A good sleeping bag can make all the difference on a camping or backpacking trip. If you’re putting together a bug out bag, you should take your sleeping bag choice very seriously.
Emergency bivvies are a great alternative to a traditional sleeping bag because they’re lighter and more affordable. Consider a bivvy for emergency kits or adding additional warmth to a standard sleeping bag.
Types of Sleeping Bags
Down Sleeping Bags
A true, natural down sleeping bag is by far one of the best quality bags you can get. Unfortunately, the price tag makes them beyond the budget of many. However, if you will be out on the trail a lot or will camp in very cold conditions, you should seriously consider investing in a quality down sleeping bag.
Manufacturers have done an excellent job creating affordable, lightweight, and warm alternatives to natural down. These bags are very common but vary in weight and quality.
This is the most common sleeping bag shape. The rectangle shape offers substantial room for a sleeping experience closer to that of sleeping in a regular bed. This is the best choice for those who like to have some foot room. The disadvantage is that the looser fit won’t keep you as warm as a snugger bag. At the same time, the looseness allows you to wear thick clothing while sleeping. Traditional sleeping bags are more comfortable for larger campers.
A mummy style sleeping bag features a drawstring hood that conforms to your head and face to hold in heat in very cold conditions. The bag is supposed to fit snugly and conform to the natural taper of your body. People who enjoy having some foot room or who are larger may not enjoy a mummy style bag. The biggest advantage is that the unique shape traps heat more easily than the common rectangle-shaped sleeping bag.
Table of Contents
Warmer isn’t always better. Avoid buying more bag than is practical.
Be careful when deciding the weight of sleeping bag you buy. You can add layers to your sleeping bag system, but if you buy a bag designed for very cold conditions, it won’t be comfortable during hotter times of the year or in warmer regions.
Sleeping bag liners or emergency blankets can be used to add warmth in cold conditions. Wearing extra clothing while sleeping is yet another old trick when it comes to staying warm in extreme cold
Pay attention to the length of the sleeping bags you’re considering.
There’s no point in buying a bag that’s longer than needed. At the same time, if you’re really tall or generally a big person, you want to make sure your bag will actually be comfortable to sleep in and offer you proper coverage.
You may need to buy several sleeping bags to meet your needs.
Unless you only camp during a single season or want a sleeping bag or bivvy strictly for emergency use, you’re probably going to want to buy bags in several weights. For your first bag, I recommend choosing a weight suitable for the temperature range you’ll most likely use it in. Of course, you should consider your own preferences too. If you tend to feel colder than others, you might want to go with a bag that is rated for slightly colder temperatures.
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Kids should have bags suited to their size.
Unless you plan on fitting two kids in a bag or something like that, a kid’s bag should be suitable for their height. Adult-size bags are not fitted enough to provide maximum heat retention. Of course, this only really matters when camping in cool conditions. Kid size bags are also lighter weight and more compact, which helps if kids are packing their own gear on backpacking trips.
Top Sleeping Bags
I have an older REI mummy style sleeping bag. It weighs about 3 lbs. and allows me to stay warm in very cold conditions. I bought it used and know for a fact that it’s around 30 years old, but it’s still in excellent condition.
I haven’t tried any modern REI bags, but if they’re half as good as the older ones, they’re an exceptional deal.
This mummy style sleeping bag is an excellent choice for camping in cooler conditions. The regular length bag weighs just 3 lbs., 7 oz. The three-panel hood contours around your face and head to keep out the cold. Offset quilt construction ensures even coverage so you don’t experience cold spots. I can attest to how well the durable waterproof and stain-resistant coating works. My old bag still looks good after decades.
My husband bought a Kelty sleeping bag when he was 18 years old. Over 20 years later, it still looks practically new despite going on a ton of camping and backpacking trips, including a week-long trip we took on the Art Loeb trail in western North Carolina.
Kelty bags are not cheap, but they last, and they save a lot of weight and bulk in your bag.
At under 3 lbs., the Kelty Galactic manages to offer outstanding warmth. This is a great bag for those who like a traditional roomy shape rather than the mummy style. Kelty Galactic bags can be zipped together to make a single large sleeping bag for cosleeping with a partner or your favorite pet. The two sliding anti-snag zippers make it possible to unzip the bottom so you can stick your feet out for increased ventilation and temperature regulation or, if needed, walking with your bag on. A stuff sack is included, but if you really want to compress your bag down to the smallest size, you’ll want to purchase a compression sack separately.
For those who want a lightweight sleeping bag that can keep them warm in the coldest temperatures, there’s the Kelty Mistral. You can choose between a 20°F and 0°F version, or for warmer conditions there is a 40°F version.
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If you’re a big or tall person that finds many sleeping bags restrictive, then Venture 4th bags are something to consider. You can get a bag in several different weights. Choose 3, 4, or 4.5 lb. weights depending on the conditions you plan to use your bag in and your preferred warmth level. These bags are a bit heavier than many backpacking bags, but that’s to be expected when purchasing a bag that offers more space. Choose the XXL size for a comfortable bag even if you’re 6’4″. The fill is 100% polyester. The outside is water resistant nylon. The included compression sack makes it easy to reduce bulk for easy packing.
Coleman is an old brand that offers a variety of affordable camping gear. If you’re on a budget or just want a bag to supplement in an emergency, the Palmetto is a real bargain. It is rated to 30°F making it suitable for moderately cool situations. Unfortunately, it only comfortably fits people up to 5’11” tall. At around 3 lbs., it’s fairly light for a bag in this price range. It’s a good affordable choice for a car emergency kit.
This sleeping bag is unique because it combines the mummy style with a double sleeping bag for those hiking with their significant other. At just over 8 lbs., this sleeping bag is an excellent choice for a couple.
This Teton bag is made in the USA of quality materials. In fact, you get an amazing lifetime warranty. The microfiber loft insulation provides a high degree of warmth and comfort. Despite being lightweight, it fluffs up a lot, so you get a plush sleeping experience.
At $130 at the time of writing, this bag is a lot less expensive than buying two separate bags. If you usually backpack or camp with your significant other, this bag makes a lot of sense.
Do you go on expeditions or take a winter camping trip occasionally? Do you want the best lightweight sleeping bag for those times? The Nitro is a very lightweight natural down filled sleeping bag designed to keep you toasty down to temperatures of 0°F!
While this bag is expensive compared to the other bags in this article, keep in mind that any bag designed to keep you warm and stand up to harsh conditions will cost more, especially if you want something that will last for decades of camping. This bag is just 2.7 lbs., lightening your load or making way for other gear. The bag is suitable for those up to 6′ in height.
The Outdoor Vitals bag caught my eye because it comes in both regular and long versions that are very lightweight. In fact, the 15°F bag that fits those from 6′ to 6’6″ weighs about 2 lbs. I hadn’t heard of this brand before, but after reading a lot of reviews from people who took one of these on extended backpacking trips, I am convinced that this bag is a reliable choice for extended trips into the wilderness.
At just 1 lb. 12 oz., this bag is wonderful for camping in cool to warm conditions. It’s rated to 35°F, so for most people, it’s plenty of bag for camping and backpacking during the most popular seasons, including fall if you dress warmly when sleeping or layer something over your bag.
Thinking about getting into winter camping under extreme cold conditions? Well, the Marmot Col can keep you warm in -20°F. This high quality bag is filled with 100% goose down. The Pertex Shield two-layer fabric is waterproof and designed to stand up to tough conditions. Despite the extreme warmth this bag offers, it only weighs 4.5 lbs.
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Choosing An Emergency Bivvy
An emergency bivvy is different than a sleeping bag. One of the biggest differences is the materials it’s made from. An emergency bivvy is designed to be extremely lightweight and portable. In most cases, they’re not designed to last as long as a quality, traditional sleeping bag. They are a fantastic deal for those who want something super light for short to moderate camping trips or something more rugged and warm than just a Mylar emergency blanket or two.
Since a bivvy is so lightweight, it can be an excellent back up if conditions turn out to be colder than you were prepared for. For example, if you packed a regular sleeping bag rated to 35°F and it reaches 25°F, you’ll be glad you have an extra layer to add. If you buy a two-person emergency bivvy, then two people could put their sleeping bags inside the bivvy and stay extra warm.
SOL makes a many versions of a lightweight emergency bivvy sleeping bag. At around 8 oz., you’ll not find a lighter bag that offers this much warmth. These are a great solution for emergency car kits or to take on day hikes just in case you get stuck because of weather or injury. Being able to stay warm and dry can make all the difference. At 8 oz., it’s light enough to just keep in a bag all the time. Some SOL bivvy bags are more durable than others. The Emergency Bivvy is strong enough to be used as your regular sleeping bag on camping trips. It breathes well and reflects 70% of your body heat.
This is a very popular and affordable emergency bivvy suitable for throwing in bags or cars just in case you get stuck somewhere. It’s rated to keep you comfortable down to 14°F. If you’re looking for a bivvy you can stock up and stash in various locations or distribute to family and friends, you’ll not do any better. The Life Bivvy weighs just 4.1 oz. and is 7 feet long and 3 feet wide to accommodate practically anyone. You also get a 120 decibel survival whistle on a paracord string.
At 84″ long and 60″ wide, this SOL bivvy fits up to two people and reflects 90% of body heat. Priced at $40 and weighing just 4 oz., this is a great bivvy for emergency use. It’s tear resistant and won’t shred if punctured.
Mummy style bags are warmest because they are designed to contour to fit the body well. A rectangle sleeping bag offers more room but does not retain heat as well. If you are a larger person then a rectangle bag might be more comfortable.
The type of materials, fabric treatments, and craftsmanship all influence the final cost of a bag. Very cold weather bags must be designed to be lightweight yet warm which means using expensive filling such as goose down.
Sleeping Bag Care and Maintenance
No matter what type of sleeping bag you buy, proper maintenance and storage will help it last as long as possible.
Always wash or clean as indicated by the care tag. This is not just a friendly suggestion. You can ruin or seriously damage a bag by not following the cleaning instructions.
Hang sleeping bags in the sun to dry and air out at the end of a trip, even if you only used it for a single night. This ensures that your bag isn’t put away with any moisture in it, and it kills any bacteria that could flourish in storage.
Store bags in a waterproof and rodent-proof container. Bugs and rodents love the fillings in sleeping bags. Even if there are no signs of bugs or rodents, don’t let your guard down. It doesn’t take much for a sleeping bag to be ruined by rodents.
Repair any tears immediately, so they don’t get worse. Small tears don’t mean you need to buy a new bag, but they will get worse if you don’t fix them ASAP.
If a waterproof coating is important to you, periodically recoat your bag. Scotchguard is a popular choice, but it will darken some lighter colored bags.
Everyone should own a decent sleeping bag. From power outages in the winter to emergencies on the road, a sleeping bag can not only keep you comfortable but be the difference between life and death. Good sleeping bags last for years or decades if properly stored and cared for, even if used frequently.