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How to Buy the Best Sleeping Bag

A sleeping bag can make the difference between blissful comfort and a verrry long, miserable night. It can even help you ward off life-threatening hypothermia if you get cold and wet.

Choosing the right sleeping bag can be tricky. Follow these tips on choosing the right sleeping bag for your next adventure and check out the Gear Guy’s favorite models.

TEMPERATURE RATINGS

Sleeping bags have labels with ratings like -10 degrees or +30 degrees. These tell you the lowest temperature at which most people will be comfortable sleeping in that particular bag.

Do you get cold easily or are you a furnace? If you struggle to stay warm, you’ll probably want a bag rated about 20 degrees lower than the coldest temperatures you plan to sleep in. If you sleep warmly, choose a bag rated to within 10 degrees of the coldest temperatures you’ll encounter.

BSA 30°F Mummy Sleeping Bag – Youth ($60, scoutshop.org): Rated to 30 degrees, this summer bag is warm enough for cool-but-not-freezing nights. While the synthetic insulation will hold some warmth even if wet, it’s on the bulky and heavy side for backpacking; consider it best for car camping. Bonus: It will probably survive through a sibling or two. 2 lbs., 12 oz.

KNOW YOUR BUDGET

Sleeping bag prices can vary from $60 to $600. Price is affected by both the quality and amount of insulation, so the price usually goes up as the temperature rating goes down.

SYNTHETIC VS. DOWN INSULATION

There are two main types of insulation: down, which is natural, and synthetic, which is man-made.

Generally, goose down is warmer, lighter and easier to pack, but it’s typically more expensive and requires extra care. The biggest downside to down is that it loses its ability to keep you warm if it becomes wet.

Synthetic insulation is typically less expensive, requires little care and retains its warmth if the bag gets wet. Modern synthetic insulations like PrimaLoft are nearly as lightweight and compact as down, and remain the best choice for extended trips in wet environments.

Modern bags blur the traditional lines between down and synthetic insulations. Many bags now use water-resistant down, which keeps you warm even when wet. Still, even saturated water-resistant down loses some of its ability to trap heat, and you might have trouble drying out any bag in prolonged wet weather.

REI Co-op Lumen Sleeping Bag — Kids’ ($119, rei.com): The Lumen hits a middle ground between higher performance and lower price. Rated to 25 degrees, this three-season bag is designed for campers ages 10-14. The synthetic insulation will trap some heat if wet and fits in an 8.25-by-18-inch stuff sack. The mummy style has a girth of 58 inches in the shoulders and 56 inches at the hips — roomier than most mummies. The shingle construction overlaps insulation layers to prevent cold spots, and the bag has a draft tube, insulated collar and anti-snag zipper. 2 lbs., 6 oz.

WEIGHT MATTERS

Are you car camping, where weight matters less, or backpacking, where every ounce counts? How you pack will directly influence the type of bag you need.

Lighter, higher-quality insulation costs more, but you can trim weight and bulk simply by buying the right bag for the conditions.

Big Agnes Boot Jack 25° ($190, bigagnes.com): When you look at just temperature rating, price and weight, the Boot Jack looks like a good value in a three-season bag. But look beyond those specs: There are even more reasons to give it serious consideration. Its DownTek feathers are water-repellent — a performance feature that usually costs more. With a girth of 60 inches at the shoulders, 54 inches at the hips and 36 inches at the feet, the Boot Jack allows a freedom of movement you don’t find in many mummy bags. 2 lbs., 6 oz.

MUMMY VS. RECTANGULAR SHAPE

Mummy bags taper from head to foot for thermal efficiency and to minimize weight and bulk, but some can feel claustrophobic. Rectangular bags are more spacious but are generally heavier and bulkier, and you can sometimes hit a cold spot. Try it on before buying.

QUALITY CONSTRUCTION

Less expensive — yet lightweight — bags have sewn-through baffles, which can create cold spots along seams. Higher-quality horizontal baffles are typically warmer. Other high-quality construction upgrades include a draft tube (along the zipper), a collar (inside the hood) and a no-snag zipper guard.

Klymit KSB 20° Sleeping Bag ($250, scoutshop.org): Getting serious about your backcountry adventures? The KSB raises the performance bar. The 650-fill down dries quickly and won’t absorb much moisture. Its flexible baffles keep the bag close to your body, ensuring you won’t lose any heat as you toss and turn. With a 20-degree rating and especially warm foot box, the KSB is built for any three-season conditions. 2 lbs., 12 oz.

GEAR GUY’S ADVICE?

Get what you can afford. You can still get outside with an inexpensive bag — which is what’s most important, right? If and when you have the dough for a nicer bag, your wilderness adventures will be a little more luxurious.

Coleman Illumi-Bug 45 Youth Sleeping Bag ($40, coleman.com): Looking for a starter sleeping bag? The Illumi-Bug offers everything a camping newcomer needs, including comfortable materials and warmth for temps at about 45 degrees. The bag’s ZipPlow zipper ensures snag-free opening and closing every time. Also cool: The Illumi-Bug features a glow-in-the-dark design. 2 lbs., 14 oz.

CARING FOR YOUR BAG

Properly cared for, a sleeping bag can last 10 to 20 years. Body oils can compromise insulation, so you should always sleep in clean base layers. Post-trip, hang the bag to dry for a day or two, and then place it in a big storage sack and keep in a dry place. If your bag gets really dirty or starts losing loft, follow manufacturer instructions for washing it.

16 Comments on How to Buy the Best Sleeping Bag

  1. 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?

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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!!!!

  5. 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

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

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

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

  10. 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.
    -URGENT

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