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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.

105 Comments on Sleeping bag buying guide

  1. REI makes a good bag

  2. The other day i got a great deal on a mummy sleeping bag :D

  3. if you might get wet, dont bring a down bag – it loses its warmth and dries really slowly. Use down when you’ll definitely be covered and make sure your bag is wrapped carefully when you are carrying it on your pack – in case it rains while you’re on your way to your destination! That said, down rules. Much lighter and smaller than synthetic.

    One neat idea is to buy a $40 silk down mummy bag liner. The thing adds 10 degrees to your existing bag and it means you can make a summer bag into a fall bag. The silk liner is only about as big as two teenagers fists and weights very little. It also keeps your bag cleaner as it is totally washable.

  4. We are new to camping out and have not purchased bags yet. In Fl where it is pretty much hot year round. What type of bag do you recommend? I am sure we are gonna get synthetic.

  5. Recently got a mummy bag after years of using rectangular bag. It’s light, warm, roomy, easy to pack, and I don’t like it. It gives me claustrophobia. First night in it I dreamt I was being swallowed by a python.

  6. Second Classman // September 28, 2009 at 6:28 pm // Reply

    i have a marmot 40 degree bag. great for summer campouts

  7. Yea, some sleeping bags are just freezing cold. I try to make
    mine more at a comfortable tempreture.

  8. pumpernickel // August 11, 2009 at 7:38 pm // Reply

    i have an ll bean bag (0degrees) its a mummy bag and is compressible and good all year

  9. You can use a small camp pillow in the hoods of most mummies, except for in exceptionally snug bags.

  10. Mummy sleeping bags are great for camping; however, mummy sleeping bags cannot accomodate a full size pillow like open end sleeping bags. Are travel size camping pillows available that are appropriate for use in mummy bags, or does a person need to hand make a custom camping pillow for use in a mummy sleeping bag for camping?

    • usually camp pillows come with a stuff sack and are about half the size of the kind we use at home. My mummy bag is rather large and i usually bring a regular pillow and turn it 90 degrees and it fits fine but you can buy small camping pillows too
      from a scout

  11. my whole family got colman mummy bags as a present. They’re great

  12. scoutcamper58329190 // June 8, 2009 at 5:39 pm // Reply

    Goose Down Filled sleeping bags purchased from the local army-navy surplus and overstock store can be purchased at usually less cost than a major retail camping store. Synthetic sleeping bags can sometimes be washed in a laundromat washing machine while goose down filled sleeping bags are usually dry clean only sleeping bags when the care is needed.

  13. I have an alpine design mummy bag rated for thirty degrees and it works great andit only cost35$

  14. tenderfoot // April 9, 2009 at 6:45 am // Reply

    I got a really nice 0 degree bag from teton sports. It’s a mummy and it is VERY comfy.

  15. warmsleeper // April 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm // Reply

    I got a ausome 0 degree teton sport mummy sleeping bag. It is big but VERY comfy!

  16. powerchimp // March 30, 2009 at 5:59 pm // Reply

    to CHOWDER: good find! I wish I could be lucky like that.

  17. my troop does alot of winter campouts(since were in Ak), and i end up usualy cold and wet which, kinda kills the thought of going on another one. but, i hav never tried a mummysleeping bag before, so would it be wise 2 get a mummy sleeping bag? + can u fit a fleece-liner in it? or is it even necessary?

  18. If I have a 3 pound bag, and I need a 4 pound bag, can I just put a blanket or 2 in it?
    I’m going on a freezeout, so I need to know.

  19. I have a eureka 30 deg. bag It’s nice.

  20. webOLOE We Be Loyal Scouts boys life fan // January 26, 2009 at 6:44 pm // Reply


  21. that one dude // January 25, 2009 at 7:11 am // Reply

    this was very helpful, i got a marmot sawtooth that is rated to 15 degrees, but it will keep you snug and warm at -30 degrees if you wear a hat.

  22. Grizzly Bear // January 10, 2009 at 6:34 pm // Reply

    Campmor sells a house brand down mummy sleeping bag that is a steal. Its rated at 20 degrees but it is probably more like 30. 120 bucks for a 550-fill down bag.

  23. Just about Ultimate Scoutmaster // December 30, 2008 at 9:52 am // Reply

    I agree with Ultimate Scoutmaster, you need to go more to the cold side vs getting a warmer bag. Always remember head gear, the times I have been most uncomfortable, I have forgotten my beanie when sleeping in colder weather.

  24. connor the man // December 22, 2008 at 12:42 pm // Reply

    my neighbor gave me a really warm and small blanket for camping that gos under 0 degrees.he made my day!

  25. I have one but the zip broke off and it is a good one.

  26. I am going to Philmont this summer and I realized while going through my gear that my sleeping bag is heavy and compresses to the size of yoga ball (around a yard on the side). I need a good stuff sack that is light weight, that compresses really small, and will keep me warm on Mt. Baldy. Which brand should I get and what model?

  27. i have a negative 15 degree from Dick’s. got it for 50$ then used a ten dollar coupon!
    paid as much as a 40 degree costs!!!!!!!!!

  28. I’ve got a NorthFace sleeping bag – minus 20 degrees and it keeps me warm. Weighs about 1.5 lbs and condenses to the size of a soccer ball with a compression bag.

  29. Titanic Kidd // November 10, 2008 at 8:27 pm // Reply

    I like Coleman sleeping bags.

  30. quest makes good sleeping bags

  31. I got a -15 degree sleeping bag that cost 128.00 it was on sale for 69.00 the cahier rang it up 45.00 and i had two gift cards (20.00,25.00) so i ended up paying 8.00 (that was the tax) :)

  32. I have a synthetic bag that goes down to 30 degrees, but it’s HUGE! I want to get a new one, but come on, 75$ is a lot for a sleeping bag, and advice for buying, a small, less expensive sleeping bag?

  33. i have a sleeping bag and it’s rated at 0 deggres and it’s extreymly cofertable at summer camp in souther Indiana so isent the rating the maximum tempacer that you can be in befor it gets uncofterbal?

  34. Ultimate Scoutmaster // September 10, 2008 at 10:55 am // Reply

    It is my belief that every person (not just Scouts) should have a sleeping bag that goes down to 0 degrees. If it is too warm, you can just unzip it a little. Sooner or later, you will need that lowest temperature rating, and your life may depend on it. The lower the rating, the more days of the year that you can go camping later. I consider a 40 degree bag is just about useless. It gives you a false sense of security, but still costs money. Also you can add quite a bit of warmth by wearing an oversized hooded sweatshirt or a ski-cap at night. You need to keep your head and neck warm to be able to go to sleep. Mummy bags will definitely keep you warmer, you just have to get used to the restricted area around your feet and the bag closing in around your face. Get a bag that is a little extra long and it feels a lot better. I couldn’t care less about a light-weight sleeping bag or a highly compressible sleeping bag. About 99% of the camping is done within 50′ of a car. Warmth is the most important thing.

  35. I really don’t know what sleeping bag in between weather

  36. what about air mattreses or cots? recommendations? I have a self inflating one but it is so small and slips during the night. Especially important during long term camping of over a week.

  37. Add a fleece bag liner to your equipment list. It will make any ( almost any ) bag warm and cozy, just like dressing in layers. And best of all, it can easily be washed at home after every trip.

  38. i want a sinthetic mummy bag

  39. Well i have 1 sleeping bag already but its for camping in the summer. I’m looking to buy a new one though!

  40. im thinking of getting a compresion sac

  41. Down or Synthetic down is the warmest comfiest sleeping bag you’ll ever find but if it gets wet it loses all it’s warmth. on the other hand synthetic its not as warm but if it gets wet it will not lose it’s warmth

  42. Willy Wonka // July 15, 2008 at 1:25 pm // Reply

    I have my own but need a new one.

  43. OFFTOLOSTVALLEY // July 5, 2008 at 9:43 pm // Reply

    I’ve already tested out a bag for my upcoming trip to lost valley, CA. If you want a SMALL sleeping bag, you can get a “bag” that can compress a little more smaller than a basketball. I suggest going to big 5 or rei. Happy camping!!!

  44. I have been using my dads sleeping bag when I go camping but I need to get my own.this information will help me pick out the right sleeping bag for me.Thanks

  45. I don’t have a sleeping bag, so I have to borrow my dad sleeping bag every time I go camping with my friend.

  46. I have a peak 1 -0 degree bag and I just cant ask for any thing better, it is a great all year round bag.

  47. I have an Big Agnes encampment bag and it is the perfect bag for year round camping- it’s beast!!!!!!

  48. cool

  49. i have an rei synthetic bag that is great but the zipper always gets caught in the frabric but overall it is a great bag

  50. i got a agood bag to sleep

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