If you were lucky enough to tune into the Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild during its heyday, you might’ve witnessed Bear Grylls, a former British Special Air Service operator and the show’s host, make TV magic by gutting a dead camel and demonstrating how to climb inside the carcass for warmth and shelter. The sequence of teeth-clenching footage is perhaps the best reminder that hey, sleeping bags are pretty cool.
Sleeping bags are a camping essential, and even those of us who never bed down under the stars typically keep one around the house as emergency bedding. We tend not to upgrade our sleeping bags with the same frequency as other pieces of outdoor gear, like hiking boots or down jackets. But sleeping bags have come a long way in the past decade. This guide, which we’ve organized by fill type and temperature rating, represents the best of the current class.
More Great Sleeping Bags
- Best Ultralight Option: Big Agnes Torchlight UL 30°, $350
- Best Casual Sleeping Bag: REI Co-op Siesta Hooded 25, $109
- Best for Wet Environments: Montbell Seamless Down Hugger WR 900 #3, $449
- Best for Side Sleepers: Big Agnes Sidewinder SL 35F Down, $250
- Best for Hunting: Sitka Kelvin Aerolite 30, $399
- Best Two-Person Sleeping Bag: Big Agnes Sentinel 30, $400
- Best Trail Quilt: Therm-a-Rest Vesper 45F, $290
In terms of bang for buck, campers will be hard-pressed to find a better deal than The North Face's One Bag. The sleeping bag uses a modular zipper design that gives it a range from five degrees up to 40, eliminating the need to own multiple sleeping bags for camping in different environments. The One Bag is lightweight enough and packs down small enough for backpacking, too, especially if you leave the cold temperature layer at home.
Weight: 3 pounds 12 ounces (5°F); 2 pounds 12 ounces (20°F); 2 pounds 3 ounces (40°F)
Fill: 800-fill goose down
Compressed Volume: 17.5 liters (5°F); 13.5 liters (20°F); 9.1 liters (40°F)
Unique to Nemo sleeping bags is the "spoon" shape, which the company created for campers who want a mummy-style sleeping bag without the claustrophobia of actual mummification. The spoon shape isn't very spoon-like, but it offers extra room at the elbows and knees for shifting around and side sleeping. The Riff also includes zippered "gills" that extend its temperature range — just open them up and let the breeze in — making this sleeping bag supremely versatile.
For colder environments, the Riff also comes in a version rated to 15 degrees.
Weight: 1 pound 13 ounces
Fill: 800-fill PFC-free down
Compressed Volume: 5.5 liters
Best Budget Sleeping Bag
It's difficult to get a good sleeping bag for less than $100 — chances are you're just as well off bringing blankets from home. But for close to that price, you can get this full-featured mummy-style bag from Kelty. It's stuffed with 550-fill down insulation and includes a small zippered pocket for keeping essential items close and an extra baffle that prevents air from creeping in through the zipper (an underrated innovation). Compared to sleeping bags with similar temperature ratings, the primary downside is that this one won't pack down as small, so if you're backpacking or camping frequently, it might be worth investing up.
Weight: 9.14 ounces
Fill: 550-fill down
Compressed Volume: 10 x 7 inches
Best Ultralight Option
Lighter, more packable sleeping bags exist, but not with the same unique suite of features as Big Agnes's Torchlight UL, which weighs one pound 12 ounces in a regular length. Primary among those are extra zippers on either side that expand the bag's size when opened. It's a nice touch, given that ultralight sleeping bags can sometimes be confining. The Torchlight also has an adjustable hood, water-repellent 850-fill down insulation and even an interior pocket for small essentials.
Weight: 1 pound 12 ounces
Fill: 850-fill DownTek
Compressed Volume: 5 x 6 inches
Best Casual Sleeping Bag
If you aren't camping in a way that puts packing space at a premium, then it might not make sense to confine yourself to a mummy-style sleeping bag. That doesn't mean you should go for a low-grade bedroll, though. REI's Siesta is the perfect compromise — it has enough synthetic insulation for temps down to 25 degrees, and both its sides have zippers (one full-length, one partial) so that you can flip down its top like the duvet on your bed at home.
Weight: 4 pounds 6 ounces
Fill: synthetic (polyester)
Compressed Volume: n/a
Best for Wet Environments
Montbell's newest crop of Down Hugger bags has a lot going for them. For one, Montbell secured this bag's down insulation in place using a system that it calls Spider Baffle, where an array of synthetic threads hold onto down clumps to help maintain their loft. It eliminates the need for baffles created by stitching, optimizing the bag for warmth and durability. Montbell employed elastic in the liner to help the bag "hug" a sleeper, eliminating dead airspace (in our testing, we didn't find this feature claustrophobic). To top it all off, this particular Down Hugger model comes with a Gore-Tex Infinium exterior, making it remarkably weather-resistant.
Weight: 1 pound 3.6 ounces
Fill: 900-fill Power EX Down
Compressed Volume: 5.5 x 10.9 inches, 3.8 liters
Best for Side Sleepers
Big Agnes makes the Sidewinder specifically for side sleepers. It's apparent, too: the bag's hood opening faces to the side. Its form isn't as tapered as typical mummy-style bags, but that's intentional to allow side sleepers to bend their knees inside and shift foot position. While most of the Sidewinder's insulation is down, Big Agnes reinforced these regions with synthetic insulation in these areas to allow for that shifting, too. Lastly, there's a pocket in the hood for a pillow that enables it to move from one side to another if you decide to switch sides.
Weight: 2 pounds
Fill: 650-fill DownTek
Compressed Volume: 7.5 x 15 inches
Best for Hunting
Hunting doesn't necessarily call for a different sort of sleeping bag, but Sitka believes hunters should have one regardless. Knowing that stalking game requires patience and, at times, hunkering on the damp ground for a long time, it gave the Aerolite 30 arm slots and a bottom you can open and tuck out of the way, transforming this bag into a functional warm layer you can bivy down in while remaining mobile. It's filled with PrimaLoft's Gold Insulation with Cross Core tech, which comes from NASA and won't lose its warming power when damp.
Weight: 2 pounds 6 ounces
Fill: PrimaLoft Gold with Cross Core (synthetic)
Compressed Volume: n/a
Best Two-Person Sleeping Bag
For most of us, camping is rarely, if ever, a solo activity. Part of the joy of spending time outside is doing so with your significant other. But designs that let you zip two sleeping bags together are cumbersome at best, so Big Agnes made one bag to fit two. The best thing about the Sentinel is that it maintains a small degree of separation — you can snap a divider between the hoods, just in case you prefer your sleeping bag partially unzipped and your partner doesn't.
Weight: 3 pounds 8 ounces
Fill: 650-fill down, DownTex hydrophobic treatment
Compressed Volume: 9 x 20 inches
Best Trail Quilt
The best option for a warm-weather sleeping bag isn't a sleeping bag at all; it's a quilt. Trail quilts have been a go-to for ultralight backpackers for a while but are increasingly becoming popular amongst more mainstream campers. With less material, trail quilts are lighter and more packable. Therm-a-Rest's Vesper 45 is an excellent intro to this offshoot category — at 12 ounces, the quilt will go unnoticed in a backpack, but it still has functional features like an enclosed foot box and straps to secure it to a sleeping pad.
Weight: 12 ounces
Fill: 900-fill Nikwax hydrophobic down
Compressed Volume: 4.5 x 6 inches
How to Choose the Best Sleeping Bag
Every sleeping bag comes with a temperature rating, usually represented, roughly, by a number in its name. That number comes from third-party lab testing. Those labs test for two numbers, a comfort rating, and a lower limit rating. The former is the environmental temperature in which a sleeping bag can provide sufficient warmth for colder sleepers; the lower limit rating represents the temperature at which a warm sleeper will be comfortable.
The number in a sleeping bag’s name may not be its exact temperature rating; brands tend to round numbers to the nearest five or zero. For example, REI’s Trailbreak 30 has a lower limit rating of 29 degrees Fahrenheit and a comfort rating of 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, sleeping bags with lower temperature ratings typically use more material, so they will be bigger and take up more space in a backpack or closet.
Should You Get Down or Synthetic Insulation?
Sleeping bags provide warmth by trapping air inside their fluffy filling, which is typically either down or synthetic. Choosing which is right for you is a matter of pros and cons.
Down, which comes from geese and ducks, tends to provide more warmth in a smaller volume than most synthetic insulation. Down insulation comes with a fill rating that denotes its quality. For instance, a 30-degree sleeping bag with 800-fill down will provide the same amount of warmth as a 650-fill bag rated to the same temperature, but it will do so with less insulation, so it will pack down smaller. Down’s main drawback is that it clumps when it gets wet, but many brands today use down that’s treated to be water-repellant. Down sleeping bags are also almost always more expensive than synthetic ones.
Synthetic insulation consists of manufactured fibers that attempt to mimic down. Synthetic insulation tends to be more water-resistant, durable and affordable but also bulkier and heavier.
Depending how often you use it, a sleeping bag can last you for years; it’s a long-term investment. Sleeping bags are also expensive, and their price is a product of the materials used. As a rule, down insulation is more expensive than synthetic, and higher fill powers (more warmth for weight) are more expensive than lower ones. Because they use more material, cold-weather sleeping bags tend to be more expensive than warm-weather sleeping bags.
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