CAMPING & HIKING

Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing One

Best backpacking sleeping bag
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

Sleeping bags come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. If you have tried to shop for one, you may have come across words like temperature ratings, seasons, etc. At first look, all this terminology may be confusing and it might be difficult to choose the best backpacking sleeping bag for you and your family.

In this article, we will delve into the details of the characteristics of sleeping bags and tell you all you need to know about them, so it would be easier for you to choose the best sleeping bag for backpacking. We will also review a few popular sleeping bags and discuss their features.

Product NameShapeWeightTemp RatingSeason RatingInsulationPrice
Western Mountain Ultralite 20Mummy1.81 lbs.20ºF3-season850 + DownCheck price on Amazon
Western Mountain Alpinlite 20Mummy1.93 lbs.20ºF3-season850 + DownCheck price on Amazon
Sea to Summit Spark SPII 35Mummy1.12 lbs.35ºF3-season850 + DownCheck price on Amazon
Sierra Designs Backcountry BedModified Mummy2.62 lbs.33ºF3-season800 DriDownCheck price on Amazon
Kelty SB20 DriDown 800 Fill Women’sMummy2.06 lbs.20ºF3-season800 DriDownCheck price on Amazon
Marmot Sawtooth 15 DownMummy2.68 lbs.15ºF3-season650 DownCheck price on Amazon
Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Flame 20FMummy2.62 lbs.20ºF3-seasonSyntheticCheck price on Amazon
Kelty Cosmic Down DriDown 21FMummy2.56 lbs.20ºF3-season600 DriDownCheck price on Amazon

Top Features to Consider

To start with, let us learn about some basic features and terminology to consider before buying a sleeping bag, whether it is for camping with your family in the woods or for some adventure camping in the mountains.

We have put together a selection of the top eight sleeping bags which detail and highlight some of the latest features in sleeping bags.

Shape of the Sleeping Bag

The simplest sleeping bags are rectangular ones which are, more or less, like a quilt with a zipper on three sides to close it.

Mummy sleeping bags are tapered to be narrower towards the legs. Their shape results in a cozy and comfortable fit, which helps to retain warmth better. Some folks find a mummy shape too restrictive; however, you can still find some great rectangular bags that have similar features ass the mummy bags.

Cold weather sleeping bag

A mummy-shaped bag has a feature called a hood that can be drawn around your head with a drawstring for more protection from cold. Some mummy bags also come with a trapezoidal foot that allows more room for your feet to move and enhance your sleeping experience.

Weight

For backpackers, there will be a delicate balance between how much the bag weighs and the amount of insulation. Insulation equates to the level of warmth; it also means more or less weight depending on the need. Determining the temperature range you will be camping in will help you keep the weight of the sleeping bag right where it needs to be.

One person sleeping bag

Temperature Ratings

Although there are recommended temperature ratings for sleeping bags, you will be better off using these ratings as just a guide.

The European Advisory created EN 13537, a legal standard used to test and publish temperature ratings on most sleeping bags sold in the Europe. The following temperature levels are determined through a test for this standard:

  • Upper limit – This is the sleep temperature comfortable for a standard 1.7 m tall 25-year-old man of around 70 kg in weight. The hood and zippers are open and the arms are outside of the bag. In other words, this bag will be used in warmer conditions.
  • Comfort – This is the temperature at which a 1.6 m tall and 60 kg 25-year-old woman can sleep comfortably.
  • Lower limit – This temperature allows a standard man to sleep for 8 hours without waking in a curled position.
  • Extreme – The least temperature a standard woman can sleep for 6 hours without falling prey to the risk of death from hypothermia. This bag will be used in extreme cold conditions.

The rating on a sleeping bag usually reflects the minimum temperature comfortable for an average person. Manufacturers in the US are not bound by the EN standard as many have conducted their own independent tests.

However, most US manufacturers have adopted the EN standard because it levels the playing field when comparing temperature ratings. The EN standard has become the one consumers rely on when it comes to sleeping bag temperature ratings.

Sleeping bags

The comfort level in a sleeping bag also varies from person to person as we all sleep comfortably at different temperatures. For example, men usually sleep at temperatures higher by about 10 degrees compared to women.

Another factor to consider when deciding on the temperature rating is the weather at the time you usually backpack. If you usually hike during the summer, you can settle for a sleeping bag with a higher temperature rating.

Generally, the most suitable temperature ratings fall in the range of 15 degrees F to 35 degrees F.

Season Ratings

For ease of selection, sleeping bags come with a season rating which gives an estimation of the suitable weather the bag can be used in. The following table is a little guide.

1-SeasonIdeal for hot summer months
2-SeasonGreat for late spring to early fall
3-SeasonCold frost-free nights; spring and fall, plus summer in the mountains
4-SeasonBest for winter months with freezing weather and frost and snow

If you are mostly camping in the summer months, it’s ideal to go for a 2-season sleeping bag. Likewise, a 3-season sleeping bag would be a good balance between weight and warmth to camp in cold weather and high altitudes. Obviously, if you do a significant amount of alpine or extreme cold weather camping, you will want to choose a bag with a 4-season rating.

Insulation Material

Clearly one of the most important features of sleeping bags, insulation material can be synthetic or natural. Down, which makes up an insulating layer of feathers in ducks, geese, and other birds is the most commonly used natural insulation. Down has excellent insulating properties.

Fill power is a measure of the number of cubic inches packed by an ounce of down. A greater fill power would mean more trapped air and hence, more warmth and a higher quality. A fill of more than 650 is the best quality down insulation, and a good quality sleeping bag would ideally be around 85% filled with down.

Sleeping bags made with down can be compressed into a small package and are light in weight, so they can be easily carried. Untreated down insulation, however, needs to be kept dry at all times as it loses its insulating property when wet.

DriDown technology is used to treat down insulation with a polymer which increases its water resistance, decreases the drying time, and as a plus, also helps it to provide more warmth.A drawback for down is that some folks have allergies to down and therefore will need to shop for a synthetic insulation instead.

Synthetic insulation fo sleeping bag

Synthetic fill is made of poly fibers, which providegood insulation, though not as good as down. Bags filled with synthetic insulation tend to be heavier than down as more material is necessary to achieve the warmth required. Synthetic fibers are cheaper than down. They are better water-resistant and can be good to use even when wet.

Another term worth mentioning is baffles. Baffles are the sections that are sewn into the sleeping bag and hold the insulation. For down bags, especially, the type of baffle is important. If you have horizontal baffles that go all the way around the bag, you can shift the down to the top of the bag when you need more warmth on top.

Or, you can shift it to the bottom for summertime temps when you don’t need as much on top. This is another feature that makes down bags very versatile.

Other Features

There are other features worth mentioning because they may mean a warmer, more comfortable sleeping experience.

  • Zipper Baffle/Draft Tube: Running alongside the zipper, on the inside of the bag is an insulated flap known as the draft tube or zipper baffle. The purpose is to protect from any drafts that may filter through the zipper.
  • Hood: Just as you have a hood on a sweatshirt, you can also have a hood on a sleeping bag. The hood of the sleeping bag is meant to protect your head and keep your body heat inside the bag.
  • Draft Collar: The draft collar is simply another baffle located at the base of the hood. It protects your neck and shoulders keeping your body heat in and the cold out.
  • Trapezoidal Foot Box: Some bags feature a foot box that is lengthened in a trapezoid shape to follow the shape of your foot. This type of foot box will give more room for your feet and allow for a better sleeping experience.

Some Popular Sleeping Bags – Reviews

Now that we know what to look for in a sleeping bag, let us see the features of some of the most popular sleeping bags. Beyond the typical features of sleeping bags, each one has features that make them stand out. We will discuss these as well.

Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20

Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20

Price: Approximately $500

Weight: 1.81 lbs.

Dimensions: 59/38 inches

Specific features: 20 °F, mummy style, 850+ down fill, 16 oz. Loft to 5”, continuous horizontal baffles, 3-season

Best use: Different elevations during trips in the mountains in the summer till the begin of fall, light backpacking

Western Mountaineering’s Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 sleeping bag can take you through all seasons and keep you comfortably warm at different elevations during your summer camping. Striking a good balance between its weight and its warmth, the Ultralite 20 is the just recipient of the Editors’ Choice Award by USA’s Climbing Magazine.

With a conservative temperature rating of 20 °F, it can even be used at a little lower temperature. Although it is not ultra-light, it is one of the lightest 3-season bags out there. It can also fit well into a lightweight backpack, and hence, is easy to carry. This Mummy style sleeping bag is a good size for a person of average build.

Another useful feature is its continuous baffles, which allowyou to adjust the placement of the down fill insulation to suit the weather. You can shift the down fill to the top to feel warmer and vice versa. A two-part closure with its draft collar and hood string gives a snug and comfortable fit and keeps your face and neck covered with down so you can be warm.

Down insulation is naturally water resistant, but it is not waterproof. You can choose among the different lengths these are available in.

PROS:

  • Different lengths available
  • Lightweight 3-season bag
  • Continuous baffles
  • Available in a variety of sizes

CONS:

  • Expensive price point
  • Down not good for wet climates

Related: Western Mountaineering offers many similar light weight sleeping bags in their ExtremeLite Series like the wider AlpinLite 20, the SummerLite, and the MegaLite. For extra comfort, consider a Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm Mattress. This is an ultralite mattress with a tapered profile to reduce weight. Its patent-pending ThermaCapture technology traps radiant heat in the baffled internal structure.

Check the price on Amazon

Western Mountaineering Alpinlite 20

Western Mountaineering Alpinlite 20

Price: Approximately $570

Weight: 1.93 lbs.

Dimensions: 64/39 inches

Specific features: 20 °F, mummy style, 19 oz down fill, 5” loft, continuous horizontal baffles, 3-season, down filled collar, Full length zipper

Best use: Cool trips on the mountains in the summer till the beginning of fall, suitable for the broad-shouldered.

The Western Mountaineering Western Mountaineering AlpinLite 20 sleeping bag is a wider and more spacious version of the UltraLite 20. All other award-winning features of the UltraLite 20 have been replicated in this bag, with a few inches added without much addition of weight. So, if you do not mind carrying a few more ounces, you can get more comfort with the AlpinLite.

This has the same conservative temperature rating of 20 °F, and fortunately, the extra space doesn’t affect the warmth. Though not for the ultra-light backpackers, this bag, too, is light weight because of the down filling and can be compressed and packed.

The AlpinLite too has the continuous baffles of the UltraLite, so you can move the down fill more to the top or bottom as desired. Its reversible hood provides comfort and warmth around the face without bindingthe head too much. The AlpinLite 20 is also available in different lengths.

PROS:

  • Different lengths available
  • Extra width for more comfort
  • Continuous baffles

CONS:

  • Expensive price point
  • A few extra ounces of weight not good for ultra-light backpackers

Related: Western Mountaineering offers many similar light weight sleeping bags in their ExtremeLite Series like the UltraLite 20, the VersaLite, and the MegaLite. The Cloud 9 Comforter by Western Mountaineering is great for an extra snuggly blanket for use by the fire pit or for extra warmth in the tent.

Check the price on Amazon

Sea To Summit Spark SP

Sea To Summit Spark Sp Ii 35

Price: Approximately $400

Weight: 1.12 lbs.

Dimensions: 57/35 inches

Specific features: 35 °F, mummy style, 850+ down fill, A mix of box and lateral baffles, 3-season, hood, one-third length zipper, high-quality 10D Pertex

Best use: Ultra-light and minimal space backpacking; suited for fast and light camping in the mountains.

The Sea to Summit Spark SP is a high-quality ultra-light sleeping bag. It can be compressed to a very small size to fit in a small backpack. Its size and its less-than-a-pound weight make it a great choice for specifically fast trips to the mountains where the weight of the backpack matters. The Spark SP II has a temperature rating of 35ºF but is amazingly warm for its weight.

The high-quality European Goose down fill is distributed through the box baffles in the torso in such a way that there is maximum fill near the core exactly where it is required for warmth.

High-quality, soft materials like 10-denier Pertex Quantum and 850 + down fill makes this bag reasonably comfortable even though there is just enough space in it. It also has a hood for comfort.

On the downside, the ultra-light weight of this bag may have an effect on its versatility and ability to last long and strong especially when used in tough weather.

PROS:

  • Box and lateral baffles to protect the core
  • Weighs less than 1 pound
  • Lightweight size for ultra-light backpackers

CONS:

  • Higher temperature rating; may not be durable for colder climates
  • Expensive price point

Related: Sea to Summit offers different versions of the Spark SP II in similar make and material like the 46F Spark SP I and 25F the Spark SP III.

Check the price on Amazon

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 3-Season 800 Fill

Price: Approximately $400

Weight: 2.62 lbs.

Dimensions: 61/32 inches

Specific features: 33 °F, 800 DriDown fill, 3-season, integrated comforter, intuitive temperature adjustment, mattress-like sleeping pad, arm pockets

Best use: The best one if you prefer comfort over minimal weight and size.

Sierra Designs has come up with an innovative and unique design for sleeping bags. The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed is quite differently designed than the common Mummy-style sleeping bags. This sleeping makes use of a sleeping pad which gives the effect and comfort of a mattress. The bag has no zips and other fastenings. It has an integrated comforter which can be adapted to the warmth required.

You can leave it outside the bag in warmer weather and tuck it in to wrap around when it is cold. You can also tuck your feet in or out through a ventilator at the bottom depending on how warm you want to be.

The design on this bag is such that you can be comfortable in any sleeping position – side, tummy, etc. compared to the restrictive movement that Mummy style bags offer.

The insulation is a good 800 down that is treated with DriDown technology to make it more water resistant and keep it dry for longer.

The backcountry bed is a great choice if you want a more comfortable option than traditionally designed sleeping bags. It, however, makes a bulky gear and is not as light as the lightweight options like the Western Mountaineering products reviewed above.

The bag works best for summer trips to the mountains but its efficiency in cold weather depends on how you are able to use the comforter without it falling out.

PROS:

  • Integrated comforter
  • Extreme comfort
  • Accommodates various sleeping postures

CONS:

  • Heavyweight
  • Not as efficient in cold weather

Related: Sierra Designs makes different versions of these for women and with other season ratings and fill, like the Backcountry 600 Fill 3-season, the 600 Fill 2.5 season Backcountry bed for women, and the Backcountry 800 for 2-season.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Sb20 Dridown 800 Fill

Kelty Sb20 Dridown 800 Fill Women’S

Price: Approximately $260

Weight: 2.06 lbs.

Dimensions: 78/31 inches

Specific features: 20 °F, 800 DriDown Fill, 3-season, Mummy, box baffles, waterproof hood and foot, FatMan and Ribbon draw cords

Best use: Lightweight backpacking for the summer

The Kelty SB20 Dridown 800 Fill sleeping bag, shaped specially for women, is one of the most affordable bags with a high-quality 800+ down fill. It is almost 25% less expensive compared to other bags of 800 or more fill. The low cost, however, comes at the expense of some warmth and comfort.

It uses synthetic fill in the draft collar and tube, which adds on a few ounces. Softer and warmer down would have made the draft collar that much more comfortable. The draft collar doesn’t fit very well at the neck and may fail to keep up the warmth. The hood and foot are treated to be waterproof, but this has a downside in that these portions are not breathable.

Kelty’s signature FatMan and Ribbon draw strings make adjusting the hood in the dark a lot easier. This sleeping bag is light in weight and can be compressed to a small package that can be readily packed in a backpack. Overall, the SB20 is a great cost-effective, light weight, and reasonable quality sleeping bag to be used for summer camping.

PROS:

  • Shaped specifically for women
  • Hood and foot sections are waterproof
  • Easy adjustable hood
  • Signature FatMan and Ribbon draw strings

CONS:

  • Synthetic fill in the draft collar and tube add weight
  • Hood and foot sections are not breathable
  • Draft collar doesn’t fit well

Related: A few related Kelty sleeping bags are the Kelty SB 20, the Kelty SB35 Women’s, and the popular Kelty Cosmic 20. Kelty has a fun accessory called the Bestie Blanket. It has CloudLoft insulation and is perfect for snuggling by the campfire.

Check the price on Amazon

Marmot Sawtooth 15 Down

Marmot Sawtooth 15 Down

Price: Approximately $289

Weight: 2.68 lbs.

Dimensions: 64/43 inches

Specific features: 15 °F, 650 Down Fill, 3-season, mummy, anatomic foot box

Best use: Backpacking in the fall and early winter in below freezing temperatures

The Marmot Sawtooth 15 Down, with a temperature rating of 15ºF, is very efficient in keeping you warm up to temperatures as low as freezing temperature and just below. Thus, this bag is ideal if you backpack in the cold weather of early winter. Moreover, this comes at a reasonably low price.

However, all these come at the cost of its weight. The down it uses is not of as good a quality as that used in high-quality bags and thus is heavier.

The bag is heavy and difficult to carry. Also, you would find it to be too warm for the summer. The Marmot Sawtooth has a very comfortable hood that fits well. Its foot box is spacious while still maintaining the warmth.

Overall, this sleeping bag is a warm option for hiking in cold weather without breaking the bank. You can choose one suitable for your length.

PROS:

  • Great at cold weather temps
  • Mid-range price point
  • Spacious foot box

CONS:

  • Heavier weight factor
  • Lower quality down
  • Too warm for summer months

Related: Other versions of Marmot sleeping bags include the Marmot Celestrum 20ºF and the Marmot Teton 15F for women. Going car camping this summer with your family? Marmot features the Mavericks Doublewide, a sleeping bag for two. It zips up on both sides and has draft tubes. The Spirafil 120 high loft insulation is rated for 30 °F. Since it is a bag for two, it weighs just over 6 lbs.; which is why it is best for car camping.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Flame 20F

Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Flame 20F

Price: Approximately $240

Weight: 2.62 lbs.

Dimensions: 63/39 inches

Specific features: 20 °F, Synthetic Fill, 3-season, mummy, Thermal Q insulation welded to shell and lining with lamina construction

Best use: Backpacking in wet conditions, for long trips spanning different climates, for novice backpackers who find it difficult to keep themselves and their bags dry all the time.

The exclusive laminated insulation the Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Flame 20F uses is the best feature of this synthetic-filled sleeping bag. An adhesive welds the insulation to the shell and lining, eliminating the necessity of stitches and, in turn, avoiding cold spots. This method results in a much more waterproof, a warmer, and a lighter bag than most synthetic bags. Though it is a heavy bag, it is one of the lightest synthetic bags.

The hood is comfortable cinched around the head. The drawstrings, when fastened seem a little bulky because of the top zip design. With comfortable features, reasonable weight, and reasonable price, this is one of the best synthetic bags out there.

PROS:

  • Proprietary laminated insulation, no stitching, no cold spots
  • Thermally mapped insulation to place it where you need it most
  • Midrange price point

CONS:

  • No full length zipper to vent feet
  • Difficult to get into with short, center zipper
  • Heavier weight factor

Related: Related products are Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35, and Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina. If you are planning a family adventure, Mountain Hardware features a child-sized sleeping bag (the Bozeman). It is adjustable in length, has synthetic insulation, a mummy shape, zipper baffle, and drawstring hood.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Cosmic Down Dridown 21F

Kelty Cosmic Down Dridown 21F

Price: Approximately $160

Weight: 2.56 lbs.

Dimensions: 78/31 inches

Specific features: 21 °F, 600 DriDown Fill, 3-season, Mummy, box baffles, waterproof hood and foot, differential draw cords

Best use: Lightweight and affordable backpacking for the summer, novices, car camping

Recently restyled, the Kelty Cosmic Down Dridown 21F is one of the most affordable bags with a down fill. One of the newest features is a higher rated DriDown fill. Even better, they maintained the lower cost, and recouped some warmth and comfort. The draft collar doesn’t fit very well at the neck and may fail to keep up the warmth. It uses differential draw strings help adjust the draft collar although the hood lacks a very comfortable fit.

This sleeping bag is heavier in weight than some, but can still be compressed to a small package that can be readily packed in a backpack. This is great for the budget conscious novice backpacker and for light occasional backpacking.

PROS:

  • Affordable price point
  • Waterproof hood and foot box
  • Moisture defense DriDown insulation

CONS:

  • Poor fitting draft collar
  • Hood and foot box are not breathable

Related: There are other versions with different temperature ratings like the Cosmic Down 40F. Kelty also offers a couple of accessories that would go nicely with the Cosmic sleeping bag. Compression sacks that will help you condense you sleeping bag in order to fit in your pack more easily. Camping pillow that would give needed support to your head.

Check the price on Amazon

Conclusion

Now that you know the basic features that matter in a sleeping bag, you can make an educated decision for your next sleeping bag purchase. If you are budget conscious, are just starting out, and you think you will camp in relatively good weather, go for one of the Kelty sleeping bags we reviewed here.

Sleeping bags for backpacking trips

If you are looking for the best quality versatile sleeping bag and are ready to pay a little more for the comfort, the Western Mountaineering UltraLite and AlpinLite are great options.

If you camp in moist weather and keeping dry is your major concern, go for Mountain Hardwear’s sleeping bags, which are the best synthetic bags. The innovative Backcountry bed by Sierra Design is a good choice if you are looking for comfort and are ready to carry a few extra ounces.

Hope you found our reviews helpful. Do you have experience with other good sleeping bags? Please feel free to let us know in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • James Nowicki

    I am the type of person who generally sleeps on his side and I tend to move around quite a lot when sleeping. Therefore, when I’ve used mummy shaped sleeping bags in the past, I’ve found them to be quite uncomfortable as they prevent me from moving around as much as I’d like or I end up getting snagged in the zipper.

    After a few weeks of testing sleeping bags in various stores and reading countless reviews, I eventually settled on the Sierra DriDown Backcountry sleeping bag.

    I tested both the regular and long versions before purchasing and felt the regular was a little too small (I’m 5’10” and approximately 200 lbs), so I opted for the long version.

    Since purchasing, I’ve used the Sierra whilst backpacking in the Alps in below zero temperatures, wearing just my base layers to sleep in. This proved to be more than enough insulation even on the coldest of nights.

    The zipper-less design is great, I was able to move around, pull up my knees and sleep on my side without feeling constricted and thanks to the comforter, I was never exposed to the cold night air. All in all, it is lightweight, easy to pack and sure to offer a warm and comfortable nights sleep. I highly recommend.

    • Dennis Owens

      The mechanism of a zipper-less structure keeps you snug inside the sleeping bag without too much friction or too many moving things that will compromise the durability of the sleeping bag. It also keeps you warm without overheating.

  • Sophie Habron

    I wanted a lightweight sleeping bag with a high fill rating and small pack size for a round-the-world trip. For the price, you can’t do much better than the Kelty Women’s SB20. The bag was a little larger than I initially expected, though it’s labeled as a women’s bag, my partner was able to get in without being too confined and he’s six feet tall. In my humble opinion, however, his is definitely a good thing as it affords you enough room to move once inside. It’s made from high-quality materials, it’s waterproof and offers a warm and comfortable nights sleep. An all-round great sleeping bag!

    • Dennis Owens

      Women’s bag are a little larger than expected to make sure that proper circulation and warmth is achieved. The Kelty SB20 is actually a very nice choice, and fits even individuals with unconventional heights.

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