There’s nothing quite so rough as being out camping with the wrong kind of sleeping bag.
One of the absolute worst nights of my life happened to me when I was out camping with my girlfriend in the middle of the Ocala National Forest.
It was Florida in the spring, so we thought we’d be OK with just two lightweight sleeping bags.
And that was alright – at the start of the night, that is.
But as the night wore on, the forest cooled off more and more, until we both woke up in the middle of the night absolutely freezing.
When then ended up getting some of the worst sleep either of us had ever experienced until sunrise. Turning from side to side in this kind of cold was not the best way to get ready for the long day ahead of us.
Moral of the story: don’t be stupid like me! Many beginning adventurers cheap out on high-quality sleeping bags, which can lead to some pretty dire situations, like the one I ended up in when camping out in Florida.
There’s enough that can go wrong on a camping trip – so at the very least, get the sleeping bags right.
Prepare for the Right Temperatures with a Sleeping Bag
The first thing to do before investing in any kind of sleeping bag is always knowing the kind of temperatures you’re likely to be dealing with.
Where are you planning on doing most of your hiking – and during what time of year?
What’s the absolute coldest temperature you can expect to be dealing with?
Your answers to these questions should inform your entire buying process.
In general, colder weather sleeping bags will be a bit more expensive than those designed for warmer climates.
They’re also going to be bulkier and heavier than any of their fair-weather counterparts.
However, you also want to keep in mind that it’s almost always easier to get cooler during the night than it is to get warmer.
You can always unzip a sleeping bag some or just do away with it entirely if it’s going to be too hot – but if it gets too cold during the night, a thin sleeping bag can make your life extremely unpleasant, and it might even get a little dangerous!
Bottom line, shop for something built for slightly colder temperatures than you’re likely to encounter – but keep things realistic, or you might end up wasting both money and precious packing space!
Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
Thankfully, there shouldn’t be too much guesswork when deciding how heavy a sleeping bag you need.
All modern sleeping bags come with standard ratings to tell you exactly what temperatures you’ll be able to deal with while sleeping in them.
Not every temperature rating is the same, and you should be well aware of the differences between each one of the temperature ratings and what they mean.
The one most often advertised in product descriptions is the survival rating – that is, the coldest possible temperature you can sleep in a given sleeping bag and still survive.
Keep in mind, however, that survival and comfort are two very different things.
Because of this, some bags will come with an EN Standards Tag, which provides you with information about the kinds of temperatures you can expect to deal with in any given product.
Your sleeping bag’s comfort range, for instance, is the temperature at which a “standard woman” (that is, a woman aged 25, 1.6 meters tall and weighing 60kg) will be able to sleep comfortably in thermal underwear in a tent while using a sleeping pad.
The transition range, meanwhile, is the lower limit of possible sleep in your sleeper bag.
In this range, a “typical” man (aged 25, 1.73 meters tall and weighing 73 kg) will be able to sleep curled up in the same conditions as the woman in the comfort range.
He won’t be comfortable, but he also won’t be shivering.
Finally, in the extreme range, you get into the absolute lowest temperatures at which a person can sleep in this sleeping bag and still live.
Keep in mind that the numbers on these tags are really just averages, and a lot of factors can impact how comfortable sleep is.
Men, for instance, can typically withstand colder temperatures than women, all else being equal.
Temperature ratings also don’t consider the trade-off between extra space and the bag’s ability to keep you warm. The size of the bag affects how comfortable you feel in it, and therefore mummy bags, which are great at making sure you stay warm enough, might not be too good at keeping you comfortable.
This is not included in comfort or temperature ratings and is something that’s up to your individual preferences. Keep this in mind when trying to find your top pick.
Additionally, if it’s damp or windy, you’ll likely find yourself needing some slightly warmer sleeping conditions than normal – and of course, if you sleep in a hoodie or a couple more layers of clothing, you can push your sleeping bag past its normal temperature extremes.
What Producers Don’t Tell You About
Aside from the industry-standard determinants of each sleeping bag’s quality, you should also be aware of certain factors that can impact your experience but aren’t necessarily talked about in travel magazines or on the bag producers’ websites.
First of all, there is the question of where you’re going to be camping. Sleeping in a car is a totally different story than sleeping in a tent, and therefore you should prepare accordingly.
You don’t need the warmest, 800 fill power sleeping bag with a mummy hood if you’re car camping in the back of a Range Rover. Your vehicle’s added shelter should be enough to make the low temperature bearable, even during some of the colder months.
It gets a little more complicated if you’re camping out in a tent somewhere. Then, your sleeping bag’s temperature rating matters a lot more, and that is when you should be paying special attention to things such as the synthetic insulation and whether your bag is water-resistant or not.
Mummy bags are usually the best options for outdoor camping. Sleeping in a mummy bag might prove to be somewhat uncomfortable, but it is definitely snug and warm for most of the time. The mummy hood can not only serve as a headrest but also as a convenient stuff sack in some models!
Finally, regardless of whether you’re car camping or trekking across a mountain range, one of the most important things you should pay attention to when picking out your bag is the warmth-to-weight ratio.
It is obsessed over by backpackers because it helps them pack more efficiently — ideally, you should get a bag that is warm but light; hence the warmth-to-weight ratio is the term used to describe how close sleeping bags are to that golden middle.
Depending on who you ask, the warmth-to-weight ratio is the most important aspect of picking out a sleeping bag. Best models will fit in a stuff sack without much effort on your part and won’t slow you down during your trek. Aside from being light, it should also be warm enough for you to sleep in, without the need for an additional sleeping pad or other extra equipment.
Remember — when picking out sleeping bags, don’t obsess too much over the temperature rating without checking up on the product’s size and weight. A lightweight, water-resistant mummy bag with a snug hood will always be much better than a warmer but much heavier and sizeable counterpart.
The Top 5 Sleeping Bags
Alright, let’s get down to it – the absolute best sleeping bags your typical backpacker will need. These are the results of my own research, so I might have omitted some brilliant bags, but I can guarantee that if you go with one of the choices outlined below, you won’t be sorry!
|Slumberjack||Hyke & Byke||Sleepingo||Honest Outfitters||Outdoor Vitals|
|Materials||Nylon with quilt construction and a flip-over hood||400T ripstop nylon, 210D PU-coated nylon||Polyester outer shell with tetron and cotton lining||210T polyester outside with polyester pongee lining||800+ premium down fill|
|Temperature Rating||20 degrees||15 degrees||32 degrees||Comfortable at 35 to 40 degrees||0 degrees|
|Weight||3lbs 7oz||2.89 to 3.24lbs||3lbs||3.2lbs||3lbs|
|Bulk||9.5″ x 18″||10″ x 7.5″||N/A||N/A||11″ x 8″|
|Notes||Comfy but bulky||Heavy-duty for serious hikers||Comes with complementary travel pillows||Lightweight and affordable||Built for extreme conditions|
|Price||Out of stock!||Out of stock!||Out of stock!||Out of stock!||Out of stock!|
The Slumberjack Boundary 20 Sleeping Bag
First up, we have the Slumberjack Boundary 20 Sleeping Bag.
This is a pretty high-quality bag at a fairly reasonable price.
It’s built with a layered, offset quilt construction that all but eliminates the possibility of cold spots.
It also comes with a quality flip-over hood that you can use either flat or contoured, and as a whole, the product will keep you nice and comfy no matter where you’re trying to sleep.
It’s important to realize, however, this is a fairly bulky product and is not designed for any kind of backpacking.
It doesn’t compress properly for that – but it is pretty nice for any kind of car camping, especially around the fall and to some extent into the winter.
It’s roomy, well-padded, and, all in all, a highly functional product.
The Sleeping Double Sleeping Bag
If you prefer hiking with a partner, meanwhile, and wouldn’t sharing a bag for the extra heat, you might want to consider the Sleepingo Double Sleeping Bag.
Built with a durable outer shell as well as an extremely soft, comfortable inner lining, this is ideal for any couple looking to brave the great outdoors.
It measures 87” by 59”, which should be plenty big enough to fit two people, and it also comes with two convenient, complimentary travel pillows (so no more using bundled-up shirts for neck support!).
Another nice bonus to this product is that you can actually use it as two individual sleeping bags of you like – which, when you consider its price, makes this an exceptionally affordable purchase.
However, keep in mind that this is only rated for 32 degrees at the absolute lowest, so you’re probably not going to want to use this thing any later than the fall.
Overall, this is one swanky bag, ideal for hiking partners of all kinds. It’s incredibly snug, and once you get that zipper up, you’ll never want to get out!
Well worth the money for most of the year!
The Hyke & Byke Down Sleeping Bag
Next up, there’s the Hyke & Byke Down Sleeping Bag.
This is a slightly more heavy-duty bag for a slightly more serious breed of campers.
Unlike the Slumberjack, this thing is really designed for backpacking.
Not only is it incredibly lightweight (short: 2.89lbs, regular: 3.06lbs, long 3.24lbs), but it’s also highly compressible into a 10” long by 7.5” in diameter cylinder.
It’s also hyper durable, with water repellent 400T 20D ripstop nylon fabric and sack top and bottom compression panels made of 210D PU-coated nylon. The zipper, conveniently placed on the side, is one of the best models I’ve seen — it’s virtually impossible to get it tangled up in the material!
This sleeping bag is built with an extreme limit of 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with a lower male comfort limit of 30 degrees and a lower female comfort limit of 50 degrees. The temperature range is quite wide, making it a very universal sleeping bag for all kinds of adventures.
Of course, the one downside is that it isn’t quite as bottom-dollar as some of the other products on this list.
However, keep in mind that you’ll be getting an extraordinary high-quality product when you buy this thing – and when you consider how much you’re getting, the price is actually pretty reasonable!
The Honest Outfitters Sleeping Bag
Another super affordable option is the Honest Outfitters Sleeping Bag.
This is a lot like the Sleepingo in terms of the price and material – however, it’s only a single, so you probably don’t want to try cramming two people into this thing unless you’re ridiculously cold!
This is designed to be comfortable within a range as low as 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with a mummy hood and drawstrings to keep your head as warm as possible.
It is also worth mentioning that at slightly over 600 fill power, this bag is not the fluffiest product out there, but it certainly does the job, as far as synthetic insulation is concerned.
It actually comes with two sacks to carry everything in – one for compression and one for any other gear you might want to take along with you.
This particular sleeping bag is also water-resistant, which means that it will keep you warm when camping, sleeping in rough areas, and in other tough conditions.
This bag is machine washable, with a shell of 210 T polyester and a polyester pongee lining.
It’s also about as lightweight as one could hope for – a mere 3.2 pounds – but it rolls out to a respectable 29.5” x 87”.
Not bad at all!
Outdoor Vitals Summit 0°F Premium Down Sleeping Bag
Finally, we finish up with a piece of true adventurer’s gear: the Outdoor Vitals Summit 0°F Premium Down Sleeping Bag.
This thing is made for serious hikers looking for a warm sleep even in the deep of winter.
It’s made with pure premium down insulation, with 800+ fill customer chosen to compress as small as possible while still providing you with the kind of heat you need.
This fill is built around a spacious grid baffle design that prevents it all from sliding around, ensuring your continued comfort no matter how long you use this thing!
This sleeping bag is one of the best options for extreme weather conditions, a true mummy bag that will satisfy the most stringent adventurers’ needs. Its size is optimal for an average adult, but the stretchy material will allow you to push its limits a little. Just be careful not to damage the zipper!
It’s because of this elevated design quality that the Outdoor Vitals is able to offer a true lifetime limited warranty, guaranteeing this product’s continued function as long as you could possibly need it.
All of these perks come at a price, and in the case of this particular bag, it falls just short of $250. If your upcoming trip is going to be a one-off adventure, you might want to take a look at some of the cheaper bags on this list.
Conclusion About the Best Sleeping Bags on the Market
So there you have it – the absolute best sleeping bags out there today. When trying to pick out the best sleeping bag, there are so many factors to consider that it might prove to be a bigger challenge than the camping trip itself!
Things like synthetic insulation, fill power, or warmth to weight ratio all play a major role in keeping you comfortable and warm enough to not only survive the night but also wake up full of energy and ready to tackle the day.
When picking out sleeping bags, best camping pros often point towards differences in personal preferences as the major reason behind making the wrong choice.
For example, some people might be just fine with a bag that has 600 fill power (which is plenty, as it is), but might be persuaded to go for the more expensive 800 fill power model just because it is advertised as “better.”
In a field as diverse and dependent on preference as the sleeping bag industry, it’s important never to disregard individual experiences — they are what ultimately determines the quality of a bag. If you absolutely hate the feeling of sleeping in mummy bags, you shouldn’t get one, no matter the temperature rating and positive reviews.
When you’re out camping, sleeping is one of the most fundamental needs that need to be accommodated in order to get you ready for the days in the wilderness. This is why sleeping bags are the one thing you should not cheap out on when planning your trip — the price often directly reflects the quality, and you might find yourself regretting the choice one cold morning in the Ocana National Forest or wherever it is you’ll be camping at.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Most Popular Sleeping Bag Brands?
Big Agnes and Rei Co-op produce some of the most commonly-purchased sleeping bags. Although they’re not included in my list of the five best sleeping bags on the market, they do make high-quality equipment that can be bought at an affordable price. Big Agnes and Rei Co-op bags are among some of the most critically-acclaimed in the industry, but you shouldn’t give in to the hype too much, as they’re not the best ones on the market, by any measure. You can snatch a better one at a similar or even lower price.
Both Big Agnes and Rei Co-op also sell other equipment for adventurers, and so these brands make for the best starting point for those of you who’ve never been on a camping trip before and are looking to get all of the necessary equipment in one place.
How Much Does the Sleeping Bag Size Matter?
This is a much more layered question than it may seem. First of all, the size of your bag needs to fit your own body type. This is what marks the difference between a sleep-in bag and a proper sleeping bag. You don’t want it to be too loose on the inside, as you’ll be letting too much cold air inside. Also, keep in mind that your chosen bag’s temperature rating has been determined for an average-size person — if you don’t fit into that metric, you might want to get a second opinion on your choice.
How Long Will A Sleeping Bag Last?
The answer to this question is entirely dependent on you. The first thing that usually gets broken in most bags is the zipper. This is because it often gets stuck on the material when zipping up and down the side of the bag. It can be a really frightening experience, especially when the zipper goes up all the way to the hood and covers your face. You don’t want it to get stuck there!
Aside from the zipper, the padding might fall out of place and get crumpled up after you throw your trusty bag in the washing machine a couple of times. Depending on the scale of the damage, you might be able to sort that out by bringing an extra sleeping pad to your next trip.
Another important thing to remember is that with time, your bags’ temperature rating will stop reflecting their actual ability to keep you warm. Keep that in mind when planning your camping escapades, and make sure you’re not bringing along a worn-out bag.
Ultimately, your sleeping bag will last you for a long time, as long as you take proper care of it. Surely, the brand and price play a role as well — don’t expect a Walmart-bought bag to be as durable as a Big Agnes product.
What Are the Best Ways to Stay Safe in the Wilderness?
Leaving civilization behind and vacationing in the wild is associated with certain risks, some of which can be mitigated, and some are intrinsically tied to the experience. Generally speaking, if you want to shield yourself from changing weather conditions and wildlife completely, you might want to consider car camping. It also comes with the added benefit of not having to worry about the state of your sleeping bag’s zipper and temperature rating too much — it makes a difference in keeping you warm. Still, if the conditions get really unbearable, you can always turn the heating on for a little while.
Camping purists, of course, will scoff at the idea of sleeping in the car. It isn’t considered a real “bag-sleeping” experience — turning from side to side in a mummy bag while struggling to bring the hood up over your head just doesn’t feel the same when done in the comfort of a vehicle. Sleeping in the wild always comes with a certain amount of risk, and if you want to get the best experience possible, you should stay in a tent.
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Ted is the founder and owner of Mattress Guides and is an expert in his field. Ted believes that having the right mattress is key to getting a good night’s sleep and feeling well-rested in the morning.
Updated at November 11, 2020