BEST SLEEPING BAGS FOR BACKPACKING IN 2020
A good sleeping bag is one of the best investments you can make as an outdoor enthusiast. Packability, warmth, weight and versatility are all important factors to consider when buying the best sleeping bag for backpacking, and there’s a lot to choose from. From technology to new fabrics, a quick Google search might leave you with a dizzying amount of options, so we decided to do some of the work for you.
In this blog post, we list the best sleeping bags for backpacking in 2020, plus information on how to choose a backpacking sleeping bag. They’re some of the most popular on the market because they adhere to the standards of warmth, weight, and comfort. But, we’ll get more into that below.
You might not expect to get your best night’s sleep while camping or backpacking, but these sleeping bags sure help you come close.
Here are the best sleeping bags for backpacking in 2020 and tips to help you choose the right one for you.
Best 2-Man Quilt: Enlightened Equipment 2-Man Accomplice Quilt
If you’ve ever considered a two-person sleeping bag so you can snuggle with your partner, this quilt is your ticket. You might think you’d be cramped, however, with the Enlightened Equipment 2-Man Accomplice Quilt, I actually feel like I have way more room than in a single person mummy bag. The quilt comes with a set of straps that you use to connect your sleeping pads. Then you slip the quilt’s spacious footbox over the bottom of your two pads and connect each side of the quilt to the straps on the outside of the sleeping bags. This creates a seal that traps heat in during colder temps.
If you’re too toasty, you can unclip your side of the quilt from your pad while your partner stays nice and snug. This bag doesn’t have a hood, in order to save on weight, but you can purchase one separately if you need it. Along with the other advantages I mention, this quilt weighs ~2 pounds (depending on temperature and fill), which is equal to 1 pound per person. That’s much less than any of the the other best sleeping bags for backpacking that we’ve come across. Just make sure you order your bag in advance as they produce to order and get busier as summer approaches. For more double sleeping bags, check out this post with all the best 2-person sleeping bags.
Here are some of the Enlightened Equipment Accomplice Quilt features:
- Weight: 2 lbs 4 oz (20 degree version)
- Temperature rating: available in 0° – 50°F
- Insulation: 850-fill down ethically sourced
- Shell: ultralight nylon fabric coated with Durable Water Repellant
- Handmade in Minnesota, USA
- Price: $$$$
Check price: Enlightened Equipment
REI Joule 21 Women’s Sleeping Bag
*Sustainable* The REI Joule 21 is my pick for a warm and lightweight 3-season bag. It’s the best sleeping bag for backpacking that offers an amazing warmth to weight ratio. At just over 2 pounds, this is the sleeping bag I took on the John Muir Trail. Made with water repellent down and waterproof fabric at the feet, head and sides, it’s a great option for cold, damp conditions, yet still breathable. The men’s version of this bag is called the REI Co-op Igneo 25.
Here are some of the REI Joule features:
- Weight: 2 lbs 3 oz
- Temperature rating: 21°F (also available in 30°)
- Insulation: 700-fill-power duck down (RDS certified/bluesign® approved)
- Shell: 20-denier ripstop nylon
- Shape: mummy
- Price: $$$
Check price: REI
Best Budget Synthetic Sleeping Bag: Marmot Trestles 30 Sleeping Bag
*Budget-friendly* This is the best sleeping bag for backpacking when you’re on a budget and want to save some money. It’s available in both a men’s and women’s version for less than $100 each. You can’t beat this price for a good quality sleeping bag. It’s an excellent choice for wet conditions and summer camping because it’s insulated with synthetic materials, not down. It’s also very roomy for those of you who toss and turn. The downside of this bag is it’s heavier and it doesn’t pack down as small as some of the other choices on this list. That said, it comes with a compression sack that you can use to squeeze it down as much as it will compact. The Marmot Trestles sleeping bag is also available with a 15°F temperature rating if you’ll be backpacking in colder weather.
Here are some of the Marmot Trestles 30 features:
- Weight: 3 lbs 7.7 oz
- Temperature rating: 30°F
- Insulation: synthetic SpiraFil LT polyester fibers
- Shell: polyester
- Shape: mummy
- Price: $
REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag
*Sustainable* One of the best lightweight REI sleeping bags for backpacking on really cold nights. The REI Magma 15 has a trapezoidal footbox designed to keep your feet extra warm. It’s practically the same weight as the REI Joule, but slightly warmer and a bit more expensive. It also has an anti-snag zipper so you don’t have to worry about middle-of-the-night zipper snafus and a contoured hood so it fits snug. And, a contoured hood to retain warmth around your head and neck. The REI Magma 15 is available for both men and women.
Here are some of the REI Magma 15 features:
- Weight: 2 lbs 4 oz
- Temperature rating: 17°F
- Insulation: 850-fill goose down (RDS certified and bluesign® approved)
- Shell: Pertex® 15-denier ripstop nylon (bluesign® approved)
- Shape: mummy
- Price: $
Check price: REI
Best Warmth to Weight Ratio: Western Mountaineering Versatile Light
I love this sleeping bag, and since upgrading from the REI Joule, this has been my go-to for cold weather trips. But don’t just take it from me. This 10 degree Western Mountaineering Versatile Light has some of the best online reviews from users who say this is one of the warmest and most lightweight sleeping bags for backpacking. Other accolades include a well-designed zipper, breathable material, and that it’s perfect for 3-season use. It may be at the top of your price bracket at around $500-600, understandably. But, with proper care, this sleeping bag should last you a very long time.
Here are some of the Western Mountaineering Versatile Light features:
- Weight: 2 lbs
- Temperature rating: 10°F
- Insulation: 850-fill down with 6″ loft
- Shell: ExtremeLite™
- Super full collar seals in warmth around your neck
- Available sizes between 5’6″ and 6’6″
- Shape: mummy
- Made in the USA
- Price: $$$$
Best Down Sleeping Bag under $200: Kelty Cosmic DriDown Sleeping Bag
For less than $200, the Kelty Cosmic DriDown Sleeping Bag has won many awards for being an all-around good quality sleeping bag. Made with hydrophobic down, it’s lighter than the Marmot Trestles mentioned above, but it will not perform as well in wet weather. Available in 0°, 20°, and 40° it’s one of the best sleeping bags for backpacking in its price range and a great option for new backpackers looking to get into the sport. Depending on which retailer you buy this bag from, the price varies between $100-$190. Follow this link for the men’s version.
Here are some of the Kelty Cosmic DriDown features:
- Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz
- Temperature rating: 14°F (lower limit) and 26°F (comfort limit)
- Insulation: 600-fill DriDown
- Shell: 20-denier nylon taffeta
- Shape: mummy
- Price: $$
Best Hot Weather Sleeping Bag: Sea to Summit SpI Sleeping Bag
The Sea to Summit Spark 1 is a go-to item when you need a summer sleeping bag for ultralight backpacking. Weighing a mere 12 ounces (less than some sleeping pads!) and packing down to the size of a football, it’s perfect for summer desert trips or saving a ton of space in your backpack. The downside is that it’s on the pricey side when you consider the lack of versatility, but if you only plan on backpacking in the warmest climates, you’ll appreciate this bag.
Here are some of the Sea to Summit Spark features:
- Weight: 12 oz
- Temperature rating: 40°F
- Insulation: 850-fill UltraDry Down™
- Shell: 10-denier nylon
- Shape: mummy
- Price: $$
How to Choose a Backpacking Sleeping Bag
Picking out a new backpacking sleeping bag for any outdoor adventure can be super overwhelming. There are so many choices and so many features to consider, not to mention the price tag. So, we’ve put together this simple guide on how to choose a backpacking sleeping bag for your next great adventure. Hopefully, this makes your gear buying process easier.
Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating
The sleeping bag temperature rating is the first place to start when picking out a new backpacking sleeping bag. Think about when and where you plan to use it the most.
Sleeping bags can be broken down into three simple categories: summer, 3-season, and winter based on the temperature ratings shown in the table below.
Photo source: REI.com
Most people will be happy with a 3-season bag, which will keep you comfortable most of the year. Remember you can always zip down the bag for a summer camping trip or add a liner to your bag for an occasional winter camping trip!
Most 3-season backpacking bags will list an EN testing rating with two temperature ratings known as the “comfort rating” and the “lower-limit rating”. Comfort rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average woman or “cold sleeper” comfortable. Lower-limit rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep a man or “warm sleeper” comfortable. (EN ratings are based on a sleeper wearing one long underwear layer and a hat, and sleeping on a single one-inch thick insulating pad.)
Sleeping Bag Shape
While the sleeping bag shape might not seem important, it is for two big reasons:
First, sleeping bags keep you warm by trapping air and holding it in a layer next to your body. Your body heats up this layer of trapped air to keep you warm. The less air space there is in the bag, the faster you warm up and stay warm! Picking a bag based on your body size and shape is important for efficiency and warmth. Roomier bags will often be heavier as well.
We recommend selecting a semi-rectangular bag or mummy bag which is versatile and can work for backpacking as well as car camping. Semi-rectangular bags are good for backpackers with larger frames or those who don’t like the constrictive feeling of a mummy bag.
To Quilt or Not to Quilt?
Some lightweight backpackers won’t even entertain the idea of a sleeping bag, and instead opt for a camping quilt. Be sure to check out the Enlightened Equipment Accomplice quilt we listed above if you’re interested in going ultralight.
Photo source: Nathalie Martin
Synthetic vs. Down Sleeping Bag Insulation
Synthetic Backpacking Sleeping Bags
Synthetic bags are usually insulated with polyester. They’re quick-drying, and still hold up to their insulation power even when damp or wet. Often, synthetic bags are cheaper than down, and they’re non-allergenic. The only downside of synthetic bags is that they don’t compress as small as down sleeping bags. And, they tend to be heavier than down (but not always).
Down Backpacking Sleeping Bags
The biggest advantage of down over synthetic is that down bags tend to be lighter and compress smaller when packed away – key characteristics when you’re looking for the best backpacking gear. Generally down is more expensive than synthetic, and some people say it’s more durable, so it’s a long-lasting investment. The primary downside to down is that it loses its insulation power when it gets wet. So, it’s most suited for cool, dry conditions. However, many down sleeping bags are now coated with a water-repellent finish that will keep you warm and dry in damp conditions. Otherwise, down sleeping bags are a lightweight, warm, and packable choice for backpacking.
Synthetic sleeping bags are a good option for those that live a vegan lifestyle because natural down is produced from geese or ducks.
On that note: Most of the notable outdoor gear companies have instituted the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), or Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS). These standards ensure that the down and feathers used in these products came from animals that were treated well, and were not force-fed or live-plucked. Keep an eye out for this in the product list above.
Other Important Backpacking Sleeping Bag Features
Sleeping Bag Hood
Having a hood on your sleeping bag can make or break your sleeping comfort. It can mean the difference between being freezing at night or toasty warm. Because the rest of your body is encapsulated in your mummy bag, your body’s heat would escape through the head without a hood. And, that defeats the purpose of the sleeping bag. So, opt for a bag with a hood if you want to be warm and comfortable. Most mummy bags and semi-rectangular bags come with a hood anyway. If you plan to backpack in warm environments always, it’s not as crucial. But, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Some bags come with pillow pockets to stuff with clothes to create a pillow and others come with stash pockets to keep your glasses, a watch, or cell phone nearby. Some bags also come with sleeping pad pockets or a sleeping pad sleeve to fit a sleeping pad so you don’t roll off the pad in the middle of the night. The extra fabric might add to the total weight of the bag, but it’s a matter of personal preference and needs.
What’s your favorite backpacking sleeping bag? Leave your top picks in the comments below.
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