Sleeping Bag Buying Guide

Review by: Craig Delger, March 2014

A good sleeping bag, or lack thereof, can make or break a camping trip. There are plenty of models out there to choose from, in a variety of lengths, shapes and fills. GearBuyer offers a large selection of camping sleeping bags, backpacking sleeping bags, down sleeping bags, synthetic sleeping bags, and even kid's sleeping bags. GearBuyer has the most popular Coleman Sleeping Bags, Kelty Sleeping Bags, Marmot Sleeping Bags, Slumberjack Sleeping Bags, Big Agnes Sleeping Bags, and more.

Choosing the right sleeping bag depends on your sleeping habits, the temperature and climate where you intend to camp, and whether you'll be carrying the bag in a backpack, boat or car. This sleeping bag buyers guide offers guidelines to help you select the sleeping bag to meet your needs.

Most Popular Sleeping Bags & Pads

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Therm-a-Rest
$149.95 - $219.95
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker Pad
Therm-a-Rest
$69.97 - $149.95
Marmot Sawtooth Long
Marmot
$199.16 - $254.99
Marmot Helium Long
Marmot
$293.27 - $419.00

Sleeping Bag Buying Guide Decision Tree

Sleeping Bag Buying Guide Decision Tree

Intended use

How do you plan to use your sleeping bag?

  • Wet or dry environment
    If there is a good chance of rain, look for a water-proof or water-resistant bag
  • In a tent, cabin or RV
    Cabin or RV camping allows you to purchase a slightly heavier bag since you won't be lugging it around
  • In warm, cold or moderate temperatures
    Pay attention to manufacturer temperature ratings
    Buy for the coldest temperature you might face, but don't overdo it


Temperature Rating

Sleeping bags are designed for specific temperature ranges to meet the demands of different climates or seasons. A bag's temperature rating or comfort rating can be defined as the absolutely coldest temperature at which the bag is designed to keep you warm. There is no industry standard for determining a bag's comfort rating, though, and no two people are exactly alike (for example, women are generally colder than men in the same air temperatures). Therefore these temperature ratings are meant only as general guidelines.

Sleeping bag temperature ratings tend to be most accurate under a set of specific conditions: if you are fully sheltered from the wind (inside a tent or other structure) and have some sort of sleeping pad underneath you, these minimum temperature ratings apply best.

To be on the safe side, we recommend adding 10 degrees to the temperature rating on a sleeping bag for a more realistic picture of its ability to keep you warm. For example, a bag rated for 30°F should only be used in temperatures that never drop below 40°F. On the other hand, don't think you'll be comfortable in a 10° bag when it's a 70° night. People in warmer climates should buy bags with higher temperature ratings.

The table below offers some rough guidelines for selecting a sleeping bag with the right comfort rating.

Sleeping Bag Comfort Ratings

Sleeping Bag Use
Temperature Comfort Ratings
Summer/ Indoor
+40°F or higher
3-Season Bag (Spring through Fall)/
Summer High Altitude
+15°F to +40°F
Winter Camping
-10°F to +15°F
Polar/ Extreme Alpine
-10°F or lower

 

Your metabolism, blood circulation intensity and gender are all essentially uncontrollable factors that affect your body warmth. However, you do have control over a few things besides sleeping bag selection in your effort to stay warm when sleeping outside. By placing a sleeping pad or some other insulator between you and the ground, you can greatly increase a sleeping bag's ability to warm you. Also, being inside a tent or some other shelter to prevent wind chill can make you feel a full 10° warmer (and that's assuming there's only a light breeze!). Wearing a base layer and a hat can also bump up your warmth in a sleeping bag, as long as they're not damp.



Insulation Type

Down Insulation Synthetic Insulation

Advantages

  • Lightweight: Down sleeping bags weigh far less than their synthetic counterparts, which makes down the insulation of choice for anyone obsessed with saving weight.
  • Compressible: Despite all the advances in synthetic insulation, no one has yet made a synthetic bag that compresses as small as one filled with down insulation.
  • Long lasting: Down withstands the torture of repeated compression and retains loft far better than synthetic insulation. This means that down bags tend to stay warm longer than synthetic bags which lose a little loft each time they get stuffed into a pack.

Advantages

  • Relatively inexpensive: Synthetic insulation prices run the range from ultra-cheap to may-as-well-be-made-from-gold, but on average it tends to be much cheaper than down insulation. However, synthetic sleeping bags need to be replaced sooner than down ones, so the cost-savings aren't as impressive as they appear.
  • Insulates when wet: Some say synthetic insulation is "warm when wet." but this isn't really the case. Any sleeping bag feels like a sack of wet pancake batter when wet and makes for a miserable place to sleep. Unlike down, however, synthetic fill retains a good portion of its insulation properties. You won’t sleep well, but you won’t be nearly as miserable as your friend who dropped his down bag into the river.

Disadvantages

  • Poor insulation when wet: Sleeping in a wet down-insulated sleeping bag is a miserable experience. Soak the insulation completely, and the down actually steals your body heat. If you’re using a down sleeping bag in wet climates, you need to take every precaution to keep it dry. If you do get your down bag wet, it may take a very long time to dry completely.
  • Expensive: Down sleeping bags almost always cost more than their synthetic counterparts. However, since they last longer, the cost difference becomes minimal over the longer term.

Disadvantages

  • Short life: Synthetic insulation loses a bit of loft each time you cram it into a stuff sack. If stored properly, a synthetic bag lasts several years of occasional use. Someone who goes out every weekend can easily wear out a synthetic sleeping bag in a single season.
  • Heavy: Even the lightest synthetic insulation weighs more than down.
  • Bulky: While some of the new insulations have made progress on the problem, synthetic sleeping bags just don't stuff as small as down-filled ones. While compression sacks help this issue, they also wear out sleeping bags faster than regular stuff sacks.

Get One If:

  • Weight is your primary concern.
  • You can take the hit to your checking account.
  • You have enough attention to detail to keep your bag dry.

Get One If:

  • You're on a tight budget.
  • You plan on spending lots of time in wet environments.
  • You're more concerned with idiot-proofness than weight.


Sleeping Bag Shapes

sleeping bag buying guide

This sleeping bag buying guide is a general overview of types of sleeping bags, features of sleeping bags, sleeping bag care, and tips on how to be more comfortable in your sleeping bag. There are several key features to consider when purchasing a sleeping bag. The most critical features to consider are the style, the shell, the lining, the fill, and the temperature rating.

Sleeping Bag Styles

Mummy Bags

mummy sleeping bag

Sleeping bags basically come in two main styles, rectangular and mummy.  Rectangular bags usually cost less and offer more room, but are heavier and don't offer as much warmth.  Mummy bags cost more, hug your body, are lighter and offer more warmth.  Some rectangular bags taper as they go to the feet or are rounded at the base.  Not a true mummy bag these offer a compromise between the two styles.

Rectangular

rectangular sleeping bag

A rectangular bag resembles a rectangle when rolled out. The edges are 90 degrees (square). Rectangular sleeping bags tend to be heavier than mummy bags, and due to the extra volume inside the bag they are not as thermally efficient. The rectangular shape is not as effective and preventing warm air from escaping the sleeping bag. Rectangular sleeping bags typically are less expensive than mummy bags, and because they are considered roomy, are more comfortable for larger people.

Hybrid (Semi-Rectangular)

Hybrid bags combine the shape of mummy bags with rectangular bags. They are also called tapers and semi-rectangular sleeping bags.  They resemble a rectangular bag but taper down slightly as they go toward the feet and will typically have a rounded foot area.  The removed space means lighter weight and less volume to keep warm at night.  Hybrid sleeping bags offer a good balance of price, weight and warmth.

Overbags and Bivy Sacks

bivy

Overbags are used with a sleeping bag to extend the temperature range of the sleeping bag when additional warmth is needed. Overbags can also be used in warm conditions as a light sleeping bag. Overbags may also be used to supplement the waterproof abilities of a sleeping bag.

Bivy Sacks

Bivy sacks are different. Typically waterproof and made of a breathable material, a bivy sack is used when sleeping under the stars, in extreme wet conditions, or winter camping. Both overbags and bivy sacks (you may hear these terms interchanged) increase the range of use of your bag, but cut down on how well the materials breathe.

 

Other Features

Lining

- Most high-end bags have a nylon taffeta lining
- Non-technical camp bags usually have a polyester cotton lining
- Fleece liners are for those looking for extra softness and warmth

Zipper

- A two-way zipper affords better ventilation and flexibility
- If you want to zip two bags together, be sure to look for the appropriate left- and right-side configurations

Draft collar

- Located at the base of the hood
- Prevents heat loss from around the neck and shoulders

Accessory pockets

- While these can sometimes come in handy, be sure to check their position and padding
- If your head requires extra cushioning, some bags feature extra padding in the hood
- Better yet is a fleece-lined stuff sack that can be turned inside-out and filled with extra clothes to make a pillow
- If cold feet are a problem, look for a bag that has extra insulation in the foot area (typically found in high-end women's-specific bags)