape

Best Use: Outdoors, Backpacking, Mountaineering, Hiking

Description: The Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bag is one of the best in class. At about 1 pound in weight and an 850 fill power, this lightweight bag will do it’s job and go above and beyond.

You can’t ask for more out of this bag when it combines the low weight with awesome ventilation, and stiffening tape to prevent zipper snags this bag can withstand some of the toughest terrains. Light enough and warm enough for mountaineering, you will see this bag dotted across the summits of the tallest mountains in the world.

Nemo Nocturne Sleeping Bag

Nemo Nocturne Sleeping Bag

Material:  Nylon Ripstop

Fill Power: 750

Weight: 2.6 lbs.

Temperature Rating: 30℉  or -1℃

Specific Features : 3-Season Bag, Stretch Stitching, Waterproof, Box Quilted, Indirect Flow Gates, Spoon-Shaped

Best Use: Outdoors, Hiking, Backpacking

Description: Nemo Nocturne Sleeping box-quilted 750 fill power bag sure to keep you warm as well. With stretch stitching and it’s revolutionary spoon-shape, it allows the bag to move with you during your night’s sleep instead of bunching and rolling up and provides room near the elbows and knees.

The warm down feather stays in place as they are evenly distributed in a seamless rectangle pattern that covers the bag. Inspect flow gates keep the bag from using too much insulation in one area and is one of the best at maintaining all-over warm and cozy coverage. Though this may not be best for some of the coldest situations, this 3 season bag will be a key player during the spring, summer, or early fall seasons.

Mountain Hardware Lamina Sleeping Bag

Mountain Hardware Lamina Sleeping Bag

Material: Nylon

Fill Power: NA

Weight: 2 lbs. 14 oz. (Long) 2 lbs. 11 oz. (Regular)

Temperature Rating: 22℉  or -5℃

Specific Features: ThermalQ Insulation, Comfort Footbox, Polyester Lining

Best Use: Outdoors, Hiking, Backpacking

Description: The Mountain Hardware Sleeping Bag has the best of both worlds. Nylon fabric for tough dependency and polyester lining on the inside that wicks away water.

Coming in at only a little over 2 pounds, this mountain sleeping bag sure weighs in next to the competition. It features a special collar around the neck area to reduce drafting and keep the heat where it needs to be: inside the bag.

Sierra Dridown Backcountry Sleeping Bag

Sierra Dridown Backcountry Sleeping Bag

Material: Nylon Ripstop & Goose Down

Fill Power: 800

Weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz. (Regular) or 2 lbs. 15 oz. (Long)

Temperature Rating: 31℉ or -1℃

Specific Features: Integrated Comforter Wraps, Insulated Hand/Arm Pockets, Catenary Shaped Opening

Best Use: Outdoors, Hiking, Backpacking

Description: No zippers or Velcro for simple functions change the game for Sierra DriDown Sleeping Bag. It also uses integrated comforter wraps so that you can easily adjust depending on the outside temperature, keeping you from being too hot or too cold.

At almost 3 pounds in weight you want to make sure you are ready for this bag. Three pounds tends to be on the higher side, but the other added features might just make this one worth the weight.

Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag

Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag

Material: Ripstop Nylon

Fill Power: 650

Weight: 1 lb.

Temperature Rating: 15℉  or -9℃

Specific Features: Water Resistant, Anatomically Designed Footbox, Two-Way Zipper with Anti-Snag Slider, Draw Cord

Best Use: Outdoor, Hiking, Backpacking

Description: Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag is a total lightweight. At only 1 pound, this bag seems like an easy no brainer, but there are more talents it has to offer.

The Sawtooth is built with strong, Ripstop Nylon that is both durable and highly water resistant. It has a specially designed footbox with wrap-around construction that will increase warmth in the area that, often times, need it the most. Pair the super warm footbox with it’s soft, down-filled collar boasts an easy access draw cord to seal up and keep the wind and cold out.

Kelty Cosmic Sleeping Bag

Kelty Cosmic Sleeping Bag

Material: Polyester & Goose Down

Fill Power: 600

Weight: 3 lbs.

Temperature Rating: 20℉ or -6℃

Specific Features: 3 Season Sleeping Bag, DriDown Filler, Comfort Hood and Collar

Best Use: Outdoor, Hiking, Backpacking

Description: The Kelty Cosmic Sleeping bag is one that should not be counted out. Twenty degrees Fahrenheit might be the perfect temperature when described with its other cool features.

This 3-Season sleeping bag is completely water resistant, and with the DriDown inside, dries quickly on the inside as well. It has a quilted construction throughout which will keep the down feathers from rolling up or bunching up in parts of the bag, also making it easy to compress and pack.

Kelty Women’s Dridown Sleeping Bag

Kelty Women's SB20 20-Degree 800-Fill DriDown Sleeping Bag

Material: Nylon & Goose Down

Fill Power: 800

Weight: 2 lbs. 1 oz. (Regular) or 2 lbs. 4 oz. (Long)

Temperature Rating: 20℉ or -6℃

Specific Features: DriDown, Water Resistant Hood and Foot Area, Dual-Slider Anti-Snag Locking Zipper, Included Compression Sack

Best Use: Outdoor, Hiking, Backpacking

Description: Kelty Women’s SB20 20-Degree 800-Fill DriDown Sleeping Bag is a lightweight with some good qualities to offer. It also features DriDown which allows faster drying for the inside layers, but only features waterproof treatment to the hood and foot areas on the outside of the bag.

Although these two places are highly important and need to stay dry, they probably shouldn’t be the only ones. It does offer a dual zipper that also locks into place for an all-night security of warmth and is anti-snag so there will be no ripping or tearing during an outdoor excursion.

A Decision To Sleep On, Literally

There are so many options when it comes to sleeping bags and they truly are one of the “make-or-break” decisions on a trip for a long period of time in the wilderness. Whether you are camping in the backyard or camping in another country, you should have the comfort of a quality sleeping bag that keeps you warm, dry, and well-rested against the outside elements.

People all over the world spend an arm and a leg on their beds for their bedrooms. The same should be true for outdoors. Investing in something that is what you want and need it key, plus hypothermia is extremely dangerous and you never want to be at the top of a mountain covered in snow with an ill-equipped sleeping bag or you are endangering yourself tremendously.

The key aspects of the best sleeping bag for backpacking are material (inside and outside), fill power, weight, and temperature rating. These details have a huge influence on what type of sleeping bag you want and need. Who you are as a backpacker is also something to consider.

Sleeping bags in front of the tent

If you find yourself only camping a few times a year, then a cheaper sleeping bag with low fill power and temperature rating might be fine for you. But if you plan on staying outside for more than a few days at a time then making an investment in a great sleeping bag is one of the best things you can do to continue to enjoy yourself outdoors.

This will ensure you have a positive experience and will mostly likely continue to backpack and stay outdoors.

It all comes down to a balance of what it’s made of, what it has, and what you need and the combination of those elements make for a good camping, hiking, or backpacking experience. Don’t lose sleep over what bag to buy. Do you research, plan your trips, and invest in a good night’s sleep outdoors just as you would do indoors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Mike Walker

    Really liked the idea of having a lot of leg room that the Nemo Nocturne Sleeping Bag provided. I am a side sleeper, and usually like to have one leg straight, and one leg fully bent, so I needed a bag with lots of rooms around the hips and legs. It has worked great on the few trips I’ve taken it on. Weight is very manageable, and it packs down very small. I am very happy with the bag, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a big roomy bag.

  • Mark Foster

    Thanks for sharing your experience with the Nemo Mike! I also love its roomy interior and for someone like me who toss and turns during sleep, this bag doesn’t roll or bunch up – pretty amazing, huh?
    If you want to try the best of them yet, go for the Western Mountaineering Summerlite Sleeping Bag. I’ve been using this for some time and I can’t believe how lightweight it is. This is a big plus for me. Another thing is that it can really keep you warm and cozy on those cold outdoor nights.

  • Jim Clark

    The Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bag is an excellent bag that kept me warm down into the low 30’s. There was also plenty of space to roll around and curl up without sacrificing warmth, and I found the bit of extra space at the footbed useful for keeping clothes that’d be worn the next morning warm. The zipper does snag if the draft guard is right in the way, but when you’re aware it’s easily avoidable. If you’re looking for a solid 3 season bag you won’t be disappointed with the summerlite.

  • Mark Foster

    Hi Jim! This sleeping bag is indeed spacious and I love the extra “leg space”. There’s only a few sleeping bags that I feel comfortable in and the Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bag is one of them. In one of my trips, I had my Golden Retriever with me (it was just a short trip anyway) and he enjoyed snuggling and keeping warm in this sleeping bag. Amazing, right?

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