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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:

The Gear Guy is currently researching new models and writing an update to this article. Watch for his updated tips and reviews in the November 2016 issue of Boys’ Life.


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.

42 Comments on Sleeping bag buying guide

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

  2. A big help thanks.

  3. outdoorsman107 // October 4, 2012 at 8:01 pm // Reply

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

  4. 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!!!!!!!!

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

  6. outdoorman // June 27, 2012 at 3:09 pm // Reply

    idon’t like mummy bags at all

  7. 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

  8. Marmot Zion 0 bag, pure heaven.

  9. ultra-light master // July 7, 2011 at 7:47 pm // Reply

    terranova gear laser bag,only 12 oz

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

    • runnerdude11 // May 1, 2011 at 6:38 pm // Reply

      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.

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

  11. Canadian eh // March 13, 2011 at 8:01 pm // Reply

    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.

  12. i hate mummy bags i go with a sgaure

  13. 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.

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

  15. a colman is warm and only cost about$20.

  16. peace corps // August 26, 2010 at 3:00 pm // Reply

    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?

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

  18. lightweight gu-ru // July 13, 2010 at 5:42 pm // Reply

    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!

  19. U. S. Army Dependent 409 // May 7, 2010 at 6:38 pm // Reply

    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.

    • 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!!!!

  20. 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

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

  22. 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.

    • 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) // November 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm // Reply

      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!

  23. 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.

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

  25. 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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