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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. Here’s what 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.


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. But it doesn’t handle moisture well and is tougher to care for.

Your best option is probably to 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. 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. 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.

10 Comments on Sleeping bag buying guide

  1. 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) :)

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. i want a sinthetic mummy bag

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

  10. im thinking of getting a compresion sac

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