Guy Gear

Sleeping bag buying guide

Two Boys Wrapped in Sleeping Bags

You can’t sleep. It’s freezing, so you try to crawl inside your sleeping bag as deep as you can — leaving only a little opening for your mouth to breathe. Or maybe it’s kind of warm out. You’re too toasty inside the bag but too cold without it.

The trick to foolproof camp z-z-z’s is picking the right sleeping bag for the weather conditions. So we asked Terry Schocke for some help. This man knows his sleeping bags. As director of programs at the BSA’s Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases in northern Minnesota, Schocke helps Scouts prepare for sticky summers, bitter to-the-bone winters and everything in between.

Here’s what he says to consider when buying your next bag:


There’s a wide range. Quality backpacking bags can be found for $75 to $150. Double that price if you’re looking for a down-filled bag. In the $30 to $60 range you’ll find bags that are heavier and won’t pack down quite as well.

“A good rule of thumb is, the more you spend, the more compressible and lightweight the sleeping bag will be,” Schocke says.

sleepingbag-200x148DOWN VS. SYNTHETIC

The stuff inside a sleeping bag that keeps you warm is called insulation. There are two main types: down (as in goose down) and synthetic, which is man-made insulation with brand names like Quallofil, PrimaLoft and Fiberfill.

“Compared with synthetic bags, down is more compressible, durable and lighter for the same warmth,” Schocke says. “But it doesn’t handle moisture well and is tougher to care for.”

Schocke recommends that Scouts stick with synthetic bags because they work well, are simple to care for (machine washable) and are much less expensive.


Most bags have a temperature rating on the tag. It’ll say something like: +30° or -20°. This tells you, roughly, the minimum temperature that will be comfortable while in that bag.

“It’s important to know there’s no industry standard about how they determine temperature ratings,” Schocke says. “Those are just generic guidelines.”

Also, keep in mind how you sleep — temperature-wise, that is. Are you a hot sleeper? Or do you always seem to be colder than your friends? If you’re a cold sleeper, for example, go with a bag that’s rated for colder temperatures.


Sleeping bags come in two main shapes: rectangle and mummy. Rectangular bags are roomier, giving you more room to roll around and are best for summer camping. They also weigh more and don’t pack down as well. Mummy bags are best for colder conditions. They hug your body, and most come with a hood you can cinch down over your head.

“The tighter it fits, the warmer it’s going to be,” Schocke says. “It’s best to get the smallest bag you can feel comfortable in.”

That way your body doesn’t waste energy trying to heat up a lot of extra space. However, you don’t want it so tight that it restricts circulation or compressibility. And in winter you may want a little extra space in the foot area to keep boots warm, dry out gloves or to keep a water bottle from freezing.


If you’re backpacking, it’s important to find a bag that’s lightweight and compressible. The most compressible bags can be stuffed until slightly larger than a volleyball. Sleeping bags can be made to take up less space in your pack by using a compression stuff sack.

Comments about “Sleeping bag buying guide”

  1. Grandma says:

    Would like to purchase sleeping bag for my 12 year grandson, he is a scout and lives in the Southwest. Any suggestions?

  2. Person A says:

    How good for say winter camping would a 20 degree bag be? Im thinking of getting one

  3. Seahawks Will Beat The Patriots says:

    Ive got a 16 degree rated Kelty bag I got for Christmas and it kept we warm at 16 degrees with no other blankets or clothing layers.

  4. Alaskan says:

    North Face down bags are rated at like 17 degrees and weigh about 2 pounds sometimes.

  5. bearcubmom says:

    Mummy bags are ok, unless you sleep on your side or back, then they aren’t. I have a Lafuma Patrol Lady, it’s 25F sleeping bag that I’ve used 2-3 times. I didn’t sleep well anytime I used it. Every time I tried to turn over to get comfortable, it felt like I was being constricted. I’m going to let my 9 year see if he likes it any better.

  6. 1MoreBoyScout says:

    Make sure you are using a closed cell sleeping pad underneath your sleeping bag. Cardboard under the pad can be used for a little extra insulation. Wool socks as well. And Keep hydrated! Your body has a hard time regulating heat when you are not hydrated properly. And yes, DRY LONG JOHNS & SOCKS!!

  7. Girl Scout says:

    We’ve found Marmot bags to be really great; small compression, strong and handy- double zippered. They are available in mummy and rectangle shapes, down and synthetic. If you think all bags are alike, try one of these and you’ll change your mind right away.

  8. big c says:

    if you can afford it a groe-tex 4 piece modular sleeping system used by the u.s. military for YEARS!! thats what i recommend

  9. hiking scouter says:

    Guide needs updating. Newer down bags have water repellent down and breathable water resistant shells.

    There is a standard rating system for tempurature

  10. Anonymous says:

    You could spend $350 on a 15 Oz. bag from Western Mountaineering

  11. Missy says:

    A big help thanks.

  12. outdoorsman107 says:

    I think you should get what you need and what fits you best

  13. steaveo says:

    Big Agnes makes the most comfortable sleeping bags. at 6,2 i have plenty of space so i don’t fell like i cant move. and they weigh almost nothing and compress tiny. they are AWSOME!!!!!!!!

  14. nicknack says:

    where can I find a sleeping bag that costs less than $20 but keeps one warm down to 35 degrees?

  15. outdoorman says:

    idon’t like mummy bags at all

  16. Anonymous says:

    Personally i prefer a Wiggys , Made in USA Used by U.S. Army , check out their site i have a Wiggy’s Ultra Light , Weighs 3 pounds and does +20 degrees , but their worth it , their heaviest bag is 7 pounds and goes to -60 but is extremely expensive , Ultra Light Costs 200$ but is worth it , i reccomend them for tents gloves knives sleeping bags clothing and anything else , their worth their price

  17. iPad says:

    Marmot Zion 0 bag, pure heaven.

  18. ultra-light master says:

    terranova gear laser bag,only 12 oz

  19. ginger says:

    i have a field and stream bag rated to +20 degrees and its only 4 lbs and compresses well only about $45

    • runnerdude11 says:

      Only four pounds!!!
      That’s really heavy. I have a 30 degree bag that is less than a pound and a 0 degree bag that is a pound and a half.

    • nicknack says:

      Runnerdude11, Where in the heck did you get an awesome bag like that? Was it under 20$?

  20. Canadian eh says:

    The canadian military bags are great for cold weather and will beat most of the bags out there for a fraction of the price. Goose down fill. -60C (-76F) temperature rating. You can find them at army surplus stores. They will be used a bit but fully functional and ready to go. Check out anything used good before buying.

  21. nateman says:

    i hate mummy bags i go with a sgaure

  22. Ga-lo-nii says:

    you can buy a $20 wal-mart coleman steeping bag and a $10 polar fleece sleeping bag and use them together for a sub zero sleeping bag for a fraction of the price.

  23. c rad says:

    i have a down kelty trekker($90) its rated to 20 degrees and it weighs only like 2 pounds

  24. toster says:

    a colman is warm and only cost about$20.

  25. peace corps says:

    I’m going to the Peace Corps and need something that will last me for 2 years! The PC gives us a sleeping bag for the really cold months so I need something for 5-20 degree weather. I can’t take much with me so it has to be super compressible and light! Any recommendations?

  26. big agnes says:

    and also the big agnes bags come with a intagrated pillow sleeve wich is nice :]

  27. lightweight gu-ru says:

    My Mountain Hardwear Lamina is a 20 degree bag. Used at summer camp in 80 degree nights. Was well ventelated and never got too hot but still keeps me warm in the winter. Weighs like 2 pounds!

  28. U. S. Army Dependent 409 says:

    Sometimes the “P-X” of a local army base may let civilian campers and dependents of U. S. Army personnel purchase the inventory over run of U. S. Army Mummy Sleeping Bags at U. S. Government Auctions. The Mummy Sleeping Bags are quite warm in winter; however, most require dry clean only when washing. Sometimes a person can launder the sleeping bag by washing the sleeping bag by hand and then letting the sleeping bag air dry. For U. S. Army dependents, the “P-X” is a great place to shop for over run inventory camping equipment.

    • SSG B says:

      Our military bags are warm (two separate bags and a Gore-Tex bivvy) but heavy. They weigh over 10 pounds. You can get better civilian bags cheaper. I prefer my Northface PolarGaurd 3D!!!!

  29. kid says:

    i need your help on were to get sleeping bags i am going camping next week and dont know were to go please replay fast

  30. cubs127 says:

    u can find good ones ant bass pro shop or cabela’s. I hope that helps

  31. 9fingers says:

    Jonathan, you might want to do some research before buying a bag that warm. I rarely recommend a bag that is rated for much colder than 32F, they get to be too warm for most trips. I think it is better to get a bag that is roomy enough to allow you to wear a vest or jacket inside of…more versitile. I like Montbell bags. I’ve never used a compression bag, so I can’t help you there.

    • scout mom says:

      Depends where you live… We live in Minnesota and used to live in Utah, I won’t buy a bag rated above 30′ not worth it here. You can always sleep on top of the bag in the summer with a blanket, you can’t make it warmer in the winter.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) says:

      You must live in Florida or Texas. anything rated for more then 15 degrees is out in my book! of course when you live deep in the Idaho Mountains you need a warm sleeping bag!

  32. GEAR MAN says:

    I use a Slumber-Jack Super Guide 30 degree bag for summer, and it works fine. I also have a REI 0 degree bag for winter camping, and that works well. If you don’t do winter camping, don’t buy a 0 degree bag! You will sweat to death during the late spring and summer. Get a bag that suits the environment of where you camp.

  33. Fish head says:

    I think I saw good compression stuff sacks at the Recreation Outlet, and for the sleeping bag I think they have those too.

  34. Jonathan says:

    Hey guys –
    My dad and i are going to spend about ten days backpacking in Wyoming. Do any of you know where i could find good reliable compression bags? Also I have a huge down sleeping bag – do any of know where i could find a good 20- degree synthetic sleeping bag.

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