Choosing the right sleeping bag is essential for comfort when you are camping. Consider the environment in which you are going to camp as you begin to review available options. Sean Scales, Outdoor Expert for Shoebuy.com, advises, "Sleeping bags are not one-size fits all, so you need to really know what you need before you make your purchase."
Four Top Bags for Moderate Camping
Prices for sleeping bags vary greatly - and you don't need to purchase the most expensive bags if you're only going to camp occasionally in conditions that are not extreme. Scales recommends, "If you're looking to camp just a couple weekends per year in more controlled settings like your backyard or a campground, it can be easy to overspend on features you may not need."
Scales explains that a "traditional rectangular bag can work well for casual overnights." If you want a mummy-style bag, that is fine - but you don't have to buy the most expensive bag out there.
1. Marmot Mavericks
The Marmot Mavericks line is a great option for recreational campers. The line features bags rated to 20, 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can select the option that works best for the climate where you will be camping. Shoebuy sent me a Marmot Mavericks 30 bag to try, so I can say firsthand that it is well-suited for tent camping in a campground environment in mild weather conditions. I found the bag to be comfortable and roomy.
A Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA.com) forum user indicates being comfortable in the same bag I tried with temperatures in the 30s, and said that it was actually fine in the 20s when sleeping in sweats. A Backpacker.com review of the Marmot 20 model confirmed comfort in low temperatures along the Appalachian Trail, as well as indicated that the bag "rebuffed heavy condensation on five wet nights."
- Comes with a stuff stack for easy packing, storing and carrying
- Shell and lining are done in polyester DWR
- Contains SpiraFil™ insulation
- Does not have a hood
- Weighs less than three pounds
The Marmot Mavericks 30 bag is just over $80 at REI. (The 40 model is around $64 and the 20 model is around $105; both are available from REI.)
2. Slumberjack Country Squire 20
Out of more than 70 general purpose camping bags tested, Outdoor Gear Lab awarded its Editors' Choice distinction to the Slumberjack Country Squire 20. Rated to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, this bag was the "widest and longest bag tested" by Outdoor Gear Lab, and it was determined to also be the "most comfortable" and "impressively warm." The reviewers found that the bag is roomy enough for two people on its own, but if you have two of the same bags you can zip them together for even more room.
- Shell is made of 12-ounce cotton duck canvas material
- Lining is made of poly-cotton
- Contains synthetic insulation
- Does not have a hood
- Comes with a duffel bag
- Weighs 13 pounds (so you probably won't want to take it backpacking!)
Order directly from Slumberjack for around $270.
3. Kelty Cosmic Down 20
If you are a beginning backpacker who isn't ready to venture into extreme conditions or if you simply prefer mummy style sleeping bags, Kelty Cosmic Down 20 is a good option for you to consider. Selected as an Outdoor Gear Lab Best Buy among backpacking sleeping bags, this model has some of the benefits of more pricey backpacking bags without the hefty price tag.
Outdoor Gear Lab's reviewers describe the bag as an "excellent value." They particularly like the bag's draft collar. They note that this bag isn't as warm (or light) as many other 20 degree bags - but for moderate camping, that really doesn't matter.
Backpacking Light recommends this bag for budget-minded campers, stating, "You could buy a bag that weighs a pound less and lofts better, but it would cost you roughly three times as much."
- Mummy style bag
- Easily adjustable hood
- Has hang loops for easy storage
- Comes with a stuff sack
- Shell and liner are made from polyester taffeta
- Weighs three pounds
Retails for around $105; order directly from REI.
4. Deuter Starlight EXP (for Kids)
If you camp with children, it's important to get a quality, right-size sleeping bag for the youngsters in your party. KidProject.org blog names the Deuter Starlight EXP sleeping bag as the "best all-around sleeping bag" for kids. The reviewer states that they have used it with kids between the ages of four and ten, and that it works well to keep them warm in moderately cool temperatures - and particularly like that fact that it is designed to grow with your children. It is designed for children from 4'3" to 5'6".
In a Seattle Backpacker's Magazine review, the bag is given five stars after testing it with a three year old. The reviewer said, "Surprisingly, the bag did better than any of the others we had packed for the entire family" on a camping trip where the temperatures were in the 40s.
- There is a zipper in the bottom of the bag that can be used to extend the length by up to 12 inches.
- The two-way zipper is placed in a way that will make it easy for youngsters to zip themselves in and out of the bag.
- Features a contoured hood
- Has an internal stash pocket
- Shell is nylon taffeta
- Lining is Deuter Soft Micro
- The bag is filled with High-Loft Hollowfibre.
- Weighs approximately 2.2 pounds
Order from Outdoor GB for under $90.
Four Top Bags for Extreme Camping
Quality is important for all sleeping bags, but most especially for those who will camp in extreme conditions. Scales states, "When you are looking for a high-quality sleeping bag, you want to ensure you're choosing a top brand in this category - especially if you're going to be in extreme conditions." He explains, "Temperature ratings are very useful when you're deciding what high-quality bag to choose. If you're looking at a style that does not include a temperature rating, you're most likely not looking at a high quality bag." He also points out, "A serious camping bag should have some sort of head cover and a snugger fit."
1. Feathered Friends Hummingbird 20
Outdoor Gear Labs selected the Feathered Friends Hummingbird 20 as Editors' Choice for backpacking sleeping bags tested out of a total of 30 models tested. Reviewers stated that this bag is the "best lightweight hooded bag tested" and particularly liked the fact that it comes in multiple sizes (regular and long) to allow backcountry campers to get the best possible fit.
As it is rated only to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, Outdoor Gear Labs recommends the bag for three season camping.
- Mummy style bag
- Hood can be adjusted for a snug or more open fit
- Trapezoid-shaped foot area
- Shell is made from Pertex® Endurance UL
- Goose-down insulation
- Weighs less than two pounds
Available to purchase from Feathered Friends; the regular size is $469 and the long size is $489.
2. Western Mountaineering Alpinlite
Professional mountain photographer, author and mountaineering enthusiast based out of the French Alps Alexandre Buisse lists Western Mountaineering's Alpinlite as his sleeping bag of choice on his website. He states, "It's only rated to -7C , but that should be enough for summer climbs when sleeping fully clothed. The weight compromise makes it worth it." (-7C is equivalent to 20 degrees Fahrenheit).
A TrailGroove.com review points out that Western Mountaineering bags are widely recognized for their quality and that this bag "doesn't disappoint."
- Mummy style bag
- Has continuous baffles
- Filled with down
- Has a down collar
- Available in three sizes (sizes based on height; 5'6", 6' and 6'6")
- Weight varies based on height selected; the shortest bag is one pound and 13 ounces and the tallest one is two pounds and one ounce.
Order from Campsaver.com for around $525.
3. Marmot Col MemBrain
Rated to -20 degrees and designed to keep water off campers, Marmot's Col MemBrain is reviewed favorably on Backpacker.com. The site's testers tried it out in Colorado and reported that the fabric effectively keeps moisture away while also being breathable.
They noted that the fabric is able to "breathe so well that the 20-below bag stays comfortable to 20 above." This bag is a great winter bag, especially for climbers and other who enjoy camping in the mountains during the snowy season and those who combine camping and winter hunting.
- Mummy style bag
- Outer fabric is waterproof
- Lining is made from water-resistant nylon
- Insulation is goose down
- Hood has six baffles and can be drawn in for a close fit as needed
- Has a face muff
- Comes with a storage pouch
- Weighs just under four pounds
Order from Marmot for around $700.
4. Sierra Designs Zissou
If you're looking for a true four-season sleeping bag for cold and wet conditions, the Zissou line from Sierra Designs is a good option to consider. Rated for temperatures as low as six degrees Fahrenheit and featuring DriDown technology, this bag will keep you warm and dry in all kinds of weather.
The blogger who writes GearCaster.com used the sleeping bag on a December and January trip across several of the coldest states in the U.S. with positive results. Even sleeping in the car with the windows up, which resulted in significant condensation, the sleeping bag provided warmth and stayed dry. A review on ActiveGearReview.com describes this bag as "a great value."
- Mummy style bag
- Hood created with ergonomic design
- Footbed created with ergonomic design
- Rated for four-season comfort
- Filled with down that has been treated with DriDown insulation
- Weighs three pounds and one ounce
Order directly from Sierra Designs for around $340.
Expert Sleeping Bag Selection Tips
Those who camp year-round may need more than one sleeping bag, depending on personal preferences and temperature extremes. Scales states, "If your climate does not vary significantly, one bag could work, but if you are camping through true seasons, you likely will want to arm yourself with bags that will ensure you are getting a comfortable night's rest."
He points out, "With a little extra thermal layering of clothes, you may find that the bag you use in the fall and spring is still a good choice for you in the colder temperatures of the winter. That said, a bag that is designed for 20 or 0 degree conditions is likely not the right fit for a camper enjoying an outing in mid-July."
Recreational Camping Considerations
Scales states, "The recreational camper should focus first on warmth and comfort, then consider additional attributes."
- Transportation: Scales indicates that transportation is an important consideration. He states, "If you're driving to your campsite, weight will be less of a factor; however, if you need to trek a bit with all of your gear, you may want to bring a lighter bag that is comfortable to carry and also doesn't weigh you down."
- Bag Features: "Bags that zip together and bags that feature built-in pillows or compartments for things like your mobile device and an extra pair of socks are also great features to consider," says Scales.
Backcountry Extreme Camping Considerations
According to Scales, "For the more extreme type of camper, weight and portability are key when considering a sleeping bag, along with temperature ratings and preference for sleeping space."
- Personal Preference: "While one camper may prefer a roomier bag, another may prefer a more compact space that is lighter to travel with. Considering your traditional sleeping preference will help you decide what style you'd prefer," says Scales.
- Weather Conditions: Scales states, "While the mix of compression and portability is an area to think through, the most important factor in extreme conditions should be the bag's temperature rating and material as this type of camper may find themselves in an environment that lacks a tent to lock in heat and keep them dry."
- Cold Climates: For cold climates, Scales recommends, "While down filled bags are often more costly, they are worth the up-front investment for a serious camper who is about to brave the cold; however, it should be noted that most of these bags are not waterproof."
- Wet Climates: For wet climates, Scales suggests "A synthetic bag or a bag that features a durable water repellent finish is often a cheaper expense that will help keep a camper dry in wet climates. However, it should be noted that these types of bags tend to provide less warmth compared to down filled bags.
With so many options in such a wide variety of price points, it's easy to see why it's important to consider your exact needs and preferences before you start shopping. Scales recommends starting to shop only after "you've narrowed down what features are must-haves and those that are nice-to-have."