A Basic Guide To Finding The Best Sleeping Bag For You
Buying the right sleeping bag can seem like a difficult decision, but it doesn’t have to be! Understanding your use case and needs for sleeping can help you narrow down the options to better select the right sleeping bag.
For instance, are you camping during the summer or in the snow? Do you need lightweight for backpacking or are just car camping (in other words, don’t care about the weight)? Do you tend to run hot or cold? These are questions that should be answered before diving into the world of sleeping bags.
Generally, choosing a sleeping bag can be narrowed down into three basic categories (in my opinion):
- What type of insulation do you want?
- What kind of warmth rating do you need?
- How heavy do you want it to be?
Below we’ll break down each of these categories to better help you find the right bag for you.
Sleeping bags come in either regular down insulation, synthetic or a hybrid of both. There are pros and cons for all options.
Pros: Lightweight, compactable, highest weight to warmth ratio
Cons: No insulative value when wet, more expensive, not hypoallergenic
Here are some of Backcountry’s top rated down sleeping bags for women:
Pros: Insulative when wet, less expensive, hypoallergenic
Cons: Not as easily compactable, lower weight to warmth ratio
Here are some of REI (or Backcountry’s) top rated synthetic sleeping bags for women:
For individuals with an allergy to down, this may be an easy decision to go synthetic. Also, considering your travel location is really important. For example, if you’re climbing a big wall in Yosemite, YOSAR requires climbers to have a synthetic sleeping bag.
Sierra Trading Post has some great sleeping bag guides further explaining down versus synthetic insulation.
Hybrid sleeping bags offer a combination of both down and synthetic fill. They’re not as common, but can offer an integration of benefits for both down versus synthetic insulation.
Personally, I use a hybrid sleeping bag that compresses like a charm and is warm enough for a three-season (sometimes I’ll sleep with a lightweight down jacket if we’re hiking in cooler temps):
Warmth (Temperature Rating)
Warmth can vary greatly for sleeping bags, ranging from sub zero alpine bags to three season bags to winter ratings.
Here’s a general guideline on choosing your warmth rating:
Summer or low-elevation: 30 degrees F and above
3-Season (Spring-Fall) or Summer at high altitude: 10-30 degrees F
Winter camping or snow camping: -20 to 10 degrees F
Sierra Trading Post and Backcountry have some great resources on choosing your warmth rating:
Sleeping bag weight can vary greatly and can make or break a backpacking experience. When I started long-distance backpacking, I carried a heavy 0 degree Kelty sleeping bag that took up a third of my backpack (when compressed). Nowadays, I have an ultralight 32 degree REI sleeping bag that takes up a fraction of space and is approximately 1 pound 11 ounces.
There are so many great ultralight sleeping bag options on the market now, if you’re looking to save weight (and space), you’re in luck.
Generally, I consider anything under 2 lbs as an ultralight sleeping bag. However, many folks will push that to around 16 ounces (1 lb).
Outdoor Gear Lab offers some great reviews on ultralight sleeping bag options.
My husband (who counts every ounce in his kit) uses an ultralight sleeping bag from Feather Friends that weighs approximately 15 ounces:
This one provides more insulation in the lower half than the upper half (your core), because it’s meant to be paired with a insulating jacket (assuming you’ll be backpacking with that). It’s also a minimalist bag without a zipper (to save on excess weight).
Now, you have all the tools to help make your decision on sleeping bags. Enjoy your adventures wherever you are sleeping.