Need A New Backpacking Sleeping Bag?

So you’re planning a backpacking trip. First of all, that’s awesome! Preparing for your trip will ensure you have a great time. Obviously among your preparations finding the right sleeping bag is of the utmost importance. If you’re thinking about buying a new backpacking sleeping bag, here’s what you need to consider:

1. Temperature rating. This is the lowest temperature the average person would be comfortable in. Choose a bag with a temperature rating that’s 10 degrees lower than the coldest temperature you expect to face while backpacking — unless you’re going ultralight.

It varies by retailer, but cold weather sleeping bags are generally rated 10F and below, 3-season bags are 10F to 35F, and warm weather sleeping bags are 35F and higher.

Rectangular Down Sleeping Bag

The Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15+ is an awesome down sleeping bag.

2. Fill material. This comes down to 2 choices: down or synthetic.

Down is lighter, more compressible, and more durable, but it loses its loft — and therefore its insulating value — when wet. Synthetic is better for wet weather.

Synthetic bags are cheaper, too; however, something to consider is that down bags can last 3 times longer with proper care. In the long run, a down bag may be a better investment.

3. Weight. Ultralight sleeping bags often reduce weight (which can be important while backpacking!) with a smaller cut, shorter zippers, and wispier fabrics. They’re also more expensive.

Big Agnes bags reduce weight by putting a pad sleeve underneath and omitting the bottom insulation. This is great for keeping your bag and pad together, although side sleepers may not find it comfortable.

In any case, try to get a backpacking bag that weighs 3 pounds or less (unless you need a winter bag or you’re on a very tight budget).

4. Size and shape. Most backpacking sleeping bags are mummy shaped (narrow at the foot) to reduce weight and conserve heat (less air inside the bag for your body to heat up).

Teton Sports Mammoth - Best Double Sleeping Bag

My sister and brother-in-law used the Teton Sports Mammoth on our last trip and I was envious.

If you are a restless sleeper who needs more wiggle room, consider a rectangular down sleeping bag. The higher price and extra weight may be worth it if it results in a better night’s sleep.

Almost all bags now come in women’s and long sizes. Women’s bags are shorter, cut for a woman’s curves, and usually have extra insulation in the torso and foot. Long sizes are normally for women over 5’7″ and men over 6′ tall.

If you often go backpacking with a significant other, you might want to consider a double sleeping bag. Some models are lighter than two single sleeping bags, and you can stay warmer by benefitting from each other’s body heat.

5. Price. You can get cheap sleeping bags if you’re on a budget, but be careful that you don’t compromise too much on quality — you need your beauty sleep. Saving a few bucks won’t mean much if you’re a grouchy zombie in the morning.

6. Special features. Some other things to look at:

  • Waterproof/breathable shell fabrics – expensive, but nice for ultralight backpacking in wet weather.
  • Pad loops – for keeping your bag on your pad.
  • Mate-able zippers – zip together 2 sleeping bags to get cozy with your honey.
  • Stretch baffles – allow for more movement without sacrificing warmth.
  • Chest pocket – lets you keep your watch or headlamp within easy reach.
  • Pillow pocket – stuff it with clothing to make a handy pillow.
  • Center zipper – great for side sleepers.

Once you have your perfect backpacking sleeping bag, you’ll need a good sleeping pad to go with it. There are a lot of different options. You may also want to get a sleeping bag liner–this increases warmth in colder weather and keeps your bag cleaner (it’s easier to wash a liner than a sleeping bag). Also, a backpacking pillow is nice to have.

I hope this helps you choose the best backpacking sleeping bag for your particular situation. Happy trails!

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