When given a choice, no one would prefer a large, bulky sleeping bag over a compact one that fits nicely into your backpack. You only have so much room in your bag, and a large sleeping bag takes up precious space. If camping in bear country, a bear bin and sleeping bag can quickly take up the lion’s share of space in your pack. If you want a compact sleeping bag that gives you the warmth of a bulkier bag, check out the Western Mountaineering Caribou MF 35 Degree Down Sleeping Bag.
The main question here is deciding whether you want a down or synthetic sleeping bag (though some bags occasionally have a mix of both). Down is usually lighter and a bit more compressible. However, it doesn’t do as well in wet conditions. A synthetic bag is great for places with quickly varying weather, especially places with lots of rain.
Besides rain and where you’re backpacking, the temperature is your other main concern. “Compact” looks different for sub-zero than it does for 40 degrees. Ensure you know the temperatures you’ll be facing when you backpack and that your bag can fit in an appropriately sized backpack.
Some compact bags save space by being envelope style, meaning they don’t have a hood like a traditional mummy bag. Some are more like backpacking quilts where they’re lighter and have a zipper that goes down to the foot box while still leaving it enclosed. If you’re someone that prefers a hooded sleeping bag, make sure you confirm that the bag you’re looking for has one and that it’s a close enough (or loose enough) fit for your liking.
Yes, you want a sleeping bag that packs down small. That’s a great feature. However, you never want to prioritize packed size over warmth. Make sure that your bag is rated appropriately for the weather, and consider how much warmth your sleeping pad offers as well. If you want a bag that packs small and keeps you comfortably warm, you’ll need to invest more money into it.
A good compact bag packs down well, of course. However, it also packs into a stuff sack which can push out extra air, making it even smaller. Over time, if you’re cranking down on the straps of your stuff sack, cheaper ones can break down or tear. If you choose a less expensive option, just know you’ll have to be a bit more careful with the stuff sack it comes in.
This shouldn’t be an issue for most backpackers, as the standard rectangular sleeping pad can comfortably fit almost all sleeping bags available. However, if you have a mummy-style sleeping pad, i.e., it’s the same shape as a mummy bag, an envelope-style bag won’t fit it as well. While that isn’t usually much of an issue, it’s something worth noting.
The range of compact sleeping bags is anywhere from $50-$1000. Unless you plan to do some hardcore winter camping, a sleeping bag from roughly $100-$400 will do everything you need.
A. In short, no. You could buy a compression stuff sack, which can help a bit, but it’ll only go so far. Consider taking your bag out of the stuff entirely and compressing it to the bottom of your backpack. This will allow the bag to take up the extra space more efficiently. None of these are a substitute for getting a more compact bag, but they can help.
A. While it really depends on what you mean by “better,” down is more compressible and convenient. It’s often lighter than synthetic as well.
What you need to know: If you’re serious about investing in a sleeping bag, Western Mountaineering makes some of the highest quality gear available.
What you’ll love: This is the lightest bag WM offers. With an 850-fill good down, this bag compresses nicely. While temperature ratings on bags are often dubious at best, this is a bag that truly gets you down towards freezing comfortably.
What you should consider: Those who like a really snug fit around their head and shoulders won’t find that here.
What you need to know: Light, packable, and envelope style all in a budget-friendly price; this bag covers all essentials.
What you’ll love: At just over a pound, this down bag is light and compressible. Packed down to 10 inches by 4.5 inches, this can fit in the smallest of backpacks.
What you should consider: If you sleep cold, this 42-degree bag may only be comfortable down to the mid-50s.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: Klymit excels at making high-quality gear for budget prices.
What you’ll love: This bag is a mix of synthetic and down, making it light, compressible, and durable. Klymit’s “length locks” allow users to shorten the bag to minimize empty space in colder temperatures.
What you should consider: At 14 by 7 inches, it’s still a small bag but not the most compact option on this list.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Joe Coleman writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.