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Published Feb 7, 2022 10:39 AM

The Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course has a saying, “fight light, freeze at night,” which, put another way, means leave anything that could possibly keep you warm behind — especially bulky things like sleeping bags. This is a dumb philosophy and makes for some really unpleasantly cold nights in the field that leave you poorly rested for the next day. It’s also an excuse for a military force that insists on purchasing overdesigned, heavy, requirements-bound gear when the commercial sector already did all the headwork and has better solutions. You can do better during your next camping trip by investing in one of the best backpacking sleeping bags out there.

After 20 years in the Marine Corps, I believe wholeheartedly in carrying as little weight in my pack as possible, but with so many excellent commercial off-the-shelf sleeping bags on the market, there’s really no reason to not take one along on your next overnight outdoor excursion. To that end, I’ve taken a look at the best backpacking sleeping bags available on the market for myriad purposes, from car camping to extended trips into the backcountry and everything in between, to help you find the bag that’s right for you.

Best Overall

The sleeping bag market is pretty crowded with dozens of manufacturers and thousands of options to choose from. Admittedly, any selection of one bag to be “the best” will be fraught with controversy, so I want to explain my criteria first.

To meet my “best of” categorization, I was looking for the best all-around combination of warmth-to-weight ratio, compressibility (smaller is better), overall weight (less is better), and essential features like a cinchable hood, full length zipper with draft tube, and neck baffle. It also had to be affordable, which I know is a relative term.

The REI Magma 30 sleeping bag fits the bill. The designers stuffed the Magma 30 with almost nine ounces of water-resistant 850 fill power goose down (almost 10 ounces in the long bag) into a well-constructed and well-designed bag weighing under 20 ounces that’s perfect for three-season backpacking use. This bag delivers the same (if not better) performance than other premium bags that cost hundreds of dollars.

It’s also comfortable. The girth is 63 inches at the shoulder and 57 at the hip, so you won’t feel like you’re inside the belly of a boa constrictor. We dug the zipper cover, anti-snag zipper, and full-length draft tube. One of the ways the Magma 30 delivers the warmth performance it does is due to the contoured and cinchable hood and generous neck baffle to keep the cold drafty air out and your body heat in. The full-length zipper adds great versatility to the bag allowing the sleeper to vent during warmer temps. The Magma 30 also packs down to an impressively small 3.8L in the stuff sack and can be further compressed to 2.6L.

REI also really thought through the smaller details in the Magma 30, like the triangular zipper garage keeping the zipper off of your face, the trapezoidal footbox, and the long pull tab on the interior side of the zipper to ease zipping and especially exit. Lastly, we love that the Magma 30 comes with all these features and REI’s 100 percent guarantee for less than $350. If that doesn’t make this the best backpacking sleeping bag to beat, I don’t know what does.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pound 3.8 ounces (regular), 1 pound 6 ounces (long)
  • Compressed volume: 2.6 liters (regular), 3.1 liters(long)
  • Temperature rating: Comfort 39F, Limit 30F, Extreme -7.4F
  • Fill material: 850 fill down
  • Shell material: 15D Pertex ripstop nylon
  • Fits up to:
  • Regular: 72 inches
  • Long: 78 inches
PROS

Superb warmth-to-weight ratio

Very lightweight

Very packable/compressible

Quality materials

Affordable

CONS

Doesn’t come with a compression sack

Must keep down dry for optimum performance

To find the best value bag, I looked for one that was relatively light (under two pounds), compressible (under eight liters), warm (30 degrees or better), and under $400. Seems like a tall order? I found one: The Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30.

This three-season bag impressed me with its high warmth-to-weight ratio, 10 ounces of 650 fill down insulation, #5 snag-free YKK two-way zipper with full draft tube, cinchable hood with draft collar, and durable materials and construction. It’s also a bit wider than your standard mummy bag and has a contoured foot box and, thus, is a bit more comfortable and less restrictive when you move around.

Of note, part of the cost savings is due to the fact the bag does not come with a compression sack, so you’ll need to purchase that separately. I recommend a waterproof stuff sack since the bag is down-filled. It does come with a stuff sack and mesh storage bag. I also appreciated the glow-in-the-dark zipper pull, interior stash pocket, hang loops, and sleeping pad loops. If you get your significant other a matching one with opposite hand zipper configuration, they’ll zip together.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pound 12.6 ounces (regular)
  • Compressed volume: 7.7 liters
  • Temperature rating: 32F
  • Fill material: 650 fill down
  • Shell material: 20D ripstop nylon top with DWR finish
  • Fits up to:
  • Regular: 72 inches
  • Long: 78 inches
PROS

Warm for weight

Affordable, great value

Compressible

Fairly lightweight

CONS

Doesn’t come with compression sack

Down fill must be kept dry to insulate

I’ve been a fan of Marmot sleeping bags for years. In fact, when I retired my 20F synthetic Sierra Designs bag, the Hydrogen 30 is what I purchased. I’ve taken this bag all over the world and use it for spring, summer, and fall treks to the backcountry. It’s kept me warm in the Northern Cascades, in the saddle of the Grand Teton, and while sleeping in a hammock atop mountains along the Appalachian Trail. (For winter, I use the Marmot Lithium 0F bag.) Over the past six years, I found the Hydrogen 30 delivers a solid combination of warmth, compressibility, and comfort (relative) in a well-made, durable design that weighs in under two pounds.

The Hydrogen 30 is a premium bag with a thermally-efficient curved box baffle design made from 13 ounces of 800 fill down and uses 100 percent recycled fabrics. Marmot treats the down with a water-resistant treatment called Down Defender which gives it better performance in wet conditions and helps it to dry out faster. The interior of the bag is 30D nylon and the shell is 20D Pertex nylon which is wind-resistant. The full-length zipper has a draft tube to keep the chill out and a cinchable hood with neck baffle. The hood also has a small second zip that runs down a few inches to allow the top to be folded down to ease entry and exit and provide additional venting options. Near the neck is a small zippered storage pocket ideal for your cell phone or other items you don’t want lost. The foot box is 3D-designed to ergonomically fit your feet and increase warmth. It also comes with a mesh storage bag (to keep your down fluffy) and a stuff sack, and has two hang loops for airing the bag out when you get home.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pound 7.3 ounces (regular) 1 pound 11 ounces (long)
  • Compressed volume: 4.6 liters
  • Temperature rating: Comfort 33.6F, Limit 23.4F, Extreme -7.4F
  • Fill material: 800+ fill power goose down
  • Shell material: 20D Pertex 100% Nylon
  • Fits up to:
  • Regular: 72 inches
  • Long: 78 inches
PROS

Warmer than most 30F bags

Lightweight

Great warmth-to-weight ratio

Packs down very small with compression sack (not included)

CONS

Expensive

Not as roomy as other bags

Most Versatile

If you’re looking to buy one sleeping bag to cover a wide range of overnight outdoor conditions, from winter to summer, and aren’t super concerned about weight, take a look at The North Face One Bag.

In this design, The North Face created a unique and versatile system to provide the user with three bag configurations: winter (5 degrees Fahrenheit), spring (20 degrees), and summer (40 degrees). They do this by an ingenious layering system consisting of an anti-compression Heatseeker Pro synthetic filled bottom (back) layer, an 800 fill ProDown midlayer, and a synthetic-filled Heatseeker Pro top layer that can be zipped together. When the base and top layer are used, the bag is rated at 40 F. When the base and down midlayer are used, the bag is rated at 20 F; when all three layers are used, the bag is rated at 5 F.

The One Bag comes with other great features. The compression sack is fleece-lined on the inside so that it can be inverted and filled with extra clothes to serve as a pillow. The hood is roomy and will accommodate a pillow inside, and people who sleep with their arms over their heads won’t feel constricted. The down layer can also be used as a stand-alone quilt and has a snap so you can fashion a superhero cape out of it when lounging in camp — just watch out for those bonfire sparks. The One Bag comes in regular and long sizes and comes with a mesh storage bag. The design details are well thought-out and it’s well-built out of quality materials. The one gripe we have about the system is its overall weight due to the fact it has four times the amount of zippers as a normal sleeping bag and uses synthetic insulation (which is heavier than down) in the base and 40F components.

Product Specs
  • Weight:
  • 5F configuration (all bags): 3 pounds 12 ounces (regular), 4 pounds (long)
  • 20F configuration: 2 pounds 12 ounces
  • 40F configuration: 2 pounds 3 ounces
  • Compressed volume:
  • 5F: 17.5 liters
  • 20F: 13.5 liters
  • 40F: 9.1 liters
  • Temperature rating:
  • 40F configuration: Comfort 52F, Limit 45F, Extreme 23F
  • 20F configuration: Comfort 27F, Limit 16F, Extreme -17F
  • 5F configuration: Comfort 21F, Limit 8F, Extreme -28F
  • Fill material: 800 fill ProDown and Heatseeker Pro polyester
  • Shell material:
  • 40F shell: 20D Cire nylon ripstop with non-PFC DWR finish
  • 20F shell: 20D nylon taffeta with non-PFC DWR finish
  • Base: N/A
  • Fits up to:
  • Regular: 72 inches
  • Long: 78 inches
PROS

Super versatile, allows user to buy one bag for almost all conditions

Quality materials, well-made, durable

Stuff sack doubles as pillow

Down layer doubles as a camp shawl

Affordable

Good value, three bags for under $300

CONS

Heavier than most sleeping bags

Not as compressible

When you’re looking for a great sleeping bag to take backpacking, you’ll want to focus on finding a bag that’s lightweight, very compressible, and has a high warmth-to-weight ratio. Typically, these are mummy-style sleeping bags that have a body-conforming shape to reduce weight, and a cinchable hood to help keep the heat in. Backpacking sleeping bags are made either from down or synthetic insulation with down bags being lighter, more compressible, and more durable than synthetic fill.

We were super impressed with Western Mountaineering’s SummerLite. The bag is a continuous baffle design and weighs in at 1 pound 3 ounces featuring a full-length #5 YKK zipper with insulated draft tube, and cinchable hood (many ultralite bags eliminate the hood to save weight). It’s a warm bag with 10 ounces of 850 fill down that provides four inches of loft and cut to a mummy shape to eliminate excess material. It’s a tighter fit, so if you like a roomier bag, this might not be the one for you.

The design of the bag is well thought-out and it’s made from quality materials. Being a two-way full-zip bag, it’s pretty versatile too and allows the sleeper to vent at both the bottom and top of the zipper. For an ultralight bag, this is a great compromise between warmth, weight, and roominess — but like all ultralight gear, be prepared to pay more for the advanced materials and design that takes pounds off your back.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pound 3 ounces (regular bag)
  • Compressed volume: 6 liters
  • Temperature rating: 32F
  • Fill material: 850 fill down
  • Shell material: Lightweight 12D nylon
  • Fits up to:
  • Small: 66 inches
  • Regular: 72 inches
  • Long: 78 inches
PROS

Super warmth per ounce (32F at 19 ounces)

Very packable

Relatively comfortable for a mummy bag

Made from quality materials

Nice shell fabric

CONS

Expensive

Best for Camping

If you’re camping and don’t have to haul your sleeping bag very far, there’s no need to go all out and get an expensive, lightweight, mummy-shaped down sleeping bag. In this case, it makes more sense to look at rectangular or semi-rectangular shaped bags that allow for more room to stretch out and are filled with less expensive synthetic material that will continue to insulate when wet and dries out faster.

For frontcountry camping, I recommend the REI Siesta Hooded 25 sleeping bag. It’s not the lightest (almost four times heavier than an ultralight bag) or most packable, but it is warm and roomy. As a rectangular bag, it’s more comfortable and the insulated hood helps keep your head warm on colder nights and will retain an inflatable pillow. The 120 gram polyester synthetic fill is rated to 25F and the bag is stitched with an offset quilt construction to hold the insulation in place and prevent cold spots. The two way anti-snag zipper allows the sleeper to vent from the shoulder or the feet and REI placed a smaller off-side shoulder zipper to allow the front of the bag to be folded forward to allow the user to sit up comfortably. The company also included a small interior stash pocket. The recycled polyester shell is DWR-treated and the bag includes a stuff sack.

These are great features, but the best part of this general-purpose frontcountry camping bag is that it won’t break the bank. Use it for tent or RV camping.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 4 pound 6 ounces (regular bag)
  • Compressed volume: NA
  • Temperature rating: 25F
  • Fill material: 120g polyester fibers
  • Shell material: recycled polyester
  • Fits up to:
  • Regular: 72 inches
  • Long: 78 inches
PROS

Affordable

Roomy hood will accept large pillow

Warm and comfortable

Environmentally friendly

CONS

Heavy

Too bulky to backpack

Best Cold-Weather

I generally sleep pretty warm in my Marmot Hydrogen 30F bag, but two trips broke me: a 9F morning atop The Priest in Virginia, and a 3F night on a ridgeline in Pennsylvania in December. Sleep deprived and a bit miserable, I resolved to get a proper winter bag. I was so happy with the performance of the Hydrogen for three-season backpacking that I went out and bought a warmer Marmot bag, the Lithium 0, and I haven’t so much as experienced a shiver since.

The Lithium is a premium certified water-resistant 800+ fill power goose down bag that will keep you alive in below zero temps. This minimalist design constructed from ultralight fabric features smooth, curved baffles, a multi-baffled cinchable hood, neck baffle, and snagless insulated draft tube along it’s full-length zipper. The 61-inch shoulder and 56-inch hip girth provide you enough room to move about while keeping excess fabric volume to a minimum. The bag also features a secondary fold-down zipper opposite the main to provide additional venting and a small zippered interior stash pocket. The Lithium 0 is fairly light for a zero bag at 2 pounds 9.5 ounces and packs down well due to the high-quality down and lightweight shell. The Pertex Quantum shell is windproof and water-resistant, but you’ll still need to make sure to keep the down insulation dry for optimum performance.

This bag is best suited for winter long-distance backpackers and alpine mountaineers. It comes with a mesh storage bag and stuff sack.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2 pounds 9.5 ounces (regular) 2 pounds 13 ounces (long)
  • Compressed volume: 9.8 liters (regular) 10.5 liters (long)
  • Temperature rating: Comfort 9F, Limit -5.4F, Extreme -45.2F
  • Fill material: 800+ fill power goose down
  • Shell material: 20D Pertex 100% nylon ripstop
  • Fits up to:
  • Regular: 72 inches
  • Long: 78 inches
PROS

Super warm

Very lightweight for zero bag

Great value for performance

CONS

Expensive

Must keep down dry

Why you should trust us

I have more than 35 years of backcountry experience. I’m an avid long-distance backpacker, rock climber, and mountaineer who understands the value well-designed gear delivers, especially when your life depends on it. I don’t get paid by the manufacturers and have editorial independence. My editor leaves it to me to recommend and prints what I write. All of this enables me to provide you, our valued readers, with our unvarnished, honest opinions on the recommendations we make.

Types of backpacking sleeping bags

Shopping for a good backpacking sleeping bag can be a bewildering experience. It helps to first identify what you will use the bag for prior to starting your search. The more dialed in your anticipated needs, the easier it is to filter out the bags that won’t satisfy

Backpacking sleeping bags are different from regular camping sleeping bags in three important ways: they’re lighter, they pack smaller, and they have a higher warmth-to-weight ratio. When considering your purchase, select the bag with the best warmth-to-weight ratio that will meet the needs of most of your trips and carry the lightest and most compressible you can afford. Every ounce in your pack counts when traveling dozens of miles day after day. Also, remember that your sleeping bag depends on what’s underneath it for optimal efficiency, so check out the R-value of your sleeping pad. Try to get a lightweight one that has an R-value greater than four. Backpacking sleeping bags come generally with two choices of insulation: synthetic or down.  

Synthetic

The advantages of synthetic insulation are twofold. Most importantly, synthetic insulation performs better when wet because it does a much better job retaining its loft and it also tends to dry out faster than down. They also generally cost less. The disadvantages are that synthetic bags don’t compress as small as their down counterparts, and they weigh more for the same insulative performance. Synthetic is better in damp conditions and is non-allergenic.

Down

Down remains nature’s best insulator, as it has a very high warmth-to-weight ratio and incredible compressibility. Down bags weigh less and compress smaller than synthetic filled bags, and they also cost more — sometimes much more. Down fibers also tend to last longer than synthetics which compress over time and lose R-value. On the downside, down is also a cold mess when wet because when wet, the feathers clump and lose their ability to trap dead air to insulate, leaving you a frigid, shivering mess. The good news is that it’s not that hard to keep a down bag dry these days with DWR-treated shells and water-resistant down. Down is best in cold, dry conditions. 

Shape

Backpacking sleeping bags are almost exclusively mummy-shaped bags which increase warmth and minimize weight through a more form-fitting design. Semi-rectangular or rectangular-shaped bags are generally for camping since they are heavier and tend to be colder due to the increased interior volume (your body has to heat up all that air).

Season

Although there isn’t an industry-wide hard and fast rule, I consider any bag that’s rated 20F or above to be a three-season bag (spring, summer, and fall use), and any bag that’s rated below 20F to be a four-season bag.

Key features of backpacking sleeping bags

Temperature ratings

It’s important to understand how backpacking sleeping bags are rated and to check the specs, where you’ll see a Comfort Limit, a Lower Limit, and an Extreme Rating. (Note: no rating is a guarantee of comfort since that depends on three factors: your bag, what’s under your bag (sleeping pad), and what you wear while in the bag).

  • The Comfort Limit is the temperature at which someone who sleeps cold should feel comfortable. Think of this as the temperature at which an average-sized woman would sleep comfortably. (Women’s bags typically weigh more than mens at the same rating due to them having more insulation. Biologically, women sleep colder on average than men.)
  • The Lower Limit is the temperature a warm sleeper or average-sized man should feel comfortable.
  • The Extreme Rating is the lowest temperature an average woman could survive while sleeping in the bag. At this temperature, you will be miserable, but won’t likely die while inside the bag.

Hood

Many lightweight bags sacrifice a hood to save on overall advertised weight. I don’t recommend hoodless bags. The majority of heat lost in the human body is through the head and a hood makes a huge difference in retaining heat when cinched around your head. 

Draft tubes

Zippers are prime heat loss points in a sleeping bag, and quality bags will have a draft tube running the entire length of the zipper to keep the warm air your body worked so hard to heat next to your body where it belongs. Well-designed bags will also feature a neck baffle to help retain heat.

Anti-snag zippers

Sleeping bag zippers are notorious for snagging, and many a curse word has been shed by tired backpackers who just want to go to sleep. Look for zippers with a full-length guard or zipper cover.

Stash pocket

Many high-end bags will also include a small stash pocket in the chest area of the bag. This is a great place to stow your phone, headlamp, and other small items.

Pricing considerations of backpacking sleeping bags

Budget

Anything under $200 is a budget-level bag. Be careful in this zone and try to find bags with better than 650 fill power down. Typically, the less you pay, the heavier the bag due to synthetic insulation or lower-quality down.

Mid-range

You should be able to find a great mid-range backpacking bag with most of the features you need at an acceptable price and low weight for $200 to $350. Look for bags with 800 or greater fill power down at this price point.

Premium

I consider anything over $350 to be a premium bag. These will be the most efficient in terms of warmth-to-weight, and the lightest and most packable. They’ll also have the best and most features. 

How we chose our top picks

All the backpacking sleeping bags in this review were selected based on personal ownership, hands-on inspection, interviewing other experts, and thoroughly reviewing manufacturers’ specifications. We take our time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each item, and also check out the reviews of other experts just to make sure we’re not missing anything.

FAQs on backpacking sleeping bags

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. How do you pack a sleeping bag in a backpack?

A: The best way to pack a sleeping bag is to invert it and stuff it into a compression stuff sack to smash it to the smallest possible mass. Place lighter items like sleeping bags at the bottom of your pack and heavier items higher up between your shoulders. Make sure you put down insulated bags in a waterproof stuff sack or waterproof the main compartment of your backpack with a large leaf bag. 

Q. What’s the best size sleeping bag for backpacking?

A: Get the one that matches your height most closely. Most mid- and high-end bag manufacturers offer their bags in regular (up to 72 inches) or long (up to 78 inches). Some offer small or short variants (around 66 inches), and some premium manufacturers even offer small, regular, and large girth size options. Other high-end manufacturers offer made-to-order custom bags. 

Q. How heavy should a backpacking sleeping bag be?

A: Look for the lightest bag that meets your desired temperature range. Most good three-season bags weigh less than two pounds, and good four-season bags weigh less than three pounds.

Q. What’s the difference between a backpacking and camping sleeping bag?

A: Backpacking bags are much lighter, more compressible, and more efficient in terms of warmth-to-weight ratios due to high power (800+) down fill, thin high-tensile shell material, and mummy-shaped form-fitting design. 

Q. How is down fill power measured?

A: Down is measured by fill power — how much loft and volume it provides per ounce. It’s a relative measure of down quality in terms of fluffiness. Fill power is a measure of how many cubic inches of loft that one ounce of down produces. For instance, 650 fill power down means one ounce by weight will provide 650 cubic inches of loft and thus dead trapped air. Similarly, one ounce of 800 fill power down will provide an additional 150 cubic inches of loft — more insulation for the same weight. The higher the number, the higher the quality. Note that you need to combine fill power with fill weight to determine how warm a sleeping bag is because a bag with 10 ounces of 600 fill down won’t be nearly as warm as a bag with 10 ounces of 800 fill down. 

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Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015.  He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He is currently section-hiking the Appalachian Trail with his partner, Kate Germano. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. We independently evaluate gear by putting products in the hands of subject matter experts. The products we test may be purchased by Task & Purpose, our staff, or provided for review by a manufacturer. No matter the source, our testing procedures and our assessments remain free from third-party influence. Learn more about our product review process.

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