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Modern sleeping bags are no longer the simple zippered comforters many of us remember from childhood camping trips or sleepovers. They are now often considered vital pieces of survival equipment, with insulation ratings as low as -50°F and body-hugging "mummy" designs.
We examined dozens of the most popular sleeping bags and compiled a list of the five top contenders. Whether you are a casual weekend warrior or an extreme sports enthusiast, we believe that these modern sleeping bags should suit your particular needs, whatever those may be.
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Look at our summaries of the best five sleeping bags above to determine which one is right for you, and read on to learn everything you need to know about sleeping bags on the market today.
There are several key factors to think about before you decide what sleeping bag to buy. Here they are, with tips for knowing what you need.
Many modern sleeping bags use materials generally found in winter jackets and/or high-end comforters. Gore-Tex is a popular choice, along with nylon for water-resistance and goose down for insulation. If you have allergies, you might want to find one that uses down alternative or other hypoallergenic materials.
In some cases, manufacturers add special hydrophobic polymers to the down for improved dryness or flame-retardant chemicals to the shell for additional safety.
Some sleeping bags are completely waterproof, while others should be considered merely water-resistant or quick-drying at best. Overall weight and compression are also serious considerations for hikers and campers.
Amy is an outdoor addict who began her love affair with nature as a tiny 3-year-old running the trails of Nova Scotia with boundless energy. She has continued to live in close harmony with the outside world ever since, growing up hiking and camping on the East Coast. She moved to Los Angeles after college and lost no time exploring the infinite adventure opportunities that the Southwest offers. She is now a backpacking guide with TSX Challenge on their Eastern Sierra and Grand Canyon routes. She adores nerding out about anything to do with gear, camping, or backpacking in general.
Every sleeping bag works differently when it comes to insulation.
Some have multiple liners that create varying levels of insulation in combination. Others use one layer of insulation to cover a wide range of outside temperatures. Some can handle outside temperatures as low as 0°F, depending on the clothing worn by the user. Others are light enough to provide just enough insulation for summer camping trips or overnight visits and slumber parties.
We note the insulation ratings of each top contender in the matrix at the top of this page.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Kelty Cosmic 20-Degree
The Kelty Cosmic 20-Degree might seem large for a backpacking bag, but many happy customers say that the bag is perfect for car camping and some even used it for overnight trips. The bag also comes with a stuff sack that easily compresses the synthetic down material in seconds. At a 20 degree rating, this bag is warm enough for later fall months and cool enough for summer camping, especially when you unzip the bag from the bottom to let feet breathe. However, anyone over 6'4" might have trouble fitting in this bag.
Some of our top contenders use the traditional zippered comforter design. Others use a more form-fitting "mummy" style for additional insulation.
Indeed, some consumers prefer to have room to maneuver in their sleeping bag while others prefer the body-hugging fit of a mummy bag.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both designs, so it’s an important consideration you will need to make based on your sleeping style and specific conditions you will use the sleeping bag in most often.
Summer bags are rated at 32°F, 3-season bags are rated between 10° and 32°, and winter bags are rated at 10° and lower.
Generally speaking, investment in a higher-end sleeping bag means increased insulation ratings, higher down fill-power, and better weatherproofing. However, there are times when a higher retail price is connected to a particular manufacturer's brand name or market dominance.
Some economy-priced sleeping bags deliver the same level of performance as their more recognizable counterparts, and some higher-end sleeping bags do not hold up well under real-life conditions.
We mention retail prices as a consideration for consumers, but we still emphasize performance over cost when it comes to our rankings.
Some of the main specs to keep in mind while shopping for sleeping bags are: gender, temperature rating, seasons, weight, and primary use (backpacking, car camping, etc.)
Sleeping bags are designed to protect users from most weather elements, such as rain, snow, and ground moisture.
However, they are not designed to address many other issues campers face, such as rocks, hard terrain, and insect invasions.
There are several ways to enhance the performance of a sleeping bag without creating hassles or major expenses.
Here are some ideas for maximizing the effectiveness of a typical sleeping bag.
You are actually best off wearing as little clothing as possible while in a sleeping bag. They are designed to use your own body heat to help insulate you.
Some campers bring additional blankets from home to stuff into a sleeping bag during colder nights.
However, this additional weight may not be practical for backpacking campers or survivalists.
A sleeping bag liner provides additional insulation and comfort without adding significant weight to the gear. The addition of a thin liner should not affect the repacking process, either.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Kelty Cosmic 20-Degree
We've tested the Kelty Cosmic 20-Degree in the field with great results. Over an 18-day pack trip, the bag kept its owner warm and dry even on humid nights. In addition, the material (although synthetic) is incredibly breathable, which makes this bag a good choice for summer outings. Keep in mind that synthetic down bags will never be as compact as true down, no matter how similar it might seem. Additionally, the zipper did snag occasionally, it never ripped or damaged the fabric.
A lightweight sleeping bag with a “summer” rating may be easier to carry on a backpacking trip, but it may also prove to be too cold for comfort at night.
If you’re not sure about the camping area’s average nighttime temperatures, you may want to carry additional linings or bring a three-season sleeping bag rated for lower temperatures.
The same holds true for a three-season bag under extreme winter conditions. A true winter weight model can definitely provide additional warmth.
Rectangular sleeping bags are sometimes cheaper, but they take up more space, are heavier, and may not insulate your body as well.
Placing a sleeping bag directly on unprotected ground almost always creates problems for the user.
Moisture from the earth can wick into the bag, for one thing. Small rocks and sticks under the bag become increasingly uncomfortable after a few hours. Insects can also penetrate the bag through any gap in the zipper or hood section.
Using an air mattress or thicker, waterproofed sleeping pad will reduce the effects of hard terrain and also provide a gap between the insect-infested ground and the sleeping bag.
When a bag is rated to a certain temperature, this is not actually the lowest end temperature the bag can handle. It is the temperature at which the bag works to optimum effect.
Excess moisture can lead to the formation of mildew and other unhealthy bacteria.
Sleeping bags should be opened fully and suspended in order to dry thoroughly.
Bags should also be shaken out and brushed in order to remove any dirt, sticks, leaves, or insects they may have collected overnight.
A sleeping bag can also help keep you cool in hot temperatures if you lay on top of it in the shade. If you have no other way of finding shade, you can also rig your unzipped bag up to provide shade with rope, rocks, or poles.
Occasional campers and slumber party enthusiasts may not need more than one summer-weight sleeping bag to fulfill their needs, but dedicated campers and backpackers should invest in several different types of sleeping bags.
An ultra-thin, survivalist-style sleeping bag may work for one type of adventure, but a heavy-duty winter-rated model would work better for another.
Using the same sleeping bag for long periods of time can affect its insulation strength and comfort level. Allowing a sleeping bag to rest and recover after a camping trip is always a good idea.
Down sleeping bags are usually lighter and warmer, but those filled with synthetic material perform better when wet and are usually cheaper.
Most sleeping bags are designed to provide years of service before replacement, but it’s not unusual for a casual camper to have a used sleeping bag collection tucked away in a closet – or headed for the trash. Before you dispose of them, reuse them. There are several ways a gently used sleeping bag can be repurposed or recycled.
Removing the zippers is optional, but a rectangular sleeping bag makes an excellent bed cover on an unexpectedly cold night or a throw blanket for the living room or den. Some may want to sew armholes into the sleeping bag to create a Snuggie-like wrap.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
TETON Sports Celsius XXL -18C/0F
The TETON Sports XXL is the best deal for those who seek a traditional rectangular sleeping bag design. In spite of its shape, the TETON provides all the insulating power of a mummy-style bag. The inclusion of a comfortable cotton flannel lining, along with the bag's affordable retail price, make it a winner. We strongly recommend this sleeping bag for casual users who aren't looking for extreme survival gear but want a great sleeping bag at a great price.
Some sleeping bags with right and left zipper orientations can be zipped together to form a sleeping pallet for overnight guests. Others can be sewn together with a serger to form a soft, protective surface for children to crawl or walk on while playing.
Owners with sewing skills can transform the shell and filler material from a used sleeping bag into pillows, mittens, storage bags, or other useful winter items.
Used sleeping bags can serve as insulated covers for stored items or as cushioning between boxes during a move.
You want a bag that conforms to your shape but also leaves plenty of room for comfort and movement, especially around the feet, shoulders, and hips.
Organizations that work directly with homeless populations would most likely welcome the donation of gently used sleeping bags, tents, and other camping gear. Many thrift stores and nonprofit groups also accept used sleeping bags in fair condition.
A used sleeping bag makes an excellent addition to an existing pet bed or as a base for a new one, although any existing hardware (zipper pulls, etc.) may need to be removed. An older pet may appreciate the additional insulation and cushioning the sleeping bag provides. Note: the entire bag should be machine washable.
Q. I just got back from a four-day camping trip. What should I do with my sleeping bag?
A. As soon as possible, unzip the sleeping bag completely and use a brush to remove any obvious debris (leaves, dirt, rocks, etc.). Next, hang or drape the open bag over a clothesline or railing and allow it to air dry for at least a day or two.
Some sleeping bag owners may want to apply a light coating of fabric refresher before zippering it and storing it in the original storage bag. Including a special sleeping bag liner (sold separately in camping goods stores) can also keep the bag in good condition between uses.
Q. I’m using a heavy three-season sleeping bag rated for 20°F weather, but I still feel cold at night. Am I doing something wrong?
A. Not at all. Sleeping bags are designed to trap as much air as possible when fully zippered or cinched. The user’s natural body heat warms that air, but results can vary. If your core body temperature has been affected by outside air temperatures, you will not bring as much heat to the process. And if the sleeping bag is placed directly on the ground, the result can be a “heat sink” effect. Placing a foam pad between the ground and the sleeping bag can help hold in the heated air. Additional blankets or a sleeping bag liner should improve the situation as well.
Q. My camping partner and I want to zip our sleeping bags together to share body heat. Does this method actually provide better sleeping conditions than two separate bags?
A. First of all, not all sleeping bags are designed to fit well with others. If you want to do this, make sure you and your camping partner have a left-zippered and a right-zippered sleeping bag and that the zippers are compatible.
Zippering two bags together has some distinct advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is extra space to maneuver in while sleeping. Two adults may find a two-person bag to be much more comfortable in that sense. However, the combined bags also create a larger opening at the top, which can result in more heat loss. The overall temperature rating of a combined bag is higher than that of a single bag, so two bags rated for 20°F could actually be closer to 25°F or 30°F when zipped together.
Q. I’m planning a camping trip in Alaska, and the temperature could fall to -10°F at night. What are the real differences between a winter sleeping bag and a three-season bag rated to 15°F?
A. A general camping rule of thumb is to pack a sleeping bag with a temperature rating lower than the anticipated air temperature. Using a three-season sleeping bag in sub-zero weather is not recommended.
A true winter sleeping bag includes features (draft collars and draft tubes) that help channel colder air out and warmer air in. A winter sleeping bag’s zippers also have special guards to reduce air leakage. In addition, the bag may employ more advanced filling and shell materials than standard models.
Q. I love to use a sleeping bag on family camping trips, but I can never find one that fits my needs. I’m very tall (6’5”) and also cold-natured. Can sleeping bag manufacturers customize their products to meet specific customer needs?
A. Many sleeping bags are designed to meet certain industry standards in terms of temperature rating, dimensions, and fill power. Some customers do experience difficulty when shopping for the ideal model. There are manufacturers who offer some customization, primarily for overall length and insulation power. One common request from customers is a practice called “overfilling.” For an additional fee, some companies will pack more insulation (down or synthetic) into the bags and adjust the baffle compartments accordingly.
Other companies may create custom sizes for taller or larger users. This is not a universal practice, however, so your options may be limited with mainstream sleeping bag manufacturers.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.