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Expert Shopper Camping & Outdoors

Best compression bag

Which compression bag is best?

No matter how much you try to squash them, things like clothing and sleeping bags take up a lot of space. A compression bag is the answer. They are ideal for hikers, campers, kayakers and just about anyone trying to minimize the bulk they carry. It’s a simple but efficient design and has proved very popular.

Our top pick is from ALPS Mountaineering. It offers the versatility and durability you need for your next outdoor adventure and is competitively priced.

What to know before you buy a compression bag

How compression bags work

When you try to pack soft fabrics, a lot of what you’re stowing is air. Get the air out, and you can either get more in, or you have a smaller pack to carry. Household compression bags use an air valve and a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out, but that’s not practical in the great outdoors. Instead, strong straps pull the bundle tight. It’s more effective than you might think, and space savings of anywhere from 30 to 70 percent are possible.

What to look for in a quality compression bag


The main material is either nylon or polyester, both are durable plastics, and there’s little difference between them. The thicker it is, the more abrasion resistance you’ll get, with minimal weight penalty. Sometimes you’ll get a measurement in denier, but it can be slightly misleading because technically, it’s the diameter of thread used, rather than strength. Ripstop material is designed not to tear, even if cut or punctured.


Size is a key issue. Compression bags are usually rated in liters, which is slightly over 1 quart. Small ones start at 6 liters, the biggest are around 45 liters. One of the biggest complaints we’ve seen is that the bag is too small for a particular sleeping bag. This is seldom the manufacturer’s fault, it’s usually an underestimation on the part of the buyer. Sleeping bags with natural fillings compress more than those with synthetic fillings. A 40-degree sleeping bag is far smaller to start with than a sub-zero model. The former will probably go in a 15-liter compression bag, while the latter might need one twice that size. You need to make a sensible guess. Compression bags are good, but they can’t work miracles.

Closing straps

You’re going to be putting a fair amount of force on the closing straps, so they need to be a decent width, and firmly attached. In general, double stitching is a good sign, as are taped seams. Clasps also come under some pressure, so big and chunky is the way to go. Zippers are less prone to rust when coated.


All compression bags offer some weather protection, but few are completely waterproof. Check specification. If rain is likely, your best bet is to put contents in a plastic trash bag first. The difference is negligible, and your gear will stay dry.


Finally, you’ll want to think about whether you’re going to stuff your compression bag inside a rucksack, attach it to the outside or bungee it to a kayak. Look at straps, webbing or D-rings that will give you the option you need.

How much you can expect to spend on a compression bag

The cheapest compression bags we found are 6-liter models at around $10, and it’s possible to get 45-liter bags for less than $20. However, we wouldn’t expect much durability or weather protection. Most quality bags work out to around $1 to $1.50 per liter. So a 20-liter bag is $20-$30, etc.  Even the biggest and best seldom top $50.

Compression bag FAQ

What’s the difference between a compression bag and a stuff sack?

A. Although some compression bags are sometimes also called stuff sacks, in general the latter is a simple sack with a drawstring top, not unlike a sailor’s duffel. The amount of compression depends entirely on how hard you push things in there.

How do you wash a compression bag?

A. Nylon and polyester are pretty easy to keep clean, so some warm water and a sponge or soft cloth should do it. Natural soap can also be used. Try to avoid detergents, which can damage water-resistant coatings. Be sure to air-dry.

What's the best compression bag to buy?

Top compression bag

ALPS Mountaineering’s Compression Stuff Sack

What you need to know: This well-designed bag offers an unbeatable combination of performance and price.

What you'll love: Made of hard-wearing ripstop polyester, it has a zippered top pocket for bits and pieces. Grab handles and D-rings are for flexible attachment. It comes in sizes from 10 liter to 45 liter.

What you should consider: There have been rare reports of seam splits.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top compression bag for the money

Nelson-Rigg’s Compression Bag

What you need to know: It is a low-cost, lightweight model for occasional campers or hikers.

What you'll love: Made of water-resistant polyester in small, medium and large sizes, this bag gives you around 30 percent extra space. It's a good value if you understand the limitations.

What you should consider: There have been strap and buckle failures.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Sea to Summit’s Event Compression Dry Sack

What you need to know: A high-quality model, it offers efficiency and durability for all outdoor activities.

What you'll love: Made of tough, weather-proof nylon outer, it has reinforced closure straps. It is double-stitched and has taped seams. It comes in five sizes from 6 to 30 liters.

What you should know: One of the more expensive bags, it is not always 100 percent waterproof.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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