The best sleeping bags will make sleeping under the stars an unforgettable experience. One of the biggest things that can ruin a good night’s sleep is being too cold, which is why along with a good tent a quality sleeping bag (or pad) is a key piece of camping gear.
With so many different sleeping bags on the market, at all different price ranges, it can be overwhelming to choose what’s best for your camping needs. Whether you’re looking to get into camping for the first time this year, or you need to upgrade tired gear for the warmer camping season, we’re here to guide you through the variety of sleeping bags, and help you find one that best suits your needs.
To help decipher some of the sleeping bag jargon and explain the different features, we talked to over a dozen outdoor experts about their buying tips and favorite sleeping bags.
Sleeping Bag Features
Before we get into choosing the right sleeping bag for you, let’s run over some of the main features we’ll talk about with sleeping bags.
“The temperature rating of the bag will tell you at what temperature you will still be warm and comfortable,” says cofounder of the outdoor e-commerce platform Requipper Sasha Landauer. You’ll find the temperature rating in technical specifications and there will often be a “lower limit rating” and “comfort rating.” You want to choose a bag that has a comfort limit ideally slightly lower than the temperatures you plan to camp in. For example, if you’re camping in 40-degree night temperatures, a 48-degree bag would not be warm enough, but a 38-degree, 35-degree, or anything lower would work.
The insulation is what your bag is stuffed with. You basically have two options—down (feathers) or synthetic. Jess Shisler, PhD, cofounder of Sēkr and Project Respect Outdoors, explains, “Down is a better insulator and is a lighter weight to carry in your pack. However, it isn’t vegan and doesn't perform well if it gets wet.”
When you hear people talk about sleeping bags, you’ll often hear them say the terms “mummy” or “rectangle.” We’re not talking ancient Egyptians here, but that mummy shaped bag does take on a similar shape where it tapers down around the feet. This reduces the amount of space you have to heat up and cuts down on bag weight.
On the other hand, there are the “rectangle” shapes, which, as you may have guessed, are your plain rectangle shape. These tend to be a little heavier than mummy bags and you’ll find fewer backpacking or “high-performance” bags with this shape. However, for those who like to sleep starfish-style or move around a lot, this shape may be more comfortable.
Bonus shape: Double sleeping bag. If you and your significant other go camping a lot and still want cuddling, a double bag might be a fun choice.
While the outdoor industry has a long history of “shrinking and pinking” men’s gear, women-specific bags do have a few real differences. Women’s bags will often have more room around the hips and less around the shoulders. Plus, the bag’s temperature rating will often take into account the fact that many women sleep colder than men (so a 0-degree bag for women will technically be warmer than a 0-degree bag for men).